Thursday, August 13, 2009

Did Thomas Aquinas embrace Sola Scriptura?


During last few days, I have been engaged in some pretty intense research for an upcoming thread that will interact with a substantial post recently penned by Bryan Cross, with the title: ECCLESIAL DEISM. (I highly suggest to all that they read this thread.) After reading through nearly 1,000 pages of material, I decided to take a break and ‘surf the web’ for a bit. A thread posted yesterday by the individual who goes under the name “TurretinFan” (hereafter, TF) with the title, AQUINAS ON SOLA SCRIPTURA caught my eye. TF opened his post with:

Some folks seem to imagine that a rejection of Sola Scriptura was the "established faith" prior to the Reformation. Those folks ought to read their Aquinas…
He then provides some very selective quotes from Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and surmises:

Was Aquinas' view of all things doctrinal the same as that of the Reformed churches? Of course not. As to Scripture, however, his views were quite close (if not identical). Scripture is the supreme authority. While Aquinas did not make councils, or the Roman bishop, or the consent of the fathers a second rule of faith, but rather stuck with Scripture, of which the creeds were "symbols" - extractions of important points.
TF is very confused on this issue; his confusion clearly stems from what Geisler and MacKenzie in their, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, identified as, “a failure to distinguish two aspects of the doctrine: the formal and the material.” The following is the full context:

A good bit of confusion exists between Catholics and Protestants on sola Scriptura due to a failure to distinguish two aspects of the doctrine: the formal and the material. Sola Scriptura in the material sense simply means that all the content of salvific revelation exists in Scripture. Many Catholics hold this in common with Protestants, including well-known theologians from John Henry Newman to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. French Catholic theologian Yves Congar states: “we can admit sola Scriptura in the sense of a material sufficiency of canonical Scripture. This means that Scripture contains, in one way or another, all truths necessary for salvation.” What Protestants affirm and Catholics reject is sola Scriptura in the formal sense that the Bible alone is sufficiently clear that no infallible teaching magisterium of the church is necessary to interpret it. (Norman Geisler and Ralph Mackenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, pp. 179, 180.)

TF misses the above distinctions, even though he wrote the following in his post:

Now, I will certainly concede that Aquinas mistakenly believed that a council of the universal church could not err, and that Aquinas accorded a primacy to the bishop of Rome that was excessive.
He sure did [i.e. that the universal Church could not err], and the following is what Aquinas wrote on this subject, in his Summa Theologica:

On the contrary, The universal Church cannot err, since she is governed by the Holy Ghost, Who is the Spirit of truth: for such was Our Lord's promise to His disciples (Jn. 16:13): "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth." Now the symbol is published by the authority of the universal Church. Therefore it contains nothing defective. (Summa Theologica, II.II, q. 1, a. 9: Christian Classics, 1981 edition, page 1171 – bold emphasis mine.)

And:

Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will. (Summa Theologica, II.II, q. 5, a. 3: Christian Classics, 1981 edition, page 1193 – bold emphasis mine.)


So, should one conclude with TF that Aquinas’, “views were quite close (if not identical)” to “the Reformed churches”? IMHO, Aquinas himself quite clearly answers the question.


Grace and peace,

David

14 comments:

Reginald de Piperno said...

A fine response to a preposterous claim. Well done, sir.

--RdP

David Waltz said...

Hi Reginald,

Thanks much for the encouraging words. The notion that St. Thomas espoused sola scriptura (in the Reformed sense, not the Catholic sense), seems to surface from time to time in anti-Catholic literature and websites.

Such attempts to turn Aquinas into something he clearly was not brings to mind the silly little essay, “Aquinas Was a Protestant,” by John Gerstner, which appeared in the May, 1994 issue of R.C. Sproul’s Tabletalk magazine.

Fortunately, a fellow Reformed theologian of note, Robert Reymond, dealt a severe blow to Gerstner’s mythology in the Westminster Theological Journal (Volume 59.1, Spring 1997, pp. 113-121).

An abbreviated form of Reymond’s essay can be found HERE.


Grace and peace,

David

Anonymous said...

Preposterous? Nonsense.

Thos. Aquinas is Catholic? Not a chance and I can prove it!

#1) I suggest that Homer Simpson (cartoon character), Frank "Home Run" Baker (third baseman), Homer Jones (split end), and Homer (THE Homer...ya know) were or in the case of Simpson, are, even MORE Protestant than Thomas Aquinas ever dreamed of being.

#2) Unfortunately, there is no indication that Aquinas ever had the opportunity, if he had the inclination, to study the Homer Boys!

Anonymous said...

W.illiam
T.homas
F.red

Acolyte4236 said...

Try theis book for a fuller account.

Sacra Doctrina:Reason and Revelation in Aquinas, by Per Erik Persson,

Turretin fan hasn't a clue about Thomism,

David Waltz said...

Hi Acolyte,

Thanks for the heads up on the book--given the price [ http://www.allbookstores.com/book/compare/9780631118602 ] I think I will try and get via inter-library loan.


Grace and peace,

David

Steve said...

TF has been pushing a series called Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of our Faith over at BA to a guy named Alex. I tried to find a review of the series, and came across the following (incomplete) review. I suspect TF's claims on Aquinas' sola scriptura comes from vol. 2 of this series. David, have you read this series?

http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/num49.htm

David Waltz said...

Hi Steve,

Sorry for the somewhat tardy reply, I have my grandson this week for his annual summer vacation, so my internet time is significantly limited right now.

You posted:

>>TF has been pushing a series called Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of our Faith over at BA to a guy named Alex. I tried to find a review of the series, and came across the following (incomplete) review. I suspect TF's claims on Aquinas' sola scriptura comes from vol. 2 of this series. David, have you read this series?>>

Yes I have, all 3 volumes. IMHO, the series is basically a modern version of a couple of earlier (16 and 19th century) English controversialists works by William Whitaker, and William Goode. There works are available online for free at the following sites:

A Disputation on Holy Scripture

Divine Rule of Faith and Practice – vol. 1

Divine Rule of Faith and Practice – vol. 2

Divine Rule of Faith and Practice – vol. 3

In a nutshell, the quotes from the Church Fathers provided in the works of Whitaker, Goode, Webster and King teach the MATERIAL sufficiency of Sacred Scripture, a belief held by most of the early Church Fathers, and many Catholic theologians (see THIS POST for a few examples).

Whitaker, Goode, Webster and King (and TF), make the same error (i.e. “confusion”) that Geisler and MacKenzie mention in the quote of my opening post—here it is again:

>>A good bit of confusion exists between Catholics and Protestants on sola Scriptura due to a failure to distinguish two aspects of the doctrine: the formal and the material. Sola Scriptura in the material sense simply means that all the content of salvific revelation exists in Scripture. Many Catholics hold this in common with Protestants, including well-known theologians from John Henry Newman to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. French Catholic theologian Yves Congar states: “we can admit sola Scriptura in the sense of a material sufficiency of canonical Scripture. This means that Scripture contains, in one way or another, all truths necessary for salvation.” What Protestants affirm and Catholics reject is sola Scriptura in the formal sense that the Bible alone is sufficiently clear that no infallible teaching magisterium of the church is necessary to interpret it. (Norman Geisler and Ralph Mackenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, pp. 179, 180.)>>

If you have any further questions, please fire away (though my response this week will probably not be a quick I usual).


Grace and peace,

David

Steve said...

Thanks for the response, David.

In the review I linked to there is a secondary link to the issue of Thomas Aguinas and sola scriptura. In there they refer to an article by Ralph McInerney written in 1996 (I think). You don't happen to have access to that article, do you? I was unable to track it down, but would love to read it.

Thanks,
Steve

David Waltz said...

Hello again Steve,

Did a bit of online research, and believe that I have found Ralph McInerney’s article.



Grace and peace,

David

Steve said...

Thanks. Your google skills are far better than mine. McInerny was a lot more brief than I anticipated, though.

Anonymous said...

Aquinas endorsed Sola Scriptura in Summa II book 9850. Also know as "Supreme Summa", which has been long hidden until recent archaeological discoveries:

Article: Whether Sola Scriptura is the Sole Rule of Faith?

Objection 1. Its would seem that its is contradictory, given that the scriptures does not claim to be the Sole Rule of Faith.

Objection 2. The Scripture testifies of Other rules of Faith

On the Contrary: The Bible is awesome

.....

Matt said...

Quick sidenote,:

Though it supports your (in my humble view) correct argument that putting Thomas Aquinas on the side of the Protestants over against Rome is absurd, Reymond's essay is not very good (which, I should say, you never claimed it was). I think that the work of Pfurtner, Pesch, Janz, and others has shown that Aquinas was much closer to Luther and Calvin on justification than Reymond's article indicates. This does not, however, make him a Protestant. It is just that Trent itself is far less contrary to the Reformers than we commonly think, though there are (of course!) significant differences.

I hope that makes some sense.

David Waltz said...

Hi Matt,

I think your assessment is spot-on. Reymond did not take into account all of the ecumenical dialogue that has occurred between Catholics, Anglicans, Evangelicals, Lutherans, and the Reformed concerning the doctrine of justification. Reymond must certainly be placed in the “anti-Catholic camp” (those who maintain that the Catholic Church is not a Christian church), and as a ‘member’ of that camp, he dismissed wholesale pretty much ALL of the said dialogue without any serious, objective reflection.

The following documents are examples of the “serious, objective reflection” that I am referring to:

1. JOINT DECLARATION

2. ANNEX TO THE OFFICIAL COMMON STATEMENT

3. THE GIFT OF SALVATION


Grace and peace,

David