Archive for the ‘Sean Patrick’ Category

Jesus Obeyed the Fifth Commandment – Therefore Mariolatry is ok?

December 7, 2010

Jesus explicitly repudiated people who singled out his mother for special attention. For example:

Luke 11:27-28
And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

When we bring up the fact that Jesus explicitly repudiated people who singled out his mother for special attention, however, we sometimes get a zinger like this one: “Our Lord obeyed all the commandments including ‘honor your mother and father’ and did not repudiate her.” (Sean Patrick)

This zinger is faulty for a couple of reasons:

1) Of course, no one is arguing that Jesus sinned. Jesus could say that his flesh and blood relationships with his physical siblings and mother are basically insignificant compared to the relationship every believer has by faith in Christ, without breaking the fifth commandment.

2) The zinger assumes that Jesus was under Mary’s authority. It’s tempting to make this argument because Mary was – as to his humanity – his mother. But Jesus was unlike every other child – he was his own mother’s creator. She owed her existence to him in a much more important way than the way in which he owed his existence (i.e. only the existence of his human nature – and only by choice) to her. It is no dishonor to her, therefore, for Him to repudiate the idea of her having either special devotion or any special privileges with respect to him in the Kingdom of Heaven.

3) The Mariolaters are actually in good company in making this error in reasoning. Peter (who Jesus called Simon here, demonstrating to us that the name “Peter” was a surname, not a change in name) made a similar mistake.

Matthew 17:24-27
And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

Jesus was Jewish and within the realm of the Roman empire, but whether this was the temple tax or the Roman tribute, Christ was not required to pay. And remember that tribute and honor are different, but fall within the same general category of duties of the fifth commandment.

Romans 13:7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

4) Moreover, Mary herself repudiates this error. Remember that Mary herself describes herself as the “handmaid of the Lord” (ἡ δούλη Κυρίου) not as His mistress. What a strange thing it would be to assert (without divine authority) that it is the handmaid who has authority over the Lord!

5) The only times we have Mary acting in something like an authoritative way toward Jesus, we see her getting shot down:

a) The attempts to get Jesus to come out from the midst of the crowd:

Matthew 12:46-50
While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

Mark 3:20-35
And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: because they said, He hath an unclean spirit. There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.

Luke 8:19-21
Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.

And – of course – his comments in Luke 11:27-28 (quoted above) fit right in with his other teachings about who his true mother and brethren are in contrast to his physical mother and brethren (sorry if the idea of Mary having children with her husband offends you).

b) The attempt to get Jesus to perform a miracle:

John 2:1-5
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: and both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

Some people say that because Jesus nevertheless obliged his mother, that it proves he was under some sort of duty to do so. But if you really follow that reasoning, you should note that the servants also did what Mary suggested. Do you think they considered themselves under an obligation to obey her? Surely not.

c) The scolding of Jesus for staying in Jerusalem when his family went home:

Luke 2:42-52
And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

6) On the contrary, Jesus both ordered his mother and handed off his filial relationship / responsibilities to one of his disciples.

John 19:25-27
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

Conclusion

This zinger to which we’ve responded to is simply one response that Rome’s apologists offer. One of the zinger’s co-bloggers tried to come to his assistance with this:

That being said, on the surface it might appear that Jesus is doing what you say Our Lord is doing, repudiating devotion to His mother. But, let us remember Luke as a whole.

(Tom Reillo)

But this gets a similar response to the response we’ve given above. The whole of Luke (and of the gospels generally) supports our position regarding Jesus and his attitude toward to his biological mother.

The commenter continued:

As a reader of the Gospel, we have already learned that Mary is one who has received the Word of God, namely at the Annunciation, “may it be done according to thy word.” And she, we are told, kept the things concerning Her Son in her heart. As Pope John Paul II pointed out in his beautiful reflections on Mary, rather than being repudiated, the reader would already know that Mary is the model of discipleship, she receives the Word of God and she holds that Word deep within her and ponders and cherishes them in her heart.

But actually:

Luke 2:48-52
And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

a) Note that Jesus “was subject to them.” Not to “her,” meaning to Mary, but to them – both Mary and Joseph (whom Mary referred to as Jesus “father”). Of course, Joseph has no paternal authority over Jesus now – and people should realize that Mary likewise has no maternal authority over Jesus now either.

b) Note that Jesus “was subject to them.” The Greek is “ἦν ὑποτασσόμενος” which is a periphrastic pluperfect. The sense of the verb conveys to us that there was a then existing state of obedience of Jesus to his earthly parents. It was, however, a then-existing state. At that time, he submitted to his earthly parents’ request and left Jerusalem.

c) Note most of all “they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.” Mary remembered all the things that Jesus said, but she did not understand them. That she kept them in her heart makes her valuable as Luke’s eyewitness, but not particularly admirable as a disciple – especially when Mary herself understood the manner in which Jesus had been conceived.

Likewise:

Luke 2:17-19
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Again, Mary is apparently Luke’s eyewitness to the events, but she “wondered at those things which were told … by the shepherds,” meaning (it appears) that she did not really understand.

d) “Ponders and cherishes(?) them in her heart” – Notice that this commenter has gone beyond the text in a significant way. He adds in the idea that Mary loved the things that she pondered. The text does not say this, nor does it imply it. It’s simply an addition.

e) “receives the Word of God and she holds that Word deep within her” – Like many unauthorized typographies, this one breaks down in a rather dramatic way, namely that after nine months of holding Jesus deep within her, Mary pushed him out, never to return! That would make for a terrible illustration of what it means to be a disciple, so naturally the extremely selective mariolater cannot mention that detail. And, of course, there’s no connection between that typology and Mary’s pondering the things that the shepherds and Jesus said, although the commenter makes it sound as though the two ideas are connected.

In short, while the commenter is right that we need to look at Luke and the gospels as a whole, the whole does not change the perspective we gained from Luke 11:27-28. Jesus repudiated Mariolatry. The fact that Mary was, according to the flesh, Jesus’ mother does not change anything. Indeed, in the kingdom of heaven anyone who believes is Jesus’ brother and sister and mother. Could Jesus have said it more clearly? I certainly don’t think so.

-TurretinFan

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Vincent of Lerins on "Development of Doctrine"

September 22, 2010

Sean Patrick, under the nick Blogahon, wrote:

Unfortunately for Mr. Mathison, the blessed John Henry Newman was not the first to posit doctrine of the development of doctrine.

St. Vincent Lerins wrote on it extensively in the fifth century. …

Lastly, it is puzzling to always see Protestants kicking the development of doctrine, as if their particular doctrines are explicitly and fully present from the very earliest Christian testimony.

(source)

Now, I don’t agree with Vincent (as I explained in much greater detail when rebutting a similar argument for development that tried to utilize Vincent), but what Vincent was arguing for was virtually the exact opposite of development:

Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly ‘Catholic,’ as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.

You can’t really have innovation if you only hold things that were universally held by the ancients. Vincent’s rule would rule out:

  • Papal Infallibility
  • Conciliar Infallibility
  • Purgatory
  • Indulgences
  • The Bodily Assumption of Mary
  • The Immaculate Conception of Mary
  • … and so forth.

Vincent’s rule would stifle development (in the sense of Newman), because one must find a universal acceptance of the doctrine among the ancients in order to accept a doctrine.

“Protestants” are opposed to the “development of doctrine,” in the sense of doctrines emerging without a Biblical basis. We require that all doctrines of the church be supported by Scripture, not merely by widespread acceptance among the ancients.

– TurretinFan

Athanasius against Scripture’s Formal Sufficiency?

February 18, 2010

Sean Patrick of the Roman Catholic Called to Communion blog recently alleged that the following quotation from Athanasius demonstrates that Athanasius did not hold to the formal sufficiency of Scripture (I provide Sean’s words as well with his quotation embedded):

I invite you to read this letter as a good example in context. Note how he treats the judgement of the Catholic Church and tradition handed down concerning scriptural faith.

For what is so manifestly shown to be evil, it is not necessary to waste time in exposing further, lest contentious persons think the matter doubtful. It is enough merely to answer such things as follows: we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this.

(source of SP’s statement)

Athanasius’ statement that “we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this” doesn’t explicitly rely on Scripture, which is doubtless why it is being cited.

Standing alone, however, they don’t directly contradict the idea that Scripture is formally sufficient. Instead, this kind of comment says that it is enough that the church as a whole doesn’t teach this and that there is no historical precedent for the teaching.

One might argue that by “the teaching of the Catholic Church” Athanasius is referring to Nicaea. After all, the letter begins, immediately after the greeting sentence:

I thought that all vain talk of all heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the Synod which was held at Nicæa.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 1 (source)

In fact, that sentence in isolation also looks nothing like a view of formal sufficiency of Scripture (although it doesn’t actually interact with the view of formal sufficiency).

Likewise, a couple of sentences in the conclusion don’t explicitly mention Scripture:

But thanks to the Lord, much as we were grieved at reading your memoranda, we were equally glad at their conclusion. For they departed with concord, and peacefully agreed in the confession of the pious and orthodox faith.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 12 (source)

However, when we begin to examine Athanasius’ comments in context, a different picture emerges. Here’s the entire Section 3 from which the initial comment was drawn:

Such were the contents of the memoranda; diverse statements, but one in their sense and in their meaning; tending to impiety. It was for these things that men who make their boast in the confession of the fathers drawn up at Nicæa were disputing and quarrelling with one another. But I marvel that your piety suffered it, and that you did not stop those who said such things, and propound to them the right faith, so that upon hearing it they might hold their peace, or if they opposed it might be counted as heretics. For the statements are not fit for Christians to make or to hear, on the contrary they are in every way alien from the Apostolic teaching. For this reason, as I said above, I have caused what they say to be baldly inserted in my letter, so that one who merely hears may perceive the shame and impiety therein contained. And although it would be right to denounce and expose in full the folly of those who have had such ideas, yet it would be a good thing to close my letter here and write no more. For what is so manifestly shewn to be evil, it is not necessary to waste time in exposing further, lest contentious persons think the matter doubtful. It is enough merely to answer such things as follows: we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this. But lest the ‘inventors of evil things [Rom. i. 30.]’ make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture, in case they may even thus be put to shame, and cease from these foul devices.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 3 (source)

Notice that Athanasius says: “For the statements are not fit for Christians to make or to hear, on the contrary they are in every way alien from the Apostolic teaching.” That Apostolic teaching, of course, is Scripture. For Athanasius, it is adherence to the Apostolic teaching that is the guiding principle.

Notice as well that Athanasius doesn’t view the error of the heretics as being at all reasonable. He thinks that the bare repetition of their argument is enough to show its impiety, “For what is so manifestly shewn to be evil, it is not necessary to waste time in exposing further, lest contentious persons think the matter doubtful.” That middle expression, “it is not necessary to waste time in exposing further,” is then explained by the comment about the teaching not being one of the Catholic Church or the fathers. It is also a reiteration of his prior comment, in Section 2, “I write this after reading the memoranda submitted by your piety, which I could wish had not been written at all, so that not even any record of these things should go down to posterity. For who ever yet heard the like? Who ever taught or learned it?”

However, notice that the way in which these men are to be put to shame and converted from their evil way is not a simple appeal to Nicaea (after all, these men “make their boast in the confession of the fathers drawn up at Nicæa”) nor to the fathers (from what fathers does Athanasius quote?) but from Scripture: “But lest the ‘inventors of evil things [Rom. i. 30.]’ make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture, in case they may even thus be put to shame, and cease from these foul devices.”

The same contextual issues arise with respect to the introductory section of Athanasius’ letter. Looking at the context, indeed the next sentence, we see a somewhat different sentiment:

I thought that all vain talk of all heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the Synod which was held at Nicæa. For the Faith there confessed by the Fathers according to the divine Scriptures is enough by itself at once to overthrow all impiety, and to establish the religious belief in Christ.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 1 (source)

Notice that Athanasius is quick to point out the rule that guided the fathers at Nicaea, namely the Scriptures. While there is some mention in the text of holding to the faith of the Nicene fathers, the bulk of the letter is exegetical – relying on and explaining the matter from Scripture.

So we should not be surprised at the conclusion mentioned above considered in its context:

This proves that while to all the others the Word came, in order that they might prophesy, from Mary the Word Himself took flesh, and proceeded forth as man; being by nature and essence the Word of God, but after the flesh man of the seed of David, and made of the flesh of Mary, as Paul said [Cf. Rom. i. 3; Gal. iv. 4.]. Him the Father pointed out both in Jordan and on the Mount, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased [Matt. iii. 17, and xvii. 5.].’ Him the Arians denied, but we recognizing worship, not dividing the Son and the Word, but knowing that the Son is the Word Himself, by Whom all things are made, and by Whom we were redeemed. And for this reason we wonder how any contention at all has arisen among you about things so clear. But thanks to the Lord, much as we were grieved at reading your memoranda, we were equally glad at their conclusion. For they departed with concord, and peacefully agreed in the confession of the pious and orthodox faith. This fact has induced me, after much previous consideration, to write these few words; for I am anxious lest by my silence this matter should cause pain rather than joy to those whose concord occasions joy to ourselves. I therefore ask your piety in the first place, and secondly those who hear, to take my letter in good part, and if anything is lacking in it in respect of piety, to set that right, and inform me. But if it is written, as from one unpractised in speech, below the subject and imperfectly, let all allow for my feebleness in speaking.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 12 (source)

Notice that Athanasius writes: “And for this reason we wonder how any contention at all has arisen among you about things so clear.” These are not vague obscure things, but clear things. And the thing from which this is clear can be seen from the proof that Athanasius had provided in, for example, Section 5 of his letter:

. But this is not so, far be the thought. For he ‘takes hold of the seed of Abraham [Heb. ii. 16.],’ as the apostle said; whence it behoved Him to be made like His brethren in all things, and to take a Body like us. This is why Mary is truly presupposed, in order that He may take it from her, and offer it for us as His own. And this Isaiah pointed to in his prophecy, in the words: ‘Behold the Virgin [Isa. vii. 14.],’ while Gabriel is sent to her—not simply to a virgin, but ‘to a virgin betrothed to a man [Luke i. 27.],’ in order that by means of the betrothed man he might shew that Mary was really a human being. And for this reason Scripture also mentions her bringing forth, and tells of her wrapping Him in swaddling clothes; and therefore, too, the paps which He sucked were called blessed [Ib. xi. 27.]. And He was offered as a sacrifice, in that He Who was born had opened the womb [Ib. ii. 23.]. Now all these things are proofs that the Virgin brought forth. And Gabriel preached the Gospel to her without uncertainty, saying not merely ‘what is born in thee,’ lest the body should be thought to be extraneously induced upon her, but ‘of thee,’ that what was born might be believed to be naturally from her, inasmuch as Nature clearly shews that it is impossible for a virgin to produce milk unless she has brought forth, and impossible for a body to be nourished with milk and wrapped in swaddling clothes unless it has previously been naturally brought forth. This is the meaning of His being circumcised on the eighth day: of Symeon taking Him in his arms, of His becoming a young child, and growing when He was twelve years old, and of His coming to His thirtieth year. For it was not, as some suppose, the very Essence of the Word that was changed, and was circumcised, because it is incapable of alteration or change. For the Saviour Himself says, ‘Behold, behold, it is I, and I change not [Mal. iii. 6.],’ while Paul writes: ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever [Heb. xiii. 8.].’ But in the Body which was circumcised, and carried, and ate and drank, and was weary, and was nailed on the tree and suffered, there was the impassible and incorporeal Word of God. This Body it was that was laid in a grave, when the Word had left it, yet was not parted from it, to preach, as Peter says, also to the spirits in prison [1 Pet. iii. 19.].

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 5 (source)

Notice how Athanasius explains it as being that “Nature clearly shews that it is impossible for a virgin to produce milk unless she has brought forth, and impossible for a body to be nourished with milk and wrapped in swaddling clothes unless it has previously been naturally brought forth.” It’s not a matter of obscurity or ambiguity or one man’s opinion over another. It is clear and plain to Athanasius.

Notice as well that after more Scriptural exegesis in sections 6-7, Athanasius provides the following comments in section 8:

These things being thus demonstrated, it is superfluous to touch upon the other points, or to enter upon any discussion relating to them, since the body in which the Word was is not coessential with the Godhead, but was truly born of Mary, while the Word Himself was not changed into bones and flesh, but came in the flesh. For what John said, ‘The Word was made flesh [Joh. i. 14.],’ has this meaning, as we may see by a similar passage; for it is written in Paul: ‘Christ has become a curse for us [Gal. iii. 13.].’ And just as He has not Himself become a curse, but is said to have done so because He took upon Him the curse on our behalf, so also He has become flesh not by being changed into flesh, but because He assumed on our behalf living flesh, and has become Man. For to say ‘the Word became flesh,’ is equivalent to saying ‘the Word has become man;’ according to what is said in Joel: ‘I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh [Joel ii. 28.];’ for the promise did not extend to the irrational animals, but is for men, on whose account the Lord is become Man. As then this is the sense of the above text, they all will reasonably condemn themselves who have thought that the flesh derived from Mary existed before her, and that the Word, prior to her, had a human soul, and existed in it always even before His coming. And they too will cease who have said that the Flesh was not accessible to death, but belonged to the immortal Nature. For if it did not die, how could Paul deliver to the Corinthians ‘that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures [1 Cor. xv. 3.],’ or how did He rise at all if He did not also die? Again, they will blush deeply who have even entertained the possibility of a Tetrad instead of a Triad resulting, if it were said that the Body was derived from Mary. For if (they argue) we say the Body is of one Essence with the Word, the Triad remains a Triad; for then the Word imports no foreign element into it; but if we admit that the Body derived from Mary is human, it follows, since the Body is foreign in Essence, and the Word is in it, that the addition of the Body causes a Tetrad instead of a Triad.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 8 (source)

Of note, as a first point, is the fact that Athanasius begins the section by again repeating that even all this additional evidence he is giving is not necessary. Nevertheless, he’s providing it.

Also, of significance, notice that Athanasius teaches us (by example) to use Scripture to interpret Scripture when he states: “For what John said, ‘The Word was made flesh [Joh. i. 14.],’ has this meaning, as we may see by a similar passage;” which shows us that Athanasius agreed with us that Scripture is to be Scripture’s interpreter. (He does this again almost immediately: “For to say ‘the Word became flesh,’ is equivalent to saying ‘the Word has become man;’ according to what is said in Joel: ‘I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh [Joel ii. 28.];’”)

Notice as well that Athanasius thinks that the sense of Scripture is so clear that the heretics will themselves see their error and condemn themselves. For he writes: “As then this is the sense of the above text, they all will reasonably condemn themselves who have thought that the flesh derived from Mary existed before her, and that the Word, prior to her, had a human soul, and existed in it always even before His coming.”

In section 9, Athanasius provides an interesting comment. He writes:

And how do these remain Christians who imagine another God in addition to the true one? For, once again, in their other fallacy one can see how great is their folly. For if they think because it is contained and stated in the Scriptures, that the Body of the Saviour is human and derived from Mary, that a Tetrad is substituted for a Triad, as though the Body created an addition, they go very far wrong, so much so as to make the creature equal to the Creator, and suppose that the Godhead can receive an addition.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 9 (source)

Notice that Athanasius assumes that these putative Christians will derive their understanding from Scripture. Accordingly, he takes care to state their their understanding is wrong (as well as, at some length, to explain why it is wrong).

Athanasius’ argument reaches something of a pinnacle when, in section 10, he provides a very plain Scriptural demonstration that he thinks they must acquiesce to:

For this reason they also will henceforth keep silence, who once said that He who proceeded from Mary is not very Christ, or Lord, or God. For if He were not God in the Body, how came He, upon proceeding from Mary, straightway to be called ‘Emmanuel, which is being interpreted God with us [Matt. i. 23.]?’ Why again, if the Word was not in the flesh, did Paul write to the Romans ‘of whom is Christ after the flesh, Who is above all God blessed for ever. Amen [Rom. ix. 5.]?’ Let them therefore confess, even they who previously denied that the Crucified was God, that they have erred; for the divine Scriptures bid them, and especially Thomas, who, after seeing upon Him the print of the nails, cried out ‘My Lord and my God [John xx. 28.]!’ For the Son, being God, and Lord of glory [1 Cor. ii. 8.], was in the Body which was ingloriously nailed and dishonoured; but the Body, while it suffered, being pierced on the tree, and water and blood flowed from its side, yet because it was a temple of the Word was filled full of the Godhead. For this reason it was that the sun, seeing its creator suffering in His outraged body, withdrew its rays and darkened the earth. But the body itself being of mortal nature, beyond its own nature rose again by reason of the Word which was in it; and it has ceased from natural corruption, and, having put on the Word which is above man, has become incorruptible.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 10 (source)

It’s particularly remarkable to see how Athanasius portrays Scripture as commanding them to believe (“for the divine Scriptures bid them”). Athanasius recognizes that the Scriptures can bid one to believe – they have authority – and they are the indisputable rule of faith. Athanasius indicates that the Christians will silence their own error once they see what Scripture so plainly teaches.

Section 11, which is about the only section we haven’t discussed, continues the same Scriptural arguments:

But with regard to the imagination of some, who say that the Word came upon one particular man, the Son of Mary, just as it came upon each of the Prophets, it is superfluous to discuss it, since their madness carries its own condemnation manifestly with it. For if He came thus, why was that man born of a virgin, and not like others of a man and woman? For in this way each of the saints also was begotten. Or why, if the Word came thus, is not the death of each one said to have taken place on our behalf, but only this man’s death? Or why, if the Word sojourned among us in the case of each one of the prophets, is it said only in the case of Him born of Mary that He sojourned here ‘once at the consummation of the ages [Heb. ix. 26.]?’

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 11 (source)

Notice how Athanasius refers to the opinion of men who suggest that the Word came to Jesus, rather than Jesus being the Word made flesh as “madness” in view of the plain Scriptural testimony. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that Athanasius viewed only Christ’s death as having taken place on our behalf, and not also the deaths of the martyrs.)

In conclusion, there are indeed passages of Athanasius that don’t expressly rely on Scripture. For example, in section 4:

For they say that God came in a human body. But the fathers who also assembled at Nicæa say that, not the body, but the Son Himself is coessential with the Father, and that while He is of the Essence of the Father, the body, as they admitted according to the Scriptures, is of Mary. Either then deny the Synod of Nicæa, and as heretics bring in your doctrine from the side; or, if you wish to be children of the fathers, do not hold the contrary of what they wrote.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 4 (source)

But when we see the fact that the fathers of Nicaea are mentioned only occasionally, while Scripture is mentioned throughout and that even comments like the comment above from section 4 is immediately preceded by the following sentences:

Whence did it occur to you, sirs, to say that the Body is of one Essence with the Godhead of the Word? For it is well to begin at this point, in order that by shewing this opinion to be unsound, all the others too may be proved to be the same. Now from the divine Scriptures we discover nothing of the kind.

– Athanasius, Letter 59, Section 4 (source)

In short, for Athanasius it is those divine Scriptures that are the rule of faith, and consequently they are what the fathers at Nicaea followed and taught. As Athanasius put it in section 1, “the Faith there confessed by the Fathers according to the divine Scriptures … .”

-TurretinFan

Athanasian Denial of Scripture’s Formal Sufficiency?

February 15, 2010

Sean Patrick of the Called to Communion blog has been providing some responses in the comment box in an earlier post (SP was primarily using the nick “Blogahon”).

SP has suggested that the following quotation from Athanasius negates the idea that Athanasius held to the formal sufficiency of Scripture. SP provides the quotation in this form:

‘For, what our fathers have delivered, this is trully doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers…Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the same doctrines, but quarreling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable heralds of truth agree together, and do not differ..preaching the same Word harmoniously’
– De Decretis 4

This seems to be a hasty edit of the version found at EWTN’s website:

‘For, what OUR FATHERS have delivered, THIS IS TRULY DOCTRINE; and this is truly the TOKEN of doctors, to CONFESS THE SAME THING with each other, and to vary NEITHER from themselves nor from their FATHERS…Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the SAME doctrines, but quarreling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable HERALDS of TRUTH AGREE TOGETHER, and do not differ..preaching the same Word harmoniously’
De Decretis 4

Both of these quotations have essentially the same content, and it is not as though SP has gone back to the source material to check what the context was and what has been omitted by the elipses. The entire section states:

Are they not then committing a crime, in their very thought to gainsay so great and ecumenical a Council? are they not in transgression, when they dare to confront that good definition against Arianism, acknowledged, as it is, by those who had in the first instance taught them irreligion? And supposing, even after subscription, Eusebius and his fellows did change again, and return like dogs to their own vomit of irreligion, do not the present gain-sayers deserve still greater detestation, because they thus sacrifice their souls’ liberty to others; and are willing to take these persons as masters of their heresy, who are, as James [James i. 8.] has said, double-minded men, and unstable in all their ways, not having one opinion, but changing to and fro, and now recommending certain statements, but soon dishonouring them, and in turn recommending what just now they were blaming? But this, as the Shepherd has said, is “the child of the devil [Hermas, Mand. ix.]” and the note of hucksters rather than of doctors. For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers; whereas they who have not this character are to be called not true doctors but evil. Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the same doctrines, but quarrelling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable heralds of the truth agree together, and do not differ. For though they lived in different times, yet they one and all tend the same way, being prophets of the one God, and preaching the same Word harmoniously.

– Athanasius, De Decretis, Chapter 2, Section 4.

Athanasius’ point here is actually that the heretics or those from whom the heretics were taught had previously affirmed Nicaea and were now (in essence) backing out of it. Thus, using Jacobian terminology he calls them “double-minded men, and unstable in all their ways, not having one opinion, but changing to and fro, and now recommending certain statements, but soon dishonouring them, and in turn recommending what just now they were blaming.”

Athanasius also alludes to “the Shepherd” (though we learn from his 39th festal letter that he did not regard that writing as Scripture) to characterize such vacillating men as children of the devil.

It is the vacillation, not opposition to the council itself, that Athanasius regards as the great crime. And we also note that the comment about living in different times, yet all preaching the Word harmoniously is explained not as a reference to Nicaea, but instead to the prophets (and others who spoke directly) of Scripture:

And thus what Moses taught, that Abraham observed; and what Abraham observed, that Noah and Enoch acknowledged, discriminating pure from impure, and becoming acceptable to God. For Abel too in this way witnessed, knowing what he had learned from Adam, who himself had learned from that Lord, who said, when He came at the end of the ages for the abolishment of sin, “I give no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which ye have heard from the beginning [1 John ii. 7.].” Wherefore also the blessed Apostle Paul, who had learned it from Him, when describing ecclesiastical functions, forbade that deacons, not to say bishops, should be double-tongued [1 Tim. iii. 8.]; and in his rebuke of the Galatians, he made a broad declaration, “If anyone preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be anathema, as I have said, so say I again. If even we, or an Angel from heaven should preach unto you any other Gospel than that ye have received, let him be anathema [Gal. i. 8, 9.].” Since then the Apostle thus speaks, let these men either anathematise Eusebius and his fellows, at least as changing round and professing what is contrary to their subscriptions; or, if they acknowledge that their subscriptions were good, let them not utter complaints against so great a Council. But if they do neither the one nor the other, they are themselves too plainly the sport of every wind and surge, and are influenced by opinions, not their own, but of others, and being such, are as little worthy of deference now as before, in what they allege. Rather let them cease to carp at what they understand not; lest so be that not knowing to discriminate, they simply call evil good and good evil, and think that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. Doubtless, they desire that doctrines which have been judged wrong and have been reprobated should gain the ascendancy, and they make violent efforts to prejudice what was rightly defined. Nor should there be any reason on our part for any further explanation, or answer to their excuses, neither on theirs for further resistance, but for an acquiescence in what the leaders of their heresy subscribed; for though the subsequent change of Eusebius and his fellows was suspicious and immoral, their subscription, when they had the opportunity of at least some little defence of themselves, is a certain proof of the irreligion of their doctrine. For they would not have subscribed previously had they not condemned the heresy, nor would they have condemned it, had they not been encompassed with difficulty and shame; so that to change back again is a proof of their contentious zeal for irreligion. These men also ought therefore, as I have said, to keep quiet; but since from an extraordinary want of modesty, they hope perhaps to be able to advocate this diabolical irreligion better than the others, therefore, though in my former letter written to thee, I have already argued at length against them, notwithstanding, come let us now also examine them, in each of their separate statements, as their predecessors; for now not less than then their heresy shall be shewn to have no soundness in it, but to be from evil spirits.

– Athanasius, De Decretis, Chapter 2, Section 4.

Notice that Athanasius makes it abundantly clear that what he is criticizing is the switching back and forth. The gospel doesn’t change and hasn’t changed from the beginning. Athanasius is emphatic about that. The great crime, then, is not opposition to an ecumenical council per se but vacillation regarding the gospel.

– TurretinFan


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