Archive for the ‘Rule of Faith’ Category

"The" Catholic Position on The Rule of Faith

July 31, 2012

An advocate for the papacy, over in the Greenbaggins comment box wrote:

And, again, whether or not the Papacy is a divine institution – the Burden of Proof is always on him who asserts. In this case, Reformed Christians and Catholic Christians both have something to prove.

The Reformed assertion: Scripture is the Rule of Faith.
The Catholic Assertion: The Church is the Rule of Faith.

I answer:

First, I thought that Mr. Anders had already agreed that Scriptures are “A” rule of faith. If so, then the only question is whether there is another rule of faith in addition. In that case, while the Reformed side may have had something to prove, that time has passed.

After all, if one concedes that the Scriptures are a rule of faith, then one has – in effect – conceded that we have met our burden. The only other assertion required to move from “Scripture is a rule of faith” to “Scripture is THE rule of faith” is the negative proposition “and we don’t have any other rule of faith.”

The burden is on the proponent of that other proposed rule of faith.

Moreover, Mr. Anders specifically asserted: “The Catholic Assertion: The Church is the Rule of Faith.”

Interestingly, Benedict XVI (Yes, I know he’s German like Kung, Rahner, and Luther, but hear me out) is reported as saying:

The word of Scripture is not “an inert deposit within the Church” but the “supreme rule of faith and power of life”. Benedict XVI wrote this in a message to participants in the annual Plenary Session of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, held from Monday, 16, to Friday, 20 April, at the Vatican’s Domus Sanctae Marthae.

L’Osservatore Romano, 21 April 2012

So, will our Roman communion friends concede what that German prelate who claims to be the successor of Peter and Paul concedes? Or do will they deny that Scripture is the supreme rule of faith?

I mean one might think that “the Catholic position” is better expressed by the pope who says: “The Church has always considered and continues to consider Sacred Scripture, together with sacred Tradition, “as the supreme rule of her faith” (DV 21) and as such she offers it to the faithful for their daily life.” (19 June 1985, General Audience)

And yes, he’s quoting from Vatican II, but I hear that they are planning on making even SSPX finally assent to those teachings.

So, what will it be? Will our Roman communion friends be on the pope’s (I suppose that should be popes’, as the 1985 audience would be the Polish prelate, not the German one) side? Do they agree that he has conceded that the Scriptures are a rule of faith and has further alleged that “Tradition” is as well?

If so, we’ve met our burden on this point – but Rome’s apologists still have to meet theirs by somehow deomnstrating that their “Tradition” is to be received as the rule of faith.


Athanasius to Marcellinus: How Sufficient are the Psalms?

March 16, 2010

Athanasius wrote a letter to Marcellinus regarding the Psalms (full text). Athanasius wouldn’t have fit into post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism very well for a lot of reasons, but one reason is his comment in this letter: “the knowledge of God is not with [the heathen and the heretics] at all, but only in the Church.” Vatican II stated: “In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.” (Lumen Gentium, 2:16).

Bigger than that, however, the letter is a testimony to Athanasius’ very non-Romanist views of Scripture. It’s also a testimony to the same views of Athanasius’ friend whom Athanasius relies on extensively throughout the letter so that is sometimes hard to say which part is originally Athanasius and which part is originally the work of his elderly friend.

Private Possession of Copies of Scripture

It’s interesting to note that Athanasius points out that the old man who told about the Psalms did so while holding in his hands his own copy:

I once talked with a certain studious old man, who had bestowed much labour on the Psalter, and discoursed to me about it with great persuasiveness and charm, expressing himself clearly too, and holding a copy of it in his hand the while he spoke.

There is a popular myth spread by Rome’s apologists today that folks of ancient times were too poor to have their own copies of Scripture and too illiterate to read it, even if they could own a copy. These sorts of comments from the ancients help us to see that the picture of ancient literacy and possession of Scripture was not quite as bleak as Rome’s apologists like to suggest.

Scriptures Open to Individual Study

Athanasius’ substantive comment begins:

Son, all the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction [2 Timothy 3:16], as it is written; but to those who really study it the Psalter yields especial treasure.

Before we even get to the substance we can note how Athanasius (adopting his old friend’s words – his old friend calls him “son”) understands 2 Timothy 3:16 to be referring not only to the Old Testament Scriptures but also to the New Testament Scriptures. This isn’t a surprising interpretation, but it is an interpretation that contradicts the erroneous position taken by many contemporary Roman Catholics who try to say that Paul was referring only to the Old Testament Scriptures.

The substance here is that the Scriptures, but especially the book of Psalms, yields a treasure those who really study it. After a brief passage on the canon of Scripture (which we discuss below under the issue of the canon), Athanasius explains:

Each of these books, you see, is like a garden which grows one special kind of fruit; by contrast, the Psalter is a garden which, besides its special fruit, grows also some those of all the rest.

Athanasius comes back to this garden theme toward the end of the letter as well, when Athanasius writes:

So then, my son, let whoever reads this Book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired; and let each select from it, as from the fruits of a garden, those things of which he sees himself in need.

Notice how individual this metaphor is. Each individual person can go into the garden and get from it whatever help he thinks he needs.

It gets yet more individual after the discussion of how Scripture interprets Scripture, which we discuss below. The more individual part is that the Psalms describe you, the reader:

And, among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given. Elsewhere in the Bible you read only that the Law commands this or that to be done, you listen to the Prophets to learn about the Saviour’s coming, or you turn to the historical books to learn the doings of the kings and holy men; but in the Psalter, besides all these things, you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.

Notice how he says not simply that the Psalter is like a picture, but almost as though it is a mirror: it is a picture of you the reader. In it, you the reader learn about yourself.

The idea is not simply that the church can extract good medicine from this garden for you, or interpret the picture for you. Instead, Athanasius and the old man insist that the individual can pick out his own cure from this medicine chest:

Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.

After some commentary on the sufficiency of the Psalms (which we discuss below), Athanasius and the old man re-emphasize the individual’s ability to learn from the Psalms to his own advantage:

In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls’ need at every turn.

Thus, there is a theme that the individual needs to read and apply the words of the Psalms to his life.

There is also a theme presented in the letter that the Psalter is something that the individual is supposed to make his own:

And herein is yet another strange thing about the Psalms. In the other books of Scripture we read or hear the words of holy men as belonging only to those who spoke them, not at all as though they were our own; and in the same way the doings there narrated are to us material for wonder and examples to be followed, but not in any sense things we have done ourselves. With this book, however, though one does read the prophecies about the Saviour in that way, with reverence and with awe, in the case of all the other Psalms it is as though it were one’s own words that one read; and anyone who hears them is moved at heart, as though they voiced for him his deepest thoughts.

It’s interesting to note in this selection that it is not simply that the reader can start to internalize and take personally the Psalms, but that this is (according to Athanasius and the old man) an intended purpose of the Psalm – one of the reasons for which it is written.

After some brief Scriptural demonstration, Athanasius continues to emphasize how the Psalms are intended to be read, understood, and taken personally by the individual reader:

For he who reads those books is clearly reading not his own words but those of holy men and other people about whom they write; but the marvel with the Psalter is that, barring those prophecies about the Saviour and some about the Gentiles, the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, and each one sings the Psalms as though they had been written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another person’s feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart’s utterance, just as though he himself had made them up. Not as the words of the patriarchs or of Moses and the other prophets will he reverence these: no, he is bold to take them as his own and written for his very self. Whether he has kept the Law or whether he has broken it, it is his own doings that the Psalms describe; every one is bound to find his very self in them and, be he faithful soul or be he sinner, each reads in them descriptions of himself.

I’m not sure one could express a more individual understanding of the text than that. Yet Athanasius follows this passage with another of the same kind. In this instance he finally uses the mirror metaphor:

It seems to me, moreover, that because the Psalms thus serve him who sings them as a mirror, wherein he sees himself and his own soul, he cannot help but render them in such a manner that their words go home with equal force to those who hear him sing, and stir them also to a like reaction. Sometimes it is repentance that is generated in this way, as by the conscience-stirring words of Psalm 51; another time, hearing how God helps those who hope and trust in Him, the listener too rejoices and begins to render thanks, as though that gracious help already were his own. Psalm 3, to take another instance, a man will sing, bearing his own afflictions in his mind; Psalms 11 and 12 he will use as the expression of his own faith and prayer; and singing the 54th, the 56th, the 57th, and the 142nd, it is not as though someone else were being persecuted but out of his own experience that he renders praise to God. And every other Psalm is spoken and composed by the Spirit in the selfsame way: just as in a mirror, the movements of our own souls are reflected in them and the words are indeed our very own, given us to serve both as a reminder of our changes of condition and as a pattern and model for the amendment of our lives.

The use of the mirror metaphor is a great way to show that the individual is to look to the Scripture, since a mirror is the sort of thing that is distinctively individual – one doesn’t ask his friend to look in the mirror for him – the mirror is specifically a tool for self-help.

After a very detailed explanation of how the Psalms can be applied to various occasions, Athanasius notes:

Such, then, is the character of the Book of Psalms, and such the uses to which it may be put, some of its number serving for the correction of individual souls, and many of them, as I said just now, foretelling the coming in human form of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Notice that in the quotation above, the individual is made explicit.

We see this same theme of individual benefit in Athanasius’ argument as to why the Psalms must be sung:

But we must not omit to explain the reason why words of this kind should be not merely said, but rendered with melody and song; for there are actually some simple folk among us who, though they believe the words to be inspired, yet think the reason for singing them is just to make them more pleasing to the ear! This is by no means so; Holy Scripture is not designed to tickle the aesthetic palate, and it is rather for the soul’s own profit that the Psalms are sung.

Furthermore, Athanasius insists that one cannot sing the Psalms simply to amuse oneself but specifically to learn from them:

Well, then, they who do not read the Scriptures in this way, that is to say, who do not chant the divine Songs intelligently but simply please themselves, most surely are to blame, for praise is not befitting in a sinner’s mouth. [Sirach 15:9] But those who do sing as I have indicated, so that the melody of the words springs naturally from the rhythm of the soul and her own union with the Spirit, they sing with the tongue and with the understanding also, and greatly benefit not themselves alone but also those who want to listen to them.

Then Athanasius continues with the repetition of the garden metaphor (already discussed above) and he accompanies that with a summary of the preceding admonition that the Psalms have whatever we need for any occasion:

So then, my son, let whoever reads this Book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired; and let each select from it, as from the fruits of a garden, those things of which he sees himself in need. For I think that in the words of this book all human life is covered, with all its states and thoughts, and that nothing further can be found in man. For no matter what you seek, whether it be repentance and confession, or help in trouble and temptation or under persecution, whether you have been set free from plots and snares or, on the contrary, are sad for any reason, or whether, seeing yourself progressing and your enemy cast down, you want to praise and thank and bless the Lord, each of these things the Divine Psalms show you how to do, and in every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own.

The final words of the letter re-emphasize that the investigation of Scripture is properly and fruitfully an individual task:

And so you too, Marcellinus, pondering the Psalms and reading them intelligently, with the Spirit as your guide, will be able to grasp the meaning of each one, even as you desire. And you will strive also to imitate the lives of those God-bearing saints who spoke them at the first.

We should also agree with Athanasius that of course the Spirit’s guidance is not an optional component, as much as we have not specified that guidance above.

Scripture Interprets Scripture

One interesting point that Athanasius (and the old man) makes is that the Psalter is almost a stand-alone Bible. However, Athanasius is quick to point out that the Psalter must be interpreted harmoniously with the rest of Scripture because they have a common author, namely the Holy Spirit:

My old friend made rather a point of this, that the things we find in the Psalms about the Saviour are stated in the other books of Scripture too; he stressed the fact that one interpretation is common to them all, and that they have but one voice in the Holy Spirit.

The single voice is the explanation, of course, for the single common interpretation. After some Scriptural proof, the old man (and Athanasius with him) concludes:

You see, then, that the grace of the one Spirit is common to every writer and all the books of Scripture, and differs in its expression only as need requires and the Spirit wills.

This provides a slightly different twist on the comments above, in that it indicates that one may simply find the same thing expressed in different terms in the different books.

Sufficiency of Scripture

One of the points that the old man and Athanasius make is that the Psalter provides the final component and makes the rest of Scripture sufficient to the man of God:

Prohibitions of evil-doing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and abstain from sin. Repentance, for example, is enjoined repeatedly; but to repent means to leave off sinning, and it is the Psalms that show you how to set about repenting and with what words your penitence may be expressed. Again, Saint Paul says, Tribulation worketh endurance, and endurance experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed [Rom 5:3, 5]; but it is in the Psalms that we find written and described how afflictions should be borne, and what the afflicted ought to say, both at the time and when his troubles cease: the whole process of his testing is set forth in them and we are shown exactly with what words to voice our hope in God. Or take the commandment, In everything give thanks. [1 Thess 5:18] The Psalms not only exhort us to be thankful, they also provide us with fitting words to say. We are told, too, by other writers that all who would live godly in Christ must suffer persecution;[2 Tim 3:12] and here again the Psalms supply words with which both those who flee persecution and those who suffer under it may suitably address themselves to God, and it does the same for those who have been rescued from it. We are bidden elsewhere in the Bible also to bless the Lord and to acknowledge Him: here in the Psalms we are shown the way to do it, and with what sort of words His majesty may meetly be confessed.

In other words, the entire Bible tells us how to live, but the Psalter shows us more clearly the way to fulfill the commands found throughout Scripture. The conclusion sentence talks explicitly about the ability of the Psalter to be sufficient, namely to meet the reader’s needs:

In fact, under all the circumstances of life, we shall find that these divine songs suit ourselves and meet our own souls’ need at every turn.

Another place where Athanasius makes the sufficiency point is in this comment:

For I think that in the words of this book all human life is covered, with all its states and thoughts, and that nothing further can be found in man.

It’s hard to be more sufficient than “nothing further can be found” – he might as well have said, “this is as good as it can possibly get.”

As strong as that statement of sufficiency is, the sufficiency of Scripture gets even more underscored by Athanasius’ insistence on the unadorned Psalms:

There is, however, one word of warning needed. No one must allow himself to be persuaded, by any arguments what-ever, to decorate the Psalms with extraneous matter or make alterations in their order or change the words them-selves. They must be sung and chanted in entire simplicity, just as they are written, so that the holy men who gave them to us, recognizing their own words, may pray with us, yes and even more that the Spirit, Who spoke by the saints, recognizing the selfsame words that He inspired, may join us in them too. For as the saints’ lives are lovelier than any others, so too their words are better than ever ours can be, and of much more avail, provided only they be uttered from a righteous heart. For with these words they themselves pleased God, and in uttering them, as the Apostle says, they subdued kingdoms, they wrought righteousness, they obtained promises, they stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens, women received their dead by resurrection. [Heb 11:33-36]

The ideas that their words are “better than ever ours can be” is a great way of showing that the Scriptures themselves, standing alone, are sufficient.

Finally, Athanasius gets explicit – even using the word “sufficient”:

For God commanded Moses to write the great song [Deut 31:19] and to teach the people, and him whom He had appointed leader He bade also to write Deuteronomy, to have it ever in his hand and to meditate unceasingly upon its words [Deut 17:18-19]; because these are sufficient in themselves both to call men’s minds to virtue and to bring help to any who ponder them sincerely.

Notice that it doesn’t just say “sufficient” leaving open the option of sufficient materially but not formally, but it even goes so far as to remove an doubt by saying “sufficient in themselves.”

The parting words of the letter confirm the same thing:

And so you too, Marcellinus, pondering the Psalms and reading them intelligently, with the Spirit as your guide, will be able to grasp the meaning of each one, even as you desire. And you will strive also to imitate the lives of those God-bearing saints who spoke them at the first.

Notice how positive Athanasius is: he says not simply that Marcellinus “may” be able to grasp the meaning, nor does Athanasius qualify the quest by whether Marcellinus adheres to the unanimous consent of the fathers or the guidance of an infallible magisterium. Instead, Athanasius insists that if Marcellinus has the Spirit he will, by intelligent study, grasp the meaning of each of the Psalms.

Scripture as a Teacher

Athanasius, as noted above, refers to the Scriptures as a teacher:

Briefly, then, if indeed any more is needed to drive home the point, the whole divine Scripture is the teacher of virtue and true faith, but the Psalter gives a picture of the spiritual life.

Athanasius even goes further and compares Scriptures a teacher to mere human teachers:

Never will such a man be shaken from the truth, but those who try to trick and lead him into error he will refute; and it is no human teacher who promises us this, but the Divine Scripture itself.

Thus, for Athanasius, the Scriptures themselves are a teacher and the best possible teacher.

Scripture as the Rule of Faith and Life

Athanasius is very plain about this aspect of Scripture:

Briefly, then, if indeed any more is needed to drive home the point, the whole divine Scripture is the teacher of virtue and true faith, but the Psalter gives a picture of the spiritual life.

Notice how he treats the Psalter as almost filling in what would be a gap in the rest of Scripture. With the Psalms, the Scripture is a thorough and sufficient teacher of virtue and true faith.

Christ Himself is in Scripture

Sometimes Rome’s apologists like to use the metaphor that the Church is Christ’s body to emphasize the Church’s authority. Athanasius makes an even stronger claim about Scripture:

On the other hand, daemons fear the words of holy men and cannot bear them; for the Lord Himself is in the words of Scripture and Him they cannot bear, as they showed when they cried out to Christ, I pray you, torment me not before the time.

Notice that Athanasius claims that “the Lord Himself is in the words of Scripture,” which is as strong a claim as one can make about them.

Canon of the Old Testament

The old man’s canon of the Old Testament only ends up referring to the canonical works:

Each book of the Bible has, of course, its own particular message: the Pentateuch, for example, tells of the beginning of the world, the doings of the patriarchs, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, the giving of the Law, and the ordering of the tabernacle and the priesthood; The Triteuch [Joshua, Judges, and Ruth] describes the division of the inheritance, the acts of the judges, and the ancestry of David; Kings and Chronicles record the doings of the kings, Esdras [Ezra] the deliverance from exile, the return of the people, and the building of the temple and the city; the Prophets foretell the coming of the Saviour, put us in mind of the commandments, reprove transgressors, and for the Gentiles also have a special word.

Furthermore, the old man ends up excluding the Apocrypha (deutero-canonical books) fairly plainly by (after discussing only the canonical works) stating:

You see, then, that all the subjects mentioned in the historical books are mentioned also in one Psalm or another; but when we come to the matters of which the Prophets speak we find that these occur in almost all.

Of course, the canon of the Old Testament is not the main point of the letter, and consequently there is no explicit discussion of the topic.

Unsurprisingly, one apocryphal part of one book is mentioned: “as when Daniel relates the story of Susanna …” and the Septuagint (or similar related Greek translation) title of the Psalms are referenced “if you want to know how Moses prayed, you have the 90th … .” There’s also an allusion to Sirach 15:9 (“Praise is not seemly in the mouth of a sinner, for it was not sent him of the Lord.”) as noted above.

Penal Substitution

It is interesting to note that the old man (Athanasius adopting his words) explains that the atonement, and particularly penal substitution, is set forth in the Psalms:

For He did not die as being Himself liable to death: He suffered for us, and bore in Himself the wrath that was the penalty of our transgression, even as Isaiah says, Himself bore our weaknesses. [Mt 8:17] So in Psalm 138 we say, The Lord will make requital for me; and in the 72nd the Spirit says, He shall save the children of the poor and bring the slanderer low, for from the hand of the mighty He has set the poor man free, the needy man whom there was none to help.

It’s interesting that he even brings Isaiah into the discussion. I’ve left the editorial bracketed citation to Matthew 8:17.

That’s not the only place that Athanasius mentions this theme – he repeats it slightly later on:

This is the further kindness of the Savior that, having become man for our sake, He not only offered His own body to death on our behalf, that He might redeem all from death, but also, desiring to display to us His own heavenly and perfect way of living, He expressed this in His very self. It was as knowing how easily the devil might deceive us, that He gave us, for our peace of mind, the pledge of His own victory that He had won on our behalf. But He did not stop there: He went still further, and His own self performed the things He had enjoined on us. Every man therefore may both hear Him speaking and at the same time see in His behavior the pattern for his own, even as He himself has bidden, saying, Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart. [Mt 11:29] Nowhere is more perfect teaching of virtue to be found than in the Lord’s own life. Forbearance, love of men, goodness, courage, mercy, righteousness, all are found in Him; and in the same way no virtue will be lacking to him who fully contemplates this human life of Christ. It was as knowing this that Saint Paul said, Be ye imitators of me, even as I myself am of Christ. [1 Cor 11:1] The Greek legislators had indeed a great command of language; but the Lord, the true Lord of all, Who cares for all His works, did not only lay down precepts but also gave Himself as model of how they should be carried out, for all who would to know and imitate. And therefore, before He came among us, He sketched the likeness of this perfect life for us in words, in this same book of Psalms; in order that, just as He revealed Himself in flesh to be the perfect, heavenly Man, so in the Psalms also men of good-will might see the pattern life portrayed, and find therein the healing and correction of their own.

Notice how Athanasius indicates that Christ both serves as penal substitute (“He … offered His own body to death on our behalf”) but also as example of the godly life.


This letter of Athanasius has value for a variety of reasons. For example, included in the letter are some very detailed and at-length suggestions for times and occasions upon which to sing the various psalms. This is of great practical value to those planning worship, either their own worship or corporate worship.

Athanasius’ letter also has value for providing insight into many aspects of Athanasius’ view of Scripture:

  • the practice of private possession of Scriptures,
  • individual study of the Scripture and the fruitfulness of such study,
  • the self-interpretation of Scripture,
  • the sufficiency of Scripture,
  • the magisterial role of Scripture,
  • Scripture as the rule of faith and life,
  • Christ himself being “in” Scripture, and
  • the canon of the Old Testament.

Athanasius’ letter even provides some insight into Athanasius’ view of the atonement. The discussion on the atonement even provides some discussion related to the doctrine of penal substitution.

In all, the letter is a very rich work. I hope that the reader of this article will not content himself with my report above, but will follow the link I have provided and see for himself not only that I have reported Athanasius accurately, but that I have not provided the full treasure that this letter offers.

– TurretinFan

Aquinas: Rule of Faith ("sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei")

December 29, 2009

Thomas Aquinas’ expression, “sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei” at first glance sounds a lot like the Reformation maxim that the rule of faith is only the canonical scripture.

Here’s an English translation of the relevant portion:

It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and others of this kind, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is his meaning when he says ‘we know his testimony is true.’ Galatians 1:9, “If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!” The reason is that only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things.

Latin text:

Notandum autem, quod cum multi scriberent de catholica veritate, haec est differentia, quia illi, qui scripserunt canonicam Scripturam, sicut Evangelistic et Apostoli, et alii huiusmodi, ita constanter eam asserunt quod nihil dubitandum relinquunt. Et ideo dicit Et scimus quia verum est testimonium eius; Gal. I, 9: Si quis vobis evangelizaverit praeter id quod accepistis, anathema sit. Cuius ratio est, quia sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei. Alii autem sic edisserunt de veritate, quod nolunt sibi credi nisi in his quae ver dicunt.”

And here’s the citation: Thomas Aquinas, Lectures on the Gospel of John, ed. P. Raphaelis Cai, O.P., Editio V revisa (Romae: Marietti Editori Ltd., 1952) n. 2656, p. 488.

This is not an attempt to construe Aquinas as a modern-day Reformed believer (or even a “Protestant” as unhelpful as that category is). Such an allegation would be anachronistic. However, this citation does show that it is equally (if not more-so) anachronistic to view Aquinas as sharing the beliefs of modern-day Roman apologists. In short, his view of Scripture may not be precisely the same as ours, but it is also not the same as that of Rome, in an important way.

The usual response to this sort of citation from Aquinas is exemplified by the response provided by Phil Porvaznik (link) who deflects from the text in question to another place in Aquinas’ writings that he thinks is inconsistent with Sola Scriptura. While such an approach may help to prove what we already concede (namely that Aquinas is not simply a modern-day Reformed Presbyterian), it does not answer the crucial question, what did Aquinas mean by “sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei” (“only canonical scripture is [the/a (Latin lacks articles)] rule of faith”)? Can any of the Roman Catholics reading answer that question positively (i.e. by refraining from telling us what Aquinas is not saying but rather by telling us what Aquinas is saying)?

What is interesting is that this is not the only time Aquinas speaks of the rule of faith. Here’s another place, first an English translation:

Or, wanting to show those speeches that are completely outside of the Scriptures, it said: If they will say to you: Here, and in the desert, do not depart from the rule of the faith.

Latin text:

Vel eos sermones qui sunt omnino extra Scripturam ostendere volens, dixit si dixerint vobis: ecce in solitudine est, nolite exire, de regula fidei.

Citation: Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Commentary on the Gospels, at Matthew 24:23-38 (Lectio 6 in Matthew 24), quoting (apparently with approval) from Origen.

Additionally, we may note another such reference (again English first):

Objection 1. It would seem that it is unsuitable for the articles of faith to be embodied in a symbol. Because Holy Writ is the rule of faith, to which no addition or subtraction can lawfully be made, since it is written (Deuteronomy 4:2): “You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it.” Therefore it was unlawful to make asymbol as a rule of faith, after the Holy Writ had once been published.

Reply to Objection 1. The truth of faith is contained in Holy Writ, diffusely, under various modes of expression, and sometimes obscurely, so that, in order to gather the truth of faith from Holy Writ, one needs long study and practice, which are unattainable by all those who require to know the truth of faith, many of whom have no time for study, being busy with other affairs. And so it was necessary to gather together a clear summary from the sayings of Holy Writ, to be proposed to the belief of all. This indeed was no addition to Holy Writ, but something taken from it.

Latin text:

Ad nonum sic proceditur. Videtur quod inconvenienter articuli fidei in symbolo ponantur. Sacra enim Scriptura est regula fidei, cui nec addere nec subtrahere licet, dicitur enim Deut. IV, non addetis ad verbum quod vobis loquor, neque auferetis ab eo. Ergo illicitum fuit aliquod symbolum constituere quasi regulam fidei, post sacram Scripturam editam.

Ad primum ergo dicendum quod veritas fidei in sacra Scriptura diffuse continetur et variis modis, et in quibusdam obscure; ita quod ad eliciendum fidei veritatem ex sacra Scriptura requiritur longum studium et exercitium, ad quod non possunt pervenire omnes illi quibus necessarium est cognoscere fidei veritatem, quorum plerique, aliis negotiis occupati, studio vacare non possunt. Et ideo fuit necessarium ut ex sententiis sacrae Scripturae aliquid manifestum summarie colligeretur quod proponeretur omnibus ad credendum. Quod quidem non est additum sacrae Scripturae, sed potius ex sacra Scriptura assumptum.

Citation: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 1, Article 9

Here’s another:

1. It seems that you should not combine the articles in the symbol. In fact all the faith is taught in a comprehensive manner with Sacred Scripture. So it was unnecessary to compose the symbol.

2. The symbol is proposed as a rule of faith, whose action is consent. Now, only the Apostles and Prophets must be granted this honor, which is that all they have said is believed to be true, as St. Augustine asserts. So after the Apostles’ Creed one should not draw up other symbols.

Reply to 1. It was necessary to collect in a single text the various truth transmitted in various places of the Sacred Scriptures so that the faith would be more readily at hand.

Reply to 2. The Fathers who have published other symbols after the Apostles have not added anything of their own, but added what they excerpted from the Holy Scriptures. Now, since in that symbol of the Apostles there are some difficult things, the Nicene Creed was published, which exposes more fully the faith about certain items. Since then some truths were contained in those symbols in implicit form, it was necessary to give an explanation upon the rise of heresies, and so was added the symbol S. Athanasius, who especially set himself against the heretics.

Latin Text:

Ulterius. Videtur quod articuli non debuerunt colligi in symbolo. Quia tota fides sufficienter per sacram Scripturam instruitur. Ergo superfluum fuit symbolum condere.

Praeterea, symbolum proponitur ut regula fidei, cujus actus est assentire. Sed, sicut dicit Augustinus in epistola 19 ad Hieronymum, solis apostolis et prophetis est hic honor exhibendus, ut quaecumque dixerunt, haec ipsa vera esse credantur. Ergo post symbolum apostolorum non debuerunt alia symbola fieri.

Ad primum ergo dicendum, quod oportuit ea quae in diversis locis sacrae scripturae tradita sunt, in unum colligi locum, ut fides magis in promptu haberetur.

Ad secundum dicendum, quod patres qui alia symbola post apostolos ediderunt, nihil de suo apposuerunt; sed ex sacris scripturis ea quae addiderunt, exceperunt. Et quia quaedam difficilia sunt in illo symbolo apostolorum, ideo ad ejus explanationem editum est symbolum nicaenum, quod diffusius fidem quantum ad aliquos articulos prosequitur. Et quia quaedam implicite continebantur in illis symbolis, quae oportebat propter insurgentes haereses explicari; ideo additum est symbolum athanasii, qui specialiter contra haereticos se opposuit.

Citation: Thomas Aquinas, Commentary upon [Lombard’s] Sentences, Book 3, Distinction 25, Question 1, Answer 1, Quaestiuncula 3, arguments 1-2 and answer to arguments 1-2

And again:

4. In the symbol, the faith must be exposed that extends to all believers. But, not all believers have come to believe in God, but only those who have a formed faith. Therefore he seems to say badly: “I believe in a single God,” and because he has a shapeless faith, saying this, sins by lying.

Reply to 4. In the symbol is propounded to us the rule of the faith, to which all must come. But they do not have only to reach the action of shapeless faith, but also the action of formed faith. However, he who, having shapeless faith, recites the symbol, does not sin, because he says this in the person of the Church.

Latin Text:

Praeterea, in symbolo debet exponi fides quantum ad omnes credentes. Sed non omnibus credentibus convenit credere in Deum, sed tantum habentibus fidem formatam. Ergo videtur quod male dictum sit: credo in unum Deum; et quod habens fidem informem, hoc dicens peccet mentiendo.

Ad quartum dicendum, quod in symbolo proponitur nobis regula fidei, ad quam omnes debent pertingere. Non autem debent pertingere solum ad actum fidei informis, sed etiam ad actum fidei formatae, et ideo ponitur in symbolis actus fidei formatae. Nihilominus habens fidem informem, dicens symbolum, non peccat: quia hoc dicit in persona Ecclesiae.

Citation: Thomas Aquinas, Commentary upon [Lombard’s] Sentences, Book 3, Distinction 25, Question 1, Answer 2, Argument 4, and reply to 4

And here:

3. The Sacred Scripture is the rule of the faith. But, in the Scriptures of Old Testament the Trinity was not explicitly mentioned. Therefore it was not necessary [to believe in the Trinity] in order to believe.

Reply to 3. Since it was not necessary that all be explicitly known in the Old Testament, the mystery of the Trinity was not formulated manifestly, but veiled, so that the wise can understand.

Latin Text:

Praeterea, sacra Scriptura est regula fidei. Sed in Scriptura veteris testamenti non fuit mentio expressa facta de Trinitate. Ergo non erat necessaria ad credendum.

Ad tertium dicendum, quod quia non erat necessarium ut explicite omnes cognoscerent, ideo non fuit positum mysterium trinitatis manifeste in veteri testamento, sed velate ut sapientes capere possent.

Citation: Thomas Aquinas, Commentary upon [Lombard’s] Sentences, Book 3, Distinction 25, Question 1, Answer 2, Quaestiuncula 4, Argument 3, and reply to 3

Finally, again, first in English:

Objection 3. Further, Athanasius was not the Sovereign Pontiff, but patriarch of Alexandria, and yet he published a symbol which is sung in the Church. Therefore it does not seem to belong to the Sovereign Pontiff any more than to other bishops, to publish a new edition of the symbol.

Reply to Objection 3. Athanasius drew up a declaration of faith, not under the form of a symbol, but rather by way of an exposition of doctrine, as appears from his way of speaking. But since it contained briefly the whole truth of faith, it was accepted by the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, so as to be considered as a rule of faith.

Latin text:

Praeterea, Athanasius non fuit summus pontifex, sed Alexandrinus patriarcha. Et tamen symbolum constituit quod in Ecclesia cantatur. Ergo non magis videtur pertinere editio symboli ad summum pontificem quam ad alios.

Ad tertium dicendum quod Athanasius non composuit manifestationem fidei per modum symboli, sed magis per modum cuiusdam doctrinae, ut ex ipso modo loquendi apparet. Sed quia integram fidei veritatem eius doctrina breviter continebat, auctoritate summi pontificis est recepta, ut quasi regula fidei habeatur.

Citation: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 1, Article 10

Recall again that the challenge to the Roman Catholic reader is to tell us what Aquinas meant by saying that the canonical scriptures alone are a/the rule of faith.

To make the Roman Catholic’s job easier, here are some important negative points that I’ll present so that the Roman Catholic can focus on the positives:

1. Aquinas wrote in Latin, so while we might be tempted to insert “the” before “rule of faith,” the sense of “the” can only be implied.

2. In the first quotation above, the Scriptures are not being contrasted with the proclamations of ecumenical councils or ex cathedra papal statements (the latter category wasn’t really yet in existence in Aquinas’ time). Thus, Aquinas is not specifically and directly speaking to the supremacy of Scripture over conciliar and papal documents, as such.

Finally, here are some additional quotations from Aquinas, which – while they don’t expressly use the expression “rule of faith” — help to inform the discussion.

First, some explanation of what the expression “canonical” with reference to Scripture meant to Aquinas:

If you wish to know whether a doctrine be erroneous, he shows this by three things. First, if it be against ecclesiastical doctrine. And therefore he says, If any man teach otherwise, namely, than I or the other Apostles. Gal. 1:9: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema. For the doctrine of the Apostles and prophets is called canonical, since it is like a rule for our intellect. And therefore no one ought to teach otherwise. Deut. 4:2: You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it. Apoc. 22:18: If any man shall add to these things, God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book.

Regarding the second he says, and consent not, etc. For the Lord Jesus came to give testimony to the truth. Jn. 18:37: For this I was born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. And therefore He was sent by the Father as a doctor and teacher. 1 Mach. 2:65: Give ear to him always, and he shall be a father to you, etc. And therefore whatever does not conform to their words is erroneous. 1 Kg. 15:23: It is like the sin of witchcraft, to rebel: and like the crime of idolatry, to refuse to obey. And he says, sound, because in the words of Christ nothing is corrupt, nothing false, or perverse, since they are words of divine wisdom. Prov. 8:8: All my words are just, there is nothing wicked nor perverse in them. They are right to them that understand, and just to them that find knowledge.
Regarding the third, it says in Prov. 6:20, My son, keep the commandments of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother. Whence he says, and to that doctrine which is according to godliness, namely, ecclesiastical doctrine. This godliness is through the worship of God. Tit. 1:1: According to…the acknowledging of the truth, which is according to godliness.

Latin text:

Si vis scire, quae doctrina sit erronea, hoc ostendit ex tribus. Primo si sit contra doctrinam ecclesiasticam. Et ideo dicit si quis aliter docet, scilicet quam ego et alii apostoli, quantum ad primum. Gal. I, 9: si quis vobis evangelizaverit praeter id quod accepistis, anathema sit. Doctrina enim apostolorum et prophetarum dicitur canonica, quia est quasi regula intellectus nostri. Et ideo nullus aliter debet docere. Deut. Iv, 2: non addetis ad verbum quod loquor vobis, neque auferetis ex eo. Apoc. Ult.: si quis apposuerit ad haec, apponet deus super illum plagas scriptas in libro isto.

Quantum ad secundum dicit et non acquiescit, etc.. Nam dominus iesus venit, ut testimonium perhibeat veritati. Io. Xviii, 37: in hoc natus sum, et ad hoc veni in mundum, ut testimonium perhibeam veritati. Et ideo missus est a patre sicut doctor et magister. i mac. Ii, 65: ipsum audite semper, et ipse erit vobis pater, etc.. Et ideo erroneus est quicumque non acquiescit sermonibus eius. I reg. Xv, 23: quasi peccatum ariolandi est repugnare, et quasi scelus idololatriae nolle acquiescere. Et dicit sanis, quia in christi sermonibus nihil est corruptionis, nihil falsitatis, vel perversitatis, quia sunt sermones divinae sapientiae. Prov. Viii, 8 s.: iusti sunt sermones mei, non est in eis pravum quid neque perversum. Recti sunt intelligentibus, et aequi invenientibus scientiam. quantum ad tertium, prov. Vi, 20: conserva, fili mi, praecepta patris tui, et ne dimittas legem matris tuae. Unde dicit et ei quae secundum pietatem est doctrinae, scilicet ecclesiasticae. Haec pietas est per cultum dei. Tit. I, 1: secundum agnitionem veritatis, quae est secundum pietatem.

Citation: Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Timothy, Chapter 6, Lecture One.

Thomas Aquinas similarly asserts that Scripture’s ultimate effect is to lead men to perfection, by teaching men not only the things necessary for salvation but also for supererogation (see, there’s an example of Thomas not being a Reformed theologian, we deny that there are such things as works of supererogation). The text is interesting at least from the standpoint of material sufficiency:

Its ultimate effect is that it leads men to perfection. For it does good not in whatever manner, but it perfects. Heb. 6:1: Let us go on to things more perfect. And so he says, That the man of God may be perfect, since a man cannot be perfect unless he is a man of God. For something is perfect which lacks nothing. Therefore, then is a man perfect when he is furnished, that is, prepared, to every good work, not only for those which are necessary for salvation but also for those which are of supererogation. Gal. 6:9: And in doing good, let us not fail.

Latin Text:

Ultimus eius effectus est, ut perducat homines ad perfectum. Non enim qualitercumque bonum facit, sed perficit. Hebr. C. Vi, 1: ad perfectionem feramur. Et ideo dicit ut perfectus sit homo dei, quia non potest homo esse perfectus, nisi sit homo dei. Perfectum enim est, cui nihil deest. Tunc ergo homo est perfectus, quando est instructus, id est, paratus, ad omne opus bonum, non solum ad ea quae sunt de necessitate salutis, sed etiam ad ea quae sunt supererogationis. Gal. Cap. Ult.: bonum autem facientes, non deficiamus.

Citation: Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 2 Timothy, Chapter 3, Lecture three.

Finally, Aquinas that while other arguments from probability can be made, the proper authority for holy teaching is the canonical Scripture:

Yet holy teaching employs such authorities only in order to provide as it were extraneous arguments from probability. Its own proper authorities are those of canonical Scripture, and these it applied with convincing force. It has other proper authorities, the doctors of the Church, and these it looks to as its own, but for arguments that carry no more than probability.

For our faith rests on the revelation made to the Prophets and Apostles who wrote the canonical books, not on a revelation, if such there be, made to any other teacher. In this sense St Augustine wrote to St Jerome; Only to those books or writings which are called canonical have I learnt to pay such honour that I firmly believe that none of their authors have erred in composing them. Other authors, however, I read to such effect that, no matter what holiness and learning they display, I do not hold what they say to be true because those were their sentiments.

Latin text:

Sed tamen sacra doctrina hujusmodi auctoritatibus utitur quasi extraneis argumentis et probabilibus. Auctoritatibus autem canonicae Scripturae utitur proprie, ex necessitate argumentando. Auctoritatibus autem aliorum doctorum Ecclesiae, quasi arguendo ex propriis, sed probabiliter.

Innititur enim fides nostra revelationi apostolis et prophetis factae qui canonicos libros scripserunt, non autem revelationi, si qua fuit, aliis doctoribus factae. Unde dicit Augustinus in epistola ad Hieronymum; Solis eis Scripturarum libris qui canonici appellantur didici hunc honorem deferre, ut nullum auctorem in scribendo errasse aliquid firmissime credam. Alios autem ita lego ut, quantalibet sanctitate doctrinaque praepolleant, non ideo verum putem quod ipsi ita senserunt.

Citation: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 1, Question 1, Article 8

Any takers for the challenge? (Remember, the challenge is to tell us what Aquinas does mean, not what he doesn’t mean.)


Scripture as a Rule of Faith

April 20, 2008


Scripture is the Reformed rule of Faith. It is our ultimate authority in matters of doctrine. It is our trusted revelation from God. When people come along claiming that their organization or prophet teaches something, we determine how true it is by comparison to Scripture.

1. Does Scripture Teach It?

In comparing someone’s doctrine to Scripture, the first question we ask is whether Scripture teaches it. If Scripture teaches something, it must be believed. By “must,” of course, we do not mean that a person will not be saved simply because they fail to fully reverence the teachings of Scripture, instead we mean that Scripture commands reverence, because it is God’s word. On the other hand, if Scripture does not teach something, we are not required to believe it.

2. Does Scripture Teach Against It?

In comparing someone’s doctrine to Scripture, the next question we ask is whether Scripture teaches AGAINST it. Sometimes we will already know the answer to this question by reference to the first question. If Scripture teaches against a doctrine, we must reject that doctrine. It is, unfortunately, a frequent mistake to skip the first question above and jump straight to the second question. Thus, some people will accept all sorts of fabricated doctrines, simply because they cannot find teaching in Scripture AGAINST the doctrine.

3. What if the answer to some particular question is not readily discernible?

Occasionally, it happens that some question may not be readily discernible. For example, in this verse:

Hebrews 12:23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,

it may (at first) be unclear whether “of the firstborn” is a reference to Christ (the firstborn among many brethren) or to the elect, who are God’s portion for himself.

What we do is, first of all, perform historical/grammatical exegesis. In this case, looking at the situation here, we quickly discover that the “firstborn” is plural in the original and that is only English that is ambiguous.

As part of the h/g exegesis we look to the context. There we see,

Hebrews 12:24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

which contains a reference to the blood sprinkling that preserved the firstborn of the Israelites, and which entitled God to them as a purchased possession. In the process, of course, we are making use of the historical connotations of “firstborn” in the Old Testament, with which the audience of this epistle is expected to be familiar.

In some cases, depending on the question, we may not be able to resolve an answer to our own satisfaction from the text. For example, someone might ask, in the verse,

Philippians 4:3 And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.

whether “Clement” is the same Clement to whom the epistles of Clement are attributed. Scripture does not seem to give an answer. Thus, we should hesitate to be dogmatic about this. Is that just throwing up our hands, or giving up on the verse? Of course not. It is simply letting the verse say what it says, and not trying to read something into it that is not there.

4. What if someone disputes a view we previously held?

We go through the same steps above. We search the Scripture to see if their contentions hold weight. We need to bear in mind that it is possible for us to make mistakes. We need to mindful of our fallibility and of the human tendency to be stubborn and thickheaded. We must not be buffeted by every wind of doctrine, but we must not refuse to submit our doctrines to God’s word.


So, what if someone comes along with doctrines, whether that be the present blogger or a visiting head of state? The answer is the same: we take those doctrines to Scripture, and see whether they are something Scripture teaches or whether Scripture contradicts what they are saying. We must be careful not to give up on a difficult or seemingly ambiguous text, though we should be willing to acknowledge that not every question we may ask may find an answer in Scripture. Finally, we need to be submissive to God’s word. That does not mean we must hold Scriptural doctrines loosely. Quite to contrary, we must hold them tightly! Nevertheless, we must hold all of our doctrines as open to revision, should it be shown that Scripture teaches otherwise.

May God give all of us humility to subject our doctrines to Scripture,


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