Archive for the ‘William Webster’ Category

William Webster and the Canon of the Old Testament

December 30, 2012

William Webster has published a very helpful and well-researched booklet (187 pp.) entitled, “The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha.”  The book is organized into three sections (chapters):

  1. The Canon of the Jews
  2. From the Jews to Jerome
  3. From Jerome to the Reformation

Webster synthesizes a number of other writers, including the excellent work of Roger Beckwith.

In the first section, Webster explains that the Jewish canon of Scripture was 22 or 24 books (depending on how you count them), which correspond to the 37 books of the “Protestant” Old Testament.  Webster demonstrates this from ancient Jewish witnesses, including the New Testament, Josephus, Philo, the Babylonian Talmud, Ecclesiasticus (LXX version), 1 Maccabees, Latin IV Esdras (2 Esdras in the NRSV), and the Essene book of Jubliees.  This witness is confirmed as being the Jewish canon by Christian writers such as Jerome, Augustine, and Origen.   Webster also explains how Aquila’s and Theodotian’s translations provide evidence of the 22/24/37 book canon. The New Testament confirmation for this includes, Jesus use of Abel to Zecharias, which appears to confirm the 22 book order, which begins with Genesis (Abel) and ends with 2 Chronicles (Zacharias):

Luke 11:51
From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.

Matthew 23:35
That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

Webster also point that there was also already a three-fold division of the text by that time: the books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa also referred to as “the Psalms” because that was by far the largest book of the group.  This three-fold division is seen in the New Testament in various places, such as especially:

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.

Webster takes time to explain the problems with the argument from the inclusion of some apocrypha in the three ancient great codices of Vaticanus,  Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus.  Some RC apologists will argue that the inclusion of apocrypha in those codices show that the works were part of “the Septuagint ” and that they were therefore generally accepted as inspired Scripture by the Alexandrian Jews and Christians.

Webster notes that those codices do include Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Judith, and Tobit, but that when it comes to the books of the Maccabees, Vaticanus omits the books, Sinaiticus includes books 1 and 4, and Alexandrinus includes all four of the books, and additionally the apocryphal book known as the Psalms of Solomon.

Webster also reminds the reader that Josephus used the Septuagint of his day and held to the shorter 22 book canon.  Similarly, one assumes that Philo (from Alexandria) used the Septuagint, but likewise has a shorter canon.

Webster points out that the discovery of ancient Essene materials at Qumran is not the silver bullet that RC apologists seem to think.  While it did provide some substantiation for the theory that some of the LXX books had a Semitic archetype, it did not do the same for others, and more significantly confirmed that the book of Jubilees was present in that community.

Webster cites Beckwith, who points out that the probability is that the Essenes, Pharisees, and Sadducees all had the same canon.  Some people (even some fathers) mistakenly believed that the Sadducees held only to the Pentateuch, either by confusing them with the Samaritans, or perhaps misunderstanding a portion of Josephus’ writings that describe Sadducean rejection of Pharasaic (alleged) oral tradition.

Webster also refers to the objection that allegedly there are quotations from or allusions to the Apocrypha.  Interestingly, though, the only apocryphal work that arguably is assigned prophetic character in the New Testament would be 1 Enoch, a work that the Jews never considered canonical, and which the RCs likewise do not consider canonical.

The rebuttal that some of the OT books likewise are not quoted as authoritative in the New Testament cannot serve as a legitimate rebuttal, even though it is true that not every OT book is quoted as authoritative in the New Testament.  We do not say that a book has to be quoted int he New Testament to be authoritative.  Our comments regarding the absence of such quotations of the Apocrypha is evidence that confirms that the Palestinian Jewish Apostles and our Palestinian Jewish Lord agreed with the other Palestinian Jews about the canon.

The second section of the book relates to the early church up to Jerome. Webster explains the complexity of the situation with respect to the canon of Scripture. Specifically, he explains that the Eastern Church held to a more nuanced view and generally to the shorter 22 canon, with the exception of Origen. Origen, nevertheless, is a testimony to the fact that the Jews held to the shorter canon as discussed above. Clement and Cyril of Jerusalem are two examples of eastern fathers who have a shorter canon. Athanasius of Alexandria is another example.

Webster seems to think that the Western church, however, generally accepted a longer canon. However, even then, there were exceptions, such as Hilary of Poitiers. Rufinus and Jerome, in the West, are the last two examples of Western fathers (to the time of Jerome) who held to be shorter canon. Although the Council of Rome did seem to reject Amos and Obadiah they apparently accepted all of the deuterocanonical works that are accepted by Roman Catholics today. Adding to the complexity of the situation, is the fact that the term as dress could referred to several different books. Finally, Webster points outside until the Council of Trent. There was no definitive allegedly infallible list of books in the last.

In the third section, Webster begins from Jerome (giving Jerome a little bit of double coverage) and discusses the church from Jerome to the time of the Reformation. Webster’s claim may seem a little surprising:

The overall practice of the Western Church with respect to the canon from the time of Jerome (early fifth century) until the Reformation was to follow the judgment of Jerome. The apocryphal books were accorded a deuterocanonical status, but were not regarded as canonical in the strict sense. That is, they were not accepted as authoritative for the establishing of doctrine but were used for the purpose of edification. Thus, the Church retained the distinctions established by Jerome, Rufinus and Athanasius of ecclesiastical and canonical books.

Webster provides evidence from Strabo et al.’s Glossa Ordinaria.

Webster documents a litany of post-Jerome Western theologians who held to a shorter canon, including many luminaries:

(see the endnotes here, for documentation of these assertions)

Webster also points out that the edition of the Bible printed by Cardinal Ximines and approved by Pope Leo X, followed Jerome and included all of Jerome’s prologues, including those identifying the apocrypha as extra-canonical.

Webster’s work in regard to documenting the existence of the shorter canon of Scripture down through history is notable, but is not the first such effort.  The great Anglican bishop of Durham, John Cosin, provided “A Scholastical History of the Canon of the Holy Scripture,” which was first published in 1657.  The works of the editor in attempting to verify and document Cosin’s citations in the edition from Cosin’s works (linked above) was itself an enormous effort.

I believe that Webster probably was at least partially reliant on Cosin in locating some of the many testimonies of the medieval authors.  The result of Cosin’s and Webster’s work, however, is quite impressive.

And it is by no means exhaustive.  In a later post we may explore at least one area where Webster’s research can be augmented.

– TurretinFan

Thomas Aquinas, William Webster, and Scripture against Bellisario

April 13, 2010

Over in the comment box of the Beggars All Reformation blog, Bellisario has attempted to take on William Webster (source). Pastor Webster is not there to defend himself, instead Bellisario is responding to a blogger named Rhology.

Bellisario writes: “Scared of Webster! Are you serious?”

Of course Rhology’s serious that it seems that folks are afraid to deal directly with Webster/King’s three-volume work.

Bellisario continues: “His comments on Aquinas and Sola Scriptura are completely asinine.”

No, they’re erudite. I realize that is not a rebuttal, it’s just a declarative sentence with a colorful adjective. The point being made, however, is that Bellisario’s own criticism is in that form. See how fun it is to use adjectives rather than arguments? In point of fact, although Aquinas is mentioned, Aquinas occupies a relatively minor position in Webster/King’s work. Even if Webster’s comments on Aquinas were erroneous (they’re not … but let’s speak hypothetically), that would not seriously undermine that force of Webster’s work.

Bellisario further claims: “He needs to get an education before he starts taking on the writings of the big boys like Aquinas.”

New motto for Aquinas: “You can’t possibly know what he’s saying without an [unspecified – but certainly something that William Webster couldn’t possibly have] education.” Naturally, we should conclude that out of consistency, Bellisario has called off his own planned book on Aquinas and plans shortly to withdraw the few blog posts he’s made on Aquinas. Of course, he won’t – nor should he, at least not for the reason he’s suggested regarding Webster. The problem is his claim that someone needs some as-yet-unspecified education.

Bellisario continues on: “I refuted him some time ago on the subject, where he took Aquinas completely out of his historical context.”

No, Bellisario didn’t. He has exactly two blog posts that even mention Webster. The first one simply says: “I can assure you, it is nothing close to the Protestant flavor which guys like William Webster and others claim him to be.” Hopefully even Bellisario will recognize that this is not a refutation.

The second one is longer, but it simply indicates:

For instance, Protestant William Webster attempts to build a fallacious case against the Catholic Church by ignorantly attempting to frame Saint Thomas in a position contrary to current Catholic teaching, “The first was sola Scriptura in which the fathers viewed Scripture as both materially and formally sufficient. It was materially sufficient in that it was the only source of doctrine and truth and the ultimate authority in all doctrinal controversies. It was necessary that every teaching of the Church as it related to doctrine be proven from Scripture. It was necessary that every teaching of the Church as it related to doctrine be proven from Scripture. Thomas Aquinas articulated this patristic view when he stated that canonical Scripture alone is the rule of faith. Additionally, they taught that the essential truths of Scripture were perspicuous, that is, that they were clearly revealed in Scripture, so that, by the enablement of the Holy Spirit alone an individual could come to an understanding of the fundamental truths of salvation” (8.Webster) It appears that Mr. Webster does not understand the theological background to Saint Thomas’ writings, nor does it appear that he has ventured out very far in investigating the background and history surrounding Saint Thomas’ writings. To interpret Saint Thomas in this manner misses the main point of his work, and ultimately it shows a grave misunderstanding of Catholic teaching regarding the Scriptures. It was Saint Thomas intention as a university scholar to exhaust Sacred Scripture for every doctrine or teaching that could be implied from the literal text. Even when Saint Thomas could not explicitly find a text in Scripture to support an argument, he used philosophical reasoning to get him to where he wanted to go with Scripture. For instance Saint Thomas argues for the two wills of Christ based on Scripture, yet he has to use logic and philosophy to arrive at his interpretation, because the Scripture passages he uses are not explicitly clear. He demonstrates that the root of Monothelism was in the error of their logic, not in the use of Scripture. For Saint Thomas, Scripture was clear in this instance, only in using his tools of philosophy, logic and Patristic interpretation within the living Church, but Scripture standing on its own does not give us the answer. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Question 26)


How that series of assertions is supposed to be refutation is baffling. But let’s consider it:

Bellisario begins with his argument-by-adjective claiming that Webster’s case is “fallacious” and his attempt is performed “ignorantly.”

He then quotes Webster as saying: “Thomas Aquinas articulated this patristic view when he stated that canonical Scripture alone is the rule of faith.” But Webster’s claim is completely true (see here).

Bellisario doesn’t actually address that aspect of what Thomas Aquinas taught but instead alleges that Webster must be unfamiliar with Thomas Aquinas’ background and historical context. The only specific claim that Bellisario attempts to substantiate is: “He [Thomas Aquinas] demonstrates that the root of Monothelism was in the error of their logic, not in the use of Scripture. For Saint Thomas, Scripture was clear in this instance, only in using his tools of philosophy, logic and Patristic interpretation within the living Church, but Scripture standing on its own does not give us the answer. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Question 26)”

That’s not what Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Question 26 says, though. Check for yourself. At any rate, the translation to which I’ve linked provides no discussion corresponding to Bellisario’s assertion.

What does Thomas Aquinas say about Scripture? I believe the following comments should help to illustrate the fact that Thomas Aquinas believed in the perspicuity, sufficiency, and primacy of Scripture. While he may have been inconsistent in this, and while he sometimes seemed to have a very high view of church authority, nevertheless his view of Scripture is consistent with what Webster mentions briefly on one page of his book.

Notice how Thomas Aquinas affirms the sufficiency of Scripture in the following quotation:

According to Augustine in On Christian Doctrine 4:12 one skilled in speech should so speak as to teach, to delight and to change; that is, to teach the ignorant, to delight the bored and to change the lazy. The speech of Sacred Scripture does these three things in the fullest manner. For it firmly teaches with its eternal truth. Psalm 118:89: ‘Your word, O Lord, stands firm for ever as heaven.’ And it sweetly delights with its pleasantness. Psalm 118.103: ‘How sweet are your words to my mouth!’ And it efficaciously changes with its authority. Jeremiah 23:29: ‘Are my words not like fire, says the Lord?’

– Thomas Aquinas, Inaugural Lectures, Lecture titled “Hic Est Liber”

Another passage of Thomas on the sufficiency of Scripture:

He describes every abundance metaphorically through an abundance of food and drink. For if he pastures us, he is related to us as a shepherd to (his) sheep, who are nourished in two ways, namely by grass and water. With respect to the first, he says, He hath set me in a place of pasture, that is, fit for pasture where there is an abundance of grass. These abundances are the sacred writings of divine scripture and spiritual things: Ezechiel 34:14: …on green grass, and be fed in fat pastures… With respect to the second, he states, He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment.
And he says He has set, because the divine word does two things, namely it instructs beginners, and strengthens the accomplished. With respect to the first, he says, In a place of pasture. With respect to the second, he says, He has set me there. As for the second he says, He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment. This is the water of baptism: Ezechiel 36:25: I will pour upon you clean water etc.
Or, it is the water of the wisdom of holy scripture; which is certainly food and water, because it strengthens much and refreshes respectively: Ecclesiasticus 15:3: The water of wholesome wisdom to drink.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Psalm 22

Here is a dual affirmation of the sufficiency of Scripture and sufficiency of the Psalms (as in Athanasius’ letter to Marcellinus):

The material is universal, for while the particular books of the Canon of Scripture contain special materials, this book has the general material of Theology as a whole.
This is what Dionysius says, in book 3 of the Caelestial Hierarchy, The sacred scripture of the Divine Songs (the Psalms) is intended to sing of all sacred and divine workings.
Hence the material is indicated in what he says, in all his works, because he treats of every work of God.

And this will be the reason why the Psalter is read more often in the Church, because it contains the whole of Scripture.

– Thomas Aquinas, Introduction to the Commentary on the Psalms

Again, more on the sufficiency of Scriptures:

Therefore, all those things the knowledge of which can be useful for salvation are the matter of prophecy, whether they are past, or future, or even eternal, or necessary, or contingent. But those things which cannot pertain to salvation are outside the matter of prophecy. Hence, Augustine says: “Although our authors knew what shape heaven is, [the spirit] wants to speak through them only that which is useful for salvation. And to the Gospel of St. John (16:13), “But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth,” the Gloss adds: “necessary for salvation.”

Moreover, I say necessary for salvation, whether they are necessary for instruction in the faith or for the formation of morals. But many things which are proved in the sciences can be useful for this, as, for instance, that our understanding is incorruptible, and also those things which when considered in creatures lead to admiration of the divine wisdom and power. Hence, we find that mention of these is made in Holy Scripture.

– Thomas Aquinas, Questions and Disputations on Truth, Question 12 (Prophecy), Article 2 (Reply)

Sufficiency again:

BEDE; Or mystically, he eats and drinks in the Lord’s presence who eagerly receives the food of the word. Hence it is added for explanation, You have taught in our streets. For Scripture in its more obscure places is food, since by being expounded it is as it were broken and swallowed. In the clearer places it is drink, where it is taken down just as it is found. But at a feast the banquet does not delight him whom the piety of faith commends not. The knowledge of the Scriptures does not make him known to God, whom the iniquity of his works proves to be unworthy; as it follows, And he will say to you, I know not whence you are; depart from me.

– Thomas Aquinas quoting the Venerable Bede in Catena Aurea at Luke 13:22-30

Notice the very high view of the authority of Scriptures here, and try to find Thomas saying anything remotely like this about anything other than Scripture:

CHRYS. But that it is true that he who hears not the Scriptures, takes no heed to the dead who rise again, the Jews have testified, who at one time indeed wished to kill Lazarus, but at another laid hands upon the Apostles, notwithstanding that some had risen from the dead at the hour of the Cross. Observe this also, that every dead man is a servant, but whatever the Scriptures say, the Lord says. Therefore let it be that dead men should rise again, and an angel descend from heaven, the Scriptures are more worthy of credit than all.

– Thomas Aquinas quoting Chrysostom in Catena Aurea at Luke 16:27-31

Notice here the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture:

CHRYS. He is speaking of spiritual drink, as His next words show: He that believes in Me, as the Scripture truth said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But where here does the Scripture say this? No where. What then? We should read, He that believes in Me, as said the Scripture, putting the stop here; and then, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water: the meaning being, that that was a right kind of belief, which was formed on the evidence of Scripture, not of miracles. Search the Scriptures, he had said before.

– Thomas Aquinas quoting Chrysostom in Catena Aurea at John 7:37-39

Treating the Scriptures as “the door” here and saying that any other way is the way of thieves comes awfully close to an explicit affirmation of sola scriptura.

CHRYS. Our Lord having reproached the Jews with blindness, they might have said, We are not blind, but we avoid you as a deceiver. Our Lord therefore gives the marks which distinguish a robber and deceiver from a true shepherd. First come those of the deceiver and robber: Verily, verily, I say to you, He that enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. There is an allusion here to Antichrist, and to certain false Christs who had been, and were to be. The Scriptures He calls the door. They admit us to the knowledge of God, they protect the sheep, they shut out the wolves, they bar the entrance to heretics. He that uses not the Scriptures, but climbs up some other way, i.e. some self-chosen, some unlawful way, is a thief. Climbs up, He says, not, enters, as if it were a thief getting over a wall, and running all risks. Some other way, may refer too to the commandments and traditions of men which the Scribes taught, to the neglect of the Law. When our Lord further on calls Himself the Door, we need not be surprised. According to the office which He bears, He is in one place the Shepherd, in another the Sheep. In that He introduces us to the Father, He is the Door, in that He takes care of us, He is the Shepherd.

– Thomas Aquinas quoting Chrysostom in Catena Aurea at John 10:1-5

Notice here that the Holy Spirit is given credit for rendering the Scriptures perspicuous, as in the Reformed position:

THEOPHYL. Or, the Holy Spirit is the porter, by whom the Scriptures are unlocked, and reveal the truth to us.

– Thomas Aquinas quoting Theophylact in Catena Aurea at John 10:1-5

Notice that here Thomas endorses Chalcedon’s explanation of the fact that the great councils did not rely on their own authority but appealed instead to the authority of Scriptures.

The doctrine of the Catholic Faith was sufficiently laid down by the Council of Niceea: wherefore in the subsequent councils the fathers had no mind to make any additions. Yet on account of the heresies that arose they were at pains to declare explicitly what had already been implicitly asserted. Thus in the definition of the Council of Chalcedon it is said: “This holy, great and universal synod teaches this doctrine which has been constantly held from the beginning, the same which 318 holy fathers assembled at Nicaea defined to be the unalterable faith. On account of those who contend against the Holy Spirit, we confirm the doctrine delivered afterwards by the 150 fathers assembled at Constantinople concerning the substance of the Holy Spirit, which doctrine they made known to all, not indeed as though something were lacking in previous definitions, but by appealing to the authority of the Scriptures to explain what had already been defined against those who endeavoured to belittle the Holy Spirit.”

– Thomas Aquinas, Questions and Disputations on Power, Question 10, Article 4, Reply to 13th Objection

Notice the fact that Thomas uses “sole” here. It is not simply one way, but the only way.

The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture—an authority divinely confirmed by miracles. For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God has revealed it.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 9

The following is an example of Thomas explaining that Scripture serves as the standard by which we measure the teachings of even the doctors, even when acting in their magisterial role (note the reference to the seat of Moses). One point that someone opposed to Sola Scriptura might note here is that Aquinas seems, at least superficially, to treat the official teachings of the Church as being on a par with Scripture, even while suggesting that Scripture be used to judge doctors of the church. What specifically Aquinas means he does not explain, whether merely that the church conveys the rule of faith that is taught in the clear parts of Scriptures or that the church defines the rule of faith. Notice that “rule of faith” is singular, not plural.

It should be said that if the differing opinions of the doctors of Sacred Scripture do not pertain to faith or good morals, then the listeners can follow either opinion without danger. For in that case what the Apostle says in Romans 14:5 applies: “Let each abound in his own understanding.”

But in those matters that pertain to faith and good morals no one is excused if he follows the erroneous opinion of some teacher. For in such matters ignorance does not excuse; otherwise, those who followed the opinions of Arius, Nestorius and the other heresiarchs would have been immune from sin.

Nor can the naivete of the listeners be used as an excuse if they follow an erroneous opinion in such matters. For in doubtful matters assent is not to be given easily. To the contrary, as Augustine says in De Doctrina Christiana III: “Everyone should consult the rule of faith which he gets from the clearer texts in the Scriptures and from the authority of the Church.”

Therefore, no one who assents to the opinion of any teacher in opposition to the manifest testimony of Scripture or in opposition to what is officially held in accordance with the authority of the Church can be excused from the vice of being in error.

As for the argument on behalf of the contrary position, then, one should respond that the reason he first said “The scribes and pharisees sit upon the chair of Moses” was so that what he then added, viz., “Do everything and observe everything they tell you,” might be understood to apply to those things which pertain to that chair. However, things which are contrary to the faith or to good morals do not pertain to that chair.

– Thomas Aquinas, Questions Quodlibetales (Miscellaneous Questions), Book 3, Question 4, Article 2 (response)

The beginning portion of this quotation may sound encouraging for someone who is hoping that Thomas will deny Sola Scriptura. However, Thomas nevertheless affirms that “nothing is to be taught except what is contained, either implicitly or explicitly, in the Gospels and epistles and Sacred Scripture.” In other words, his initial comment is simply that the teachings can be implicitly and not only explicitly drawn from Scripture.

A second question arises from the words, a gospel besides that which we have preached to you. Therefore no one may teach or preach anything but what is written in the epistles and Gospels. But this is false, because it is said in 1Thessalonians (3:10): “Praying that we may accomplish those things that are wanting to your faith.” I answer that nothing is to be taught except what is contained, either implicitly or explicitly, in the Gospels and epistles and Sacred Scripture. For Sacred Scripture and the Gospels announce that Christ must be believed explicitly. Hence whatever is contained therein implicitly and fosters its teaching and faith in Christ can be preached and taught. Therefore, when he says, besides that which you have received, he means by adding something completely alien: “If any, man shall add to these things, God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book” (Rev 22:18). And “Neither add anything,” i.e., contrary or alien, “nor diminish” (Deut 12:32).

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, Lecture 2 on Chapter 1, at Galatians 1:6-10

I’ve included the following as being of interest for a few reasons. First, it is of interest because Aquinas is judging the fathers by the Scripture. Second, it is of interest because Aquinas affirms the inerrancy of Scripture. Thirdly it is of interest because it evidences a relatively low view of Peter as compared with some of the alternatives.

Thirdly, they disagree on the sin of Peter. For Jerome says that in the dissimulation previously mentioned, Peter did not sin, because he did this from charity and, as has been said, not from mundane fear. Augustine, on the other hand, says, that he did sin—venially, however—on account of the lack of discretion he had by adhering overmuch to one side, namely, to the Jews, in order to avoid scandalizing them. But the stronger of Augustine’s arguments against Jerome is that Jerome adduces on his own behalf seven doctors, four of whom, namely, Laudicens, Alexander, Origen, and Didymus, Augustine rejects as known heretics. To the other three he opposes three of his own, who held with him and his opinion, namely, Ambrose, Cyprian, and Paul himself, who plainly teaches that Peter was deserving of rebuke. Therefore, if it is unlawful to say that anything false is contained in Sacred Scripture, it will not be lawful to say that Peter was not deserving of rebuke. For this reason the opinion and statement of Augustine is the truer, because it is more in accord with the words of the Apostle.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, Lecture 3 on Chapter 2, at Galatians 2:11-14

The following is an interesting example of the fact that Thomas affirms that it is Scripture (not Nicaea) that forces us to deny the Arian error (contrary to the position taken by some modern Roman Catholics).

The Arians likewise attacked this truth by their errors, in confessing that the Father and the Son are not one but several gods; although the authority of Scripture forces [us? – translation reads “e” here, which is plainly wrong] to believe that the Son is true God.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 42, Section 24

The primacy of Scripture can be seen shining through in many places of Jerome’s writings, of which the following is but one example:

The fourth way [to overcome concupiscence] is to keep oneself busy with wholesome occupations: “Idleness hath taught much evil” [Sir 23:29]. Again: “This was the iniquity of Sodom your sister, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance, and the idleness of her” [Ez 16:49]. St. Jerome says: “Be always busy in doing something good, so that the devil may find you ever occupied.” Now, study of the Scriptures is the best of all occupations, as St. Jerome tells us: “Love to study the Scriptures and you will not love the vices of the flesh” [Ad Paulin.].

– Thomas Aquinas, The Ten Commandments, Article 12 – the Tenth (Ninth in modern Roman Catholic Counting – part of the Tenth in Jewish and Reformed Counting) Commandment

The form of “not … anything … unless” is just another way of wording the Sola Scriptura position that Thomas is advocating in the following quotation:

According to Dionysius, “We should not venture to say anything about God unless we can support what we are saying from Scripture.” Now, we do not find anything in Scripture that refers to a book of death as it refers to the book of life. Therefore, we should not affirm the existence of a book of death.

– Thomas Aquinas, Questions and Disputation on Truth, Question 7, Article 8 (“to the contrary” section)

The following quotation shows not only Thomas’ high view of Scripture, but also his view of its perspicuity, for it is given not only to the wise but also the unwise.

582 Let us first examine what she says, You, sir, have no bucket, i.e., no pail to use to draw water from the well, and the well is deep, so you cannot reach the water by hand without a bucket.

The depth of the well signifies the depth of Sacred Scripture and of divine wisdom: “It has great depth. Who can find it out?” (Ecc 7:25). The bucket with which the water of wisdom is drawn out is prayer: “If any of you lack wisdom, ask God” (Jas 1:5).

583 The second point is given at, Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well? As if to say: Have you better water to give us than Jacob? She calls Jacob her father not because the Samaritans were descendants of the Jews, as is clear from what was said before, but because the Samaritans had the Mosaic law, and because they occupied the land promised to the descendants of Jacob.

The woman praised this well on three counts. First, on the authority of the one who gave it; so she says: our father Jacob, who gave us this well. Secondly, on account of the freshness of its water, saying: Jacob drank from it with his sons: for they would not drink it if it were not fresh, but only give it to their cattle. Thirdly, she praises its abundance, saying, and his flocks: for since the water was fresh, they would not have given it to their flocks unless it were also abundant.

So, too, Sacred Scripture has great authority: for it was given by the Holy Spirit. It is delightfully fresh: “How sweet are your words to my palate” (Ps 118:103). Finally, it is exceedingly abundant, for it is given not only to the wise, but also to the unwise.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 2 on John 4, at John 4:11-14, Sections 582-83

In an interesting twist, Thomas appears to deny that the Old Testament Scriptures were perspicuous, but affirms that the Scriptures are now perspicuous. He also emphasizes the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture with his comment “especially the Scriptures.”

So he says, Lift up your eyes, look at the fields, because they are already white for the harvest, i.e., they are such that the truth can be learned from them: for by the “fields” we specifically understand all those things from which truth can be acquired, especially the Scriptures: “Search the Scriptures … they bear witness to me” (below 5:39). Indeed, these fields existed in the Old Testament, but they were not white for the harvest because men were not able to pick spiritual fruit from them until Christ came, who made them white by opening their understanding: “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24.45). Again, creatures are harvests from which the fruit of truth is gathered: “The invisible things of God are clearly known by the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20). Nonetheless, the Gentiles who pursued a knowledge of these things gathered the fruits of error rather than of truth from them, because as we read, “they served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25). So the harvests were not yet white; but they were made white for the harvest when Christ came.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 4 on John 4, at John 4:11-14, Section 649

The following discussion is an interesting discourse on the primacy of Scripture. Specifically it is the authority for believers. Thomas downplays the importance of Scripture for unbelievers, but does so on the specific basis that it is not helpful to them because they do not believe it.

In the second place, it does not seem that he should have been criticized for looking for signs, for faith is proved by signs. The answer to this is that unbelievers are drawn to Christ in one way, and believers in another way. For unbelievers cannot be drawn to Christ or convinced by the authority of Sacred Scripture, because they do not believe it; neither can they be drawn by natural reason, because faith is above reason. Consequently, they must be led by miracles: “Signs are given to unbelievers, not to believers” (1 Cor 14:22). Believers, on the other hand, should be led and directed to faith by the authority of Scripture, to which they are bound to assent. This is why the official is criticized: although he had been brought up among the Jews and instructed in the law, he wanted to believe through signs, and not by the authority of the Scripture. So the Lord reproaches him, saying, Unless you see signs and wonders, i.e., miracles, which sometimes are signs insofar as they bear witness to divine truth. Or wonders (prodigia), either because they indicate with utmost certitude, so that a prodigy is taken to be a “portent” or some “sure indication”; or because they portend something in the future, as if something were called a wonder as if showing at a great distance some future effect.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 7 on John 4, at John 4:11-14, Section 685

The following is the classic passage where Thomas explicitly affirms that only the canonical scriptures are the rule of faith. This is the one that Webster had referenced.

Now John states that his Gospel is true, and he speaks in the person of the entire Church which received it: “My mouth will utter truth” (Prv 8:7). We should note that although many have written about Catholic truth, there is a difference among them: those who wrote the canonical scriptures, such as the evangelists and apostles and the like, so constantly and firmly affirm this truth that it cannot be doubted. Thus John says, we know that his testimony is true: “If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:9). The reason for this is that only the canonical scriptures are the standard of faith. The others have set forth this truth but in such a way that they do not want to be believed except in those things in which they say what is true.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 6 on John 21, at John 21:24, Section 2656

The efficacy (and consequently sufficiency) of Scripture is again affirmed by Thomas in the following quotation:

Now he mentions the benefits given by this gospel. It is useful for producing faith: these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Indeed, all Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, are for this purpose: “The beginning of the book writes about me” [Ps 40:7]; “Search the scriptures … it is they that bear witness to me” (5:39). Another benefit of his gospel is that it also produces the fruit of life, and that believing you may have life: the life of righteousness, which is given by faith ‑ “The righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab 2:4) ‑ and in the future, the life of vision, which is given by glory. This life is in his name, the name of Christ: “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 6 on John 20, at John 20:26-31, Section 2568

You will recall that I mentioned earlier that treating the Scriptures as “the door” and saying that any other way is the way of thieves comes awfully close to an explicit affirmation of sola scriptura. Here he expands on and reiterates the same point, emphasizing Scripture’s unique (behind Christ himself) role as door.

1366 According to Chrysostom, Christ calls Sacred Scripture the door, according to “Pray for us also that God may open to us a door for the word” (Col 4:3). Sacred Scripture is called a door, as Chrysostofm says, first of all, because through it we have access to the knowledge of God: “which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures” (Rom 1:2). Secondly, for just as the door guards the sheep, so Sacred Scripture preserves the life of the faithful: “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life” (5:39). Thirdly, because the door keeps the wolf from entering; so Sacred Scripture keeps heretics from harming the faithful: “Every scripture inspired by God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction” (2 Tim 3:16). So, the one who does not enter by the door is the one who does not enter by Sacred Scripture to teach the people. Our Lord says of such: “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt 15:9); “You have made void the word of God” (Matt 15:6). This, then, is the mark of the thief: he does not enter by the door, but in some other way. [1]

He adds that the thief climbs, and this is appropriate to this parable because thieves climb the walls, instead of entering by the door, and drop into the sheepfold. It also corresponds to the truth, because the reason why some teach what conflicts with Sacred Scripture is due to pride: “If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing” (1 Tim 6:3). Referring to this he says that such a person climbs, that is, through pride. The one who climbs in by another way, that man is a thief, because he snatches what is not his, and a robber, because he kills what he snatches: “If thieves came to you, if plunderers by night – how you have been destroyed” (Obad v 5).

According to this explanation, the relation with what preceded is made in this way: Since our Lord had said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt,” the Jews might have answered: “We do not believe you, but this is not due to our blindness. It is because of your own error that we have turned away from you.” And so our Lord rejects this, and wishes to show that he is not in error because he enters by the door, by Sacred Scripture, that is, he teaches what is contained in Sacred Scripture.

1367 Against this interpretation is the fact that when our Lord explains this further on, he says, I am the door. So it seems that we should understand the door to be Christ. In answer to this, Chrysostom says that in this parable our Lord refers to himself both as the door and the shepherd; but this is from different points of view, because a door and a shepherd are different.[2] Now aside from Christ nothing is more fittingly called a door than Sacred Scripture, for the reasons given above. Therefore, Sacred Scripture is fittingly called a door.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 1 on John 10, at John 10:1-5, Sections 1366-67

Contrary to Bellisario’s position, the opening chapter to Book 4 of Contra Gentiles makes clear that Scriptures (and not natural reason) are the source for all the points to be raised against the unbelievers in that book. While perhaps Aquinas elsewhere advocated something inconsistent with this approach, we would respectfully suggest that any idea that he thought that a doctrine could be proved without Scripture should itself be established from some clear statement by Aquinas in that regard, in view of his clear statements here.

And the manner of proceeding in such matters the words set down do teach us. For, since we have hardly heard the truth of this kind in sacred Scripture as a little drop descending upon us, and since one cannot in the state of this life behold the thunder of the greatness, this will be the method to follow: What has been passed on to us in the words of sacred Scripture may be taken as principles, so to say; thus, the things in those writings passed on to us in a hidden fashion we may endeavor to grasp mentally in some way or other, defending them from the attacks of the infidels. Nonetheless, that no presumption of knowing perfectly may be present, points of this kind must be proved from sacred Scripture, but not from natural reason. For all that, one must show that such things are not opposed to natural reason, in order to defend them from infidel attack. This was also the method fixed upon in the beginning of this work.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Chapter 1, Section 10

The next statement from Thomas is relatively less Reformed. You wouldn’t expect, for example, to hear R. C. Sproul write it. Nevertheless, notice that the area where Thomas allows for extra-scriptural rules are under two conditions: (1) that it not violate Scripture, and (2) that it is a custom – i.e. a way acting or behaving – not a doctrine.

Then when he says, If anyone, he silences the impudent hearers, saying: If anyone is disposed to be contentious and not acquiesce in the above reason but would attack the truth with confident clamoring, which pertains to contentiousness, as Ambrose says, contrary to Jb (6:29): “Respond, I pray, without contentiousness”; (Pr 20:3): “It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife.” Let this suffice, then, to silence them that we Jews believing in Christ do not have such a practice, namely, of women praying with their heads uncovering, nor do the churches of God dispersed among the Gentiles. Hence if there were no reason, this alone should suffice, that no one should act against the common custom of the Church: “He makes those of one outlook to dwell in their house” (Ps 68:7). Hence Augustine says: “In all cases in which Sacred Scripture has defined nothing definite, the customs of the people of God and the edicts of superiors must be regarded as the law.”

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Lecture 3 on Chapter 11, at 1 Corinthians 11:8-16, Section 620

The same kind of attitude is being expressed in this similar passage of Thomas’ works. Here Thomas is mentioning that there are details – matters of order – that are not necessarily expressed in Scripture. However, notice that Aquinas does not suggest that we should base our doctrines on these customs or matters of order.

Then a promise is made when he says: About other things, namely, which are not so perilous, when I come home very soon, I will give directions, namely, how to conserve them. From this it is clear that the Church has many things arranged by the Apostle that are not contained in Sacred Scripture: “The cities will be inhabited,” i.e., the churches will be set in order “by the sense of prudent men,” namely, of the apostles (Sir 10:3).

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Lecture 7 on Chapter 11, at 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, Section 708

The following passage provides a powerful testimony to the perspicuity of Scripture. Thomas explicitly affirms that there are some easy things for beginners, in addition to the more meaty portions of the Sacred Scriptures.

Then (v. 12b) he describes their situation with a simile. Therefore, it should be noted that sacred doctrine is, as it were, the food of the soul: ‘With the bread of life and understanding she shall feed him’ (Sir. 15:3) and in (24:29): ‘They that eat me shall yet hunger, and they that drink me shall yet thirst.’ Sacred doctrine, therefore, is food and drink, because it nourishes the soul. For the other sciences only enlighten the soul, but this one enlightens: ‘The commandment of the Lord is lightsome, enlightening the eyes’ (Ps. 18:9) and nourishes and strengthens the soul. But in bodily food there is a difference: for children make use of one food and the perfect of another. For children use milk as being thinner and more connatural and easily digestible; but adults use more solid food. So in Sacred Scripture, those who are beginners should listen to easy things, which are like milk; but the learned should hear more difficult things. Therefore, he says, you need milk, namely, as children: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grown unto salvation’ (1 Pt. 2:2); ‘I give you milk to drink, not meat’ (1 Cor. 3:2). And this is what follows, and not solid food, i.e., lofty doctrine, which is concerned with the mysteries and secrets of God, which strengthen and confirm.

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Hebrews, Lecture 2 on Chapter 5, at Hebrews 5:8-14, Section 267

Notice that the source of wisdom according to Thomas is Christ and specifically the word of Christ, Scripture. This again goes to the issue of sufficiency. It also supports the idea of Sola Scriptura indirectly. Consider whether you can find anywhere in all of Thomas’ writings him discussing the extra-scriptural teachings of the church or oral traditions as the source of wisdom. If you could, that would mean that we might have to reevaluate whether Thomas was being inconsistent or simply speaking hyperbolically here.

165. – Next (v. 16), he urges them to acquire wisdom, first, he teaches them about the source of wisdom, and secondly its usefulness.

166. – In order to have true wisdom, one must inquire into its source, and so Paul says, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. “The source of wisdom is God’s word in the highest heaven” (Sir 1:5). Therefore you should draw wisdom from the word of Christ: “That will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples” (Deut 4:6); “He was made our wisdom” (1 Cor 1:30). But some people do not have the Word, and so they do not have wisdom. He says that this wisdom should dwell in us: “Bind them about your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Prov 3:3). For some, a little of Christ’s word is enough, but the Apostle wants them to have much more; thus he says, let the word of God dwell in you richly: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything” (2 Cor 9:8); “Search for it as for hidden treasures” (Prov 2:4). He adds, in all wisdom, that is, you should want to know everything that pertains to the wisdom of Christ: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27); “The heart of a fool is like a broken jar; it will hold no wisdom” (Sir 21:17) [Vulgate].

167. – This wisdom is useful in three ways: for instruction, for devotion, and for direction.

168. – It instructs us in two ways: first, to know what is true; and so Paul says, as you teach. He is saying, in effect: this wisdom dwells in you so richly that it can teach you all things: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Secondly, this wisdom instructs us to know what is good, and so Paul says, and admonish one another, that is, encourage yourselves to do good things: “To arouse you by way of reminder” (2 Pet 1:1).

– Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Colossians, Lecture 3 on Chapter 3, at Colossians 3:12-17, Sections 165-68

I selected the following passage of one of many passages where Thomas affirms the perspicuity of certain texts of Scripture. I picked this one because it is on a subject that I think many folks today wouldn’t regard as especially clear, and further because it seems to have relation to the Thomist/Molinist debate. Finally, I picked it because it is an example of Thomas rejecting what may perhaps be the majority patristic view on the topic – while Thomas only mentions Origen by name he references “some people” which sounds suspiciously as though it might refer to many people euphemistically.

[1] Some people, as a matter of fact, not understanding how God could cause a movement of the will in us without prejudice to freedom of will, have tried to explain these texts in a wrong way. That is, they would say that God causes willing and accomplishing within us in the sense that He causes in us the power of willing, but not in such a way that He makes us will this or that. Thus does Origen, in his Principles, explain free choice, defending it against the texts above.

[2] So, it seems that there developed from this view the opinion of certain people who said that providence does not apply to things subject to free choice, that is, to acts of choice, but, instead, that providence is applied to external events. For he who chooses to attain or accomplish something, such as to make a building or to become rich, is not always able to reach this end; thus, the results of our actions are not subject to free choice, but are controlled by providence.

[3] To these people, of course, opposition is offered quite plainly by the texts from Sacred Scripture. For it is stated in Isaiah (26:2): “O Lord, Thou hast wrought all our works in us.” So, we receive not only the power of willing from God, but also the operation.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 3, Part 2, Chapter 89, Sections 1-3

This passage provides a reasonably good statement of both the formal sufficiency and perspicuity (the doctrine that the things necessary for salvation are clearly stated in Scripture) of Scripture:

To restore man, who had been laid low by sin, to the heights of divine glory, the Word of the eternal Father, though containing all things within His immensity, willed to become small. This He did, not by putting aside His greatness, but by taking to Himself our littleness. No one can say that he is unable to grasp the teaching of heavenly wisdom; what the Word taught at great length, although clearly, throughout the various volumes of Sacred Scripture for those who have leisure to study, He has reduced to brief compass for the sake of those whose time is taken up with the cares of daily life. Man’s salvation consists in knowing the truth, so that the human mind may not be confused by divers errors; in making for the right goal, so that man may not fall away from true happiness by pursuing wrong ends; and in carrying out the law of justice, so that he may not besmirch himself with a multitude of vices.

Knowledge of the truth necessary for man’s salvation is comprised within a few brief articles of faith. The Apostle says in Romans 9:2 8: “A short word shall the Lord make upon the earth”; and later he adds: “This is the word of faith, which we preach” (Rom. 15:8). In a short prayer Christ clearly marked out man’s right course; and in teaching us to say this prayer, He showed us the goal of our striving and our hope. In a single precept of charity He summed up that human justice which consists in observing the law: “Love therefore is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:15). Hence the Apostle, in 1 Corinthians 13:13, taught that the whole perfection of this present life consists in faith, hope, and charity, as in certain brief headings outlining our salvation: “Now there remain faith, hope, and charity.” These are the three virtues, as St. Augustine says, by which God is worshiped [De doctrina christiana, 1, 35]

– Thomas Aquinas, Theological Compendium, Chapter 1 (appears to be repeated verbatim as the first chapter of both part 1 and part 2)

This passage is more tangential to our discussion. It highlights one of the reasons that the medieval period was as dark as it was: the priests who were conducting their liturgies in Latin didn’t even know how to speak it. Thomas rightly chides them for this, and insists that a knowledge of Scriptures is essential for a preacher. The implication is that Thomas would have disagreed with those modern Roman Catholics who try to argue that Christianity is not a religion of the book.

The necessity for priests devoted to the ministry of preaching is, furthermore, shown by the great ignorance prevailing in some places amongst many of the clergy, some of whom know not even how to speak in Latin. It is rare to find any who are conversant with the Scriptures. Yet a knowledge of the holy writings is essential to those who would preach the word of God. Hence if preaching be entrusted solely to parish priests, the faithful will be greatly the losers.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, Part 2, Chapter 3

One of the few places in Aquinas’ writings where he explores the boundaries between papal power and Scriptures is the following. In this passage, we see that the one thing higher than papal power for Aquinas is the power and authority of the Scriptures.

In answer to the second objection, the Pope, as we have already shown, does not, by giving to religious the privilege of preaching or hearing confessions, act contrary to St. Paul’s admonition; for these religious do not preach to another man’s people. It is not true to say that the Pope cannot alter any Apostolic decree; for the penalties pronounced against bigamy and against fornication among the clergy, are, by authority of the Holy See, sometimes in abeyance. The power of the Pope is limited only in so far that he cannot alter the canonical scriptures of the Apostles and Prophets, which are fundamental to the faith of the Church.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, Part 2, Chapter 3

This is similar to the passage above about the necessity of Scriptures for preachers. I’ve included it because it makes explicit the primacy of Scripture (“above all things”).

From all that has been said, we see then that it is advisable for religious [i.e. those in religious orders], and especially for preachers, to be learned, and that above all things they ought to have a good knowledge of Holy Scripture.

– Thomas Aquinas, Contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, Part 3, Chapter 4

A rare instance of where Thomas interacts with the decrees of Nicaea is the following. In the following, we see that Thomas explicitly denies that the council of Nicaea had higher authority than the Old Testament Scriptures. Instead, Thomas appears to assert only that Nicaea was right – a position similar to those of most Reformed folks.

Doubt also arises from the same letter where Athanasius says that “only the definition of the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea, discerned in the spirit and not in the letter, is the unique and true possession of the orthodox.” Someone might interpret this as implying that the definition of the said Council enjoys greater authority than the letter of the Old Testament, which is absolutely false.

The text, however, must be read in the sense that through the said Council the true meaning of Sacred Scripture is perceived, a meaning which only Catholics possess, although the letter of Sacred Scripture is common to Catholics and heretics and Jews.

– Thomas Aquinas, Against the Errors of the Greeks, Part 1, Chapter 32

UPDATE: Here’s an alternative translation, which appears to be more faithful to the original Latin (thanks to Pastor David King for this update):

Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274: Doubt also arises from the same letter where Athanasius says that “only the definition of the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea, discerned in the spirit and not in the letter, is the unique and true possession of the orthodox.” Someone might interpret this as implying that the definition of the said Council enjoys greater authority than the letter of the Old and New Testaments, which is absolutely false.

The text, however, must be read in the sense that through the said Council the true meaning of Sacred Scripture is perceived, a meaning which only Catholics possess, although the letter of Sacred Scripture is common to Catholics and heretics and Jews. See the full translation of Aquinas’ Contra Errores Graecorum, provided by James Likoudis in his Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism (New Rochelle, NY: Catholics United for the Faith, 1992), Part 1, Chapter 32, p. 154

This concludes our somewhat extended examination of Thomas’ own comments on Scripture – its exclusive and primary place, its sufficiency, and its perspicuity. We can conclude from this at least that Thomas held to some form or kind of Sola Scriptura (broadly defined), even if it did not reach in him the purity it reached in other great thinkers, such as Calvin – and even if it did not reach the full extent of the definitions we find in the Westminster Confession of Faith or the like. As we noted above, he held a place for traditional customs that is probably a large place than Reformed believers would accept, and his view of the pope’s role in the church is not one that any Reformed believer would accept.

Bellisario concludes his comment with the following jewel: “Webster is a buffoon. Nothing to be scared of.”

That is more of the argument-by-adjective style we’ve noticed above. However, as we’ve seen from the discussion above, there is an abundance of evidence that supports what Webster said about Thomas Aquinas, even beyond the bare fact of the precise quotation that Webster’s comment is based on. It appears that Webster’s comments are consistent with the overall trajectory of Aquinas’ thought on Scripture.

One word of caution. Aquinas was not a fully Reformed believer. Not every point of his doctrine or ecclesiology lines up with Reformed theology. In fact, on many points that are not trivial his views are closer to those of modern-day Roman Catholics. One of the reasons, as William Webster has pointed out, is that Thomas Aquinas mistakenly relied on forged patristic writings (link to discussion). Incidentally, given his somewhat uncritical acceptance of forged documents, one ought to take his patristic quotations above with a grain of salt, and check them to verify their authenticity before citing the father that is allegedly being quoted. I have not checked all of Aquinas’ sources above, and consequently have simply cited them as Thomas – not as the father himself.

The above abundant evidence of Thomas Aquinas’ very high and exclusive view of Scripture, embodying some form of Sola Scriptura, should not be confused for a statement that Aquinas would have agreed with every last word of an extended Reformed treatise on the subject. It ought to go without saying that Aquinas was a fallible man, and we ought to recognize his fallibility. He may well also have been an inconsistent man. We see inconsistency all around us today, and even though Thomas Aquinas’ study was extensive, he is not immune from being inconsistent.

– TurretinFan

P.S. I anticipate but hope against the following non-rebuttals: (1) the same accusation already made against Webster vainly brought against me, namely that the above compilation represents ignorance or unfamiliarity with the Thomistic corpus; (2) that the quotations above are “cut-and-paste” (obviously, one cuts and pastes quotations – otherwise one is paraphrasing, not quoting — the above represents more than a simple cut-and-paste on several levels); (3) that “Catholics accept what Aquinas said but that doesn’t equate to Sola Scriptura” (Aquinas is not being consistent with the modern Roman Catholic view. Furthermore, the seeming bulk of Aquinas’ writings indicate his view that Scripture’s authority is even higher than the highest church authority. While Aquinas may additionally have believed that the ecumenical councils necessarily did not err, Aquinas seems not to have given them the same authority as Scripture – the one possible straw upon which an opposite conclusion might be built is addressed above.)

Only Infallible Authority We Have – Not Only Authority

December 8, 2009

David at Pious Fabrications, an Eastern Orthodox blog, has assigned himself an interesting project. He’s going to, well, in his words: “What I’m going to try to do here is to actually look at that individual [church father], their life and writings as a whole, and really, finally answer the question: did he believe in the authority of Scripture alone?” (link to source)

I think it’s important to clarify to David that the Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura is not the view that the Scriptures are the only authority, but rather that they are the only infallible authority that we have. That’s an important distinction, because we assign real (albeit subordinate) authority to the elders in the church, as well as persuasive authority to the teachings and explanations of our fellow believers.

I realize that David may sincerely believe that “Protestants” simply “proof-text” from the fathers (he writes: “What I’m going to attempt not to do is just do the inverse of what Protestants do; I’m not going to simply proof-text and quote mine for sentences which support Tradition, although we will look at those in the process.”), but actually the folks he highlights (James White and William Webster) are quite willing to let the fathers be the fathers. If the fathers hold to sola scriptura, great! If not, that’s fine too. We believe that men are fallible, and we recognize that even godly men make mistakes. So we don’t feel compelled to find fathers who are copies of ourselves.

I look forward to David’s exploration of the fathers, but if David has read Holy Scripture: the Ground and Pillar of the Faith, by David King and William Webster, he knows he has a long row to hoe.


The Eucharist

January 8, 2009

The Thirsty Theologian has pointed me to an excellent article by William Webster on the Romanist view of the Eucharist (link to Webster’s article).

Webster provides a very interesting historical analysis of the Eucharist, tracing it from ancient times, through to Trent. In the process, Webster demonstrates that Trent has departed not only from Biblical but also historical theology with respect to the Eucharist.


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