by Matthew Bellisario
There are several early writings that refer to the interpretive aspect of Sacred Tradition such as Tertullion writing around the year 200 as well as Origin and St. Athanasius for starters.
Tertullian, Demurrer Against the Heretics (200 A.D.):"Wherever it shall be clear that the truth of the Christian discipline and faith are present, there also will be found the truth of the Scriptures and of their explanation, and of all the Christian traditions."
But what is more important is we see the early Fathers and writers of the Church appealing to Tradition in their interpretation of Sacred Scripture all of the time in their writings. For instance how does Origin arrive at his interpretation of Baptism in his writings? He does it by appealing to the Tradition of the Church. Of course if he does so it must mean he is doing so under a pretext that it is infallible in its meaning.
"Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin. . . . In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous" (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3 [A.D. 248]).
"The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).
Does Origin here have to expound any further on how he is coming up with his interpretation? He does it through the Church as so many Church Fathers do. For instance St. Athanasius in the 4th century constantly admonishes the Arians by their misinterpretation of Sacred Scripture. He appeals to the Tradition of the Church as being an infallible teacher. Although many times he uses the Sacred Scriptures in a "sufficient" context, it is quite clear that he does so under the pretext that it is done within the interpretive construct of the Church, and not solely his own interpretation. If he admonishes the Arians and their heresy it must done in understanding that the Church's interpretation is the infallible one in Tradition handed down, since the Arian interpretation is obviously heretical.
St. Athanasius says,
“However here too they (Arians) introduce their private fictions, and contend that the Son and the Father are not in such wise 'one,' or 'like,' as the Church preaches, but as they themselves would have it" Orat 3,10”
He clearly demonstrates that indeed those who refer to the Sacred Scriptures alone without what has been handed down is in error,
"But after him (the devil) and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power" Festal Letter 2
We must once again read these writings in their proper and full context when dealing with these subjects. These are very early sources as St Athansaius wrote these in the 4th century, and clearly refers to an interpretive aspect of the Sacred Scriptures in Sacred Tradition when he emphasizes, “who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down.” We must not look to the Fathers or writings of the early Church as specific proof-texts explicitly spelled out for each doctrine proclaimed by the Church. We can however see many times plainly how the Church Fathers or other early writers derive at their interpretations of Sacred Scripture. For as Adrian Fortescue (2008) rightly spoke, “We must not forget that the Fathers did not write their letters or preach their sermons with a view to supplying evidences of the faith of their time for future controversialists.” Therefore I urge you to read the Fathers in their full context and not use the fallacy of selective emphasis once again to substantiate your errors. It is quite clear that we have here a very early example of a Saint appealing to the Tradition of the Church to arrive at a correct and infallible understanding of the Sacred Scriptures when refuting the heretical Arian position demonstrated here. He does not appeal to Sacred Scripture outside of this understanding.
Fortescue, Adrian. The Greek Fathers. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2008. (Original Publication 1908 London, Catholic Truth Society)
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
by Matthew Bellisario