Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reply to Jason Engwer's "Catholic But Not Roman Catholic" Series on the Church Fathers: Sola Scriptura, Part Two

An In-Depth Analysis of Ten Church Fathers' Views Pertaining to the Rule of Faith

Part Two
Go to Part One

IX. Justin Martyr (c. 100 - c. 165)


Justin Martyr wrote:

"And now, if I say this to you, although I have repeated it many times, I know that it is not absurd so to do. For it is a ridiculous thing to see the sun, and the moon, and the other stars, continually keeping the same course, and bringing round the different seasons; and to see the computer who may be asked how many are twice two, because he has frequently said that they are four, not ceasing to say again that they are four; and equally so other things, which are confidently admitted, to be continually mentioned and admitted in like manner; yet that he who founds his discourse on the prophetic Scriptures should leave them and abstain from constantly referring to the same Scriptures, because it is thought he can bring forth something better than Scripture. The passage, then, by which I proved that God reveals that there are both angels and hosts in heaven is this: 'Praise the Lord from the heavens: praise Him in the highest. Praise Him, all His angels: praise Him, all His hosts.'" (Dialogue with Trypho, 85)

A common Catholic response to such patristic passages is to argue that the church father in question was only referring to the importance of scripture, not its sufficiency. In other words, though Justin Martyr is correct that there's nothing better than scripture, he isn't denying that there can be other sources of equal authority, such as the traditions of Roman Catholicism.

But Justin criticizes those who would "leave" scripture, who wouldn't "constantly" look to it in their arguments. If we can't leave scripture, and we're to look to it constantly, what is that if not sola scriptura?

It is special pleading on Jason's part and a stunted notion of how both language (particularly idiom) and literary interpretation work.

Another common Catholic response to such patristic passages is to claim that the church father was advocating the material sufficiency of scripture, but not its formal sufficiency.

Indeed, I would do so, since Protestant historians Kelly, Schaff, and Pelikan have stated that this was basically true of the entire body of Church Fathers, as seen in various citations above. Therefore, this is not only a "Catholic response" but also a response of serious Protestant historiography.

In other words, all doctrines can be derived from scripture, but we need the infallible Roman Catholic hierarchy to guide us, to tell us what is to be derived from the scriptures. But Justin doesn't say that.

He does not do so here, but a person's thought cannot be summarized on the basis of one statement. This is true of biblical interpretation and exegesis, and it is equally true in patristic studies. One must consider the writer's other relevant remarks.

He doesn't refer to scripture being sufficient if accompanied by the interpretations of the Roman Catholic magisterium. Rather, he refers to scripture itself being sufficient.

Jason is essentially begging the question:

1. Justin Martyr mentions only Scripture in this passage.
2. He doesn't mention Church, Tradition, or apostolic succession.
3. Therefore, he must regard the Bible as not only materially, but also formally sufficient (the sola Scriptura principle and position).
The algebraic "x" factor here is how Justin Martyr views Church and Tradition in relationship to Holy Scripture. It doesn't logically follow that he has no opinion on those things, and Jason's conclusion does not flow from this statement alone. He can't know one way or the other what Justin believes about the Rule of Faith, based on only this information. He may wish or hope something to be true or suspect it to be true, but this is no proof whatsoever. Jason is simply assuming the conclusion he is looking for.

If it could be shown that he did not grant the Church and Tradition binding authority, and didn't include them in the Rule of Faith, then Jason might have a valid point (as usual, the statement - strictly considered, for the sake of argument, in isolation -, would not be inconsistent with how Protestants think), but we can't know this conclusively until such time as he specifically demonstrates that Justin holds to the Protestant Rule of Faith over against the Catholic one.

The data in this instance is fairly scarce, since Justin's three surviving works are primarily philosophical and apologetic in nature, rather than theological, and the theology that Justin does discuss is only rarely related to ecclesiology or the Rule of Faith as here discussed. It is highly unlikely, prima facie, that Justin would differ radically from the other Fathers we have been examining. Justin was a major source for Irenaeus, who speaks of apostolic succession and Tradition and Church authority all over the place, as we shall see below. Yet despite these difficulties, I believe there is enough information to be had, to pronounce definitely against Jason's interpretation, as will be demonstrated below.

Just after his comments on the sufficiency of scripture, Justin goes on to quote a passage from the Psalms as proof for one of his arguments. Instead of quoting the Roman Catholic magisterium's interpretation of the Psalm, Justin tells us that the Psalm itself is the proof.

It is no novel thing for a Catholic (or someone who has a view similar to Catholics regarding the Rule of Faith) to compare Scripture with Scripture. I write entire books and dozens of papers where I consult Scripture Alone to make my arguments (precisely because I am arguing with Protestants and they dont care what Catholic authorities state on a subject). It doesn't follow that I have therefore adopted the Protestant Rule of Faith. This is extraordinarily weak argumentation (insofar as it can be called that at all; it is much more like mere bald assertion and begging of the question; assuming what one is purporting to prove).

It doesn't seem, then, that Justin had material sufficiency in view. It seems that he was referring to the formal sufficiency of scripture.

"Seems" is the proper word. And "seems" often depends largely on one's prior predispositions and presuppositions.

Even if he had been referring to material sufficiency, the popularity of material sufficiency in some Roman Catholic circles is of recent origin, and some Catholics still reject the concept.

I have shown that the Fathers held the same general outlook (whether the exact terminology is used or not), according to reputable Protestant historians. It is nothing new.

If scripture is as insufficient, as unclear as Roman Catholics claim it is, one wonders why there wasn't some infallible interpreter of scripture in the Old Testament era, one to which both Justin Martyr and Trypho could have appealed in their disputes over the Messianic prophecies. Justin Martyr shows no knowledge of such an Old Testament infallible interpreter, nor does he show any knowledge of such an institution in this New Testament era.

He didn't have to, because the need for interpreters is manifest in the Old Testament itself (from the RSV):

1) Exodus 18:20: Moses was to teach the Jews the statutes and the decisions - not just read it to them. Since he was the Lawgiver and author of the Torah, it stands to reason that his interpretation and teaching would be of a highly authoritative nature.

2) Leviticus 10:11: Aaron, Moses' brother, is also commanded by God to teach.

3) Deuteronomy 17:8-13: The Levitical priests had binding authority in legal matters (derived from the Torah itself). They interpreted the biblical injunctions (17:11). The penalty for disobedience was death (17:12), since the offender didn't obey the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God. Cf. Deuteronomy 19:16-17, 2 Chronicles 19:8-10.

4) Deuteronomy 24:8: Levitical priests had the final say and authority (in this instance, in the case of leprosy). This was a matter of Jewish law.

5) Deuteronomy 33:10: Levite priests are to teach Israel the ordinances and law. (cf. 2 Chronicles 15:3, Malachi 2:6-8 - the latter calls them messenger of the LORD of hosts).

6) Ezra 7:6,10: Ezra, a priest and scribe, studied the Jewish law and taught it to Israel, and his authority was binding, under pain of imprisonment, banishment, loss of goods, and even death (7:25-26).

7) Nehemiah 8:1-8: Ezra reads the law of Moses to the people in Jerusalem (8:3). In 8:7 we find thirteen Levites who assisted Ezra, and who helped the people to understand the law. Much earlier, in King Jehoshaphat's reign, we find Levites exercising the same function (2 Chronicles 17:8-9). There is no sola Scriptura, with its associated idea "perspicuity" (evident clearness in the main) here. In Nehemiah 8:8: . . . they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly [footnote, "or with interpretation"], and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. So the people did indeed understand the law (8:12), but not without much assistance - not merely upon hearing. Likewise, the Bible is not altogether clear in and of itself, but requires the aid of teachers who are more familiar with biblical styles and Hebrew idiom, background, context, exegesis and cross-reference, hermeneutical principles, original languages, etc.

8) All Christians agree that prophets, too, exercised a high degree of authority.

The Catholic Church continues to offer authoritative teaching and a way to decide doctrinal and ecclesiastical disputes, and believes that its popes and priests have the power to "bind and loose," just as the New Testament describes. Protestantism has no such system. The Old Testament and Jewish history attest to a fact which Catholics constantly assert, over against sola Scriptura and Protestantism: that Holy Scripture requires an authoritative interpreter, a Church, and a binding Tradition, as passed down from Jesus and the apostles.

Besides, if Justin refers to the Old Testament (which was the primary Scripture he was referring to, since the New Testament canon was at a very early stage of formulation during his lifetime) as authoritative, and it itself asserts the need and fact of a binding teaching authority among the ancient Jews, then sola Scriptura is not taught in it, and Jason's opinion is internally incoherent and inconsistent.

The same holds for the New Testament, even more so, as it often mentions apostolic tradition, both written and oral (Mk 6:34, Jn 20:30, 21:25, Acts 1:2-3, 1 Cor 11:2, 2 Thess 2:15, 3:6, 2 Tim 1:13-14, 2:2, etc.) and an authoritative Church (1 Tim 3:15, the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15, Matt 18:17, etc.). Protestants simply assume that the Bible denies a crucial and binding role for Tradition and the Church, but such is clearly not the case. Thus, appeal to the Bible Alone for a supposed notion of Bible Alone and the formal sufficiency of Scripture is fallacious and self-defeating.

Lastly, it is certainly true that Justin habitually refers to Scripture as clear and self-interpreting (as indeed it often is):

And as this was done by Him in the manner in which it was prophesied in precise terms that it would be done by the Christ, and as the fulfilment was recognised, it became a clear proof that He was the Christ. And though all this happened and is proved from Scripture, you are still hard-hearted.

(Dialogue With Trypho, 53)

. . . we will now offer proof, not trusting mere assertions, but being of necessity persuaded by those who prophesied [of Him] before these things came to pass, for with our own eyes we behold things that have happened and are happening just as they were predicted; and this will, we think appear even to you the strongest and truest evidence.

(First Apology, Chapter XXX)

Though we could bring forward many other prophecies, we forbear, judging these sufficient for the persuasion of those who have ears to hear and understand; and considering also that those persons are able to see that we do not make mere assertions without being able to produce proof, like those fables that are told of the so-called sons of Jupiter . . . many things therefore, as these, when they are seen with the eye, are enough to produce conviction and belief in those who embrace the truth, and are not bigoted in their opinions, nor are governed by their passions.

(First Apology, Chapter LIII)

On the other hand, in Chapter 76 of the Dialogue With Trypho, entitled "From Other Passages the Same Majesty and Government of Christ are Proved," Justin referred to "an obscure prediction," and of prophecies "proclaimed in mystery" and "declared obscurely," and which "could not be understood by any man" until Jesus Himself expounded upon them. So much for "perspicuity" and the entirely self-interpreting nature of Scripture in all its particulars. Catholics readily agree that Scripture often interprets itself. We simply deny that it always does, or that there is no need for authoritative interpretation from outside itself.

I submit that our Lord Jesus would qualify as the "infallible interpreter" that Jason claims Justin knows nothing of: "Justin Martyr shows no knowledge of such an Old Testament infallible interpreter, nor does he show any knowledge of such an institution in this New Testament era." Here is the above chapter in its entirety:

"For when Daniel speaks of 'one like unto the Son of man' who received the everlasting kingdom, does he not hint at this very thing? For he declares that, in saying 'like unto the Son of man,' He appeared, and was man, but not of human seed. And the same thing he proclaimed in mystery when he speaks of this stone which was cut out without hands. For the expression 'it was cut out without hands' signified that it is not a work of man, but [a work] of the will of the Father and God of all things, who brought Him forth. And when Isaiah says, 'Who shall declare His generation?' he meant that His descent could not be declared. Now no one who is a man of men has a descent that cannot be declared. And when Moses says that He will wash His garments in the blood of the grape, does not this signify what I have now often told you is an obscure prediction, namely, that He had blood, but not from men; just as not man, but God, has begotten the blood of the vine? And when Isaiah calls Him the Angel of mighty l counsel, did he not foretell Him to be the Teacher of those truths which He did teach when He came[to earth]? For He alone taught openly those mighty counsels which the Father designed both for all those who have been and shall be well-pleasing to Him, and also for those who have rebelled against His will, whether men or angels, when He said: 'They shall come from the east[and from the west], and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven: but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness.' And, ' Many shall say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not eaten, and drunk, and prophesied, and cast out demons in Thy name? And I will say to them, Depart from Me.' Again, in other words, by which He shall condemn those who are unworthy of salvation, He said, Depart into outer darkness, which the Father has prepared for Satan and his, angels.' And again, in other words, He said, 'I give unto you power to tread on serpents, and on scorpions, and on scolopendras, and on all the might of the enemy.' And now we, who believe on our Lord Jesus, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, when we exorcise all demons and evil spirits, have them subjected to us. For if the prophets declared obscurely that Christ would suffer, and thereafter be Lord of all, yet that[declaration] could not be understood by any man until He Himself persuaded the apostles that such statements were expressly related in the Scriptures. For He exclaimed before His crucifixion: 'The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the Scribes and Pharisees, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.' And David predicted that He would be born from the womb before sun and moon, according to the Father's will, and made Him known, being Christ, as God strong and to be worshipped."
If no one could have understood these prophecies until Jesus fulfilled and explained them, of what use is Scripture Alone in that case? It would be of no use whatever, without the Teacher to give the proper sense of the prophecies. Compare Justin's similar statements:
Up to the time of Jesus Christ, who taught us, and interpreted the prophecies which were not yet understood, . . .

(First Apology, Chapter XXXII)

But in no instance, not even in any of those called sons of Jupiter, did they imitate the being crucified; for it was not understood by them, all the things said of it having been put symbolically.

(First Apology, Chapter LV)

This brings to mind Jesus' conversation with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Scripture states:
And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

(Luke 24:27; RSV)

The two disciples later marvelled at how Jesus "opened to us the Scriptures" (Luke 24:32). In other words, those prophecies were not understood until Jesus explained them, and in fact, most of the Jews did not see that they were fulfilled. Thus, Old Testament Scripture was insufficient for these messianic truths to be grasped simply by reading them. One could retort that the Jews were hard-hearted and thus could not understand since they had not the Holy Spirit and God's grace to illumine their understanding. But that proves too much because it would also have to apply to these two disciples, and indeed all of the disciples, who did not understand what was happening, even after Jesus repeatedly told them that He was to suffer and to die, and that this was all foretold. They didn't "get it" till after He was crucified. Justin Martyr noted himself that the disciples had not understood the very Psalms he was expounding:
The rest of the Psalm shows that He knew that His Father would grant all His requests, and would raise Him from the dead. It also shows that He encouraged all who fear God to praise Him, because through the mystery of the Crucified One He had mercy on the faithful of every race; and that He stood in the midst of His brethren, the Apostles (who, after He arose from the dead and convinced them that He had warned them before the Passion that He had to suffer, and that this was foretold by the Prophets, were most sorry that they had abandoned Him at the crucifixion).

(Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 106)

The Phillips Modern English translation renders Luke 24:32 as, "he made the scriptures plain to us." The Greek word for "opened" is dianoigo (Strong's word #1272). According to Joseph Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977 reprint of 1901 edition, p. 140), it means "to open by dividing or drawing asunder, to open thoroughly (what had been closed)."

This meaning can be seen in other passages where dianoigo appears: Mk 7:34-35, Lk 2:23, 24:31,45, Acts 16:14, 17:3). Obviously, then, Holy Scripture is informing us that some parts of it were "closed" and "not plain" until the "infallible" teaching authority and interpretation of our Lord Jesus opened it up and made it plain. This runs utterly contrary to the Protestant notion of perspicuity of Scripture and its more or less ubiquitous self-interpreting nature; also to biblical passages such as 1 Peter 1:20: ". . . no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own private interpretation" (cf. Peter's description of Paul's letters: "There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures" - 2 Peter 3:16). The need for an interpreter was also illustrated in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch:

. . . he was reading the prophet Isaiah . . . So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?"
(Acts 8:28,30-31; RSV)
It turns out that he was reading Isaiah 53:7-8, as we are informed in Acts 8:32-33. Philip then interprets the passage as referring to Jesus, and preaches the gospel to the eunuch (Acts 8:35). An authoritative interpreter was needed. And no one can say that the eunuch didn't understand because of "hardness of heart" because subsequent events show that he was willing to accept the truth (as he got baptized in Acts 8:38). He simply didn't have enough information. He needed the authoritative ("infallible," if you will) teacher. Old Testament Scripture (which was Justin's primary Scripture) was not sufficient enough for him to come to the knowledge of the truth.

One might also note that Justin Martyr's routine casual assumption that his own interpretations of a host of biblical passages are self-evident, clear, etc., is itself highly questionable. Protestant Bible scholar F.F. Bruce commented upon this, in his analysis of Justin's Dialogue With Trypho:

Both appeal to the Old Testament, but they cannot agree on its meaning, because they argue from incompatible principles of interpretation. Quite often, indeed, the modern Christian reader is vound to agree with Trypho's interpretation against Justin's.

For example, they discuss the incident of the burning bush . . . Trypho says, 'This is not what we understand from the words quoted: we understand that, while it was an angel that appeared in a flame of fire, it was God who spoke to Moses.' [Dialogue, 60.1] Here Trypho's understanding is sounder than Justin's.

. . . Justin's Greek text of Psalm 96:10) (LXX 95:10) read 'the Lord reigned from the tree' - to him a clear prediction of the crucifixion. Trypho's Bible did not contain these additional words (and neither does ours). 'Whether the rulers of our people', said Trypho, 'have erased any portion of the scriptures, as you allege, God knows; but it seems incredible.' [Dialogue, 73] Again, Trypho was right.

. . . Justin Martyr . . . evidently regards the Septuagint version as the only reliable text of the Old Testament. Where it differs from the Hebrew text, as read and interpreted by the Jews, the Jews (he says) have corrupted the text so as to obscure the scriptures' plain prophetic testimony to Jesus as the Christ.

(The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988, 65-66)

As we would expect at that early stage in the development of the canon of Scripture, Justin Martyr did not have a clear understanding of which books belong in the New Testament. F.F. Bruce contends that he "appears to quote" the Gospel of Peter. He elaborates, in a footnote:
In First Apology 36.6, speaking of the passion of Christ, Justin says, 'And indeed, as the prophet had said, they dragged him and made him sit on the judgment-seat, saying "Judge us".' Compare Gospel of Peter 3:6 f. where Jesus enemies 'made him sit on a judgment-seat, saying "Judge righteously, O kking of Israel!"' The prophet referred to by Justin is Isaiah (cf Is. 58:2). The idea that Jesus was made to sit on the judgment-seat could have arisen from a mistranslation of John 19:13 (as though it meant not 'Pilate sat' but 'Pilate made him sit').

(Ibid., 200-201)

Here is the passage from Justin:
And as the prophet spoke, they tormented Him, and set Him on the judgment-seat, and said, Judge us. And the expression, "They pierced my hands and my feet," was used in reference to the nails of the cross which were fixed in His hands and feet. And after He was crucified they cast lots upon His vesture, and they that crucified Him parted it among them. And that these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.

(First Apology, 35 - Bruce appears to have mistakenly cited chapter 36)

Finally, according to the eminent 19th-century Protestant patristics scholar Brooke Foss Westcott, there is some indication in Justin of acceptance of an apostolic Tradition, including an oral component. After an exhaustive, remarkable 75-page exposition of Justin's understanding of the canon of the New Testament. Westcott concludes:
There are indeed traces of the recognition of an authoritative Apostolic doctrine in Justin, but it cannot be affirmed from the form of his language that he looked upon this as contained in a written New Testament. 'We have been commanded,' he says, 'by Christ Himself to obey not the teaching of men but those precepts which were proclaimed by the blessed Prophets and taught by Himself.' [Dialogue 48] But this teaching of Christ was not strictly limited to His own words, as Justin explains in another passage:
As [Abraham] believed on the voice of God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness, in the same way we also when we believed the voice of God which was spoken again by the Apostles of Christ, and the voice which was proclaimed to us by the Prophets, even to dying [for our belief], renounced all that is in the world. [Dialogue, 119]
Thus the words of the Apostles were in his view in some sense the words of Christ, and we are therefore justified in interpreting his language generally, so as to accord with the certain judgment of his immediate successors. His writings mark the era of transition from the oral to the written Rule. His recognition of a New Testament was practical and not formal. As yet the circumstances of the Christian Church had not led to the final separation of the Canonical writings of the Apostles from others which claimed more or less directly to be stamped with their authority.

(A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980, from the 1889 sixth edition, 172-173)

Following are the two passages cited by Westcott, along with similar thoughts in Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho:
For we have been told by Christ Himself not to follow the teachings of men, but only those which have been announced by the holy Prophets and taught by Himself.

(Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 48)

What greater favor, then, did Christ bestow on Abraham? This: that He likewise called with His voice, and commanded him to leave the land wherein he dwelt. And with that same voice He has also called of us, and we have abandoned our former way of life in which we used to practice evils common to the rest of the world. And we will inherit the Holy Land together with Abraham, receiving our inheritance for all eternity, because by our similar faith we have become children of Abraham. For, just as he believed the voice of God, and was justified thereby, so have we believed the voice of God (which was spoken again to us by the Prophets and the Apostles of Christ), and have renounced even to death all worldly things.

(Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 119)

"The twelve bells which had to be attached to the long robe of the high priest, were representative of the twelve Apostles, who relied upon the power of Christ, the Eternal Priest. Through their voices the whole world is filled with the glory and grace of God and His Christ. David testified to this truth when he said: 'Their sound has gone forth into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world' [Ps 18.5]. [2] And Isaiah speaks as though in the person of the Apostles (when they relate to Christ that the people were convinced, not by their words, but by the power of Him who sent them), and says: 'Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? We have preached before Him as a little child, as if a root in a thirsty ground' [Isa 53.1-2]. (And the rest of the prophecy as quoted above.) [3] When the passage, spoken in the name of many, states: 'We have preached before Him,' and adds, 'as a little child,' it proves that sinners will obey Him as servants, and will all become as one child in His sight. An example of this is had in a human body: although it is made up of many members, it is called, and is, one body. So also in the case of the people and the Church: although they are many individuals, they form one body and are called by one common name.

(Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 42)

From Isaiah we know that the Prophets who were sent to carry His messages to man are called angels and apostles of God, for Isaiah uses the expression, 'Send me' [Isa 6.8].

(Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 75)

. . . we Christians, who have gained a knowledge of the true worship of God from the Law and from the word which went forth from Jerusalem by way of the Apostles of Jesus, . . .

(Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter 110)

All of this shows with reasonable certitude that Justin Martyr did not hold to sola Scriptura, as Jason and Protestants generally, conceive it. Nothing seen in Justin is inconsistent with the perennial Catholic understanding of authority. His thought is simply at an early stage of Christian development, as we would fully expect in the 2nd century.

X. Irenaeus (c. 130 - c. 200)


"They [heretics] gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures...We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith....It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and to demonstrate the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these heretics rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to 'the perfect' apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon to the Church, but if they should fall away, the direst calamity....proofs of the things which are contained in the Scriptures cannot be shown except from the Scriptures themselves." - Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 1:8:1, 3:1:1, 3:3:1, 3:12:9)

This is practically its own disproof. We are now virtually entering the theater of the absurd (as with St. Augustine) - to even have to deal with a claim that Irenaeus held to sola Scriptura. I'm sure dozens of passages could be found countering such a claim. I'll try to collect some of the clearest and best and most indisputable:

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.

(Against Heresies, 1, 10, 2)

. . . Hyginus, who held the ninth place in the episcopal succession from the apostles downwards.

. . . those apostles who have handed down the Gospel to us . . .

(Against Heresies, 1, 27, 1-2)

The Universal Church, moreover, through the whole world, has received this tradition from the apostles.

(Against Heresies, 2, 9, 1)

If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigation, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries . . . On all these points we may indeed say a great deal while we search into their causes, but God alone who made them can declare the truth regarding them.

(Against Heresies, 2, 28, 2)

If, therefore, even with respect to creation, there are some things [the knowledge of] Which belongs only to God, and others which come with in the range of our own knowledge, what ground is there for complaint, if, in regard to those things which we investigate in the Scriptures (which are throughout spiritual), we are able by the grace of God to explain some of them, while we must leave others in the hands of God, and that not only in the present world, but also in that which is to come, so that God should for ever teach, and man should for ever learn the things taught him by God? . . . If, therefore, according to the rule which I have stated, we leave some questions in the hands of God, we shall both preserve our faith uninjured, and shall continue without danger; and all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances [of Scripture] there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us, praising in hymns that God who created all things.

(Against Heresies, 2, 28, 3)

. . . the only true and life-giving faith, which the Church has received from the apostles and imparted to her sons. For the Lord of all gave to His apostles the power of the Gospel, . . .

(Against Heresies, 3, Preface)

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth . . . It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.

(Against Heresies, 3, 2, 2)

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about.

(Against Heresies, 3, 3, 1)

Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.

(Against Heresies, 3, 3, 2)

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.

(Against Heresies, 3, 3, 3)

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time, - a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles, - that, namely, which is handed down by the Church . . . the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.

(Against Heresies, 3, 3, 4)

Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?

(Against Heresies, 3, 4, 1)

. . . carefully preserving the ancient tradition . . . by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established.

(Against Heresies, 3, 4, 2)

Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, . . .

(Against Heresies, 3, 5, 1)

. . . both the apostles and their disciples thus taught as the Church preaches, and thus teaching were perfected, . . .

(Against Heresies, 3, 12, 13)

. . . we refute them out of these Scriptures, and shut them up to a belief in the advent of the Son of God. But our faith is stedfast, unfeigned, and the only true one, having clear proof from these Scriptures, which were interpreted in the way I have related; and the preaching of the Church is without interpolation. For the apostles, since they are of more ancient date than all these [heretics], agree with this aforesaid translation; and the translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles.

(Against Heresies, 3, 21, 3)

For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth.

(Against Heresies, 3, 24, 1)


2. Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church, - those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismaries puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth . . .

4. From all such persons, therefore, it be-bores us to keep aloof, but to adhere to those who, as I have already observed, do hold the doctrine of the apostles, and who, together with the order of priesthood (presbyterii ordine), display sound speech and blameless conduct for the confirmation and correction of others . . .

5. Such presbyters does the Church nourish . . . Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behoves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles? and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love [which we have] for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.


And then shall every word also seem consistent to him, if he for his part diligently read the Scriptures in company with those who are presbyters in the Church, among whom is the apostolic doctrine, as I have pointed out.

(Against Heresies, 4, 32, 1)

7. He shall also judge those who give rise to schisms, who are destitute of the love of God, and who look to their own special advantage rather than to the unity of the Church; and who for trifling reasons, or any kind of reason which occurs to them, cut in pieces and divide the great and glorious body of Christ, and so far as in them lies, [positively] destroy it, - men who prate of peace while they give rise to war, and do in truth strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel. For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism. He shall also judge all those who are beyond the pale of the truth, that is, who are outside the Church; but he himself shall be judged by no one . . .

8. True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; . . .


In the four preceding books, my very dear friend, which I put forth to thee, all the heretics have been exposed, and their doctrines brought to light, and these men refuted who have devised irreligious opinions. [I have accomplished this by adducing] something from the doctrine peculiar to each of these men, which they have left in their writings, as well as by using arguments of a more general nature, and applicable to them all. Then I have pointed out the truth, and shown the preaching of the Church, which the prophets proclaimed (as I have already demonstrated), but which Christ brought to perfection, and the apostles have handed down, from whom the Church, receiving [these truths], and throughout all the world alone preserving them in their integrity (bene), has transmitted them to her sons. Then also - having disposed of all questions which the heretics propose to us, and having explained the doctrine of the apostles, and clearly set forth many of those things which were said and done by the Lord in parables - I shall endeavour, in this the fifth book of the entire work which treats of the exposure and refutation of knowledge falsely so called, to exhibit proofs from the rest of the Lord's doctrine and the apostolical epistles: [thus] complying with thy demand, as thou didst request of me (since indeed I have been assigned a place in the ministry of the word); and, labouring by every means in my power to furnish thee with large assistance against the contradictions of the heretics, as also to reclaim the wanderers and convert them to the Church of God, to confirm at the same time the minds of the neophytes, that they may preserve stedfast the faith which they have received, guarded by the Church in its integrity, in order that they be in no way perverted by those who endeavour to teach them false doctrines, and lead them away from the truth . . .

(Against Heresies, 5, Preface)

1. Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches; which fact I have in the third book taken all pains to demonstrate. It follows, then, as a matter of course, that these heretics aforementioned, since they are blind to the truth, and deviate from the [right] way, will walk in various roads; and therefore the footsteps of their doctrine are scattered here and there without agreement or connection. But the path of those belonging to the Church circumscribes the whole world, as possessing the sure tradition from the apostles, and gives unto us to see that the faith of all is one and the same, since all receive one and the same God the Father, and believe in the same dispensation regarding the incarnation of the Son of God, and are cognizant of the same gift of the Spirit, and are conversant with the same commandments, and preserve the same form of ecclesiastical constitution, and expect the same advent of the Lord, and await the same salvation of the complete man, that is, of the soul and body. And undoubtedly the preaching of the Church is true and stedfast, in which one and the same way of salvation is shown throughout the whole world. For to her is entrusted the light of God; and therefore the "wisdom" of God, by means of which she saves all men, "is declared in [its] going forth; it uttereth [its voice] faithfully in the streets, is preached on the tops of the walls, and speaks continually in the gates of the city." For the Church preaches the truth everywhere, and she is the seven-branched candlestick which bears the light of Christ.

2. Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters, not taking into consideration of how much greater consequence is a religious man, even in a private station, than a blasphemous and impudent sophist. Now, such are all the heretics, and those who imagine that they have hit upon something more beyond the truth, so that by following those things already mentioned, proceeding on their way variously, in harmoniously, and foolishly, not keeping always to the same opinions with regard to the same things, as blind men are led by the blind, they shall deservedly fall into the ditch of ignorance lying in their path, ever seeking and never finding out the truth. It behoves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord's Scriptures . . .

(Against Heresies, 5, 20, 1-2)

Now we shall examine scholarly summaries of Irenaeus' views:
For Irenaeus, on the other hand, tradition and scripture are both quite unproblematic. They stand independently side by side, both absolutely authoritative, both unconditionally true, trustworthy, and convincing.

(Ellen Flessman-van Leer, Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church,
Van Gorcum, 1953, 139)

Irenaeus and Tertullian point to the church tradition as the authoritative locus of the unadulterated teaching of the apostles, they cannot longer appeal to the immediate
memory, as could the earliest writers. Instead they lay stress on the affirmation that this teaching has been transmitted faithfully from generation to generation. One
could say that in their thinking, apostolic succession occupies the same place that is held by the living memory in the Apostolic Fathers.

(Ibid., 188)
Philip Schaff's description of Irenaeus' outlook was noted in the previous section on Clement of Alexandria. I will reproduce the portion specifically about Irenaeus:
Besides appealing to the Scriptures, the fathers, particularly Irenaeus and Tertullian, refer with equal confidence to the "rule of faith;" that is, the common faith of the church, as orally handed down in the unbroken succession of bishops from Christ and his apostles to their day, and above all as still living in the original apostolic churches, like those of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome. Tradition is thus intimately connected with the primitive episcopate. The latter was the vehicle of the former, and both were looked upon as bulwarks against heresy.

Irenaeus confronts the secret tradition of the Gnostics with the open and unadulterated tradition of the catholic church, and points to all churches, but particularly to Rome, as the visible centre of the unity of doctrine. All who would know the truth, says he, can see in the whole church the tradition of the apostles; and we can count the bishops ordained by the apostles, and their successors down to our time, who neither taught nor knew any such heresies. Then, by way of example, he cites the first twelve bishops of the Roman church from Linus to Eleutherus, as witnesses of the pure apostolic doctrine. He might conceive of a Christianity without scripture, but he could not imagine a Christianity without living tradition; and for this opinion he refers to barbarian tribes, who have the gospel, "sine charta et atramento," written in their hearts.

(History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970; reproduction of 5th revised edition of 1910, Chapter XII, section 139, "Catholic Tradition," pp. 525-526)

J.N.D. Kelly agrees:
His most characteristic thought, however, is that the Church is the sole repository of the truth, and is such because it has a monopoly of the apostolic writings, the apostolic oral tradition and the apostolic faith. Because of its proclamation of this one faith inherited from the apostles, the Church, scattered as it is throughout the entire world, can claim to be one [haer. 1,10,2]. Hence his emphasis [E.g., ib. 1,9,4; 1,10,1 f; 1,22,1] on 'the canon of the truth', i.e. the framework of doctrine which is handed down in the Church and which, in contrast to the variegated teachings of the Gnostics, is identical and self-consistent everywhere. In a previous chapter we noted his theory that the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back to the apostles themselves provides a guarantee that this faith is identical with the message which they originally proclaimed.

(Early Christian Doctrines, HarperSanFrancisco, revised 1978 edition, 192)

But where in practice was this apostolic testimony or tradition to be found? . . . The most obvious answer was that the apostles had committed it orally to the Church, where it had been handed down from generation to generation. Irenaeus believed that this was the case, stating [Haer. 5, praef] that the Church preserved the tradition inherited from the Apostles and passed it on to her children. It was, he thought, a living tradition which was, in principle, independent of written documents; and he pointed [Ib. 3,4,1 f.] to barbarian tribes which 'received this faith without letters'. Unlike the alleged secret tradition of the Gnostics, it was entirely public and open, having been entrusted by the apostles to their successors, and by these in turn to those who followed them, and was visible in the Church for all who cared to look for it [Ib. 3,2-5]. It was his argument with the Gnostics which led him to apply [Ib. 3,2-5 (16 times)]the word 'tradition', in a novel and restricted sense, specifically to the Church's oral teaching as distinct from that contained in Scripture. For practical purposes this tradition could be regarded as finding expression in what he called 'the canon of the truth'. By this he meant, as his frequent allusions [E.g. ib. 1,10,1 f; 1,22,1; 5,20,1; dem. 6] to and citations from it prove, a condensed summary, fluid in its wording but fixed in content, setting out the key-points of the Christian revelation in the form of a rule. Irenaeus makes two further points. First, the identity of oral tradition with the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back lineally to the apostles [Cf. haer. 3,2,2; 3,3,3; 3,4,1]. Secondly, an additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message was committed to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit [E.g. ib. 3,24,1]. Indeed, the Church's bishops are on his view Spirit-endowed men who have been vouchsafed 'an infalible charism of truth' (charisma veritatis certum [Ib. 4,26,2; cf. 4,26,5] ).

On the other hand, Irenaeus took it for granted that the apostolic tradition had also been deposited in written documents. As he says, [Haer. 3,1,1] what the apostles at first proclaimed by word of mouth, they afterwards by God's will conveyed to us in Scriptures . . . the New [Testament] was in his eyes the written formulation of the apostolic tradition . . . [Ib. 3,1,1; cf. 3,1,2; 3,10,6; 3,14,2] . . . Irenaeus was satisfied [Ib. 2,27,2] that, provided the Bible was taken as a whole, its teaching was self-evident. The heretics who misinterpreted it only did so because, disregarding its underlying unity, they seized upon isolated passages and rearranged them to suit their own ideas. [Ib. 1,8,1; 1,9,1-4] Scripture must be interpreted in the light iof its fundamental ground-plan, viz. the original revelation itself. For that reason correct exegesis was the prerogative of the Church, where the apostolic doctrine which was the key to Scripture had been kept intact. [Ib. 4,26,5; 4,32,1; 5,20,2]

Did Irenaeus subordinate Scripture to unwritten tradition? This inference has been commonly drawn, but it issues from a somewhat misleading antithesis. its plausibility depends on such considerations as (a) that, in controversy with the Gnostics, tradition rather than Scripture seemed to be his final court of appeal, and (b) thathe apparently relied upon tradition to establish the true exegesis of Scripture. But a careful analysis of his Adversus haereses reveals that, while the Gnostics' appeal to their supposed secret tradition forced him to stress the superiority of the Church's public tradition, his real defence of orthodoxy was founded on Scripture. [Cf. ib. 2,35,4; 3, praef.; 3,2,1; 3,5,1; 4, praef., 5, praef.] Indeed, tradition itself, on his view, was confirmed by Scripture, which was 'the foundation and pillar of our faith'. [Ib. 3, praef.; 3,1,1] Secondly, Irenaeus admittedly suggested [Ib. 1,9,4] that a firm grasp of 'the canon of the truth' received at baptism would prevent a man from distorting the sense of Scripture. But this 'canon', so far from being something distinct from scripture, was simply a condensation of the message contained in it. Being by its very nature normative in form, it provided a man with a handy clue to Scripture, whose very ramifications played into the hands of heretics. The whole point of his teaching wa, in fact, that Scripture and the Church's unwritten tradition are identical in content, both being vehicles of the revelation. If tradition as conveyed in the 'canon' is a more trsutworthy guide, this is not because it comprises truths other than those revealed in Scripture, but because the true tenor of the apostolic message is there unambiguously set out.

(Early Christian Doctrines, HarperSanFrancisco, revised 1978 edition, 37-39; cf. similar statements from Kelly on pages 44 and 47)

This is a superb and eloquent explanation, both of Irenaeus, and the Fathers' views in general. And, of course, Catholics would entirely agree with it (whereas Protestants would clash with many points which do not fit into a sola Scriptura schema at all). Note how the official documents of the Second Vatican Council (binding on all Catholics and infallible in the extraordinary magisterium) state a virtually identical position:
This sacred Tradition, then, and the sacred Scripture of both Testaments, are like a mirror, in which the Church, during its pilgrim journey here on earth, contemplates God, from whom she receives everything.

(Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Nov. 18, 1965, "The Transmission of Divine Revelation," ch. 2, sec. 7; page 754 in the edition of the Council documentes edited by Austin Flannery; Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Co., eighth printing, 1987)

By means of . . . Tradition the full canon of the sacred books is known to the Church and the holy Scriptures themselves are more thoroughly understood and constantly actualized in the Church.

(Ibid., sec. 8., pp. 754-755)

Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal. Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit . . . Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.

(Ibid., sec. 9, p. 755)

Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church . . . The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. 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 . . . All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed as drawn from this single deposit of faith. . . .

In the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others.

(Ibid., sec. 10, pp. 755-756)

Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as Sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, . . . on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit . . . they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself . . . We must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures.

(Ibid., "Sacred Scripture: Its Divine Inspiration and Its Interpretation," ch. 3, sec. 11, pp. 756-757)

The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures . . . She has always regarded, and continues to regard the Scriptures, taken together with sacred Tradition, as the supreme rule of her faith. For, since they are inspired by God and committed to writing once and for all time, they present God's own Word in an unalterable form . . . It follows that all the preaching of the Church, as indeed the entire Christian religion, should be nourished and ruled by sacred Scripture.

(Ibid., "Sacred Scripture in the Life of the Church," ch. 6, sec. 21, p. 762)

The Catholic Church, too (like Irenaeus), is commonly accused of setting Sacred Tradition above Sacred Scripture. That this is not true is pointed out by Reformed theologian G.C. Berkouwer:
Men want to express explicitly that the church did not critically, by means of its own sifting and weighing, create its own canon, but that it was instead subjected to the canon in all its priority . . . There is an increasing awareness that no honor is being paid to the canon by neglecting its mode of coming into being . . . The description of the canon as a creation of the church is not in the least a uniquely Roman Catholic one . . .

The Roman Catholics emphatically reject the view that the church posits her own canon. They claim only that, when the canonical process has come to a close, the magisterial church provides certainty . . . Behind this we find the well-known distinction between the canonical essence of Holy Scripture ('quoad se'), as it is grounded in divine inspiration, and the confirmation of these books as canonical by the church ('quoad nos') . . . The church can . . . only point to and name that canonical which is in itself already truly canonical. Yet, found amid the relativity of the varied historical considerations and judgments of the first few centuries, this authority is of great importance . . .

It is not possible to identify this canon of the apostolic 'a priori' with a list of the twenty-seven New Testament books . . . Nor does the Scripture itself testify to its boundaries.

(Studies in Dogmatics: Holy Scripture, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975, translated from the Dutch edition of 1967 by Jack B. Rogers, 77-78, 84)

One can see clearly the Catholic position, as expressed in the same Vatican II document cited above:
For Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 3:15-16), they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.

(Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Nov. 18, 1965, chapter 3, sec. 11, p. 756 in Flannery edition)

This position (nothing new at all) was merely the reiteration of the teaching of Trent (Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures, Session IV, April 8, 1546), and the First Vatican Council of 1870 (Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Session III, April 24, 1870, chapter II: Of Revelation).

And concerning related exaggerated allegations that the Catholic Church regards the Bible as ineffably obscure, Berkouwer observed:

Such a variety of differing and mutually exclusive interpretations arose - all appealing to the same Scripture - that serious people began to wonder whether an all-pervasive . . . influence of subjectivism in the understanding of Scripture is not the cause of the plurality of confessions in the church. Do not all people read Scripture from their own current perspectives and presuppositions . . . with all kinds of conscious or subconscious preferences? . . . Is it indeed possible for us to read Scripture with free, unbiased, and listening attention? . . . We should never minimize the seriousness of these questions . . .

'Pre-understanding' cannot be eliminated. The part which subjectivity plays in the process of understanding must be recognized . . . The interpreter . . . does not approach the text of Scripture with a clean slate.

(Berkouwer, ibid., 106-107, 119)

An attempt has often been made to solve this problem by referring to the 'objective' clarity of Scripture, so that every incomplete understanding and insight of Scripture is said to be due to the blinding of human eyes that could not observe the true light shining from it . . .

In considering this seemingly simple solution . . . we will soon discover that not all questions are answered by it . . . An incomplete understanding or a total misunderstanding of Scripture cannot simply be explained by blindness. Certain obstacles to understanding may also be related to Scripture's concrete form of human language conditioned by history . . . Scripture . . . is tied to historical situations and circumstances in so many ways that not every word we read is immediately clear in itself . . . Therefore, it will not surprise us that many questions have been raised in the course of history about the perspicuity of Scripture . . . Some wondered whether this confession of clarity was indeed a true confession . . . The church has frequently been aware of a certain 'inaccessibility.'

According to Bavinck . . . it may not be overlooked that, according to Rome . . . Scripture is not regarded as a completely obscure and inaccessible book, written, so to speak, in secret language . . . Instead, Rome is convinced that an understanding of Scripture is possible - a clear understanding. But Rome is at the same time deeply impressed by the dangers involved in reading the Bible. Their desire is to protect Scripture against all arbitrary and individualistic exegesis . . .

It is indeed one of the most moving and difficult aspects of the confession of Scripture's clarity that it does not automatically lead to a total uniformity of perception, disposing of any problems. We are confronted with important differences and forked roads . . . and all parties normally appeal to Scripture and its perspicuity. The heretics did not disregard the authority of Scripture but made an appeal to it and to its clear witness with the subjective conviction of seeing the truth in the words of Scripture.

(Ibid., 268-271, 286)

But back to Irenaeus, and now on to Jaroslav Pelikan's views about this great Church Father:
. . . as Irenaeus observed, when the Gnostics were confronted with arguments based on these apostolic Scriptures, they would reply that the Scriptures could not be properly understood by anyone who was not privy to "the tradition," that is, the secret body of knowledge not committed to writing but handed down from the apostles to the successive generations of the gnostic perfect. The catholic response to this claim, formulated more fully by Irenaeus than by any other Christian writer, was to appeal to "that tradition which is derived from the apostles." [Haer. 3,2,2] Unlike the Gnostic tradition, however, this apostolic tradition had been preserved publicly in the churches that stood in succession with the apostles . . . Together with the proper interpretation of the Old Testament and the proper canon of the New, this tradition of the church was a decisive criterion of apostolic continuity for the determination of doctrine in the church catholic.

Clearly it is an anachronism to superimpose upon the discussions of the second and third centuries categories derived from the controversies over the relation of Scripture and tradition in the 16th century, for 'in the ante-Nicene Church . . . there was no notion of sola Scriptura, but neither was there a doctrine of traditio sola.'(1). At the same time, it is essential to note that doctrinal, liturgical, and exegetical material of quite different sorts was all lumped under the term "tradition," . . . Some of the most important issues in the theological interpretation of doctrinal development have been raised by disputes over the content and authority of apostolic tradition as a source and norm of Christian doctrine and over the relation of this tradition to other norms of apostolicity.

The apostolic tradition was a public tradition: the apostles had not taught one set of doctrines in secret and another in the open, suppressing a portion of their tradition to be transmitted through a special succession to the Gnostic elite. So palpable was this apostolic tradition that even if the apostles had not left behind the Scriptures to serve as normative evidence of their doctrine, the church would still be in a position to follow 'the structure of the tradition which they handed on to those to whom they committed the churches.' [Haer. 3, 4 ,1] This was, in fact, what the church was doing in those barbarian territories where believers did not have access to the written deposit, but still carefully guarded the ancient tradition of the apostles, summarized in the creed - or, at least, in a very creedlike statement of the content of the apostolic tradition.

. . . The term 'rule of faith' or 'rule of truth' did not always refer to such creeds and confessions, and seems sometimes to have meant the 'tradition,' sometimes the Scriptures, sometimes the message of the gospel . . .

. . . His [i.e., Irenaeus'] argument that apostolic tradition provided the correct interpretation of the Old and New Testament, and that Scripture proved the correctness of the spostolical tradition was, in some ways, an argument in a circle. But in at least two ways it broke out of the circle. One was the identification of tradition with "the gospel," which served as a norm of apostolic teaching. The other was the appeal to the churches of apostolic foundation as the warrantors of continuity with the apostles . . . Chief among these in authority and prestige was the church at Rome, in which the apostolic tradition shared by all the churches everywhere had been preserved. Apostolic foundation and the apostolic succession were another criterion of apostolic continuity.

The orthodox fathers also denied the heretics any legitimate claim to this criterion . . . The heretics were said to have come much later than the first generation of bishops to whom the apostles had entrusted their churches. Therefore it was inevitable that the heretics should lose both continuity and unity of doctrine, while the church, possessing the sure tradition of the apostles, proclaimed the same doctrine in all times and in all places [Haer. 5,20,1]. Irenaeus appears to have argued that this apostolic succession of the churches was empirically verifiable, on the basis of the lists of the bishops . . .

Argument in a circle or not, this definition of the criteria of apostolic continuity did propound a unified system of authority. Historically, if not also theologically, it is a distortion to consider any one of the criteria apart from the others or to eliminate any of them from consideration. For example, when the problem of the relation between Scripture and tradition became a burning issue in the theological controversies of the Western church, in the late Middle Ages and the Reformation, it was at the cost of a unified system. Proponents of the theory that tradition was an independent source of revelation minimized the fundamentally exegetical content of tradition which had served to define tradition and its place in the specification of apostolic continuity. The supporters of the sole authority of Scripture, arguing from radical hermeneutical premises to conservative dogmatic conclusions, overlooked the function of tradition in securing what they regarded as the correct exegesis of Scripture against heretical alternatives.

(The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Vol. 1 of 5: The
Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 115-119; citation: {1} In Cushman, Robert E. & Egil Grislis, eds., The Heritage of Christian Thought: Essays in Honor of Robert Lowry Calhoun, New York: 1965, quote from Albert Outler, "The Sense of Tradition in the Ante-Nicene Church," 29)

XI. Basil the Great (c. 330 - 379)


In a Catholic Answers article on tradition, we read the following:

The early Church Fathers, who were links in that chain of [apostolic] succession, recognized the necessity of the traditions that had been handed down from the apostles and guarded them scrupulously, as the following quotations show.


The article goes on to quote some church fathers, such as the following from Basil, without any further explanation:
Of the dogmas and messages preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety, both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce [Christian] message to a mere term.

(The Holy Spirit 27:66 [A.D. 375]).


What is Basil referring to? Judging by the claims of the RCC and the arguments of this Catholic Answers article, you might think Basil was referring to things like papal infallibility, the Assumption of Mary, and privately confessing all sins to a priest. But, instead, here's what Basil writes just after what Catholic Answers quoted:
For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is there who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents.

(The Holy Spirit, 27:66)

Basil refers to relatively minor practices, some of which Roman Catholics don't follow. He explains that these things are silent and secret mysteries, hidden traditions. Though the Catholic Answers article cites 2 Timothy 2:2, these traditions of Basil are not the public apostolic teachings Paul refers to in that passage.

This is the same (rather silly) rhetorical tactic that Jason later used in our Dialogue, pertaining to Hippolytus, where he writes:

Dave doesn't tell us what traditions Hippolytus is referring to in that document . . . what should be said when people offer cheese and olives (6), how to appoint widows in the church (10), how to appoint readers (11), . . . the procedures for giving the kiss of peace and women wearing veils (18), how to sing (25), etc. Dave, how often do you offer cheese and olives in your local Roman Catholic church?
This is all fine and dandy as far as it goes: Hippolytus and Basil both refer to minor practices and beliefs as part of the tradition, whether written or unwritten. But it doesn't therefore follow that they do not also include important, central doctrines in that tradition. I demonstrated how this was true in the case of Hippolytus (and Jason did not reply, as he departed the discussion soon afterwards). It is also true with regard to Basil, as I will demonstrate below.

First, let's take a look at this same work, and see if Basil is only talking about such traditions as recounted above. It should be noted, however, that the above traditions are not nearly as minor as Hippolytus' list: the invocation at the words of consecration at Mass is not at all an insignifcant thing: it has to do with the central rite of the Christian faith. Baptizing three times is not minor, as most Protestants do this, or something similar to it - at least mentioning the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and baptism is a supremely important Christian rite, for Protestants as well as Catholics. But are these the only sort of things that Basil discusses? No:

Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning the Spirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture concerning It as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the Fathers.

(The Holy Spirit, 9:22 / also: http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-08/Npnf2-08-06.htm#P1123_256929)

I think Jason would agree that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not a "relatively minor practice." To the contrary, it is a "very major" doctrine. Basil is quite comfortable talking about the biblical data concerning the Holy Spirit and also the unwritten tradition. And this is not all:
Whence is it that we are Christians? Through our faith, would be the universal answer. And in what way are we saved? Plainly because we were regenerate through the grace given in our baptism. How else could we be? And after recognising that this salvation is established through the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, shall we fling away "that form of doctrine" which we received? Would it not rather be ground for great groaning if we are found now further off from our salvation "than when we first believed," and deny now what we then received? Whether a man have departed this life without baptism, or have received a baptism lacking in some of the requirements of the tradition, his loss is equal. And whoever does not always and everywhere keep to and hold fast as a sure protection the confession which we recorded at our first admission, when, being delivered "from the idols," we came "to the living Gods" constitutes himself a "stranger" from the "promises" of God, fighting against his own handwriting, which he put on record when he professed the faith. For if to me my baptism was the beginning of life, and that day of regeneration the first of days, it is plain that the utterance uttered in the grace of adoption was the most honourable of all. Can I then, perverted by these men's seductive words, abandon the tradition which guided me to the light, which bestowed on me the boon of the knowledge of God, whereby I, so long a foe by reason of sin, was made a child of God? But, for myself, I pray that with this confession I may depart hence to the Lord, and them I charge to preserve the faith secure until the day of Christ, and to keep the Spirit undivided from the Father and the Son, preserving, both in the confession of faith and in the doxology, the doctrine taught them at their baptism.

(The Holy Spirit, 10:26)

Note how, for Basil, the tradition is determinative, as the authentic interpretation of Scripture:
Let no one be misled by the fact of the apostle's frequently omitting the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit when making mention of baptism, or on this account imagine that the invocation of the names is not observed. "As many of you," he says, "as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ;" and again, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death." For the naming of Christ is the confession of the whole, shewing forth as it does the God who gave, the Son who received, and the Spirit who is, the unction. So we have learned from Peter, in the Acts, of "Jesus of Nazareth whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost; and in Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me;" and the Psalmist, "Therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." Scripture, however, in the case of baptism, sometimes plainly mentions the Spirit alone.

"For into one Spirit," it says, "we were all baptized in one body." And in harmony with this are the passages: "You shaft be baptized with the Holy Ghost," and "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." But no one on this account would be justified in calling that baptism a perfect baptism wherein only the name of the Spirit was invoked. For the tradition that has been given us by the quickening grace must remain for ever inviolate. He who redeemed our life from destruction gave us power of renewal, whereof the cause is ineffable and hidden in mystery, but bringing great salvation to our souls, so that to add or to take away anything involves manifestly a falling away from the life everlasting. If then in baptism the separation of the Spirit from the Father and the Son is perilous to the baptizer, and of no advantage to the baptized, how can the rending asunder of the Spirit from Father and from Son be safe for us? Faith and baptism are two kindred and inseparable ways of salvation: faith is perfected through baptism, baptism is established through faith, and both are completed by the same names. For as we believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, so are we also baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; first comes the confession, introducing us to salvation, and baptism follows, setting the seal upon our assent.

(The Holy Spirit, 12:28)

Jason thinks he has hit a rhetorical home run by quoting the next section after what the Catholic Answers web page cited. But if we return the favor and cite the very next section after the one Jason cited (sort of a patristic - rather than biblical - hopscotch), we find more teaching about the crucial role of tradition in forming the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and the doxology:
Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source? If it be granted that, as we are baptized, so also under the obligation to believe, we make our confession in like terms as our baptism, in accordance with the tradition of our baptism and in conformity with the principles of true religion, let our opponents grant us too the right to be as consistent in our ascription of glory as in our confession of faith. If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated. While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on "the mystery of godliness is so important, can they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers; - which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches; - a word for which the arguments are strong, and which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery?

(The Holy Spirit, 27:67)

Four sections later, he reiterates this argument:
Is answer to the objection that the doxology in the form "with the Spirit" has no written authority, we maintain that if there is no other instance of that which is unwritten, then this must not be received. But if the greater number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without written authority, then, in company with the many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic to abide also by the unwritten traditions. "I praise you," it is said, "that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you;" and "Hold fast the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle." One of these traditions is the practice which is now before us, which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time. If, as in a Court of Law, we were at a loss for documentary evidence, but were able to bring before you a large number of witnesses, would you not give your vote for our acquittal? I think so; for "at the mouth of two or three witnesses shall the matter be established."
(The Holy Spirit, 27:71)
Protestant patristics expert J.N.D. Kelly cites these sections in his footnotes (along with section 66 - no doubt referring to the information in the Catholic Answers citation), and comments:
Basil made the liturgial custom of baptizing in the threefold name a pivot in his argument for the coequality of the Spirit with Father and Son, pleading that the apostolic witness was conveyed to the Church in the mysteries as well as in Scripture, and that it was apostolic to abide by this unwritten tradition. So when Gregory of Nyssa desired to substantiate the unique generation of the Son, he explained [C. Eunom. 4 (PG 45, 653) ] that it was enough that 'we have the tradition descending to us from the fathers, like an inheritance transmitted from the apostles along the line of holy persons who succeeded them'.

(Early Christian Doctrines, HarperSanFrancisco, revised 1978 edition, 45)

Thus, Kelly differs in his opinion from Jason's assessment of the range of Basil's tradition:
What is Basil referring to? Judging by the claims of the RCC and the arguments of this Catholic Answers article, you might think Basil was referring to things like papal infallibility, the Assumption of Mary, and privately confessing all sins to a priest.
Kelly thinks Basil refers to "baptizing in the threefold name" as "a pivot in his argument for the coequality of the Spirit with Father and Son," which is a bit more of an important matter, and not one that Protestants would disagree with, like the above three Catholic distinctives. So once again, Jason misinterprets the Father he is expounding upon, and contradicts the patristics expert. Jason will claim below that Basil believes in sola Scriptura (at least while he wrote the portion that Jason quotes), but Basil does not pit Scripture against Tradition; rather, he appeals to them both, just as Catholics do:
What our fathers said, the same say we, that the glory of the Father and of the Son is common; wherefore we offer the doxology to the Father with the Son. But we do not rest only on the fact that such is the tradition of the Fathers; for they too followed the sense of Scripture, and started from the evidence which, a few sentences back, I deduced from Scripture and laid before you.

(The Holy Spirit, 7:16)

Between these opposite parties inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate; the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration.

(The Holy Spirit, 30:77)

In other places, he speaks of tradition only:
. . . the object of attack is faith. The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of "sound doctrine" is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. So like the debtors, - of course bona fide debtors. - they clamour for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers.

(The Holy Spirit, 10:25)

Now one of the institutions of Gregory is the very form of the doxology to which objection is now made, preserved by the Church on the authority of his tradition; . . .

(The Holy Spirit, 29:74)

. . . we too are undismayed at the cloud of our enemies, and, resting our hope on the aid of the Spirit, have, with all boldness, proclaimed the truth. Had I not so done, it would truly have been terrible that the blasphemers of the Spirit should so easily be emboldened in their attack upon true religion, and that we, with so mighty an ally and supporter at our side, should shrink from the service of that doctrine, which by the tradition of the Fathers has been preserved by an unbroken sequence of memory to our own day.

(The Holy Spirit, 30:79)

Jason argues that Basil accepted sola Scriptura because he mentions only Scripture in his Letter 283 and calls it "all-sufficient." But above he mentions only tradition several times. Obviously, he accepts both; this is no contradiction, but rather, the standard concept of the Rule of Faith in the Fathers, as we have seen again and again throughout this study. But it is a conclusion that Jason does not desire, so in his polemic he emphasizes the passages mentioning Scripture alone, and minimizes or ignores passage mentioning tradition or Church authority alone. At best, this is logically defieicnt; at worst one might consider it special pleading.

We know, from what Basil said elsewhere, that not only were his practices sometimes different from those of Roman Catholicism, but so were his doctrines. Earlier in this series, I documented the example of Basil saying that Luke 2:35 is a reference to Mary sinning. Of that scripture interpretation, Basil says, "About the words of Simeon to Mary, there is no obscurity or variety of interpretation." (Letter 260:6) Catholic Answers tells us that the church fathers were "scrupulous" in guarding the traditions of the apostles. Should we conclude, then, that Basil's non-Roman-Catholic traditions are apostolic?

Some Church Fathers incorrectly taught that Mary committed actual sin, yes. Insofar as they were wrong in that opinion, they were not transmitting the apostolic deposit, so Catholics would believe (just as Protestants would believe the opposite: if they taught that she was sinless, they would not be transmitting the doctrines of the Bible and the apostles, but unbiblical falsehoods and traditions of men).

Despite what Basil says in the passage quoted by Catholic Answers, he advocates sola scriptura elsewhere. For example:

Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you to comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right." (Letter 283)
See also the citations of other passages in footnote 563 at:


Regardless of whether one argues that Basil advocated sola scriptura consistently, inconsistently, or not at all, the fact remains that he contradicted the Roman Catholic view of tradition.

He did not. He accepted the authority of Church and Tradition, just as Catholics then and now do. We see this in, for example, his Letter 261:

I was distressed to hear that over anti above the disturbance brought on the Churches by the Arians, and the confusion caused by them in the definition of the faith, there has appeared among you yet another innovation, throwing the brotherhood into great dejection, because, as you have informed me, certain persons are uttering, in the hearing of the faithful, novel and unfamiliar doctrines which they allege to be deduced from the teaching of Scripture . . . who has the hardihood now once again to renew by the help of sophistical arguments and, of course, by scriptural evidence, that old dogma of Valentinus, now long ago silenced? . . .

These, brethren, are the mysteries of the Church; these are the traditions of the Fathers. Every man who fears the Lord, and is awaiting God's judgment, I charge not to be carried away by various doctrines. If any one teaches a different doctrine, and refuses to accede to the sound words of the faith, rejecting the oracles of the Spirit, and making his own teaching of more authority than the lessons of the Gospels, of such an one beware . . .

St. Basil the Great, then, is seen to hold the same opinion concerning authority and the rule of Faith as all the other Fathers, and it is not sola Scriptura.

End of Part Two
Go to Part One

Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 1 August 2003, from public Internet dialogues. Added to blog on 21 November 2006.

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