Archive for the ‘Sola Scriptura’ Category

Responding to Patrick Madrid’s Claims about Athanasius and Sola Scriptura

January 11, 2017

Patrick Madrid in “Envoy for Christ” accuses us of selective patristic quotation. He writes:

Sometimes Protestant apologists try to bolster their case for sola Scriptura by using highly selective quotes from Church Fathers such as Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Augustine, and Basil Caesarea. … These quotes, isolated from the rest of what the Father in question wrote about church authority, Tradition and Scripture, can give the appearance that these Fathers were hard-core Evangelicals who promoted an unvarnished sola Scriptura principle that would have done John Calvin proud.

John Calvin would likely retort that Madrid is reversing the order – Calvin inherited his view of sola Scriptura in large part from his extensive study of patristics. It’s certainly true that the “Church Fathers” were not Presbyterians or Reformed Baptists, but they did treat Scripture as being the only infallible writing they had. The accusations of isolation and selection are misleading at best. If one reads the works of Athanasius, one finds an almost constant appeal to the authority of Scripture, either implicitly or explicitly. It’s easy to allege that something has been misleadingly taken out of context, and it is quite another thing to provide the context that clarifies the meaning of the quotation.

Madrid argues:

Athanasius’s writings show no signs of sola Scriptura, but rather of his staunchly orthodox Catholicism. Athanasius, for example, wrote:

The confession arrived at Nicaea was, we say more, sufficient and enough by itself for the subversion of all irreligious heresy and for the security and furtherance of the doctrine of the Church. [Ad Afros, 1.]

And:

[T]he very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning was preached by the Apostles and preserved by the Fathers. On this the Church was founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian. [Ad Serapion, 1:28]

These are his two go-to quotations from Athanasius, but neither of these statements involves any rejection of sola Scriptura. The first statement, for example, does not say that it is because of the authority of Nicaea that the confession is sufficient. Nor does the second statement refer to some extra-scriptural tradition. On the contrary, it refers explicitly to Matthew 28:19. Look at the complete statement in its context:

28. But, beyond these sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. Upon this the Church is founded, and he who should fall away from it would not be a Christian, and should no longer be so called. There is, then, a Triad, holy and complete, confessed to be God in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, having nothing foreign or external mixed with it, not composed of one that creates and one that is originated, but all creative; and it is consistent and in nature indivisible, and its activity is one. The Father does all things through the Word in the Holy Spirit. Thus the unity of the holy Triad is preserved. Thus one God is preached in the Church, ‘who is over all,and through all, and in all‘ — ‘over all‘, as Father, as beginning, as fountain; ‘through all‘, through the Word; ‘in all‘, in the Holy Spirit. It is a Triad not only in name and form of speech, but in truth and actuality. For as the Father is he that is, so also his Word is one that is and God over all. And the Holy Spirit is not without actual existence, but exists and has true being. Less than these (Persons) the Catholic Church does not hold, lest she sink to the level of the modern Jews, imitators of Caiaphas, and to the level of Sabellius. Nor does she add to them by speculation, lest she be carried into the polytheism of the heathen. And that they may know this to be the faith of the Church, let them learn how the Lord, when sending forth the Apostles, ordered them to lay this foundation for the Church, saying: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.‘ The Apostles went, and thus they taught; and this is the preaching that extends to the whole Church which is under heaven.

The final line of the section clarifies and explains the first line of the section, quoted by Madrid. Thus, it turns out that Madrid has misled his readers by quoting Athanasius out of context, as though Athanasius were referring to something other than Scripture.

The letters of Athanasius to Serapion were translated a bit later than some of his more famous works. The editor of the translation, however, points out that there weren’t any contemporary critics of authenticity of these letters, and that Erasmus is the most notable person to reject letter 1 (the one that Madrid directed us to). The editor provides this interesting observation (p. 14 – bold emphasis mine):

That the style of these letters is heavier and less attractive than that of Athanasius’s best works will readily be admitted. But it must be remembered that it was written under very difficult circumstances, and that the writer himself regards it as needing correction and polish. Parts of it are little more than a series of Scriptural quotations. As Montfaucon says, to complain of a stiff and heavy style in the handling of such material, ‘idipsum sit quod nodum in scirpo quaerere‘. If further proof is needed, the reader is referred to the notes, which illustrate at many points the close connexion in thought and language between these letters and the other works of Athanasius.

Apart from isolated references in later works, we cannot be certain that Athanasius ever wrote anything further on the doctrine of the Spirit. Few genuine works survive from the last decade of his ministry. Had we, for instance, his correspondence with Basil, the story might be different. As it is, two works which Montfaucon thinks genuine and dates after 362 fall to be considered. The de Incarnatione et contra Arianos deals with the Godhead of the Spirit, 9-10 and 13-19; and the de Trinitate et Spiritu Sancto, which survives only in Latin, is chiefly a series of proof texts in support of that doctrine. The two works are closely connected; without being a transcript, one of them is clearly dependent upon the other.

Notice that this is a comment from someone intimately familiar with the works, not someone considering an isolated quote own its own.

As to the letter Ad Afros, keep in mind that this was a group letter by ninety Egyptian and Liberian bishops (including Athanasius) to the other bishops of Africa. The quotation may sound strongly worded in favor of Nicaea, but consider the opening line of the letter:

The letters are sufficient which were written by our beloved fellow-minister Damasus, bishop of the Great Rome, and the large number of bishops who assembled along with him; and equally so are those of the other synods which were held, both in Gaul and in Italy, concerning the sound Faith which Christ gave us, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers, who met at Nicæa from all this world of ours, have handed down.

Notice the parity with which the African bishops treat the various councils, including those presided over by Damasus. So, it is definitely true that we should be careful about jumping to conclusions just because the group of bishops uses the word “sufficient.”

The group of bishops, in Ad Afros, advanced the argument of the council of Nicaea against the council of Ariminum. However, to prove that Nicaea is superior to Ariminum, the group of bishops argue that the Nicene foruma is in accordance with Scripture (section 4) of the letter. Moreover, the bishops defend the term “co-essential” as expressing the sense of Scripture, even though it is not the express term used in Scripture.

Although the letter does appeal to the allegedly ecumenical nature of the council as a persuasive reason for adopting its position, nowhere in the letter does the group of bishops say or suggest that the council’s decision has equal authority in itself with Scripture, simply by virtue of being ecumenical. Furthermore, the letter expressly states, section 5, that the council fathers “wished to set down in writing the acknowledged language of Scripture” and that the only reason they used a word not from Scripture was that the Arian party kept twisting the meaning of those phrases. Thus, section 6 explains: “And lastly they wrote more plainly, and concisely, that the Son was coessential with the Father; for all the above passages signify this.” In other words, the Nicene fathers weren’t passing on unwritten tradition or defining dogma by their authority, but simply expressing the teachings of Scripture.

(Letter Ad Afros) (Letters to Serapion)

Sola Scriptura in Athanasius: "On the Incarnation of the Word"

October 19, 2016

The sequel to “Contra Gentes,” Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation of the Word” picks up where the prior work left off (link to detailed discussion of Sola Scriptura in Contra Gentes). He already has proven the divinity of the Word, but now he’s going to discuss how the Word became flesh. There are 57 sections to this work.

By the second section (link), Athanasius is already quoting Scripture. He continues doing the same in third section (link) where he also quotes from the Shepherd of Hermas (as “the most edifying book of the Shepherd”). He likewise continues to quote from scripture in the next two sections (4th5th) including a quote from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom in each section.

Athanasius continues his argument and explanation, relying on Biblical principles and doctrines, while not necessarily always quoting from Scripture.

In some places, Athanasius places particular emphasis on quoting Scripture, such as when proving his point from Scripture in section 10 (link). For example, he states: “And of this one may be assured at the hands of the Saviour’s own inspired writers, if one happen upon their writings … .”

In section 12 (link), Athanasius explains the purpose of Scripture:

But since men’s carelessness, by little and little, descends to lower things, God made provision, once more, even for this weakness of theirs, by sending a law, and prophets, men such as they knew, so that even if they were not ready to look up to heaven and know their Creator, they might have their instruction from those near at hand … For neither was the law for the Jews alone, nor were the Prophets sent for them only, but, though sent to the Jews and persecuted by the Jews, they were for all the world a holy school of the knowledge of God and the conduct of the soul.

In section 13 (link) Athanasius makes a telling comparison to human kings:

5. Once again, a merely human king does not let the lands he has colonized pass to others to serve them, nor go over to other men; but he warns them by letters, and often sends to them by friends, or, if need be, he comes in person, to put them to rebuke in the last resort by his presence, only that they may not serve others and his own work be spent for naught.

His point, of course, is that Christ’s coming is that last resort.

Athanasius does not necessarily always cite or quote from Scripture, though he does occasionally do so at length (for example, at section 18). Moreover, while Athanasius frequently appeals to what is “fitting” to persuade his reader, when it comes to actually proving the point, he goes to Scripture. For example, the following is from section 33 (link):

For Jews in their incredulity may be refuted from the Scriptures, which even themselves read; for this text and that, and, in a word, the whole inspired Scripture, cries aloud concerning these things, as even its express words abundantly shew. For prophets proclaimed beforehand concerning the wonder of the Virgin and the birth from her, saying: “Lo, the Virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, God with us.” [Isaiah 7:14 – also quoted in Matthew 1:23]
But Moses, the truly great, and whom they believe to speak truth, with reference to the Saviour’s becoming man, having estimated what was said as important, and assured of its truth, set it down in these words: “There shall rise a star out of Jacob, and a man out of Israel, and he shall break in pieces the captains of Moab.” [Numbers 24:17] And again: “How lovely are thy habitations O Jacob, thy tabernacles O Israel, as shadowing gardens, and as parks by the rivers, and as tabernacles which the Lord hath fixed, as cedars by the waters. A man shall come forth out of his seed, and shall be Lord over many peoples.” [LXX Numbers 24:5-7] And again, Esaias: “Before the Child know how to call father or mother, he shall take the power of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria before the king of Assyria.” [Isaiah 8:4]
That a man, then, shall appear is foretold in those words. But that He that is to come is Lord of all, they predict once more as follows: “Behold the Lord sitteth upon a light cloud, and shall come into Egypt, and the graven images of Egypt shall be shaken.” [Isaiah 19:1] For from thence also it is that the Father calls Him back, saying: “I called My Son out of Egypt.” [Hosea 11:1]

Notice that for Athanasius these doctrines are expressly and clearly taught in Scripture: “even its express words abundantly shew.”

The next section (section 34) continues in the same vein:

Nor is even His death passed over in silence: on the contrary, it is referred to in the divine Scriptures, even exceeding clearly. For to the end that none should err for want of instruction in the actual events, they feared not to mention even the cause of His death,—that He suffers it not for His own sake, but for the immortality and salvation of all, and the counsels of the Jews against Him and the indignities offered Him at their hands.
They say then: “A man in stripes, and knowing how to bear weakness, for his face is turned away: he was dishonoured and held in no account. He beareth our sins, and is in pain on our account; and we reckoned him to be in labour, and in stripes, and in ill-usage; but he was wounded for our sins, and made weak for our wickedness. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we were healed.” [Isaiah 53:3-5 – there seem to be some slight variants from both the Masoretic and LXX texts here] O marvel at the loving-kindness of the Word, that for our sakes He is dishonoured, that we may be brought to honour. “For all we,” it says, “like sheep were gone astray; man had erred in his way; and the Lord delivered him for our sins; and he openeth not his mouth, because he hath been evilly entreated. As a sheep was he brought to the slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before his shearer, so openeth he not his mouth: in his abasement his judgment was taken away.” [Isaiah 53:6-8]
Then lest any should from His suffering conceive Him to be a common man, Holy Writ anticipates the surmises of man, and declares the power (which worked) for Him, and the difference of His nature compared with ourselves, saying: “But who shall declare his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth. From the wickedness of the people was he brought to death. And I will give the wicked instead of his burial, and the rich instead of his death; for he did no wickedness, neither was guile found in his mouth. And the Lord will cleanse him from his stripes.” [Isaiah 53:8-10 – the text here seems close to the LXX]

Once again note that for Athanasius “it is referred to in the divine Scriptures, even exceeding clearly ….”

The following section (section 35) continues with more Scriptural proof:

But, perhaps, having heard the prophecy of His death, you ask to learn also what is set forth concerning the Cross. For not even this is passed over: it is displayed by the holy men with great plainness.
For first Moses predicts it, and that with a loud voice, when he says: “Ye shall see your Life hanging before your eyes, and shall not believe.” [Deuteronomy 28:66]
And next, the prophets after him witness of this, saying: “But I as an innocent lamb brought to be slain, knew it not; they counselled an evil counsel against me, saying, Hither and let us cast a tree upon his bread, and efface him from the land of the living.” [Jeremiah 11:19 – slightly different from both the LXX and Masoretic texts here]
And again: “They pierced my hands and my feet, they numbered all my bones, they parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.” [Psalm 22:16-18]
Now a death raised aloft and that takes place on a tree, could be none other than the Cross: and again, in no other death are the hands and feet pierced, save on the Cross only.
But since by the sojourn of the Saviour among men all nations also on every side began to know God; they did not leave this point, either, without a reference: but mention is made of this matter as well in the Holy Scriptures. For “there shall be,” he saith, “the root of Jesse, and he that riseth to rule the nations, on him shall the nations hope.” [Isaiah 11:10] This then is a little in proof of what has happened.
But all Scripture teems with refutations of the disbelief of the Jews. For which of the righteous men and holy prophets, and patriarchs, recorded in the divine Scriptures, ever had his corporal birth of a virgin only? Or what woman has sufficed without man for the conception of human kind? Was not Abel born of Adam, Enoch of Jared, Noe of Lamech, and Abraham of Tharra, Isaac of Abraham, Jacob of Isaac? Was not Judas born of Jacob, and Moses and Aaron of Ameram? Was not Samuel born of Elkana, was not David of Jesse, was not Solomon of David, was not Ezechias of Achaz, was not Josias of Amos, was not Esaias of Amos, was not Jeremy of Chelchias, was not Ezechiel of Buzi? Had not each a father as author of his existence? Who then is he that is born of a virgin only? For the prophet made exceeding much of this sign.
Or whose birth did a star in the skies forerun, to announce to the world him that was born? For when Moses was born, he was hid by his parents: David was not heard of, even by those of his neighbourhood, inasmuch as even the great Samuel knew him not, but asked, had Jesse yet another son? Abraham again became known to his neighbours as a great man only subsequently to his birth. But of Christ’s birth the witness was not man, but a star in that heaven whence He was descending.

Once again, note the affirmation that Scripture clearly teaches these important central truths:

  • “it is displayed by the holy men with great plainness”
  • “This then is a little in proof of what has happened”
  • “all Scripture teems with refutations of the disbelief of the Jews”

One of the most powerful indirect confirmations of the Sola Scriptura approach of Athanasius comes in section 37 (link), where Athanasius argues in this way: “Who then is he of whom the Divine Scriptures say this? Or who is so great that even the prophets predict of him such great things? None else, now, is found in the Scriptures but the common Saviour of all, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.” Similarly, in section 38 (link) “Since then nothing is said in the Scriptures, it is evident that these things had never taken place before.” Notice that Athanasius has a presupposition that the answer to the question is to be found in Scripture and if Scripture is silent, it didn’t happen. If Athanasius thought that Scripture were an incomplete record, this would not work – for simply exhausting Scripture would not be enough.

Similarly, in a number of sections Athanasius appeals to Scripture as proof:

  • “For if they do not think these proofs sufficient, let them be persuaded at any rate by other reasons, drawn from the oracles they themselves possess.” (Section 38)
  • “Or if not even this is sufficient for them, let them at least be silenced by another proof, seeing how clear its demonstrative force is. For the Scripture says …” (Section 38)
  • “But perhaps, being unable, even they, to fight continually against plain facts, they will, without denying what is written, maintain that they are looking for these things, and that the Word of God is not yet come. For this it is on which they are for ever harping, not blushing to brazen it out in the face of plain facts.” (Section 39)
  • “… then it must be plain, even to those who are exceedingly obstinate, that the Christ is come, and that He has illumined absolutely all with His light, and given them the true and divine teaching concerning His Father. So one can fairly refute the Jews by these and by other arguments from the Divine Scriptures.” (section 40)

My non-cessationist friends will be wise to note Athanasius’ confirmation of the cessation of prophecy: “To make prophecy, and king, and vision to cease? This too has already come to pass.” (section 40)

In arguing against the Greeks, Athanasius uses an excellent argument that demonstrates his view of Scripture (section 47 and section 50):

But as to Gentile wisdom, and the sounding pretensions of the philosophers, I think none can need our argument, since the wonder is before the eyes of all, that while the wise among the Greeks had written so much, and were unable to persuade even a few from their own neighbourhood, concerning immortality and a virtuous life, Christ alone, by ordinary language, and by men not clever with the tongue, has throughout all the world persuaded whole churches full of men to despise death, and to mind the things of immortality; to overlook what is temporal and to turn their eyes to what is eternal; to think nothing of earthly glory and to strive only for the heavenly.

But the Word of God, most strange fact, teaching in meaner language, has cast into the shade the choice sophists; and while He has, by drawing all to Himself, brought their schools to nought, He has filled His own churches; and the marvellous thing is, that by going down as man to death, He has brought to nought the sounding utterances of the wise concerning idols.

Interestingly, this is the first time churches are mentioned – but they are not mentioned as an authority, but rather as an evidence (section 24 included a brief mention of “those who would divide the Church”).

As he wraps up his book (section 56), Athanasius makes sure to point his reader back to Scripture:

Let this, then, Christ-loving man, be our offering to you, just for a rudimentary sketch and outline, in a short compass, of the faith of Christ and of His Divine appearing to usward. But you, taking occasion by this, if you light upon the text of the Scriptures, by genuinely applying your mind to them, will learn from them more completely and clearly the exact detail of what we have said. For they were spoken and written by God, through men who spoke of God.

Notice how Athanasius views Scripture as being an even better teacher than he is, and that simply by “genuinely applying your mind” you can learn the truths “more completely and clearly” with “the exact detail.” He gives the reason why: namely that they were “spoken and written by God.”

The most tradition-friendly line of the book then follows: “But we impart of what we have learned from inspired teachers who have been conversant with them, who have also become martyrs for the deity of Christ, to your zeal for learning, in turn.” But note that Athanasius does not hint or suggest that there is an epistemological need for these teachers. While Athanasius does use their martyrdom as a testimony to the truth of their position, to some extent, he never quotes from any of them throughout the work: only quoting from the Scripture or deuterocanonical works, such as Wisdom or the Shepherd.

In the final section (section 57), Athanasius continues his promotion of searching the Scriptures:

But for the searching of the Scriptures and true knowledge of them, an honourable life is needed, and a pure soul, and that virtue which is according to Christ; so that the intellect guiding its path by it, may be able to attain what it desires, and to comprehend it, in so far as it is accessible to human nature to learn concerning the Word of God.

So, Athanasius’ exhortation is not to accept the authority of those intermediate teachers, but rather to imitate their example of a godly life. Thus, even in pointing to those who went before us, Athanasius’ point is that “For without a pure mind and a modelling of the life after the saints, a man could not possibly comprehend the words of the saints.” His point is not that we need additional instructors alongside Scripture, but that we need to remove sin from our life in order to understand Scripture correctly.

-TurretinFan

Sola Scriptura in Athanasius: Contra Gentes

October 18, 2016

Athanasius’ first major work “Contra Gentes” begins with the line: “The knowledge of our religion and of the truth of things is independently manifest rather than in need of human teachers, for almost day by day it asserts itself by facts, and manifests itself brighter than the sun by the doctrine of Christ.” (source) Notice how Athanasius describes the truth of the Christian religion as being self-evident and explicitly not “in need of human teachers.”

Athanasius immediately continues: “Still, as you nevertheless desire to hear about it, Macarius, come let us as we may be able set forth a few points of the faith of Christ: able though you are to find it out from the divine oracles, but yet generously desiring to hear from others as well.” The divine oracles he refers to here are Scripture. Athanasius states that these things can be found out from Scripture, but that Macarius would like to hear it from others as well.

Athanasius then explicitly states:

For although the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth,—while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which a man will gain some knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures, and be able to learn what he wishes to know,—still, as we have not at present in our hands the compositions of our teachers, we must communicate in writing to you what we learned from them,—the faith, namely, of Christ the Saviour; lest any should hold cheap the doctrine taught among us, or think faith in Christ unreasonable.

Here Athanasius explicitly acknowledges the sufficiency of Scripture. He also confesses the usefulness of human teachers, and he himself is one such teacher, doing what our “blessed teachers” before him did: not infallibly defining the Scriptures, but simply explaining them.

After the introduction (section 1), Athanasius begins (section 2) with a discussion of Creation and general theology. He makes explicit reference to “Holy Scriptures,” and there are lots of doctrines obviously derived from Scripture taught in the section. He even quotes from Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

In the next section (section 3), Athanasius speaks of the fall. He again clearly derives his teaching from Scripture and makes his reliance on Scripture explicit: “… according to what the holy Scriptures tell us ….”

In the following section (section 4), Athansius speaks of the effects of the fall, particularly on the mind. He again derives his teaching from Scripture. Speaking to the intended purpose of the things man has, Athanasius describes “ears to listen to the divine oracles and the laws of God …” (“divine oracles” and “laws” are synonyms for Scripture). Athanasius quotes from 1 Corinthians 10:23 “All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient.”

In the next section (section 5), Athanasius speaks of the effects of the fall in terms of sins that flow from it. He once again derives his teaching from Scripture, with fairly obvious reliance on Romans 3:15 (“Their feet are swift to shed blood”), Proverbs 1:16 (“For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.”), or Isaiah 59:7 (“Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.”). Athanasius quotes from Philippians 3:14 “I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of Christ Jesus.”

Next (section 6), Athanasius makes reference to various erroneous views. He again relies on Scripture both to form his doctrinal correctives, but also to describe those in error (For example, he alludes to 1 Timothy 1:19). He is explicit in relying on Scripture to refute the errors: “But these men one can easily refute, not only from the divine Scriptures, but also from the human understanding itself ….” He then quotes from the gospels, quoting Jesus, quoting the Old Testament (bracketed references are my insertion): “To begin with, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ says in His own gospels confirming the words of Moses: “The Lord God is one; [Mark 12:29 / Deuteronomy 6:4]” and “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth [Matthew 11:25 / Luke 10:11 / Deuteronomy 10:14 / Genesis 24:3 / Exodus 31:17].”

Athanasius continues (section 7) by refuting a dualist notion that there is a good god and an evil god. Here we finally have a reference to the church, but it is simply “the truth of the Church’s theology must be manifest ….” Athanasius continues to argue from reason and Scripture. For example, referring to Scripture in yet another way, and quoting it, Athanasius writes: “as the Spirit says somewhere in writing, “God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions.” [Ecclesiastes 7:29]”

The next section (section 8) has Athanasius explaining how the error of the use of representational images in worship arose. In this discussion he has clear dependence on Romans 1:20-24. Moreover, he explicitly quotes from Scripture: ” But to this the divine Scripture testifies when it says, “When the wicked cometh unto the depth of evils, he despiseth.” [Proverbs (LXX) 18:3]” (You may recall we saw this same Scripture quoted in the Deposition of Arius)

After this (section 9) Athanasius deals with the descent into various things that are not divine as though they were deity, including creatures, non-existent things, passions, and parts. Here, Athanasius explicitly quotes from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom of Solomon as though it were Scripture, “According as the wisdom of God testifies beforehand when it says, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication.”[Wisdom 14:12]” (Cf. Athanasius’ explicit identification of Wisdom of Solomon as non-canonical in his 39th festal letter, although as that was written later than this, it may reflect a change of views on his part)

The next section (section 10) gets more specific in calling out specific deities that are simply dead humans, both male and female (Athanasius is especially down on the idea of worshiping women: “For even women, whom it is not safe to admit to deliberation about public affairs, they worship and serve with the honour due to God … “). While Scripture is not specifically mentioned, the dependence on Wisdom 14 seems pretty apparent.

The following section (section 11) provides a rebuttal. Athanasius again quotes Wisdom of Solomon 14, calling it “Scripture”, this time quoting it at length:

But of these and such like inventions of idolatrous madness, Scripture taught us beforehand long ago, when it said, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them, the corruption of life. For neither were they from the beginning, neither shall they be for ever. For the vainglory of men they entered into the world, and therefore shall they come shortly to an end. For a father afflicted with untimely mourning when he hath made an image of his child soon taken away, now honoured him as a god which was then a dead man, and delivered to those that were under him ceremonies and sacrifices. Thus in process of time an ungodly custom grown strong was kept as a law. And graven images were worshipped by the commands of kings. Whom men could not honour in presence because they dwelt afar off, they took the counterfeit of his visage from afar, and made an express image of the king whom they honoured, to the end that by this their forwardness they might flatter him that was absent as if he were present. Also the singular diligence of the artificer did help to set forward the ignorant to more superstition: for he, peradventure, willing to please one in authority, forced all his skill to make the resemblance of the best fashion: and so the multitude, allured by the grace of the work, took him now for a god, which a little before was but honoured as a man: and this was an occasion to deceive the world, for men serving either calamity or tyranny, did ascribe unto stones and stocks the incommunicable Name.” [Wisdom 14:12-21]

Next (section 12) Athanasius demonstrates both the frailty and the immorality of the deities, building on comments from previous sections.

Athanasius then (section 13) turns to the folly of idolatry. While he does not explicitly refer to Scripture, his argument closely follows that of Isaiah 44, for example Isiah 44:15-17 describing a person who cuts up wood, uses some for burning and the other for making a god.

His next section (section 14) is especially rich in Scripture. He begins:

But better testimony about all this is furnished by Holy Scripture, which tells us beforehand when it says, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. Eyes have they and will not see; a mouth have they and will not speak; ears have they and will not hear; noses have they and will not smell; hands have they and will not handle; feet have they and will not walk; they will not speak through their throat. Like unto them be they that make them.” [Psalm 115:4-8]

He then continues:

Nor have they escaped prophetic censure; for there also is their refutation, where the Spirit says, “they shall be ashamed that have formed a god, and carved all of them that which is vain: and all by whom they were made are dried up: and let the deaf ones among men all assemble and stand up together, and let them be confounded and put to shame together; for the carpenter sharpened iron, and worked it with an adze, and fashioned it with an auger, and set it up with the arm of his strength: and he shall hunger and be faint, and drink no water. For the carpenter chose out wood, and set it by a rule, and fashioned it with glue, and made it as the form of a man and as the beauty of man, and set it up in his house, wood which he had cut from the grove and which the Lord planted, and the rain gave it growth that it might be for men to burn, and that he might take thereof and warm himself, and kindle, and bake bread upon it, but the residue they made into gods, and worshipped them, the half whereof they had burned in the fire. And upon the half thereof he roasted flesh and ate and was filled, and was warmed and said: ‘It is pleasant to me, because I am warmed and have seen the fire.’ But the residue thereof he worshipped, saying, ‘Deliver me for thou art my god.’ They knew not nor understood, because their eyes were dimmed that they could not see, nor perceive with their heart; nor did he consider in his heart nor know in his understanding that he had burned half thereof in the fire, and baked bread upon the coals thereof, and roasted flesh and eaten it, and made the residue thereof an abomination, and they worship it. Know that their heart is dust and they are deceived, and none can deliver his soul. Behold and will ye not say, ‘There is a lie in my right hand?’” [Isaiah 44:9-20]

He wraps this up with conclusions including “How then can they fail to be judged godless by all, who even by the divine Scripture are accused of impiety?”

The next section (section 15) criticizes idols as being obviously inanimate objects. While he doesn’t explicitly quote Scripture here, his argument is reminiscent of Psalm 115:7 “They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.”

We could summarize the following section (section 16) as “inconsistency is the sign of a failed mythology” (to riff off Dr. White’s famous maxim). Athanasius points out that the poets’ description of the gods is inconsistent and consequently untrustworthy.

Athanasius then argues (section 17) that the poetic deification of these gods was designed to offset their human failings, as opposed to inventing the failings to bring the gods down. He suggests that this was arranged by God, because they were misappropriating “what Scripture calls the incommunicable name and honour of God” (apparently referring again to Wisdom 14).

Athanasius next (section 18) disputes the assertion that the gods invented the arts. On the contrary, Athanasius cleverly points out that in fact the artists who made the images invented the gods.

In the following section (section 19), Athanasius points out the inconsistencies of the use of images to represent God. He quotes from Romans 1:21-26:

For there are with them images of beasts and creeping things and birds, as the interpreter of the divine and true religion says, “They became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things, wherefore God gave them up unto vile passions.”

As an aside, I do find it interesting that Athanasius records the pagans using the same arguments as later idolatrous Christians would use:

While those who profess to give still deeper and more philosophical reasons than these say, that the reason of idols being prepared and fashioned is for the invocation and manifestation of divine angels and powers, that appearing by these means they may teach men concerning the knowledge of God; and that they serve as letters for men, by referring to which they may learn to apprehend God, from the manifestation of the divine angels effected by their means.

Next (section 20), Athanasius argues that images are not good teachers about God, because they are dead – mere dead reflections of living creatures and consequently less than them. Moreover, even if the images are beautiful, that beauty comes from living artists, not from the object of art.

The following section (section 21), contains a very similar argument dealing with the use of the images in connection with praying to (i.e. invoking) the diety represented, whether via angels or not. Once again, Athanasius finds this absurd.

Next (section 22), Athanasius argues that images are an inadequate representation of God both because they do not correspond to the form of God and because they are corruptible.

Then (section 23) Athanasius argues that the diversity of opinions amongst the pagans regarding gods is further evidence of the weakness of their view. What is considered deity by one group is food or an abomination by other groups, for example. Athanasius wraps up this discussion with what appears to be riff on (or paraphrase of) Romans 1:21-26, which had quoted a few sections earlier.

Athanasius next (section 24) once again points out that each group destroys the gods of the other group, either by sacrifice or eating. Picking on the Egyptians (fitting for his location), Athanasius points out that the water of the Nile is used to wash off dirt and is disposed of carelessly.

Next (section 25) Athanasius turns to the folly and abomination of human sacrifice. Athanasius points out the absurdity of offering equal to equal or arguably offering the higher to the lower, since a living human is sacrificed to a dead idol. He notes that this problem was not unique to one group of pagans, but widely problematic.

Athanasius then turns (section 26) to the sexual immorality that came from the worship of the gods. He quotes from Romans 1:26-27:

But all live along with the basest, and vie with the worst among themselves, and as Paul said, the holy minister of Christ: “For their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness.”

Next (section 27), Athanasius addresses the arguments of those who claim to worship the universe or parts of it, rather than animals. Athanasius claims that this position is rebutted by the testimony of the universe to her creator. Athanasius quotes Psalm 19:1:

as the divine law also says: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.”

Athanasius then (section 28) argues against the idea that the universe as a whole is God. This cannot be, because the universe is made up of parts.

In the final section of part 1 (section 29), Athanasius summarizes much of the preceding discussion by pointing out, in essence, that the whole system of paganism is inconsistent and unreliable. The forces of nature are opposed to one another, none of them being all powerful. He indicates that in the next part he will discuss the “Leader and Artificer of the Universe, the Word of the Father.”

Part II

The first section of part 2 (section 30), Athanasius argues that everyone can perceive God, because man has a rational soul. In support of his argument, Athanasius quotes from both the Old and New Testaments:

in the first instance, as Moses also taught, when he said: “The word” of faith “is within thy heart.” [Deuteronomy 30:14] Which very thing the Saviour declared and confirmed, when He said: “The kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:21]

The next section (section 31) contains Athanasius’ argument that man has a rational soul. He focuses on the fact that senses alone are not enough to make decisions not to grasp a sword blade or drink poison, and similarly more than senses are need to appreciate music.

After that (section 32), Athanasius argues against those who deny reason. He argues that the only way to explain the turning away of the senses from doing that which they are designed to do, such as turning away from seeing, etc. is reason governing the body. Athanasius also argues that sense experience leads away from eternality and immortality, but argues that our conception of those things demonstrates that there must be the presence of something immortal to produce a concept of immortality since our bodies could not have spontaneously come up with such a thing. Similarly, the existence of moral restraints are not explained by natural forces, but instead by a rational soul.

In the following section (section 33), Athanasius makes a reference to church teaching, but it is merely: “But that the soul is made immortal is a further point in the Church’s teaching which you must know ….” He then argues for this position, however, by reasoning from the difference between body and the soul (“But we shall more directly arrive at a knowledge of this from what we know of the body, and from the difference between the body and the soul.”), namely that the body has mortal objects and the soul has immortal objects. He does not appeal to any allegedly authoritative church tradition or church council.

Athansius then (section 34) concludes by going back to his Romans 1 themes and pointing out that men who deny they have a soul become like irrational animals, and that those who admit they have a soul are self-contradictory in worshiping a soul-less deity. In support of his position, Athanasius appeals to Scripture:

For the soul is made after the image and likeness of God, as divine Scripture also shews, when it says in the person of God: “Let us make man after our Image and likeness.” [Genesis 1:26]

Part III

Part 3 begins (section 35) with an argument by Athanasius that the invisible God can be seen through his visible works. In support of this argument, he appeals directly to the authority of Scripture:

And I say this not on my own authority, but on the strength of what I learned from men who have spoken of God, among them Paul, who thus writes to the Romans: “for the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made;” [Romans 1:20] while to the Lycaonians he speaks out and says: “We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good tidings, to turn from these vain things unto a Living God, Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is, Who in the generations gone by suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. And yet He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness.” [Acts 14:15-17]

Then (section 36) Athanasius produces a number of examples from nature that he believes demonstrate that nature has a creator who makes everything work together.

In the following section (section 37) Athanasius amplifies this argument by noting that the dualities of nature can only be explained by an overruling power holding them such that it’s not (for example) all hot or all cold, all light or all darkness. None of these dualities has won out, because they serve a higher purpose.

Then (section 38) Athanasius argues that the harmony of nature implies rule, and that this can only be rule by one.

Similarly, in the following section (section 39), Athanasius argues that multiple gods creating the universe would imply weakness and/or would result in disharmony.

Then (section 40), Athanasius answers the question: “Who is the one God who created the universe?” He asserts that it is God the Word. While he does not directly quote from the Scripture, numerous bits are clearly derived from the Scripture, such as the following:

  • “Father of Christ” (Cf. Romans 15:6)
  • “by His own Wisdom and His own Word, our Lord and Saviour Christ,” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Timothy 1:1)
  • “Word which is God” (Cf. John 1:1)
  • “He being the Power of God and Wisdom of God ” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24)
  • “has suspended the earth, and made it fast, though resting upon nothing” (cf. Job 26:7)
  • “the sea is kept within bounds,” (Cf. Jeremiah 5:22; Psalm 104:9)

Next, (section 41), Athanasius again discusses the Word. His discussion is rich with Biblical terminology, and he even concludes the section with an explicit quotation of Scripture:

For it partakes of the Word Who derives true existence from the Father, and is helped by Him so as to exist, lest that should come to it which would have come but for the maintenance of it by the Word,—namely, dissolution,—“for He is the Image of the invisible God, the first-born of all Creation, for through Him and in Him all things consist, things visible and things invisible, and He is the Head of the Church,” [Colossians 1:15-18] as the ministers of truth teach in their holy writings.

Then (section 42) Athanasius describes what the Word does. Once again, he closely follows Biblical teaching and even directly quotes from John’s gospel:

And, not to spend time in the enumeration of particulars, where the truth is obvious, there is nothing that is and takes place but has been made and stands by Him and through Him, as also the Divine says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made.” [John 1:1]

In the next section (section 43), Athanasius likens the universe to a choir, the human body with its senses, and a city, with the Word analogously being the conductor, the soul, and the king.

After that (section 44), Athanasius expands on his point about the Word being the ordering principle. Athanasius quotes from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom:

But Himself being over all, both Governor and King and organising power, He does all for the glory and knowledge of His own Father, so that almost by the very works that He brings to pass He teaches us and says, “By the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably the maker of them is seen.” [Wisdom 13:5]

Then (section 45) Athansius argues that just as the Universe shows us the Word, the Word shows us the Father. He quotes copiously from Scripture:

And this one may see from our own experience; for if when a word proceeds from men we infer that the mind is its source, and, by thinking about the word, see with our reason the mind which it reveals, by far greater evidence and incomparably more, seeing the power of the Word, we receive a knowledge also of His good Father, as the Saviour Himself says, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” [John 14:9] But this all inspired Scripture also teaches more plainly and with more authority, so that we in our turn write boldly to you as we do, and you, if you refer to them, will be able to verify what we say. 3. For an argument when confirmed by higher authority is irresistibly proved. From the first then the divine Word firmly taught the Jewish people about the abolition of idols when it said: “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or in the earth beneath.” [Exodus 20:4 / Deuteronomy 5:8] But the cause of their abolition another writer declares, saying: “The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the works of men’s hands: a mouth have they and will not speak, eyes have they and will not see, ears have they and will not hear, noses have they and will not smell, hands have they and will not handle, feet have they and will not walk.” [Psalm 135:15-17 / Psalm 115:4-7] Nor has it passed over in silence the doctrine of creation; but, knowing well its beauty, lest any attending solely to this beauty should worship things as if they were gods, instead of God’s works, it teaches men firmly beforehand when it says: “And do not when thou lookest up with thine eyes and seest the sun and moon and all the host of heaven, go astray and worship them, which the Lord thy God hath given to all nations under heaven.” [Deuteronomy 4:19] But He gave them, not to be their gods, but that by their agency the Gentiles should know, as we have said, God the Maker of them all. 4. For the people of the Jews of old had abundant teaching, in that they had the knowledge of God not only from the works of Creation, but also from the divine Scriptures. And in general to draw men away from the error and irrational imagination of idols, He saith: “Thou shalt have none other gods but Me.” [Exodus 20:3 / Deuteronomy 5:7] Not as if there were other gods does He forbid them to have them, but lest any, turning from the true God, should begin to make himself gods of what were not, such as those who in the poets and writers are called gods, though they are none. And the language itself shews that they are no Gods, when it says, “Thou shalt have none other gods,” which refers only to the future. But what is referred to the future does not exist at the time of speaking.

Notice in this section not only the fact that Athansius so abundantly relies on Scripture, but that he says “inspired Scripture also teaches more plainly and with more authority” (than nature and reason) and “an argument when confirmed by higher authority is irresistibly proved.”

The next section (section 46) continues Athanasius’ demonstration from Scripture (here, I quote the entire section, because it is so rich with Scripture quotations):

Has then the divine teaching, which abolished the godlessness of the heathen or the idols, passed over in silence, and left the race of mankind to go entirely unprovided with the knowledge of God? Not so: rather it anticipates their understanding when it says: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God;” [Deuteronomy 6:4] and again, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy strength;” [Deuteronomy 6:5 / Mark 12:30 / Luke 10:27] and again, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve, and shalt cleave to Him.” [Deuteronomy 10:20 / cf. Matthew 4:10 / Luke 4:8] 2. But that the providence and ordering power of the Word also, over all and toward all, is attested by all inspired Scripture, this passage suffices to confirm our argument, where men who speak of God say: “Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth and it abideth. The day continueth according to Thine ordinance.” [Psalm 119:90-91 / LXX Psalm 118:90-91] And again: “Sing to our God upon the harp, that covereth the heaven with clouds, that prepareth rain for the earth, that bringeth forth grass upon the mountains, and green herb for the service of man, and giveth food to the cattle.” [Psalm 147:7-8] 3. But by whom does He give it, save by Him through Whom all things were made? For the providence over all things belongs naturally to Him by Whom they were made; and who is this save the Word of God, concerning Whom in another psalm he says: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth.” [Psalm 33:6] For He tells us that all things were made in Him and through Him. 4. Wherefore He also persuades us and says, “He spake and they were made, He commanded and they were created;” [LXX Psalm 148:5] as the illustrious Moses also at the beginning of his account of Creation confirms what we say by his narrative, saying: and God said, “let us make man in our image and after our likeness:” [Genesis 1:26] for also when He was carrying out the creation of the heaven and earth and all things, the Father said to Him, “Let the heaven be made,” and “let the waters be gathered together and let the dry land appear,” and “let the earth bring forth herb” and “every green thing:” [Genesis 1] so that one must convict Jews also of not genuinely attending to the Scriptures. 5. For one might ask them to whom was God speaking, to use the imperative mood? If He were commanding and addressing the things He was creating, the utterance would be redundant, for they were not yet in being, but were about to be made; but no one speaks to what does not exist, nor addresses to what is not yet made a command to be made. For if God were giving a command to the things that were to be, He must have said, “Be made, heaven, and be made, earth, and come forth, green herb, and be created, O man.” But in fact He did not do so; but He gives the command thus: “Let us make man,” and “let the green herb come forth.” By which God is proved to be speaking about them to some one at hand: it follows then that some one was with Him to Whom He spoke when He made all things. 6. Who then could it be, save His Word? For to whom could God be said to speak, except His Word? Or who was with Him when He made all created Existence, except His Wisdom, which says: “When He was making the heaven and the earth I was present with Him?” [Proverbs 8:27 – “and earth” may be a variant] But in the mention of heaven and earth, all created things in heaven and earth are included as well. 7. But being present with Him as His Wisdom and His Word, looking at the Father He fashioned the Universe, and organised it and gave it order; and, as He is the power of the Father, He gave all things strength to be, as the Saviour says: “What things soever I see the Father doing, I also do in like manner.” [John 5:19] And His holy disciples teach that all things were made “through Him and unto Him;” [Romans 11:36] 8. and, being the good Offspring of Him that is good, and true Son, He is the Father’s Power and Wisdom and Word, not being so by participation, nor as if these qualifies were imparted to Him from without, as they are to those who partake of Him and are made wise by Him, and receive power and reason in Him; but He is the very Wisdom, very Word, and very own Power of the Father, very Light, very Truth, very Righteousness, very Virtue, and in truth His express Image, and Brightness, and Resemblance. And to sum all up, He is the wholly perfect Fruit of the Father, and is alone the Son, and unchanging Image of the Father.

Notice that Athanasius believes that the divinity of the Word as distinct from the Father is already sufficiently clear from the Old Testament: “one must convict Jews also of not genuinely attending to the Scriptures.”

Finally (section 47), Athanasius concludes the work. He continues to quote from Scripture:

But in and through Him He reveals Himself also, as the Saviour says: “I in the Father and the Father in Me:” [John 14:10] so that it follows that the Word is in Him that begat Him, and that He that is begotten lives eternally with the Father. But this being so, and nothing being outside Him, but both heaven and earth and all that in them is being dependent on Him, yet men in their folly have set aside the knowledge and service of Him, and honoured things that are not instead of things that are: and instead of the real and true God deified things that were not, “serving the creature rather than the Creator,” [Romans 1:25] thus involving themselves in foolishness and impiety.

He concludes with an exhortation to worship the Word or face peril on judgment day.

You will notice that although there were a couple of mentions of the church, there was no appeal to the authority of the church nor any appeal to the authority of church tradition apart from Scripture. Instead, the only appeal to authority was to the authority of Scripture, a source of authority that to Athanasius was so clear in its teaching of the deity of Christ even in the Old Testament that the Jews are to be faulted for inattentively reading the Old Testament Scriptures.

-TurretinFan

Sola Scriptura and Alexander of Alexandria "The Deposition of Arius" (Possibly Athanasius)

October 7, 2016

Around A.D. 320-324 Alexander of Alexandria sent out a letter regarding “The Deposition of Arius” (available from the CCEL here) As Athanasius was Alexander’s right hand man at the time and because the arguments are similar to Athansius’ own later arguments, it is believed Athanasius may have possibly authored the letter. What does this letter have to say about adherence to Sola Scriptura or some other view?

The letter does talk about “the doctrines of the Catholic Church” (meaning the universal church, not today’s RCC) and “the sound Catholic Faith” (at the beginning and end of the letter). How are these doctrines and this faith defined, though? The constant appeal is to Scripture. We will see that in each of the sections.

First, section 1:

1. As there is one body of the Catholic Church, and a command is given us in the sacred Scriptures to preserve the bond of unity and peace, it is agreeable thereto that we should write and signify to one another whatever is done by each of us individually; so that whether one member suffer or rejoice, we may either suffer or rejoice with one another. Now there are gone forth in this diocese, at this time, certain lawless men, enemies of Christ, teaching an apostasy, which one may justly suspect and designate as a forerunner of Antichrist. I was desirous to pass such a matter by without notice, in the hope that perhaps the evil would spend itself among its supporters, and not extend to other places to defile the ears of the simple. But seeing that Eusebius, now of Nicomedia, who thinks that the government of the Church rests with him, because retribution has not come upon him for his desertion of Berytus, when he had cast an eye of desire on the Church of the Nicomedians, begins to support these apostates, and has taken upon him to write letters every where in their behalf, if by any means he may draw in certain ignorant persons to this most base and antichristian heresy; I am therefore constrained, knowing what is written in the law, no longer to hold my peace, but to make it known to you all; that you may understand who the apostates are, and the cavils which their heresy has adopted, and that, should Eusebius write to you, you may pay no attention to him, for he now desires by means of these men to exhibit anew his old malevolence, which has so long been concealed, pretending to write in their favour, while in truth it clearly appears, that he does it to forward his own interests.

Notice that Alexander begins his comments with a reference to Scripture, specifically Ephesians 4:3-4 “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling … .” Next he alludes to 1 Corinthians 12:26 “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” He then seems to allude to 1 John 2 “18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. … 22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” and Jude 4 “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is an interesting comment made by Alexander: “I am therefore constrained, knowing what is written in the law, no longer to hold my peace, but to make it known to you all … .” What law can he be referring to? As an examination of the rest of the letter shows, it seems the law he has in mind is Scripture.

Turning to section 2:

2. Now those who became apostates are these, Arius, Achilles, Aeithales, Carpones, another Arius, and Sarmates, sometime Presbyters: Euzoïus, Lucius, Julius, Menas, Helladius, and Gaius, sometime Deacons: and with them Secundus and Theonas, sometime called Bishops. And the novelties they have invented and put forth contrary to the Scriptures are these following:—God was not always a Father, but there was a time when God was not a Father. The Word of God was not always, but originated from things that were not; for God that is, has made him that was not, of that which was not; wherefore there was a time when He was not; for the Son is a creature and a work. Neither is He like in essence to the Father; neither is He the true and natural Word of the Father; neither is He His true Wisdom; but He is one of the things made and created, and is called the Word and Wisdom by an abuse of terms, since He Himself originated by the proper Word of God, and by the Wisdom that is in God, by which God has made not only all other things but Him also. Wherefore He is by nature subject to change and variation as are all rational creatures. And the Word is foreign from the essence of the Father, and is alien and separated therefrom. And the Father cannot be described by the Son, for the Word does not know the Father perfectly and accurately, neither can He see Him perfectly. Moreover, the Son knows not His own essence as it really is; for He is made for us, that God might create us by Him, as by an instrument; and He would not have existed, had not God wished to create us. Accordingly, when some one asked them, whether the Word of God can possibly change as the devil changed, they were not afraid to say that He can; for being something made and created, His nature is subject to change.

Notice that the standard Alexander immediately adopts is Scripture: “the novelties they have invented and put forth contrary to the Scriptures.” Of course, as the rest of his comments are a short summary of the abominable heresies, he has no Scriptural support for these novelties.

Turning to section 3:

3. Now when Arius and his fellows made these assertions, and shamelessly avowed them, we being assembled with the Bishops of Egypt and Libya, nearly a hundred in number, anathematized both them and their followers. But Eusebius and his fellows admitted them to communion, being desirous to mingle falsehood with the truth, and impiety with piety. But they will not be able to do so, for the truth must prevail; neither is there any “communion of light with darkness,” nor any “concord of Christ with Belial.” For who ever heard such assertions before? or who that hears them now is not astonished and does not stop his ears lest they should be defiled with such language? Who that has heard the words of John, “In the beginning was the Word,” will not denounce the saying of these men, that “there was a time when He was not?” Or who that has heard in the Gospel, “the Only-begotten Son,” and “by Him were all things made,” will not detest their declaration that He is “one of the things that were made.” For how can He be one of those things which were made by Himself? or how can He be the Only-begotten, when, according to them, He is counted as one among the rest, since He is Himself a creature and a work? And how can He be “made of things that were not,” when the Father saith, “My heart hath uttered a good Word,” and “Out of the womb I have begotten Thee before the morning star?” Or again, how is He “unlike in substance to the Father,” seeing He is the perfect “image” and “brightness” of the Father, and that He saith, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father?” And if the Son is the “Word” and “Wisdom” of God, how was there “a time when He was not?” It is the same as if they should say that God was once without Word and without Wisdom. And how is He “subject to change and variation,” Who says, by Himself, “I am in the Father, and the Father in Me,” and “I and the Father are One;” and by the Prophet, “Behold Me, for I am, and I change not?” For although one may refer this expression to the Father, yet it may now be more aptly spoken of the Word, viz., that though He has been made man, He has not changed; but as the Apostle has said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” And who can have persuaded them to say, that He was made for us, whereas Paul writes, “for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things?”

Alexander begins by mentioning a regional council in Africa. He notes, however, that not everyone accepted the anathema of that council, focusing primarily on Eusebius of Nicomedia.

Alexander argues that Eusebius of Nicomedia is wrong to have communion with Arius, citing 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?”

To rebut Arius’ position, Alexander turns directly to Scripture, quoting from John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word.” He then also cites “only-begotten son” (John 1:18) and “all things were made by Him” (John 1:3).

He does not limit himself to the New Testament. He cites Psalm (LXX 44:2) “my heart has uttered a good word; I speak my works to the king.” (See Psalm 45:1 in our Bibles) (Origen a spiritual ancestor of Athanasius in Alexandria (ca. 185 – 254), in his commentary on John, Book 1, at sections 151 and 280, pp. 64 and 91, draws the same connection to this psalm, which otherwise might not seem necessarily relevant.) He also cites Psalm (LXX 109:3) “Before the morning star have I begotten thee from the womb” (See Psalm 110:3 in our Bibles) (a younger contemporary of Athanasius, Epiphanius of Salamis (ca. 310 or 320 to 403) in his Panarion makes a similar connection to this Psalm, in Anacephalaeosis V, 65 “Against Paul the Samosatian,” at 4,4-8, pp. 219-220)

He then goes back and cites Hebrews 1:3 “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, … ” and John 14:9 “… he that hath seen me hath seen the Father … .”

Alexander continues by citing the Biblical titles of “Word” (e.g. John 1:1) and “Wisdom” (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30).

Alexander also cites John 14:10 “I am in the Father, and the Father in me” and John 10:30 “I and my Father are one.”

Once again, Alexander goes back to the Old Testament and quotes Malachi 3:6: “For I am the Lord, I change not” (the “behold me” in Alexander’s citation may be taken from Isaiah 65:1: “I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.” or possibly from Malach 3:1: “Behold, I send forth my messenger, and he shall survey the way before me …”)

He then quotes from Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” and again from Hebrews 2:10: “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”

Turning to section 4:

4. As to their blasphemous position that “the Son knows not the Father perfectly,” we ought not to wonder at it; for having once set themselves to fight against Christ, they contradict even His express words, since He says, “As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father.” Now if the Father knows the Son but in part, then it is evident that the Son does not know the Father perfectly; but if it is not lawful to say this, but the Father does know the Son perfectly, then it is evident that as the Father knows His own Word, so also the Word knows His own Father Whose Word He is.

Notice again that Alexander quotes from Scripture, John 10:15 “As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: … .”

Turning to section 5:

5. By these arguments and references to the sacred Scriptures we frequently overthrew them; but they changed like chameleons, and again shifted their ground, striving to bring upon themselves that sentence, “when the wicked falleth into the depth of evils, he despiseth.” There have been many heresies before them, which, venturing further than they ought, have fallen into folly; but these men by endeavouring in all their cavils to overthrow the Divinity of the Word, have justified the other in comparison of themselves, as approaching nearer to Antichrist. Wherefore they have been excommunicated and anathematized by the Church. We grieve for their destruction, and especially because, having once been instructed in the doctrines of the Church, they have now sprung away. Yet we are not greatly surprised, for Hymenæus and Philetus did the same, and before them Judas, who followed the Saviour, but afterwards became a traitor and an apostate. And concerning these same persons, we have not been left without instruction; for our Lord has forewarned us; “Take heed lest any man deceive you: for many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and the time draweth near, and they shall deceive many: go ye not after them;” while Paul, who was taught these things by our Saviour, wrote that “in the latter times some shall depart from the sound faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, which reject the truth.”

Here Alexander makes it explicit that his constant and continual practice in rebutting these heresies was appeal to Scripture:”By these arguments and references to the sacred Scriptures we frequently overthrew them … .” In condemning them as wicked he again quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures, Proverbs (LXX – Brenton trans.) 18:3: “When an ungodly man comes into a depth of evils, he despises them; but dishonour and reproach come upon him.”

Finally, Alexander comes back to mentioning the church. He says that in view of their folly/heresies “Wherefore they have been excommunicated and anathematized by the Church.”

He says that their apostasy is sad but not unexpected, citing Biblical examples of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17-18) as well as Judas (e.g. Acts 1:25). He then points to Jesus’ warning in Luke 21:8: “Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them” and Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 ” Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;”

Lastly, turning to section 6:

6. Since then our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has instructed us by His own mouth, and also hath signified to us by the Apostle concerning such men, we accordingly being personal witnesses of their impiety, have anathematized, as we said, all such, and declared them to be alien from the Catholic Faith and Church. And we have made this known to your piety, dearly beloved and most honoured fellow-ministers, in order that should any of them have the boldness to come unto you, you may not receive them, nor comply with the desire of Eusebius, or any other person writing in their behalf. For it becomes us who are Christians to turn away from all who speak or think any thing against Christ, as being enemies of God, and destroyers of souls; and not even to “bid such God speed,” lest we become partakers of their sins, as the blessed John hath charged us. Salute the brethren that are with you. They that are with me salute you.

Notice again that Alexander appeals to the authority of Scripture as being the mouth of Jesus and the Apostles, referring to the warnings of section 5. There is again a reference to church discipline, but notice that Alexander is only asserting a declaration of what has been discovered, not assertion the ability to define what is true. Finally, he concludes with yet another warning from Scripture, 2 John 10-11: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

In conclusion, we see that Alexander of Alexandria, and possibly his right hand man Athanasius, both relied in this letter exclusively, explicitly, and extensively on the authority of Scripture to combat the Arian heresy. This letter, therefore, may not have any explicit assertion of Sola Scriptura, but it is a great example of Sola Scriptura in practice even in a ecclesiastical setting that is different from our own. A lot of the orthodox men of the church in that time endorsed this letter, which implicitly endorses the approach of Sola Scriptura. Amongst them were Athanasius, as Alexander introduces the letter by saying “Alexander, being assembled with his beloved brethren, the Presbyters and Deacons of Alexandria,” which would have included Athanasius.

-TurretinFan

Actually, Jesus Did Ask Someone to Write a Book

February 12, 2015

About 43 minutes into episode #6838 of Catholic Answers Live, Patrick Coffin, the host of the show, stated: “Jesus never wrote a book, didn’t ask anybody to write a book, or you know – put on kind of memo on the fridges of Nazareth, but he did found a church.”

I’ve previously addressed this “Jesus Didn’t Write a Book” Objection (link to previous treatment). While I stand by that response, let me provide some further response Mr. Coffin’s assertions here, since Mr. Coffin is guilty of a redemptive history error, a trinitarian error, and a simple factual error (not even to get into his ecclesiastical error).

1. Redemption History Error

Mr. Coffin’s characterization, by focusing on the form of the revelation of Jesus Christ misses the place of revelation in the history of redemption. It is by revelation that the church was founded. The revelation of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church that Jesus founded. That’s why Jesus said to Peter:

Matthew 16:17-19
And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Jesus focuses on the fact that Peter’s confession was something revealed to him by the Father. It is on that confession of faith – revealed by God – that the church was to be founded.
That’s why Irenaeus says: “For we learned the plan of our salvation from no others than from those through whom the gospel came to us. They first preached it abroad, and then later by the will of God handed it down to us in Writings, to be the foundation and pillar of our faith” and again a little later on “the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel” (Against Heresies, Book 3, Sections 1 and 8).
And Irenaeus is being Scriptural:

Hebrews 1:1-2, 2:1-4, 4:2
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; … Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? …
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.

You see the foundation of the church is the revelation of Jesus Christ – not the other way around. Even if the assembly of Jesus’ followers (i.e. the church) can be said to have begun before the writing of the New Testament Scriptures – still they are a record of the revelation that preceded and founded the church. They are the cause of the church – not the effect of the church.

2. Trinitarian Error

Mr. Coffin’s comments invite the listener to divide Jesus from the person of the Spirit, to the extent that one considers the plain and inescapable fact that the Spirit did command people to write a book. Even assuming it were true that Jesus didn’t personally command the writing of Scripture, the Spirit did, and that’s not any more or less authoritative than if Jesus himself did it. The Spirit is not a lesser deity.

Moreover, the Spirit was united in Jesus’ revelatory mission:

John 14:17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

John 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

John 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

That leads us to a third category of error:

3. Factual Error

Mr. Coffin has forgotten about the fact that the Bible itself tells us that Jesus commanded John to write a book:

Revelation 1:1-3, 11, 19 and 21:5
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. … Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. … Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; … And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.

I understand that the book of Revelation is excluded from the readings of Scripture in the Roman liturgy, but even Trent had to admit that it is canonical and authoritative Scripture.

I suppose I could add to the above that Mr. Coffin’s conception of Christ founding a church is way off. Mr. Coffin has in mind a hierarchical structure of authority, whereas when Christ talked about founding his church on the rock of Peter’s confession, he was talking about followers united by faith. While God did appoint a structure of authority within the church, that was not the primary sense in which he founded a church. Perhaps we can get into that more in another post.

-TurretinFan

The "Jesus Didn’t Write a Book" Objection

May 30, 2014

Over the years, I’ve noticed a number of objections to accepting the Scriptures as an authority over the church. One of the oddest objections is “Jesus didn’t write a book” (example from David Meyers). Against certain Muslims who think that Jesus wrote a book called “the Injeel,” this might be an important objection. Against Christians, though, this is a very odd objection. Especially since Jesus and the Apostles were so reliant on the Old Testament Scriptures:

Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

Luke 24:44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.

John 12:16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.

Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is the Word of God – the Holy Spirit inspired it. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit according to the will of the Father. As it is written:

Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

Romans 16:25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

Ephesians 3:3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,

Galatians 1:12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

So, specifically the book of Revelation was a revelation given by Jesus to John (that addresses Meyer’s sub-objection that “we don’t even know if he told his followers to write anything down, and often it seems they dont expect it to be scripture anyway”), and more generally what Paul taught was revealed to him by Jesus. But what about Scripture generally?

2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

And not only is it inspired by God, but God is indeed the reason for Scripture’s existence:

2 Peter 1:19-21
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

So, the Scriptures come according to in the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit and he speaks what Jesus spoke:

John 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Thus, the New Testament is the revelation of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, as it is written:

Hebrews 1:1-2
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

I’d love to write more, but hopefully this answers the objection thoroughly – Jesus in his humanity did not write a book, but he sent the Holy Spirit by whose inspiration his oral teachings were brought to remembrance and memorialized in Scripture:

Luke 1:1-4
Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

John 20:30-31
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

-TurretinFan

Did Athanasius Say Tradition Plus Scripture?

March 20, 2014

One oft-quoted passage of Athanaisus comes from his second festal letter:

Festal Letter 2, section 6:
For not only in outward form did those wicked men dissemble, putting on as the Lord says sheep’s clothing, and appearing like unto whited sepulchres; but they took those divine words in their mouth, while they inwardly cherished evil intentions. And the first to put on this appearance was the serpent, the inventor of wickedness from the beginning—the devil,—who, in disguise, conversed with Eve, and forthwith deceived her. But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians, because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions. And the Lord most righteously reproved the Jews, saying, ‘Wherefore do ye also transgress the commandments of God on account of your traditions.’ For they changed the commandments they received from God after their own understanding, preferring to observe the traditions of men. And about these, a little after, the blessed Paul again gave directions to the Galatians who were in danger thereof, writing to them, ‘If any man preach to you aught else than that ye have received, let him be accursed.’

Usually the way this is cited is to quote merely the following portion: “But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power.”  It is stated or implied by the people providing this quotation that when Athanasius says “opinions as the saints have handed down” he means “oral tradition” or something of that kind.  That’s not correct.

Instead, the “opinions” Athanasius has in mind is simply the Scriptures themselves taken in their correct meaning.  Likewise the “them” that the heretics receive as “traditions of men” are the Scriptures, not oral traditions.

Athanasius is saying that the heretics do not know the Scriptures nor the power of the Scriptures.  Therefore, instead of following the text and meaning of the Scriptures they prefer to follow the traditions of men.

This can be seen from an examination of the context preceding as well as the context following.  In the context preceding:

Festal Letter 2, section 5:
Oh! my brethren, how shall we admire the loving-kindness of the Saviour? With what power, and with what a trumpet should a man cry out, exalting these His benefits! That not only should we bear His image, but should receive from Him an example and pattern of heavenly conversation; that as He hath begun, we should go on, that suffering, we should not threaten, being reviled, we should not revile again, but should bless them that curse, and in everything commit ourselves to God who judgeth righteously. For those who are thus disposed, and fashion themselves according to the Gospel, will be partakers of Christ, and imitators of apostolic conversation, on account of which they shall be deemed worthy of that praise from him, with which he praised the Corinthians, when he said, ‘I praise you that in everything ye are mindful of me.’ Afterwards, because there were men who used his words, but chose to hear them as suited their lusts, and dared to pervert them, as the followers of Hymenæus and Alexander, and before them the Sadducees, who as he said, ‘having made shipwreck of faith,’ scoffed at the mystery of the resurrection, he immediately proceeded to say, ‘And as I have delivered to you traditions, hold them fast.’ That means, indeed, that we should think not otherwise than as the teacher has delivered.

Notice that “the teacher delivered” refers to Paul as “the teacher.”  It is what Paul handed down, namely the Scriptures, that Athanasius has in mind.  The heretics are those who “were men who used his words, but chose to hear them as suited their lusts, and dared to pervert them.”  In other words, they did not consider the words as they were written, but as they wished they were written.  To put it in modern terms, they eisegeted rather than exegeting.

Again, in the context following:

Festal Letter 2, section 7:
For there is no fellowship whatever between the words of the saints and the fancies of human invention; for the saints are the ministers of the truth, preaching the kingdom of heaven, but those who are borne in the opposite direction have nothing better than to eat, and think their end is that they shall cease to be, and they say, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.’ Therefore blessed Luke reproves the inventions of men, and hands down the narrations of the saints, saying in the beginning of the Gospel, ‘Since many have presumed to write narrations of those events of which we are assured, as those who from the beginning were witnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered to us; it hath seemed good to me also, who have adhered to them all from the first, to write correctly in order to thee, O excellent Theophilus, that thou mayest know the truth concerning the things in which thou hast been instructed.’ For as each of the saints has received, that they impart without alteration, for the confirmation of the doctrine of the mysteries. Of these the (divine) word would have us disciples, and these should of right be our teachers, and to them only is it necessary to give heed, for of them only is ‘the word faithful and worthy of all acceptation;’ these not being disciples because they heard from others, but being eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, that which they had heard from Him have they handed down.

Notice that Athanasius here clarifies what opinions of the saints he has in mind – the testimony found in Scripture, such as Luke’s Gospel.

Notice as well that Athanasius says “to them only” it is necessary to give heed.  Notice as well that he clarifies “these not being disciples because they heard from others, but being eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word”.  And Athanasius has hit the nail on the head.  The purpose of Luke’s gospel was to memorialize the preceding oral tradition and to provide certainty to the readers.

In short, Athanasius was affirming that Scripture is not merely a human tradition, but rather the testimony of eye-witnesses and has apostolic authority, having been handed down from “the teacher.”

– TurretinFan

Christian Answers to Two Roman Catholic Questions on "Catholic Answers"

January 11, 2014

The show that calls itself “Catholic Answers,” recently featured a Missouri Synod Lutheran caller as highlighted on a recent Dividing Line.  In response to the caller, the hosts began asking him some questions.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you get these same questions from some of your Roman Catholic friends and acquaintances, particularly those who listen to “Catholic Answers.”

Question 1: Where is Sola Scriptura in the Bible?
Short Answer: John 20:31 says, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” And many other verses.
Brief Explanation: John’s statement implies that a person could pick up John’s gospel, read it, believe it, and receive eternal life in that way.  Moreover, John’s statement at least hints at the fact that the other gospels have a similar purpose – they are written for us to read, believe, and have eternal life.
Possible Objection: But where is the only in that text?
Response: The sola or only of “Sola Scriptura” is simply a negative claim – in other words, it’s saying that Scripture is unique – there’s nothing else like Scripture. If you want some verses that emphasize the unique character of Scripture, those also exist.
For example, Romans 3:4 says “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, “That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.’ (Psalm 51:4)”  This emphasizes the crucial distinction between God’s word and mens’ words.
Another example is this: 

Deuteronomy 13:1-5If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, “Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;” thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.

The point to take away from that passage is that even if someone has authority that appears to be attested by working wonders, the person’s message should be judged by the Scriptures (in this case, by the Pentateuch). 
Paul similarly warns the Galatians: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8)  Someone may object that “preached” could refer to the gospel Paul delivered orally.  Nevertheless, we have that gospel in written form today.
Likewise, the Bereans are commended for subjecting the apostles’ own preaching to a comparison with the Scriptures: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
Question 2: Where is “Scripture interprets Scripture” in the Bible?
Short answer: 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” If that is true, then it follows that all Scripture has one divine author even if it has many human authors.
Longer answer: Indeed, we have examples of Scripture interpreting itself explicitly, such as the quotation from John 20:31, above, which provides a purpose for the book of John, and more broadly for Scripture. Other examples include the citation of Old Testament passages in the New Testament, together with explanations of what they meant or how they were fulfilled in Christ.  Indeed, sometimes the New Testament includes Jesus’ own explanation of his parables.  Numerous other examples could be provided.
Rejoinder: But even if we had no answer, can the matter seriously be doubted?  Does the person asking the question really think that the Bible is either incomprehensible or should not be understood by taking one part in relation to another?  
Even the Roman Catholic “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” puts it this somewhat poetic (and consequently imprecise) way (CCC 102): 

Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely: You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time.

We understand that Rome wishes to deny Christians the ability to judge her doctrines by Scripture, but surely it cannot be denied that Scripture does interpret Scripture.  How else would one read it?  As just isolated statements each possibly meaning anything at all?  The very notion seems bizarre.

-TurretinFan

Binding and Loosing – a "Matter of Interpretation"?

April 23, 2013

Roman Catholics have the burden of establishing that there is some rule of faith outside Scripture.  One typical appeal (and one I recently heard) is an appeal to the binding and loosing mentioned in Matthew 16 and 18.  The problem with such an appeal is that “binding” and “loosing,” do not refer to defining dogma.

There are at least two main ways of looking at them.  One way is looking at them in terms of church discipline.  Another way of looking at them is in terms of the proclamation of the gospel.  But the Roman Catholic apologist’s way of looking at the text as supposedly conferring a power of infallibly defining dogma is different from either of those.

At this point, the RC apologist said, “… now we’re down to a matter of interpretation.”  Yes, it’s a matter of interpretation as opposed to say a matter of one person just blatantly saying, “because my church says so.”  Yet matters of interpretation are often still resolvable based on the text, context, and so forth.  So, just labeling something a “matter of interpretation” is not really an out for our friend.

The problem for this particular RC apologist (and others like him) is that his own church, in her official teachings, interprets “binding and loosing” as related to discipline (all quotations from the official Catechism of the Catholic Church):

881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.” This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

1444 In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ’s solemn words to Simon Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head.”

1445 The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.

1478 An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.

553 Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: “Feed my sheep.” The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom.

979 In this battle against our inclination towards evil, who could be brave and watchful enough to escape every wound of sin? “If the Church has the power to forgive sins, then Baptism cannot be her only means of using the keys of the Kingdom of heaven received from Jesus Christ. The Church must be able to forgive all penitents their offenses, even if they should sin until the last moment of their lives.”

980 It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church:

Penance has rightly been called by the holy Fathers “a laborious kind of baptism.” This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.

981 After his Resurrection, Christ sent his apostles “so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.” The apostles and their successors carry out this “ministry of reconciliation,” not only by announcing to men God’s forgiveness merited for us by Christ, and calling them to conversion and faith; but also by communicating to them the forgiveness of sins in Baptism, and reconciling them with God and with the Church through the power of the keys, received from Christ:

[The Church] has received the keys of the Kingdom of heaven so that, in her, sins may be forgiven through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit’s action. In this Church, the soul dead through sin comes back to life in order to live with Christ, whose grace has saved us.

982 There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. “There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.

Now, my Roman Catholic friends know very well that disciplinary decisions are not accorded the charism of infallibility in Roman Catholic theology. Yet they argue as though the verse teaches that the power to bind and loose implies infallibility. There’s a third way between between their church’s view and their view, as mentioned above.

As William Webster has explained, the keys of the kingdom of heaven were entrusted to the apostles in the form of entrusting them with the gospel message to proclaim.  Thus, the binding and loosing there refers to the proclamation of the true gospel.

Isaiah 61:1The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 

Luke 4:18The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,

After all, the gospels are the keys that unlock the gates of hell, allowing the church (all believers – all those who confess that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God) to be resurrected unto eternal life. Those who do not follow the true gospel will not enter into heaven – those who do, will.

The apostles have handed down (traditioned) that gospel to us in the writings of the New Testament.  It was once delivered and remains the same today as it was when the apostles delivered it.

– TurretinFan

The "Bind and Loose" Argument Rebutted

April 2, 2013

Over at GreenBaggins, Scott tried to make an argument for an infallible rule of faith other than the Bible.  He wrote: “The fact is that Matthew 16:18-19 and Matthew 18:18 teach that man and/or those men can bind or loose, not just sin, but whatsoever they choose.”  Let’s consider this argument piece by piece:

“that man and/or those men”
Peter and the other apostles are gone.  Francis, like his predecessor Benedict XVI, is not an apostle of Jesus Christ, he did not personally receive revelation from Jesus as they did, It is a leap to say that the apostles could do X, therefore someone who is not an apostle can do X.

“bind and loose”
Of course, “bind and loose” doesn’t sound anything like “define dogma.”  It sounds more like freeing people from their sins or leaving people in condemnation for their sins.

“not just sin”
That sounds like Scott is saying, “sin and more.”  But Rome’s teaching of infallibility is that Rome is infallible only in her doctrinal and moral definitions, not in her exercise of discipline.  So, if it is “sin and more” and implies infallibility, then Scott has proved a point that is stronger than what Rome can adopt.  After all, a Roman bishop exonerated Pelagius (and then later condemned), a Roman bishop condemned Athanasius (and then later exonerated), and let’s not even get into the trial of Galileo.

“whatsoever they choose”
In Roman Catholic theology, the definition of dogma is (officially) not arbitrary.  For example, CCC 86 states:

“Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.”

Of course, I acknowledge that in practice the power is arbitrarily exercised (contrary to CCC 86), but this is just an internal inconsistency.

Likewise, to be precise the text does not mention choice, it just states that what is bound on earth will be bound in heaven and what is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven.

– TurretinFan


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