Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tilting at Windmills?

Kepha at Fides Quaerens Intellectum in the thread, The (Catholic?) Need for Development, wrote the following:

I’ve begun to wonder, how much of all that we’ve been discussing here (i.e., sensus fidelium, ecclesial intuition, ”material sufficiency,” implicit and unconscious dogma, etc.) is necessitated by a need peculiar to Rome? It is interesting that these various epistemological attempts all coincide with the rise of the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception, Papal Infallibility, and the Bodily Assumption. (Kepha)

The above comes after a quote from John E. Thiel’s recent book, Senses of Tradition. However, prior to the portion that Kepha’s cites, Thiel speaks of numerous other models of development, invoking Johannes Stöhr’s, “Conceptual Models in the Understanding of Development”, who, “distinguished eight depictions of doctrinal development”, with the following labels: “fixed”, “progress”, “regress”, “syncretist”, “rediscovery of beginnings”, “clarification of knowledge”, and the “synthesis of dialectical oppositions”. (pp. 57, 58.) [Note: many other models of DD have been presented by other authors/scholars.]

Thiel continues with brief descriptions of each of the models:

The “fixed” model represents the movement of tradition as the constant repetition of a once-given apostolic truth. The “progress” model images each movement in tradition as an advance, as a step beyond an ecclesial present being ever redefined. The “regress” model applies the analogy of cultural decline and death to the doctrinal tradition in order to explain an instance of loss of meaning in the communication of faith. The “syncretist” model attributes development to the influence of a culture-at-large upon the culture of the gospel message through which the latter is accommodated to the former, though not necessarily in a pejorative manner. The “rediscovery of beginnings” model sees the movement of tradition as a repristination of its primal and insuperably authoritative teachings. The “organic” model appeals to the analogy of life to depict the development of doctrine as a growth from earlier to later, and more mature, expressions of faith. The “clarification of knowledge” model envisages more developed doctrines as the refinement of an idea of consciousness in the course of time. And the “synthesis of dialectical oppositions” model conceives the tradition as the historical encounter of conflicting Christian claims from which resolved doctrinal true emerges. (p. 58)

Thiel then writes:

One can readily agree with Stöhr that, among the options that he has sketched, the organic model conveys most clearly the compatibility of development and continuity. But Stöhr’s classification may be to too quick to identify the organic model with authentic development—what I have labeld “development-in-continuity”—to the exclusion of a consideration of elements of authentic development in the “syncretist,” “clarification of knowledge,” and the “synthesis of dialectical oppositions” models…these three models are better understood as various expressions of the organic model’s basic assumption that the tradition’s development-in-continuity is a growth conceived as the unfolding of a givenness preserved as it matures in time. In addition to this shared assumption, Stöhr’s “organic,” “synthesis of dialectical oppositions,” “clarification of knowledge,” and “syncretist” models all describe particular theories of tradition as a development-in-continuity that have appeared in nineteenth- and twentieth century Catholic theology. (p. 59)

Thiel renames the last three models: “the dialectical, the noetic, and the reception”, and follows this with a treatment of each model, including the organic which keeps its original name. (pp. 59ff.)

Now back to Kepha’s somewhat puzzling contribution. I cannot help but wonder if Kepha has chosen to ignore the fact that the “epistemological attempts” he listed, “(i.e., sensus fidelium, ecclesial intuition, ”material sufficiency,” implicit and unconscious dogma, etc.),” all have one or more representatives among the early Church Fathers, or if he is just unaware of this.

I am also left wondering if he actually believes that the various forms of Protestantism lack the need for a theory of the development of doctrine—certainly such works as Peter Toon’s, The Development of Doctrine in the Church; Rolf Pöhler’s, Continuity and Change in Christian Doctrine; Jaroslav Pelikan’s, Development of Christian Doctrine; James Orr’s, Progress in Dogma; and Maurice Wiles’, The Making of Christian Doctrine and The Remaking of Christan Doctrine (among so many others) suggest otherwise.


Grace and peace,

David

Friday, January 30, 2009

Gregory Nazianzen - An early theory of doctrinal development


While reading Gregory Nazianzen’s “Fifth Theological Oration – On The Holy Spirit”, I noticed something I had previously overlooked: a theory of doctrinal development. The design of this particular oration was to set forth and defend the full divinity of the Holy Spirit as the third member of the Godhead against the teachings of the Eunomians (ahomoian Arians) and Macedonians (also called the Pneumatomachians). Embedded in his apologia, concerning a perceived “silence of Scripture” on this issue, is what I now believe to be a theory of DD.

Nazianzen sets the stage of his discourse with this:

But of the wise men amongst ourselves, some have conceived of him [the Holy Spirit] as an Activity, some as a Creature, some as God; and some have been uncertain which to call Him, out of reverence for Scripture, they say, as though it did not make the matter clear either way. And therefore they neither worship Him nor treat Him with dishonor, but take up a neutral position, or rather a very miserable one, with respect to Him. And of those who consider Him to be God, some are orthodox in mind only, while others venture to be so with the lips also. And I have heard of some who are even more clever, and measure Deity; and these agree with us that there are Three Conceptions; but they have separated these from one another so completely as to make one of them infinite both in essence and power, and the second in power but not in essence, and the third circumscribed in both; thus imitating in another way those who call them the Creator, the Co-operator, and the Minister, and consider that the same order and dignity which belongs to these names is also a sequence in the facts. (Gregory Nazianzen, Fifth Theological Oration – On The Holy Spirit, V – English trans., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second series, 7.318.)

One can clearly discern from the above that during this stage of Christian history a considerable amount of doctrinal diversity existed among Christians concerning the Holy Spirit. In paragraph XXI, Nazianzen sheds some light on why this was so:

Over and over again you turn upon us the silence of Scripture. But that it is not a strange doctrine, nor an afterthought, but acknowledged and plainly set forth both by the ancients and many of our own day, is already demonstrated by many persons who have treated of this subject, and who have handled the Holy Scriptures, not with indifference or as a mere pastime, but have gone beneath the letter and looked into the inner meaning, and have been deemed worthy to see the hidden beauty, and have been irradiated by the light of knowledge. We, however in our turn will briefly prove it as far as may be, in order not to seem to be over-curious or improperly ambitious, building on another’s foundation. But since the fact, that Scripture does not very clearly or very often write Him God in express words (as it does first the Father and afterwards the Son), becomes to you an occasion of blasphemy and of this excessive wordiness and impiety, we will release you from this inconvenience by a short discussion of things and names, and especially of their use in Holy Scripture. (p. 324)

And then in paragraph XXIV:

Since, then, there is so much difference in terms and things, why are you such a slave to the letter, and a partisan of the Jewish wisdom, and a follower of syllables at the expense of facts? But if, when you said twice five or twice seven, I concluded from your words that you meant Ten or Fourteen; or if, when you spoke of a rational and mortal animal, that you meant Man, should you think me to be talking nonsense? Surely not, because I should be merely repeating your own meaning; for words do not belong more to the speaker of them than to him who called them forth. As, then, in this case, I should have been looking, not so much at the terms used, as at the thoughts they were meant to convey; so neither, if I found something else either not at all or not clearly expressed in the Words of Scripture to be included in the meaning, should I avoid giving it utterance, out of fear of your sophistical trick about terms. In this way, then, we shall hold our own against the semi-orthodox — among whom I may not count you. For since you deny the Titles of the Son, which are so many and so clear, it is quite evident that even if you learnt a great many more and clearer ones you would not be moved to reverence. But now I will take up the argument again a little way further back, and shew you, though you are so clever, the reason for this entire system of secrecy. (p. 325)

In the remaining paragraphs (XXV-XXXIII), Nazianzen goes on to explain “the reason for this entire system of system of secrecy”. He starts by comparing,

Now the two Testaments, or, on account of the wide fame of the matter, two Earthquakes; the one from idols to the Law, the other from the Law to the Gospel. And we are taught in the Gospel of a third earthquake, namely, from this Earth to that which cannot be shaken or moved. Now the two Testaments are alike in this respect, that the change was not made on a sudden, nor at the first movement of the endeavor… And therefore like a Tutor or Physician He partly removes and partly condones ancestral habits, conceding some little of what tended to pleasure, just as medical men do with their patients, that their medicine may be taken, being artfully blended with what is nice. For it is no very easy matter to change from those habits which custom and use have made honorable. For instance, the first cut off the idol, but left the sacrifices; the second, while it destroyed the sacrifices did not forbid circumcision. Then, when once men had submitted to the curtailment, they also yielded that which had been conceded to them; in the first instance the sacrifices, in the second circumcision; and became instead of Gentiles, Jews, and instead of Jews, Christians, being beguiled into the Gospel by gradual changes… To this I may compare the case of Theology except that it proceeds the reverse way. For in the case by which I have illustrated it the change is made by successive subtractions; whereas here perfection is reached by additions. For the matter stands thus. The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the Deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further (if I may use so bold an expression) with the Holy Ghost; lest perhaps people might, like men loaded with food beyond their strength, and presenting eyes as yet too weak to bear it to the sun’s light, risk the loss even of that which was within the reach of their powers; but that by gradual additions, and, as David says, Goings up, and advances and progress from glory to glory, the Light of the Trinity might shine upon the more illuminated. For this reason it was, I think, that He gradually came to dwell in the Disciples, measuring Himself out to them according to their capacity to receive Him, at the beginning of the Gospel, after the Passion, after the Ascension, making perfect their powers, being breathed upon them, and appearing in fiery tongues. And indeed it is by little and little that He is declared by Jesus, as you will learn for yourself if you will read more carefully. I will ask the Father, He says, and He will send you another Comforter, even the spirit of Truth. This He said that He might not seem to be a rival God, or to make His discourses to them by another authority. Again, He shall send Him, but it is in My Name. He leaves out the I will ask, but He keeps the Shall send, then again, I will send, — His own dignity. Then shall come, the authority of the Spirit. (pp. 325, 326)

This theme of “gradual additions” as unfolded in the Scriptures is then applied to the development of doctrine:

I will add another point to what I have said; one which may readily have come into the mind of some others, but which I think a fruit of my own thought. Our Savior had some things which, He said, could not be borne at that time by His disciples (though they were filled with many teachings), perhaps for the reasons I have mentioned; and therefore they were hidden. And again He said that all things should be taught us by the Spirit when He should come to dwell amongst us. (p. 326)

He ends the oration with:

Finally, then, it seems best to me to let the images and the shadows go, as being deceitful and very far short of the truth; and clinging myself to the more reverent conception, and resting upon few words, using the guidance of the Holy Ghost, keeping to the end as my genuine comrade and companion the enlightenment which I have received from Him, and passing through this world to persuade all others also to the best of my power to worship Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the One Godhead and Power. To Him belongs all glory and honor and might for ever and ever. Amen. (p. 328)

Via “the guidance” and “the enlightenment” of the Holy Spirit, the “hidden meaning” and “inner beauty” of the Scriptures is gradually unfolded unto the Church when She is ready to bear it.

I am now persuaded that we have before us a theory of doctrnal development; but am I the only one with this opinion? Some research earlier today yielded the following:

To explain the lateness of His [the Holy Spirit] recognition as God he [Nazianzen] produces a highly original theory of doctrinal development. (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 1960, second edition, p. 261.)

And from the pen of one of the brightest Eastern Orthodox scholars of our age we read:

Revelation has been accomplished and the mystery of the Trinity is manifest. However, it has still not been fully absorbed by man. Man must penetrate the mystery until “that which has been desired for us is completely revealed.” Gregory predicts that when we go inside, the Bridegroom will know what to teach and that to say to the souls which have entered. He will communicate with us and give us the most absolute and perfect knowledge…

Although the divinity of the Spirit is not explicitly proclaimed in Scripture, there is much solemn evidence of this. Gregory explains the reticence of Scripture on the doctrine of the Spirit by showing that revelation takes place in economic stages.

The spiritual experience of the Church is also a form of revelation, and through this experience the Spirit makes clear His own dignity. (George Florovsky, The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century, online document -http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/fathers_florovsky_1.htm#_Toc3723870.)


Grace and peace,

David

[Note: All bold emphasis in the provided citations is mine.]

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Justification: always forensic?


Some comments and ruminations posted yesterday, concerning the issue of justification, have prompted me to create a responsive thread. At de reginis duobus, Jason Stillman posted in the thread, Who Said That?, a quote he had, "heard…in a Protestant/Catholic debate involving Michael Horton". Jason does not tell he readers the name/place of the original debate, but once he mentioned Michael Horton’s name, I immediately was able to deduce the original source: What Still Divides Us? I own this entire debate in a cassette format produced by Basilica Press. On the back of the 8 tape album cover we read: “This debate took place at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, California, on March 3 & 4, 1995, before a Protestant audience of 1,500.”

Research via Google revealed that the full debate is still available in various formats, through numerous providers (caveat emptor - costs vary significantly).

Interestingly enough, a transcript of Michael Horton’s opening statement on justification is also available under the title: Are We Justified By Faith Alone?.

Now that ‘due diligence’ has been carried out concerning the source of the quote provided by Jason, it is time to provide some resources and reflections on the subject matter.

First, Michael Horton’s opening statement has been thoroughly critiqued by Robert Sungenis at his Catholic Apologetics International site.

Second, the quote provided by Jason is highly selective; as such, it is misleading. The following is a brief compilation of some of my own research into this issue; the Protestant patristic scholar, Alister McGrath, penned the following observations:

…it will be clear that the medieval period was astonishingly faithful to the teaching of Augustine on the question of the nature of justification, where the Reformers departed from it…The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification – as opposed to its mode – must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum. (Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 1986 ed., pp. 1.185-187.)

He then asked the following queston: “For what reasons did the Reformers abandon the catholic consensus on the nature of justification?” (Ibid. 187.)

An important background to McGrath’s later assessment of the “reasons” was provided earlier:

Man’s righteousness, effected in justification, is regarded by Augustine as inherent rather than imputed, to use the vocabulary of the sixteenth century. A concept of ‘imputed righteousness’, in the later Protestant sense of the term, would be quite redundant within Augustine’s doctrine of justification, in that man is made righteous in justification. The righteousness which man thus receives, although originating from God, is nevertheless located within man, and can be said to be his, part of his being and intrinsic to his person. An element which underlies this understanding of the nature of justifying righteousness is the Greek concept of deification, which makes its appearance in later Augustinian soteriology. (Ibid., pp. 1.31, 32.)

But, did Augustine ‘get it wrong’? The consensus of the Protestant world (excluding Anabaptists/Mennonites) sure thought so. But this consensus is not nearly as large at it once was. Some recent/current scholars[1] are now convinced that the verb dikaoō has a causative/factitive/effective sense in Paul’s usage, and if they are correct, we can say we with confidence that Augustine did not ‘get it wrong’.

One current scholar goes so far as to conclude:

The various dikai- terms all refer to the same quality or effect of Jesus’ death on the believer. In other words, despite their grammatical distinctions, dikaiosunē, dikaios, dikaiōsis and even dikaioō all have the same sense; therefore, the rendering of dikaiosunē is “righteousness,” of dikaios, “righteous,” and of dikaioō, “make righteous. (Chris VanLandingham, Judgment & Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul, pp. 245, 246 – the entire chapter, “’Justification by Faith’—A Mistranslated Phrase and Misunderstood Concept”, pp. 242-332, is a must read.)

The Lutheran scholar, John Reumann (hearkening back to Melanchthon) maintains that dikaioō has a double sense: declarative and causative (see his, Righteousness in the New Testament, pp. 4-11.)

Further, a group of Finnish Lutheran scholars[2] are now recognizing the importance of deification in understanding the nature of justification, and are able to declare, “Lutherans can without difficulty argue that a Christian is both made righteous and also deified as a partaker of the divine nature”[3].

Even McGrath could write:

It is certainly true that Augustine speaks of the real interior renewal of the sinner by the action of the Holy Spirit, which he later expressed in terms of participation in the divine substance itself…God has given man the power both to receive and participate in the divine being. By this participation in the life of the Trinity, the justified sinner may be said to be deified. (Ibid., p. 1.32)

Though one must wait until Augustine to find a concrete reflection on the role that deification plays in justification, the doctrine of deification itself is quite prominent in many of the Church Fathers prior to Augustine. And though most are aware of the importance of deification in Orthodox thought, recent scholars are now identifying certain elements of deification in Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley.

To make a very long story short, Augustine’s take on justification certainly has Biblical warrant, and just might be spot-on.

Notes:

[1] See Theological Lexicon of the New Testament - by Ceslas Spicq, trans. & edited by James D. Ernest, pp. 1.337-343; Rereading Paul Together – edited by David Aune, pp. 83-86; Justificaton: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates – edited by Husbands and Treier, pp. 17-45; Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue – by Anthony N.S. Lane, pp. 158-167, for some examples.
[2] See Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther – edited by Braaten and Jenson
[3] Ibid. p. 67.

[Two other excellent resources are the essays produced by Gerald Hiestand and Fr Alvin Kimmel.]

I think I shall end this post with a quote from Sacred Scripture:

The first to plead his case seems just, Until another comes and examines him. – Proverbs 18:17 (NASB)


Grace and peace,

David

Monday, January 19, 2009

Subordinationism in Novatian

In this thread, I will be continuing my ‘series’ (of sorts) on subordinationism in the pre-Nicene Church Fathers. (Previous posts can be found HERE; HERE; and HERE.)

The following quotes will all be taken from Novatian’s, A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity (I will be using Robert Ernest Wallis’ English translation as found in Volume V of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Roberts and Donaldson.)


The Rule of truth requires that we should first of all things believe on God the Father and Lord Omnipotent; that is, the absolutely perfect Founder of all things…(Chapter I – ANF 5.611.)


Him alone the Lord rightly declares good, of whose goodness the whole world is witness…He is always like and equal to Himself. And what is not born cannot be changed: for only those things undergo change which are made, or which are begotten; in that those things which had not been at one time, learn to be by coming into being, and therefore to suffer change by being born. Moreover, those things which neither have nativity nor maker, have excluded from themselves the capacity of change, not having a beginning wherein is cause of change. And thus He is declared to be one, having no equal. For whatever can be God, must as God be of necessity the Highest. But whatever is the Highest, must certainly be the Highest in such sense as to be without any equal. And thus that must needs be alone and one on which nothing can be conferred, having no peer; because there cannot be two infinites, as the very nature of things dictates. (Chapter IV – ANF 5.614.)


The same rule of truth teaches us to believe, after the Father, also on the Son of God, Christ Jesus, the Lord our God, but the Son of God — of that God who is both one and alone, to wit the Founder of all things, as already has been expressed above. (Chapter IX – ANF 5.618.)


What if in another place also we read in like manner that God was described as an angel? For when, to his wives Leah and Rachel, Jacob complained of the injustice of their father, and when he told them that he desired now to go and return into his own land, he moreover interposed the authority of his dream; and at this time he says that the angel of God had said to him in a dream, “Jacob, Jacob. And I said,” says he, “What is it? Lift up thine eyes, said He, and see, the he-goats and the rams leaping upon the sheep, and the she-goats are black and white, and many-colored, and grizzled, and speckled: for I have seen all that Laban hath done to thee. I am God, who appeared to thee in the place of God, where thou anointedst for me there the standing stone, and there vowedst a vow unto me: now therefore arise, and go forth from this land, and go unto the land of thy nativity, and I will be with thee.” If the Angel of God speaks thus to Jacob, and the Angel himself mentions and says, “I am God, who appeared unto thee in the house of God,” we see without any hesitation that this is declared to be not only an angel, but God also; because He speaks of the vow directed to Himself by Jacob in the place of God, and He does not say, in my place. It is then the place of God, and He also is God. Moreover, it is written simply in the place of God, for it is not said in the place of the angel and God, but only of God; and He who promises those things is manifested to be both God and Angel, so that reasonably there must be a distinction between Him who is called God only, and Him who is declared to be not God simply, but Angel also. Whence if so great an authority cannot here be regarded as belonging to any other angel, that He should also avow Himself to be God, and should bear witness that a vow was made to Him, except to Christ alone, to whom not as angel only, but as to God, a vow can be vowed; it is manifest that it is not to be received as the Father, but as the Son, God and Angel. (Chapter XIX – ANF 5.630.)


But if some heretic, obstinately struggling against the truth, should persist in all these instances either in understanding that Christ was properly an angel, or should contend that He must be so understood, he must in this respect also be subdued by the force of truth. For if, since all heavenly things, earthly things, and things under the earth, are subjected to Christ, even the angels themselves, with all other creatures, as many as are subjected to Christ, are called gods, rightly also Christ is God. And if any angel at all subjected to Christ can be called God, and this, if it be said, is also professed without blasphemy, certainly much more can this be fitting for Christ, Himself the Son of God, for Him to be pronounced God. For if an angel who is subjected to Christ is exalted as God, much more, and more consistently, shall Christ, to whom all angels are subjected, be said to be God. (Chapter XX – ANF 5.631.)


Who then is that angel who, as we have said, was made in the form of God? But neither do we read of the form of God in angels, except because this one is chief and royal above all — the Son of God, the Word of God, the imitator of all His Father’s works, in that He Himself worketh even as His Father. He is — as we have declared — in the form of God the Father. And He is reasonably affirmed to be in the form of God, in that He Himself, being above all things, and having the divine power over every creature, is also God after the example of the Father. Yet He obtained this from His own Father, that He should be both God of all and should be Lord, and be begotten and made known from Himself as God in the form of God the Father. He then, although He was in the form of God, thought it not robbery that He should be equal with God. For although He remembered that He was God from God the Father, He never either compared or associated Himself with God the Father, mindful that He was from His Father, and that He possessed that very thing that He is, because the Father had given it Him. Thence, finally, both before the assumption of the flesh, and moreover after the assumption of the body, besides, after the resurrection itself, He yielded all obedience to the Father, and still yields it as ever. Whence it is proved that He thought that the claim of a certain divinity would be robbery, to wit, that of equaling Himself with God the Father…(Chapter XXII – ANF 5.633.)

[Note: all bold and underline emphasis mine.]


Grace and peace,

David

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Catholic Presuppositionalism?

A thread with the title, “Cogito, Ergo Sum [Protestant]?”, posted by Jason Stellman at de regnis duobus, has prompted some interesting dialogue concerning the issue of Catholic presuppositionalism. [I found out about this thread via a link provided at FIDES QUAERENS INTELLECTUM.]

I think it is important to point out that this is not the first discussion on the topic; a thread started by Art Sippo back in December, 2006 at Patrick Madrid’s Speak Your Mind is the first instance of this subject that I am aware of. Those who are currently involved in the dialogue at DRD and FQI would probably derive some benefit from reading the older thread.


Grace and peace,

David

Blog recommendation

Just this morning, I came across a blog that was new to me: Neal Judisch’s, of towers and tongues. Neal has only been blogging since April 2008; yet his output, both in quantity and quality, has been very impressive.

I am currently reading through his threads under the label, sola scriptura, and would like to recommend to all who have an interest in this topic to join me in this endeavor. I have no doubt that those who do so will be as equally impressed as I am.


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Catholics and the material sufficiency of Sacred Scripture


A recent thread at FIDES QUAERENS INTELLECTUM, Epistemology and Ecclesiology, Pt II, has prompted me to provide a few quotations from Catholic authors concerning the material sufficiency of Sacred Scripture:


Evangelicals, of course, have generally followed the Reformation dictum of sola scriptura. The essence of this phrase has a long and interesting theological history and is, with nuances, accepted by many, if not most, contemporary Catholic theologians…

The conciliar decree is open to this interpretation [material sufficiency] inasmuch as Catholics believe that statements of ecumenical councils are providentially guided by the Holy Spirit. Yves Congar closes by noting that the proper way of summing up the relationship between Scripture and tradition as found in both the Fathers and the pre-Tridentine period is in the formula used by Newman and the nineteenth-century theologian, J. E. Kuhn: Totum in scriptura, totum in traditione.

While Congar and J. Geiselmann believe that Trent left the door open for the thesis of the material sufficiency of Scripture, Joseph Ratzinger stakes the same claim for the Dogmatic Constitution of Vatican II, Dei Verbum #9. This text is “…the product of the attempt to take into account, to the widest possible extent, the points made by the Reformed churches and [was] intended to keep the field open for a Catholic idea of sola scriptura…”[12] If these theologians are correct, and the majority of contemporary Catholic theologians surely agree with them, then Catholics, in their own way, could agree with the position that the entire truth of salvation is found in Scripture. (Thomas G. Guarino, “Catholic Reflections on Discerning the Truth of Sacred Scripture” in Your Word Is Truth, edited by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus, 2002, pp. 79 85, 86.)

[12] Joseph Ratzinger, “Commentary on Dei Verbum,” in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. 3, ed. Herbert Vorgrimler (New York: Herder & Herder, 1969) p. 192. Ratzinger notes here both his reservations and those of various Protestant commentators.

If we return to our text, we shall see that, following the stress on the unity of Scripture and tradition, an attempt is made to give a definition of the two entities. It is important to note that only Scripture is defined in terms of what it is: it is stated that Scripture is the word of God. If this makes clear the nature of Scripture, we can see from the detailed characterization of tradition, whose task it is to “preserve (it), explain it, and make it more widely know”, that it is not productive, but “conservative”, ordained to serve as part of something already given.

The next part of the sentence quo fit … hauriat is the result of a modus suggested by 111 fathers. They wanted, with small variations, something like the following addition: quo fit ut non omnis doctrina catholica ex (sola) Scriptura (directe) probari queat. Clearly, the problem of the material completeness of Scripture once more crops up here, the problem that had caused fierce debate in the Council in its first and third sessions. When the question was treated in the Theological Commission on 6 October 1965, a dispute flared up. Mgr. Philips, its secretary, made a conciliatory proposal, which met with no success, so that finally the idea of any addition of this kind was rejected. On 18 October, the President of the Commission, Cardinal Ottaviani, was given a letter written by Cardinal Cicognani at the request of the Pope, which, apart from a few improvements Chapter III, also stated that it would be desirable (magus opportunum) to have an addition at this point. The letter included seven textual suggestions, on which the Secretary of State commented in his letter: “His enim formulis ii etiam assensum ac suffragium praestaturi esse censentur, qui in maiore Concilii parte pollent.” After careful deliberation the Council decided on the third of the suggested formulations, which was probably the work of C. Colombo. It now stands in the text. From an ecumenical point of there can be no objection to it. H. Ott says: “Moreover, it is surely also true for a Protestant who has not forgotten the basis of the Reformation that we do not acquire certainty about God’s revelation only from Holy Scripture, but also through preaching and the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.” Actually, there would have been nothing to object to in the text of the 111 fathers, for no one is seriously able to maintain that there is proof in Scripture for every Catholic doctrine. The ecumenical difficulties of the text lie, as we have seen, in quite different points. Emotions had become attached to a point where they were completely superfluous. Furthermore, when one analyzes text calmly, it appears as a positive contribution towards the clarification of the problem of tradition. The function of tradition is seen here as a making certain of the truth, i.e. it belongs in the formal and gnoseological sphere—and, in fact, this is the sphere in which the significance of tradition is to be sought. (Joseph Ratzinger, “The Transmission of Divine Revelation” in Herbert Vorgrimler, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II - New York: Crossroad, 1989, Vol. 3, pp. 194, 195.)


I would like, however, to try in the last part of our reflections to bring forward certain reasons for our not needing to accept – not even from a Catholic point of view – a constitutive material function of tradition which goes beyond the testimony of the nature of scripture; that we can say conversely, therefore, that it is entirely possible to formulate a Catholic sola scriptura principle with regard to the Church’s deposit of faith, provided that we understand this in a Catholic sense and therefore understand it to involve also an authoritative attestation and interpretation of holy scripture by the living word of the Church and her magisterium, and an attestation of scripture itself and its authoritative interpretation which cannot be replaced by scripture itself. (Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations - vol. 6, p. 107.)


…we can admit Scriptura sola 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. This position can claim the support of many Fathers and early theologians. It has been, and still is, held by many modern theologians. The decree of the Council of Trent, they hold, does not prevent one’s still holding this position, for it merely affirms that the revealed truths and the principles of Christian living which are wholly contained in the Gospel are conveyed by the traditions and by Scripture. (Yves Congar, Tradition & Traditions, p. 410.)


With respect to the material sufficiency of the Bible, the ecumenical rapprochement is still more striking. Dei Verbum, departing from the preconciliar schema “On the Sources of Revelation,” refused to affirm that there are “two sources” or that some revealed truths are contained in tradition alone. Instead the Constitution accented the living and dynamic character of tradition as the process of handing on the word of God, which is indivisibly present both in Scripture and in tradition (DV 7-10). On the other hand, the Council refused to demote tradition to a merely secondary position, as though everything had to be tested by the Bible alone as the final rule of faith. “It is not from sacred Scripture alone that the church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence” (DV 9).

Just as Vatican II broke with the standard Catholic two-source theory, so the Montreal Conference on Faith and Order, meeting almost simultaneously, showed a disposition on the part of Protestants as well as Orthodox to assert the primacy and indispensability of tradition as against the “sola Scriptura” position. The report depicts the prophetic and apostolic writings as sedimentations of tradition, and holds that even after the Bible became complete, the gospel continued to be transmitted in living tradition by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Thus we can say that we exist as Christians by the Tradition of the Gospel (the paradosis of the kerygma) testified in Scripture, transmitted in and by the church through the power of the Holy Spirit.” While recognizing that Tradition (with a capital “T”) is the word of God, Montreal pointed out that the particular traditions of different churches may be inadequate and even distorted. As the criterion for genuine Tradition it proposed “the Holy Scriptures rightly interpreted.” The report left unsolved the question how the Bible can judge tradition if its right interpretation depends, in part, upon tradition. The suggestion would seem to be that there is no purely objective norm that can deliver the interpreter from the responsibility to be faithful to the Holy Spirit, whose voice is to be heard in Scripture and Tradition together
. (Avery Dulles, “Scripture: Recent Protestant and Catholic Views”, Theology Today , April 1980, pp. 16-17.)



Grace and peace,

David