Saturday, November 7, 2009

Scripture and Tradition: the early Church Fathers and patristic scholarly consensus vs. TurretinFan

Earlier today, TurretinFan (hereafter TF) published the 11th installment of his anti-Catholic polemical series Perspicuity of Scripture Contra Bellisario. TF, in essence, sums up his view of the early Church Fathers concerning Scripture and Tradition with:

Unfortunately, Mr. Bellisario does not understand that the quotation defeats his position, not mine. We appeal to tradition just as Irenaeus did. We don't do it because tradition is a separate source of infallible authority, but because folks like the Gnostics and Roman Catholics think that it is. We show that they hold neither to Scripture nor Tradition, preferring their own inventions to both.

Mr. Bellisario would like to read into Irenaeus a modern Roman Catholic view of tradition, but Irenaeus himself doesn't say what Rome says. Irenaeus does not claim that tradition is necessary in order to understand Scripture: he ascribes that error to the Gnostics. Irenaeus acknowledges (as we do) the reality of tradition, but does not make it infallible, as Mr. Bellisario would wish. (Accessed online 11-07-09.)

“Unfortunately”, TF, yet once again, has misread a Church Father. Note the following:

There was, however, another aid which he looked upon as of the most certain and most important utility, so far as it extended, and that was the baptismal creed, which he regarded as infallible for leading to the right sense of Scripture upon fundamental points, and according to which he thought all Scripture ought to be interpreted. [I.ix.4] It is evident, therefore, that he regarded the tradition of the Church, to that extent, as divine and infallible. (James Beaven, An Account of the Life and Writings of S. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons and Martyr, 1841, p. 139 – bold emphasis mine.)

For the record, James Beaven was not a Roman Catholic (I have added “Roman” to Catholic for TF), but TF is most certainly an anti-Catholic; with this in mind, whose assessment of Irenaeus would one discern to be the least polemical, and most objective?

Moving on, I would now like to comment on the issue of the perspicuity of Scripture as a whole. With TF, I too believe in the perspicuity of Scripture—Scripture clearly teaches baptismal regeneration, infant baptism, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, apostolic succession, et al.—you see, my position on this issue is fundamentally the same as Irenaeus, Athanasius, and so many other Church Fathers. Yes, Scripture is CLEAR, but only to those who embrace the Catholic regula fidei. Everyone has, in essence, a regula fidei which governs their interpretation of Scripture—the Arians created a regula fidei, the Socinians created a regula fidei, the Lutherans created a regula fidei, the Calvinists created a regula fidei—yes, everyone has a regula fidei, and for some, it is a regula fidei created, and held to, by but one individual.

Though many do to not realize it, the regula fidei that one embraces is inextricably linked to church authority. One Reformed author recently articulated this very important connection:

Unlike modern Evangelicalism, the classical Protestant Reformers held to a high view of the Church. When the Reformers confessed extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which means “there is no salvation outside the Church,” they were not referring to the invisible Church of all the elect. Such a statement would be tantamount to saying that outside of salvation there is no salvation. It would be a truism. The Reformers were referring to the visible Church…The Church is the pillar and ground, the interpreter, teacher, and proclaimer of God’s Word…The Church has authority because Christ gave the Church authority. The Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her (Luke 10:16). (Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 268, 269.)

Now admittedly, for some, their “church authority” is themselves, but I think most would agree that Mathison had in mind ‘confessional’ churches. Mathison maintains that “the Church” has real authority, while at the same time holding to the perspicuity of Scripture; he believes, as do I (and the early Church Fathers), that the two are not mutually exclusive. Mathison’s view was cogently expressed by none other than John Henry Newman back in the 19th century—note the following, which Newman addressed to his Anglican friend Dr. E. B. Pusey:

You have made a collection of passages from the Fathers, as witnesses in behalf of your doctrine that the whole Christian faith is contained in Scripture, as if, in your sense of the words, Catholics contradicted you here. And you refer to my Notes on St. Athanasius as contributing passages to your list; But, after all, neither you, nor I in my Notes, affirm any doctrine which Rome denies. Those Notes also make frequent reference to a traditional teaching, which (be the faith ever so contained in Scripture), still is necessary as a Regula Fidei, for showing us that it is contained there; vid. Pp. 283-431; and this tradition, I know, you uphold as fully as I do in the Notes in question. In consequence, you allow that there is a two-fold rule, Scripture and Tradition; and this is all that Catholics say. How, then do Anglicans differ from Rome here? I believe the difference is merely one of words… (John Henry Newman, Certain Difficulties Felt By Anglicans In Catholic Teaching Considered, vol. 2, pp. 11, 12.)

Once again, Scripture is CLEAR, but only for those who have embraced the true regula fidei. This was THE view of the majority of the early Church Fathers, and has been recognized as such by a consensus of patristic scholars; the following are but a few selections from this overwhelming consensus:

The fathers of the church spoke as they did because they regarded themselves as interpreters of the Scriptures. Therefore they are not to be made a substitute for the Scriptures; nor can the Scriptures be understood apart from the authoritative interpretation which tradition places upon them...if tradition is primitive, Protestant theology must admit that ‘Scripture alone’ requires redefinition. (Jaroslav Pelikan, Obedient Rebels, Harper & Row: New York, N. Y., 1964, p. 180 – bold emphasis mine.)

The divine Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as opposed to human writings; and the oral tradition or living faith of the catholic church from the apostles down, as opposed tothe varying opinions of heretical sects—together form one infallible source and rule of faith. Both are vehicles of the same substance: the saving revelation of God in Christ; with this difference in form and office, that the church tradition determines the canon, furnishes the key and true interpretation of the Scriptures, and guards them against heretical abuse. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1981 ed., vol. 3, p. 606 – bold emphasis mine.)

Several publications by evangelicals have argued that the doctrine of sola scriptura was practiced, though implicitly, in the hermeneutical thinking of the early church. Such an argument is using a very specific agenda for the reappropriation of the early church: reading the ancient Fathers through the leans of post-Reformational Protestantism…Scripture can never stand completely independent of the ancient consensus of the church’s teaching without serious hermeneutical difficulties…the real question, as the patristic age discovered, is, Which tradition will we use to interpret the Bible? (D. H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism, pp. 229, 234 – bold emphasis mine.)

Perhaps the most important aspect of the rule of faith is that it gives us what the Church conceived to be ‘the main body of truth’ (to use Irenaeus’ phrase). The Scriptures are, after all, a body of documents testifying to God’s activity towards men in Christ. They are not a rule of faith, nor a list of doctrines, nor a manual of the articles of a Christian man’s belief. In the rule of faith we have a key to what the Church thought the Scriptures came to, where it was, so to speak, that their weight fell, what was their drift. This interpretation of their drift was itself tradition, a way of handling the Scriptures, a way of living in them and being exposed to their effect, which, while not an original part of the Christian Gospel, not itself the paradosis par excellence, had been developed from the Gospel itself, from its heart, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as an essential part of the existence of the Christian faith in history…

We cannot recognize the rule of faith as original tradition, going back by oral continuity independently of Scripture to Christ and his apostles. But we can recognize it as the tradition in which the Church was interpreting Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and as such claim it as an essential ingredient of historical Christianity. (R.P.C. Hanson, Tradition In The Early Church, pp. 128, 129 – bold emphasis mine.)

The first clear attitude to emerge on the relation between Scripture, tradition and the church was the coincidence view: that the teaching of the church, Scripture and tradition coincide. Apostolic tradition is authoritative but does not differ in content from the Scriptures. The teaching of the church is likewise authoritative but is only the proclamation of the apostolic message found in Scripture and tradition. The classical embodiment of the coincidence view is found in the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian.

These both reject the Gnostic claims to a secret tradition supplementing Scripture. Apostolic tradition does not add to Scripture but is evidence of how it is correctly to be interpreted. This tradition is found in those churches which were founded by the apostles, who taught men whose successors teach today. These apostolic churches agree as to the content of the Christian message, in marked contrast to the variations among the heretics. It is important to note that it is the church which is the custodian of Scripture and tradition and which has the authentic apostolic message. There was no question of appealing to Scripture or tradition against the church. This is partly because the apostolic tradition was found in the church but not just for this reason: the Holy Spirit preserves the church from error and leads her into the truth. The real concern of Irenaeus and Tertullian was not with the relation between Scripture and tradition but with the identity of ecclesiastical with apostolic teaching. Any exposition of their teaching on Scripture and tradition which fails to show this is to that extent defective. (A.N.S. Lane, “Scripture, Tradition and Church: An Historical Survey”, Vox Evangelica, Volume IX – 1975, pp. 39, 40 – bold emphasis mine.)

The ‘ancillary view’ is Lane’s term for the sixteenth-century Protestant view, in which tradition functions as an aid, but not a norm, for the interpretation of Scripture…In spite of claims to the contrary, the Reformers did not return to the ‘coincidence view’…The Reformation posited a degree of discontinuity in church history… (Richard Bauckham, “Tradition In Relation To Scripture and Reason”, in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, ed. Drewery & Bauckham, p. 122.)

So, TF’s read of the early Church Fathers, or that represented by the above patristic scholars; TF’s regula fidei, or that of the Catholic Church? IMO, the answer to both questions is perspicuous.

Grace and peace,



Tap said...

Nice work as always. This guy shouldn't be taken seriously any longer. Honestly, he seems to write stuff just to maintain approval of his 'host.' I seriously doubt someone believe half of the crap he's writing. A writing space on Aomin is some sort of status symbol for people like that. So he acts like a pit-bull in defense of what he thinks might be the approved stance of his 'host.' He doesn't want his fate to be the same as Tim Enloe's.

On an unrelated not, why do you refer to the triablogue as the "Black Hole of Christian Blogs"? It's funny to me i wonder why you came to that conclusion.

Randy said...

This is good work putting together those citations. TF obviously read it if he asked you to insert the word "Roman". Was that his only response?

David Waltz said...

Hello Tap,

Thanks much for your continued interest and support. IMO, you are spot-on with your assessment of TF (as it pertains to his anti-Catholic drivel).

As for my “Black Hole of Christian Blogs” subtitle for the Triablogue site, I came up with it due to some past experiences in the comboxes of a few threads I chose to participate in—the depth of the sophistry that most of the hosts of the blog engage in brought to mind the effects of a black hole…

Grace and peace,


David Waltz said...


Hi Randy,

Thanks for the kudos. Need to clarify that I inserted “Roman” without any direct prompting from TF. He made a big deal out of some Catholics not liking the term in one of his posts, so I thought I would ‘beat him to the punch’.

BTW, thanks much for the link to the Christianity Today article, “Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together”; very interesting piece (thinking about doing a post of my own on it).

God bless,


James Bellisario said...

Hi David. Thanks for responding to some of that nonsense posted by Turretin Fan. I simply don't have the time to go through and refute his ongoing series. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Trust me on this, David, keep refuting TF. You have no idea how many people you are helping by doing this. TF is hurting his side so much it is laughable.

Peter P

David Waltz said...

Hi Matthew,

It is so good to hear that you did not mind me jumping into the fray with TF concerning his ongoing diatribe directed at you. That TF, King, Webster, White, et al. read a Reformed Protestant version of sola scriptura into the early Church Fathers should come as no surprise given their anti-Catholic mindset; yet, I still cannot help but think they should understand that their polemical stance would be taken more seriously (outside of their Reformed anti-Catholic ‘pond’) if they were a bit more objective, and honest with the data, oh well…

Grace and peace,


David Waltz said...

Hello Peter,

I really don’t enjoy taking up my pen and spending my precious time debunking the skewed polemics of anti-Catholics like TF. However, I cannot in good conscience let them ‘get away’ with some of the silly blunders that they put forward as sound scholarship to their readers.

Thanks for the support…

Grace and peace,