Archive for the ‘Prosper of Aquitaine’ Category

Magisterium More Sufficient than Scripture? (Part 5)

February 1, 2010

[Cont’d from previous section]

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

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

The fathers also understood this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[alternative translation of the above]

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

Greek text:

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

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

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

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

[alternative translation of the above]

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

Greek Text:

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

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

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

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

[alternative translation of the above]

It is pointless and foolish to inquire into unspoken secrets.

Greek text:

Περιττὸν καὶ ἀνόητον τὸ τὰ σεσιγημένα ζητεῖν.

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

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

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

Greek text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[cont’d in section 6]


Arminianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Wes White, and the real Francis Turretin

January 22, 2010

Pastor Wes White has an interesting post entitled, “Calvinism and Arminianism: A Middle Way?” He points out that one supposed “middle way” between Calvinism and Arminianism is just a restatement of Arminianism (and he provides a quotation from the real Francis Turretin to make his point). Although (like Pastor White) I’m a fan of Turretin and although he’s right in noting that the argument of the classical Arminians is what these supposed “middle way” folks are making, I want to take the opportunity to point out that it is even an older error than that. It is the error of the semi-Pelagian opponents of Augustinians such as Prosper of Aquitaine, as one can see from the passage below in which Prosper is writing to Augustine regarding his semi-Pelagian opponents and their arguments. Read carefully and see if you

Prosper of Aquitaine:

The opinion they hold is as follows: Every man has sinned in Adam, and no one is reborn and saved by his own works but by God’s grace. Yet, all men without exception are offered the reconciliation which Christ merited by the mystery of his death, in such manner that whosoever wish to come to the faith and to receive baptism can be saved. God has foreknown before the creation of the world who they are who will accept the faith and with the help of further grace persevere in it. He has predestined for his kingdom those who, called without any merit of their own, He foreknew would be worthy of their election and depart from this life by a good death. Accordingly, every man is urged by the teachings of Holy Scripture to believe and to work, and no one should despair of attaining eternal life, the reward prepared for those who serve God freely. But as to the decree of God’s special call by which He is said to have separated the elect and reprobate, either before the creation of the world or at the very creation of the human race, and according to His own good pleasure, so that some are born vessels of honor, others vessels of dishonor, this, they say, takes away from sinners an incentive for conversion and gives the pious occasion for lukewarmness. For both of them, exertion becomes superfluous if neither diligence can save a reprobate nor negligence ruin an elect. Whatever way they behave, nothing can happen to them except what God has decreed. With such doubtful prospects no man can follow a steady course of action, since all pains a man takes one way or another are of no avail if God’s predestination has decreed otherwise. To teach that the decree of God anticipates the wills of men is to invite them to cast aside all diligence and give up the effort for virtue; it is, under cover of predestination, to set up a sort of fatal necessity, or to say that the Lord has made men of different natures, if it is true that no one can change his condition of elect or reprobate in which he was created. To put their opinions more briefly and fully: the very objections which in your book On Admonition and Grace you took from the idea of your opponents and proposed to yourself, and the objections of Julian also which in your books against him you relate in this matter and which you answered fully, exactly these our good Christians greet with loud approval. When we show them the writings of Your Holiness which abound in countless unanswerable proofs from Holy Scripture, when we ourselves try, after the pattern of your tracts, to construct some new argument to counter them, they take cover for their obstinacy by appealing to the ancient teaching. The text of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, which you quote to prove that divine grace precedes the merits of the elect, they say was never understood by any of the churchmen in the sense in which you take it now. And when we ask them to explain it themselves according to the meaning given by the authors they prefer, they answer that they have found there nothing which satisfies them, and they ask us not to speak about things whose depth no one is able to fathom. Finally, in their obstinacy they go to such length as to assert that what we teach as being of faith is harmful to the spiritual good of those who come to hear of it; and even if it were true, we should not come out with it, because it does harm to preach what will not be well received, and there is no harm in not speaking of what no one can understand.

– Prosper of Aquitaine, Letter to Augustine, Section 3, translation by P. De Letter, S.J., Ph.D., S.T.D. in “Prosper of Aquitaine: Defense of St. Augustine,” pp. 39-41 (Newman Press, New York: 1963).

Notice, for instance, the allegations of universal prevenient grace, and the allegations that Augustinian theology will hurt evangelism. The answers from the real Turretin that Pastor White brings to bear are right on the money.

It’s also interesting to note that Prosper is relying on the authority of Scripture over against semi-Pelagian attempts to say that Augustine’s view was a theological novelty. We sometimes hear the same allegations about our views today – but ultimately we agree with Prosper that Scripture (not the forerunners of Augustine or even Augustine himself) is our rule of faith.


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