Archive for the ‘Origen’ Category

Origen Against the Innovation of Christmas? Check your sources!

January 6, 2016

I came across the following statement, which immediately sparked my interest (source):

Speculation on the proper date began in the 3rd and 4th centuries, when the idea of fixing Christ’s birthday started. Quite a controversy arose among Church leaders. Some were opposed to such a celebration. Origen (185-254) strongly recommended against such an innovation. “In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world” ( Catholic Encyclopedia , 1908 edition, Vol. 3, p. 724, “Natal Day”).

I tend to agree with the overall point of the author of the page, namely that the celebration of Christmas is an innovation that lacks any authentic apostolic tradition. Nevertheless, I thought that the patristic quotation would be very interesting, if indeed Origen were against the celebration of Christmas.

There are, however, a number of problems with this citation. First, the citation is not to any of Origen’s works, but to the “Catholic Encyclopedia,” a secondary source. Thankfully, one can look up this secondary source (link to “Natal Day” entry).

Second, the work of Origen being cited is his Homilies on Leviticus. We don’t have the original Greek of this work. Instead, we have Rufinus’ Latin translation. Moreover, this work is one that Rufinus himself acknowledged heavily editing. Accordingly, while this may be Origen, it might instead be Rufinus. Moreover, Rufinus translated this in the early fifth century. Thus, if this expresses Rufinus’ views, it may represent a fifth century view, rather than a third century view.

Third, the context of the discussion is not the celebration of Christ’s birth by his contemporaries. In other words, Origen’s words (or Rufinus’ words) were not addressed as a correction to his contemporaries.

Fourth, while Christ’s birth is mentioned in the homily, it is mentioned as the sole exception to the standard case. In other words, applying the logic of Origen/Rufinus may cause us not to celebrate our own birthdays, but it would not similarly require us not to celebrate Christ’s birthday.

For those interested, I’ve posted a modern English translation of the text and the Latin original, as well as some related quotations from the same homily at my “Ancient Voices” blog:

On Celebrating Birthdays and Original Sin
Unique Conception of Jesus
Original Sin and Infant Baptism

– TurretinFan


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

November 11, 2010
Formal Sufficiency of Scripture
Stated and Examined from Scripture and the Fathers, with scholarly confirmation regarding the Fathers’ views.

After explaining the nature of formal sufficiency (i.e. the Reformed view) in an introduction section (link), we explored Scripture’s own testimony to its sufficiency (link). Although we could have stopped there, we have begun to explore the patristic testimony to the matter, beginning with the earliest Christian writers (link to discussion), and now continuing with the fathers of the 3rd century – some of whom were born in the 2nd century.

The writings of the 3rd century are in may respects better preserved than the writings of the preceding centuries. Consequently, we have a larger pool from which to draw. This larger pool also necessarily means that we have more specific discussions on more areas of theology, including discussion of Scripture. The following are some examples of what one finds in the third century.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

It is now time, as we have dispatched in order the other points, to go to the prophetic Scriptures; for the oracles present us with the appliances necessary for the attainment of piety, and so establish the truth. The divine Scriptures and institutions of wisdom form the short road to salvation. Devoid of embellishment, of outward beauty of diction, of wordiness and seductiveness, they raise up humanity strangled by wickedness, teaching men to despise the casualties of life; and with one and the same voice remedying many evils, they at once dissuade us from pernicious deceit, and clearly exhort us to the attainment of the salvation set before us.

ANF: Vol. II, Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter 8.

Clement is here affirming not only that Scripture has the content necessary, but also the form necessary, to bring believers to a saving knowledge of the truth.

We see something similar in the next quotation.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

But godliness, that makes man as far as can be like God, designates God as our suitable teacher, who alone can worthily assimilate man to God. This teaching the apostle knows as truly divine. “Thou, O Timothy,” he says, “from a child hast known the holy letters, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith that is in Christ Jesus.” For truly holy are those letters that sanctify and deify; and the writings or volumes that consist of those holy letters and syllables, the same apostle consequently calls “inspired of God, being profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to every good work.” No one will be so impressed by the exhortations of any of the saints, as he is by the words of the Lord Himself, the lover of man. For this, and nothing but this, is His only work — the salvation of man. Therefore He Himself, urging them on to salvation, cries, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Those men that draw near through fear, He converts. Thus also the apostle of the Lord, beseeching the Macedonians, becomes the interpreter of the divine voice, when he says, “The Lord is at hand; take care that ye be not apprehended empty.” But are ye so devoid of fear, or rather of faith, as not to believe the Lord Himself, or Paul, who in Christ’s stead thus entreats: “Taste and see that Christ is God?” Faith will lead you in; experience will teach you; Scripture will train you, for it says, “Come hither, O children; listen to me, and I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” Then, as to those who already believe, it briefly adds, “What man is he that desireth life, that loveth to see good days?” It is we, we shall say — we who are the devotees of good, we who eagerly desire good things. Hear, then, ye who are far off, hear ye who are near: the word has not been hidden from any; light is common, it shines “on all men.”

ANF: Vol. II, Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter 9.

Observe that Clement ascribes a magisterial function to the Scriptures themselves. Who will train you? Scriptures will. And, of course, Clement appeals to the same Scripture we do to glean the same doctrine we glean.

Clement provides a slightly different twist on the same theme in the next quotation.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

And now we must look also at this, that if ever those who know not how to do well, live well; for they have lighted on well-doing. Some, too, have aimed well at the word of truth through understanding. “But Abraham was not justified by works, but by faith.” It is therefore of no advantage to them after the end of life, even if they do good works now, if they have not faith. Wherefore also the Scriptures were translated into the language of the Greeks, in order that they might never be able to allege the excuse of ignorance, inasmuch as they are able to hear also what we have in our hands, if they only wish. One speaks in one way of the truth, in another way the truth interprets itself. The guessing at truth is one thing, and truth itself is another. Resemblance is one thing, the thing itself is another. And the one results from learning and practice, the other from power and faith. For the teaching of piety is a gift, but faith is grace. “For by doing the will of God we know the will of God.” “Open, then,” says the Scripture, “the gates of righteousness; and I will enter in, and confess to the LORD.”

ANF: Vol. II, The Stromata, Book I, Chapter 7.—The Eclectic Philosophy Paves the Way for Divine Virtue.

Notice how Clement affirms that the Greeks cannot allege ignorance. This implies that the truth is discernible from the Scriptures themselves, and “the truth interprets itself” confirms that this is Clement’s meaning.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

But if from any creature they received in any way whatever the seeds of the Truth, they did not nourish them; but committing them to a barren and rainless soil, they choked them with weeds, as the Pharisees revolted from the Law, by introducing human teachings, — the cause of these being not the Teacher, but those who choose to disobey. But those of them who believed the Lord’s advent and the plain teaching of the Scriptures, attain to the knowledge of the law; as also those addicted to philosophy, by the teaching of the Lord, are introduced into the knowledge of the true philosophy: “For the oracles of the Lord are pure oracles, melted in the fire, tried in the earth, purified seven times.” Just as silver often purified, so is the just man brought to the test, becoming the Lord’s coin and receiving the royal image.

ANF: Vol. II, The Stromata, Book VI, Chapter 7.

I haven’t placed anything in bold in the quotation above, because I’d have to put almost everything in bold. Notice how Scripture is treated as being the seeds of the Truth, the Law (the books of Moses) is referred to as a Teacher, believers are those who “believed in the Lord’s advent and the plain teaching of the Scriptures” and these attain to knowledge of the law.

Clement also puts the idea of formal sufficiency another way:

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

Therefore, in the divine education, it is necessary that duties be imposed upon us, as things commanded by God and provided for our salvation. But, since of things that are necessary, some are for this life alone, while others cause the soul to aspire after a good life in the next world, it is but right that some obligations be imposed merely for living, and others for living well. Whatever is imposed for material life is binding upon the multitude, but what is adapted to living well, that is, the things by which eternal life is gained, should be able to be gathered from the Scriptures by those who read them, gathered at least in their general outline.

FC, Vol. 23, Clement of Alexandria: Christ the Educator, Chapter 13, §103 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1954), p. 91.

This is not a surprising doctrine, of course. It is just what the Scriptures themselves teach, but the point that we can gain a knowledge of those things necessary for eternal life from reading the Scriptures is plainly Clement’s teaching.

Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215):

But if philosophy contributes remotely to the discovery of truth, by reaching, by diverse essays, after the knowledge which touches close on the truth, the knowledge possessed by us, it aids him who aims at grasping it, in accordance with the Word, to apprehend knowledge. But the Hellenic truth is distinct from that held by us (although it has got the same name), both in respect of extent of knowledge, certainly of demonstration, divine power, and the like. For we are taught of God, being instructed in the truly “sacred letters” by the Son of God.

Εἰ δὲ καὶ πόῤῥωθεν συλλαμβάνεται φιλοσοφία πρὸς τὴν ἀληθείας εὕρεσιν, κατὰ διαφόρους ἐπιβολὰς διατείνουσα ἐπὶ τὴν προσεχῶς ἁπτομένην τῆς ἀληθείας τῆς καθʼ ἡμᾶς εἴδησιν, ἀλλὰ συλλαμβάνεταί γε τῷ λογικῶς ἐπιχειρεῖν ἐσπουδακότι ἀνθάπτεσθαι γνώσεως. χωρίζεται δὲ ἡ Ἑλληνικὴ ἀλήθεια τῆς καθ’ ἡμᾶς, εἰ καὶ τοῦ αὐτοῦ μετείληφεν ὀνόματος, καὶ μεγέθει γνώσεως καὶ ἀποδείξει κυριωτέρᾳ καὶ θείᾳ δυνάμει καὶ τοῖς ὁμοίοις· θεοδίδακτοι γὰρ ἡμεῖς, ἱερὰ ὄντως γράμματα παρὰ τῷ υἱῷ τοῦ θεοῦ παιδευόμενοι·

Stromatum, Liber Primus, Caput 20, PG 8:816; translation in ANF: Vol. II, The Stromata, Book I, Chapter 20.

Notice that Clement is here affirming that God himself teaches us, and this is described as being instruction in the “sacred letters.”

Turning from Clement in Alexandria, we can travel west across Africa to Tertullian, who is often called the “Father of Latin Christianity.” The earliest major father who wrote in Latin, Tertullian had significant influence in the West, even though he eventually fell into Montanism.

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220):

But what hinders them from readily perceiving this community of the Father’s titles in the Son, is the statement of Scripture, whenever it determines God to be but One; as if the selfsame Scripture had not also set forth Two both as God and Lord, as we have shown above. Their argument is: Since we find Two and One, therefore Both are One and the Same, both Father and Son. Now the Scripture is not in danger of requiring the aid of any one’s argument, lest it should seem to be self-contradictory. It has a method of its own, both when it sets forth one only God, and also when it shows that there are Two, Father and Son; and is consistent with itself [i.e. sufficient itself, suficit sibi, PL 2:177]. It is clear that the Son is mentioned by it. For, without any detriment to the Son, it is quite possible for it to have rightly determined that God is only One, to whom the Son belongs; since He who has a Son ceases not on that account to exist, — Himself being One only, that is, on His own account, whenever He is named without the Son.

ANF: Vol. III, Against Praxeas, Chapter 18.

Notice Tertullian’s confidence in the Scriptures. Although he obviously is explaining the Scriptures, he is bold to state that the Scriptures are sufficient to themselves – they don’t require someone’s supporting argument.

As excellent as those comments are, Tertullian’s next comments are even more appropriate in dealing with modern Rome.

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 220):

He, therefore, will not be a Christian who shall deny this doctrine which is confessed by Christians; denying it, moreover, on grounds which are adopted by a man who is not a Christian. Take away, indeed, from the heretics the wisdom which they share with the heathen, and let them support their inquiries from the Scriptures alone: they will then be unable to keep their ground. For that which commends men’s common sense is its very simplicity, and its participation in the same feelings, and its community of opinions; and it is deemed to be all the more trustworthy, inasmuch as its definitive statements are naked and open, and known to all. Divine reason, on the contrary, lies in the very pith and marrow of things, not on the surface, and very often is at variance with appearances.

ANF: Vol. III, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 3.

Notice that Tertullian seems to suggest “scriptures alone” as the solution to heresies. His comment about taking away the wisdom they share with the heathen reminds me of the issue of transubstantiation – a dogma that is only possible by importing Aristotelean categories into the text of Scripture, but I digress.

Heading back to Alexandria, we encounter a man 35 years younger than Clement and 20 years younger than Tertullian, but teaching the same doctrines. Again, we note that not everything that Origen taught was good. His hermeneutic of metaphor and his apparent universalism are not to be followed (and we might add some other things as well). Nevertheless, Origen was perhaps as influential in the East as Tertullian was the in West. Much of his vast body of work has been lost, but an enormous amount still remains.

Origen (c. 185-c. 254):

Celsus next proceeds to say, that the system of doctrine, viz., Judaism, upon which Christianity depends, was barbarous in its origin. And with an appearance of fairness, he does not reproach Christianity because of its origin among barbarians, but gives the latter credit for their ability in discovering (such) doctrines. To this, however, he adds the statement, that the Greeks are more skillful than any others in judging, establishing, and reducing to practice the discoveries of barbarous nations. Now this is our answer to his allegations, and our defense of the truths contained in Christianity, that if any one were to come from the study of Grecian opinions and usages to the Gospel, he would not only decide that its doctrines were true, but would by practice establish their truth, and supply whatever seemed wanting, from a Grecian point of view, to their demonstration, and thus confirm the truth of Christianity. We have to say, moreover, that the Gospel has a demonstration of its own, more divine than any established by Grecian dialectics. And this diviner method is called by the apostle the “manifestation of the Spirit and of power”of “the Spirit,” on account of the prophecies, which are sufficient to produce faith in any one who reads them, especially in those things which relate to Christ; and of “power,” because of the signs and wonders which we must believe to have been performed, both on many other grounds, and on this, that traces of them are still preserved among those who regulate their lives by the precepts of the Gospel.

ANF: Vol. IV, Origen against Celsus, Book I, Chapter II.

Notice how Origen is quite bold to proclaim the power of the Scriptures not only to establish their own truth, but also to produce saving faith in anyone who reads them. That’s one way of expressing the formal sufficiency of Scripture, as we’ve already explained it.

That is, of course, not the only time Origen makes this kind of claim for Scripture. Here’s another example.

Origen (c. 185-c. 254):

The more one reads the Scriptures daily and the greater one’s understanding is, the more renewed always and every day. I doubt whether a mind which is lazy toward the holy Scriptures and the exercise of spiritual knowledge can be renewed at all.

Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 308.

The point here is slightly tangential at first glance. But consider the point that what Origen is saying is that reading the Scriptures is the way to better understand the Scriptures.

That’s why we also find Origen saying this:

Origen (c. 185-c. 254), commenting on Romans 9:20:

If we want to know something of the secret and hidden things of God and if we are not people of lusts and contentions, then let us inquire faithfully and humbly into the judgments of God which are contained more secretly in holy Scripture. For even the Lord said: Search the Scriptures, knowing that these things are applicable not to those who are busy with other matters and only hear or read the Bible from time to time, but to those who with a pure and simple heart endeavor to open up the holy Scriptures by their labor and constant attention. I know well enough that I am not one of them! But anyone who is, let him seek and he will find.

Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), pp. 259-260.

It’s hard to imagine the Bible being more formally sufficient than that. Origen is quite explicit that anyone who is willing to give constant attention to the Scriptures can seek and find the truth in them.

We might add, at this point, that Origen also viewed the authority of Scripture as sufficient to refute heretics.

Origen (c. 185-c. 254):

And now, what we have drawn from the authority of Scripture ought to be sufficient to refute the arguments of the heretics.

ANF: Vol. IV, Origen De Principiis, Book II, Chapter 5, §3.

It might not appear that this is directly related to the sufficiency of Scripture, but consider that if Scripture cannot be properly understood without tradition and the magisterium, any argument that is only based on the authority of Scripture would inherently be insufficient. Thus, by affirming the sufficiency of the authority of Scripture, Origen is affirming the formal sufficiency of Scripture.

Heading north from Egypt, we can turn to Firmilian, who naturally teaches the same doctrine on this point.

Firmilian, Bishop of Caesaria (c. 200-268):

But to what they allege and say on behalf of the heretics, that the apostle said, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached,” it is idle for us to reply; when it is manifest that the apostle, in his epistle wherein he said this, made mention neither of heretics nor of baptism of heretics, but spoke of brethren only, whether as perfidiously speaking in agreement with himself, or as persevering in sincere faith; nor is it needful to discuss this in a long argument, but it is sufficient to read the epistle itself, and to gather from the apostle himself what the apostle said.

ANF: Vol. V, The Epistles of Cyprian, Epistle 74 – To Cyprian, Against the Letter of Stephan 254 A.D., §20.

Obviously, the scope of Firmilian’s comment is related to a specific doctrinal issue, but it is evidence of his overall hermeneutic, in which it is not necessary to supplement the authority of Scripture with additional sources of authority – nor is it necessary to do more than read Scripture to determine the meaning of Scripture.

The following quotations are the two prefaces to Cyprian’s treatise XII, the first from Book I, the second from Book III. The remainder of the three book treatise is essentially just verbatim quotations from Scripture (excluding the chapter headings).

Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258):

Cyprian to his son Quirinus, greeting. It was necessary, my beloved son, that I should obey your spiritual desire, which asked with most urgent petition for those divine teachings wherewith the Lord has condescended to teach and instruct us by the Holy Scriptures, that, being led away from the darkness of error, and enlightened by His pure and shining light, we may keep the way of life through the saving sacraments. And indeed, as you have asked, so has this discourse been arranged by me; and this treatise has been ordered in an abridged compendium, so that I should not scatter what was written in too diffuse an abundance, but, as far as my poor memory suggested, might collect all that was necessary in selected and connected heads, under which I may seem, not so much to have treated the subject, as to have afforded material for others to treat it. Moreover, to readers also, brevity of the same kind is of very great advantage, in that a treatise of too great length dissipates the understanding and perception of the reader, while a tenacious memory keeps that which is read in a more exact compendium. But I have comprised in my undertaking two books of equally moderate length: one wherein I have endeavoured to show that the Jews, according to what had before been foretold, had departed from God, and had lost God’s favour, which had been given them in past time, and had been promised them for the future; while the Christians had succeeded to their place, deserving well of the Lord by faith, and coming out of all nations and from the whole world. The second book likewise contains the sacrament of Christ, that He has come who was announced according to the Scriptures, and has done and perfected all those things whereby He was foretold as being able to be perceived and known. And these things may be of advantage to you meanwhile, as you read, for forming the first lineaments of your faith. More strength will be given you, and the intelligence of the heart will be effected more and more, as you examine more fully the Scriptures, old and new, and read through the complete volumes of the spiritual books. For now we have filled a small measure from the divine fountains, which in the meantime we would send to you. You will be able to drink more plentifully, and to be more abundantly satisfied, if you also will approach to drink together with us at the same springs of the divine fullness. I bid you, beloved son, always heartily farewell.

– Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise XII, Book 1, Preface, ANF5

Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258):

Cyprian to his son Quirinus, greeting. Of your faith and devotion which you manifest to the Lord God, beloved son, you asked me to gather out for your instruction from the Holy Scriptures some heads bearing upon the religious teaching of our school; seeking for a succinct course of sacred reading, so that your mind, surrendered to God, might not be wearied with long or numerous volumes of books, but, instructed with a summary of heavenly precepts, might have a wholesome and large compendium for nourishing its memory. And because I owe you a plentiful and loving obedience, I have done what you wished. I have laboured for once, that you might not always labour. Therefore, as much as my small ability could embrace, I have collected certain precepts of the Lord, and divine teachings, which may be easy and useful to the readers, in that a few things digested into a short space are both quickly read through, and are frequently repeated. I bid you, beloved son, ever heartily farewell.

Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise XII, Book 3, Preface, ANF5

Notice the way that Cyprian views these Scriptures as sufficient in themselves to provide instruction, once they have been brought to the reader’s attention. He provides a compendium, yes, but he’s providing a list of verses – not a commentary on the verses.

Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258):

These things were before declared to us, and predicted. But we, forgetful of the law and obedience required of us, have so acted by our sins, that while we despise the Lord’s commandments, we have come by severer remedies to the correction of our sin and probation of our faith. Nor indeed have we at last been converted to the fear of the Lord, so as to undergo patiently and courageously this our correction and divine proof. Immediately at the first words of the threatening foe, the greatest number of the brethren betrayed their faith, and were cast down, not by the onset of persecution, but cast themselves down by voluntary lapse. What unheard-of thing, I beg of you, what new thing had happened, that, as if on the occurrence of things unknown and unexpected, the obligation to Christ should be dissolved with headlong rashness? Have not prophets aforetime, and subsequently apostles, told of these things? Have not they, full of the Holy Spirit, predicted the afflictions of the righteous, and always the injuries of the heathens? Does not the sacred Scripture, which ever arms our faith and strengthens with a voice from heaven the servants of God, say, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve? ” [Deuteronomy 6:13] Does it not again show the anger of the divine indignation, and warn of the fear of punishment beforehand, when it says, “They worshipped them whom their fingers have made; and the mean man bows down, and the great man humbles himself, and I will forgive them not? ” [Isaiah 2:8-9] And again, God speaks, and says, “He that sacrifices unto any gods, save unto the Lord only, shall be destroyed.” [Exodus 22:20] In the Gospel also subsequently, the Lord, who instructs by His words and fulfils by His deeds, teaching what should be done, and doing whatever He had taught, did He not before admonish us of whatever is now done and shall be done? Did He not before ordain both for those who deny Him eternal punishments, and for those that confess Him saving rewards?

– Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise 3, Section 7

I know that some of the Roman communion will be tempted to say that Cyprian’s words above simply reflect a high view of Scripture. They do reflect a high view of Scripture, of course, but they actually go so far as to describe the Scripture as teaching and to attribute to Scripture the very actions of arming our faith and strengthening it with a voice from heaven. I’m not sure it would be possible to have a higher view of Scripture than that.

From Carthage we can journey north to Rome, and slightly back in time. Hippolytus was born approximately in the middle between Tertullian and Origen, but obviously has a significant overlap with each, in terms of his lifespan.

Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 236):

In this way, then, they choose to set forth these things, and they make use only of one class of passages; just in the same one-sided manner that Theodotus employed when he sought to prove that Christ was a mere man. But neither has the one party nor the other understood the matter rightly, as the Scriptures themselves confute their senselessness, and attest the truth. See, brethren, what a rash and audacious dogma they have introduced, when they say without shame, the Father is Himself Christ, Himself the Son, Himself was born, Himself suffered, Himself raised Himself. But it is not so. The Scriptures speak what is right; but Noetus is of a different mind from them. Yet, though Noetus does not understand the truth, the Scriptures are not at once to be repudiated. For who will not say that there is one God? Yet he will not on that account deny the economy (i.e., the number and disposition of persons in the Trinity). The proper way, therefore, to deal with the question is first of all to refute the interpretation put upon these passages by these men, and then to explain their real meaning. For it is right, in the first place, to expound the truth that the Father is one God, “of whom is every family,” “by whom are all things, of whom are all things, and we in Him.” Let us, as I said, see how he is confuted, and then let us set forth the truth. Now he quotes the words, “Egypt has laboured, and the merchandise of Ethiopia and the Sabeans,” and so forth on to the words, “For Thou art the God of Israel, the Saviour.” And these words he cites without understanding what precedes them. For whenever they wish to attempt anything underhand, they mutilate the Scriptures. But let him quote the passage as a whole, and he will discover the reason kept in view in writing it.

ANF: Vol. V, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, §§3-4.

Notice, in the quotation above, that Hippolytus not only ascribes to the Scriptures themselves the power to confute heresy, but also explains that when one simply reads the passage of Scripture as a whole, the meaning becomes clear. Of course, he’s only applying this principle to this specific passage, but there is not something special about this passage or about the way he is writing that make us think that this is an isolated case.

Indeed, later in the same treatise, we find the following:

(c. 170-c. 236):

There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. For just as a man, if he wishes to be skilled in the wisdom of this world, will find himself unable to get at it in any other way than by mastering the dogmas of philosophers, so all of us who wish to practise piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn; and as the Father wills our belief to be, let us believe; and as He wills the Son to be glorified, let us glorify Him; and as He wills the Holy Spirit to be bestowed, let us receive Him. Not according to our own will, nor according to our own mind, nor yet as using violently those things which are given by God, but even as He has chosen to teach them by the Holy Scriptures, so let us discern them.

ANF: Vol. V, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, §9

Someone may wish to claim that the sola Scriptura reference at the beginning of the preceding quotation is just referring to material sufficiency. But it is not simply saying that Scriptures have everything we need to know – it is saying it is the one source. There are not, for Hippolytus, two sources (Scripture and Tradition) or three sources (Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium). And while someone might say that he is simply saying that there is a single source, but he’s not denying the need to have that single source opened by a non-source Magisterium, his comments about learning from none but Scripture, and especially his final comment about learning in the way in which God teaches them by the Scriptures should seal the matter.

Finally, we can turn back east to Archelaus from Caschar in Mesopotamia.

Archelaus (circa 277):

But now, what it is necessary for me to say on the subject of the inner and the outer man, may be expressed in the words of the Saviour to those who swallow a camel, and wear the outward garb of the hypocrite, begirt with blandishments and flatteries. It is to them that Jesus addresses Himself when He says: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of uncleanness. Or know you not, that He that made that which is without, made that which is within also? ” Now why did He speak of the cup and of the platter? Was He who uttered these words a glassworker, or a potter who made vessels of clay? Did He not speak most manifestly of the body and the soul? For the Pharisees truly looked to the “tithing of anise and cummin, and left undone the weightier matters of the law; ” and while devoting great care to the things which were external, they overlooked those which bore upon the salvation of the soul. For they also had respect to “greetings in the market-place,” and “to the uppermost seats at feasts:” and to them the Lord Jesus, knowing their perdition, made this declaration, that they attended to those things only which were without, and despised as strange things those which were within, and understood not that He who made the body made also the soul. And who is so unimpressible and stolid in intellect, as not to see that those sayings of our Lord may suffice him for all cases? Moreover, it is in perfect harmony with these sayings that Paul speaks, when he interprets to the following intent certain things written in the law: “You shall not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads out the grain. Does God take care for oxen? Or says He it altogether for our sakes? ” But why should we waste further time upon this subject?

ANF: Vol. VI, The Acts of the Disputation with the Heresiarch Manes, §21.

Archelaus does go on to add some additional thoughts, but notice that he does speak as though he believes that the plain reading of Scripture, in harmony with itself, is sufficient. Thus, this final quotation (for this segment) is really more of an illustration of someone using the Scriptures as though they are formally sufficient, rather than an explicit teaching that they are formally sufficient.

(to be continued)

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 3)

January 17, 2010

[Cont’d from previous section]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

Hilary of Poitiers (c 315-67):

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

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

Bryan’s next comment is similar:

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

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

Aquinas (about A.D. 1225–1274):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this point Bryan quoted himself from his article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Augustine, Letter 185, Chapter 8, Section 41

Origen (about A.D. 185–254):

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

– Origen, Contra Celsus, Book IV, Chapter 54

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

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

The article continued:

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

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

The article again:

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

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

And again the article:

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

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

Nevertheless, let us continue reading the article:

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

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

Nevertheless, let’s continue with the article:

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

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

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

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

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

[to be continued in section 4]

The Jews Gave Us the Old Testament

January 14, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Greek text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Robert Charles Hill, trans., Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentaries on the Prophets, Vol. Two, Commentary on the Prophet Ezekiel (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2006), preface, p. 251.

Origen (about A.D. 185–254):

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

– Origen, Letter to Africanus, Section 13

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

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

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


Albrecht vs Cajetan – Round 2

June 10, 2009

The video embedded below is a further response to William Albrechts (aka GNRHead) (link to Albrecht’s video) on the issue of Cardinal Cajetan and the Canon. In this video:

1. We deal with the fact that “Cajetan” is pronounced in modern English with the “j” making a “j” sound when it comes from a Latin (or other classical) root. Thus, we have Jesus and Jehovah, or – more to the points (since Jesus and Jehovah are not Latin words in the strictest sense) – June, July, Julius Caesar, and Jerome. Of course, a more authentic pronunciation would be to soften the “J” to a “Y” sound, but this is not the standard way of anglicizing Latin names these days.

2. We note that Mr. Albrecht humorously says that I have “the credentials of a super-hero” – but counter that this is why I don’t rely on my own credentials. I rely on higher authorities than myself.

3. We clarify that Cardinal Cajetan accepts Jerome’s opinion and harmonizes it with the other councils through a “two senses of canonical” explanation, which is reasonable. We note that Mr. Albrecht is confused about this, leading to his mistaken impression that Cardinal Cajetan thought that he (Cajetan) was opposing the rest of tradition besides that of Jerome.

4. Mr. Albrecht expresses the opinion that Cardinal Cajetan is “ignorant” when it comes to Jerome, but we discover that Cardinal Cajetan has credentials that ought to give Mr. Albrecht pause about that sort of comment.

5. We observe that Albrecht admits that his arguments about quotations from the Apocrypha are bad arguments. However, we also note that he doesn’t complete eschew them, but then complains when we point out that they are bad arguments (suggesting that we are beating a straw man when we smack down his bad arguments as such).

6. We observe approximately the same thing as (5) about Albrecht’s argument from the binding of a few ancient codices.

7. Next, we dispose (on the authority of Bruce Metzger) of the error of thinking that Jerome was alone in rejecting the apocrypha (or as the Romanists call them, the deuterocanonicals). Instead, Origen and Melito of Sardis did as well (it should, of course, be noted that there is an asterisk next to Melito’s name, in that he apparently accepted Wisdom in place of Esther, though he got the total number of books correct).

8. Furthermore, we disposed of Mr. Albrecht’s error of claiming that Trent had the same list of books as did the councils of Hippo and Carthage, confirming this from the words of one of Mr. Albrecht’s fellow Romanists, Gary Michuta.

9. Finally, we addressed Mr. Albrecht’s debate challenge, which we accepted – although setting up a time and date remains to be done (Mr. Albrecht had suggested January 2010).

Special thanks to Matthew Lankford’s artistic skill in adding a number animation goodies into this clip!


Bavinck on Limited Atonement

December 24, 2008

Volume 3 of Herman Bavinck’s “Reformed Dogmatics” addresses the issue of Limited Atonement. Bavinck deals with the matter at #404-08 (pp. 455-75 in the Baker Academic 2008 printing). Bavinck approaches the matter in a way that I found very helpful in light of certain Amyraldian commentators of late, in that he discusses many of the historical aspects of the issues relating to the extent of the atonement.

Bavinck quite correctly notes that “Intensively the work of Christ is of infinite value but also extensively it encompasses the whole world.” Standing alone, such a statement could easily be misinterpreted – and the incautious reader is advised to be careful to finish reading the entire selection before reaching hasty conclusions about Bavinck’s position. Bavinck goes on to explain what is intended by the terms employed, as well as what is not intended, rejecting Origen’s super-universalism and seemingly adopting Augustine’s particularism.

Bavinck quotes Augustine as stating “everyone who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ is a human; yet not everyone who is a human has been actually redeemed by the blood of Christ.” “Not one person perishes of those for whom Christ died.” The footnotes identify Epistle 102 of Augustine as the source, although I have not confirmed that this is the case with reference to the originals.

The work is clearly an academic work, and some of its most valuable contributions are the footnotes, which in some cases point one to source material, and in other cases index important related works, such as Bellarmine’s Controversies, Turretin’s Institutes, and van Mastricht’s Theology.

Bavinck appears to err somewhat on the issue of Creation at the beginning of section 407 (p. 470), where he ascribes the creation of the world distinctly to the Father, rather than the Son. Nevertheless, generally Bavinck’s discussion seems reasonable, and was enjoyable. For example, although Bavinck acknowledges Augustine’s positive contributions to our understanding of theology, Bavinck is not afraid to identify an error in Augustine’s thought (his view that the number of elect men corresponds numerically with the number of fallen angels).

I would commend the twenty pages or so of necessary reading to those interested in further study of the atonement. I’d particularly commend this section to those Amyraldians (or quasi-Amyraldians) that have been trying to make arguments from historical theology, as well as trying to formulate a system of their own.


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