Monday, December 1, 2008

Affirmative Concluding Essay

“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

This is the Scriptural mandate of Sola Scriptura. The prophet Isaiah explained:

Isaiah 8:16-20
16Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. 17And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. 18Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion. 19And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? 20To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

And the Psalmist declares:

Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
As mentioned in my opening essay, there are two main questions to be considered. The first question is whether the Scriptures are an authority – a source to which Christians can turn to settle disputes. The second question is whether there is any other authority of equal or greater dignity in our possession.
We have seen in this debate that it is undisputed that the Bible is God’s Word and that the Bible is a rule of faith. That is to say, the first question has been answered in the affirmative. The only real question that is raised is whether the negative, MB, has identified any other rule of faith besides the Bible. It would be unreasonable to ask the affirmative to prove a universal negative. MB seems, at least implicitly, to have acknowledged this burden to identify at least one additional rule of faith, and has attempted to provide such an alternative rule: the teachings of his church. In other words, the only question left to be decided is whether there is any other authority of equal or greater dignity in our possession.

In the Bible, only the Bible is described as being inspired. Even if MB had claimed inspiration for his church, the Bible only describes Scripture as inspired. That is why Jerome, in his comments on Haggai, wrote: “The sword of God smites whatever they draw and forge from a pretended (quasi) apostolic tradition, without the authority and testimony of the Scriptures.” The sword of God, is (of course) as described by Augustine, in the City of God, “And Scripture says that the word of God is a doubly sharp sword, on account of the two edges, the two Testaments.”

Although MB makes a claim that the extra-Scriptural Traditions of his church (both Hand-Me-Down-Tradition HMDT and Interpretative-Authority-Tradition IAT) are the Word of God, on this point he disagrees with his own pope, who stated (in “The Transmission of Divine Revelation,” written before Ratzinger had been made pope): “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 consigned to writing. Tradition, however, is described only functionally, in terms of what it does: it hands on the word of God, but is not the Word of God.”

And in this matter Ambrose (in Cain and Abel) agrees, identifying Scripture and the Word of God: “What is the mark of a Christian? Faith working by charity. What is the mark of faith? A sure conviction of the truth of the inspired words, not to be shaken by any process of reasoning, nor by the alleging of natural requirements, nor by the pretences of false piety. What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words [of the Scripture], not venturing to reject anything - nor making additions. For, if 'all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and 'faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.” And recall that Augustine made the same identification in the quotation provided above. But MB boldly but wrongly claims “Sacred Tradition is not an addition to Sacred Scripture in as much [sic] as they are both the Word of God.” (Negative Answer to Question 2)

There were ten sections of the Westminster Confession of Father, chapter 1, that were under consideration, as laid out in my opening essay. Section 1 related to the fact that revelation today comes to us through Scripture.

It is similar to what John of Damascus declared when he wrote (in An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith): “Nevertheless, God has not gone so far as to leave us in complete ignorance, for through nature the knowledge of the existence of God has been revealed by Him to all men. The very creation of its harmony and ordering proclaims the majesty of the divine nature. Indeed, He has given us knowledge of Himself in accordance with our capacity, at first through the Law and the Prophets and then afterwards through His only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Accordingly, we accept all those things that have been handed down by the Law and the Prophets and the Apostles and the Evangelists, and we know and revere them, and over and above these things we seek nothing else.” Notice that he ends by stating that over and above the Apostles, Evangelists, Law, and the Prophets he states that he seeks nothing else.

Sections 2 and 3 related to the 66 book canon and the rejection of the apocryphal so-called “deuterocanonical” books. MB cannot reasonably dispute the NT portion of that canon, and Jesus’ own testimony in the NT establishes the shorter Jewish canon over the expanded canons held by various churches. It is interesting to note that the “ancient churches” that MB refers to hold to various expanded canons, but the Greek Orthodox have a different canon from the Ethiopian Orthodox who have a different canon from the papists themselves. Furthermore, of course, MB is well aware that notable early Christian writers such as Jerome rejected the deuterocanonicals, and that even up to the council of Trent, there was division at the highest levels of the church of Rome over whether the deuterocanonicals should be considered of binding authority or merely as useful ancient writings, with Cardinal Cajetan taking the latter position.

Section 4 states that the authority of Scripture comes solely from its divine authorship, and not from the testimony of the church. This view is reflected in Augustine’s comment in Of the Unity of the Church, “Let us not hear, You say this, I say that; but let us hear Thus saith the Lord. There are the Dominical books, whose authority we both acknowledge, we both yield to, we both obey; there let us seek the Church, there let us discuss the question between us.” The church gets its authority by following Scripture, not the other way around.

Section 5 relates to the fact that although the Church testifies to the inspiration of Scripture, the final authority and basis for our acceptance of their testimony is not their own word for it, or the inherent beauty of Scripture, but the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit. Augustine’s letter to Paulina reflects this same concept when it declares, “I do not want you to depend on my authority, so as to think that you must believe something because it is said by me; you should rest your belief either on the canonical Scriptures, if you do not yet see how true something is, or on the truth made manifest to you interiorly, so that you may see clearly.”

Section 6 relates to the sufficiency of Scripture. As Athanasius expressed it, “the holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of saving truth.” Indeed, as pointed out in my opening essay, this is the same point that the earliest fathers had to raise against the heretics who tried to claim apostolic unwritten tradition in order to substantiate their views, accusing the Scriptures of deficiency rather than sufficiency. From what I gather, MB has only attacked this point implicitly, hinting that without HMDT and IAT the Reformed believer has an incomplete picture of the Word of God. In contrast, however, Scripture itself declares that the Scriptures are able to thoroughly furnish the man of God.

Section 7 relates to the perspicuity of Scripture. As William Whitaker in the 16th century noted, even the papists recognize the truth of this principle: “Indeed all the papists in their books, when they seek to prove any thing, boast everywhere that they can bring arguments against us from the most luminous, plain, clear and manifest testimonies of Scripture . . . For in every dispute their common phrases are,—This is clear,—This is plain,—This is manifest in the scriptures, and such like. Surely when they speak thus, they ignorantly and unawares confess the perspicuity of the scriptures even in the greatest questions and controversies.”

Section 8 relates to the fact that the authentic version of Scriptures are the Hebrew and Greek originals. Jerome, Origen, and other church fathers likewise agree to this fact, and MB has not challenged this truth, despite Trent’s seeming view that the authentic version of the Scripture is the “Old Latin Vulgate” version. Possibly this is simply a reflection of the de-latinization of Post-Vatican-2 popery.

Section 9 relates to the fact that Scripture is Scripture’s interpreter. Contrary to the claims of IAT proposed by MB, a consequence of Scripture’s sufficiency is that Scripture is not in need of the interpretation of the church in order to be understood properly. Thus, Jerome could write in a homily on the Psalms, “Some may say: ‘You are forcing the Scripture, that is not what it means.’ Let Holy Writ be its own interpreter … .”

Section 10 relates to the fact that the supreme arbiter among men is not the church but the Word of God in Scripture. Gregory of Nyssa recognized the need for this doctrine, when he wrote, “We do not think that it is right to make their prevailing custom the law and rule of sound doctrine. For if custom is to avail for proof of soundness, we too, surely, may advance our prevailing custom; and if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs. Let the inspired Scripture, then, be our umpire, and the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.”

This summary of doctrines was defended not only on the basis of its footnoted prooftexts from Scripture, but also from the testimony of the writers of the early church. In addition, a positive presentation from Holy Scripture itself was presented, and was addressed by MB not with a contrary exegesis, but simply with handwaving, asserting that “TF then quotes the Scriptures out of context …” without substantiating this claim.

MB’s own positive presentation is rather lacking. Although MB attempts to set forth his church’s position on the issue of Scripture, we discovered that MB has made some errors in his presentation, not following the teachings of his church fully. Part of the problem is that even now, MB’s church is internally divided over the issue of whether the correct view is “partim partim” or rather a view of material sufficiency should be adopted. While MB wants to claim that his position is the correct one, we have seen his position contradicted by the statements of his own popes. Either way, however, we have seen MB try to claim that the rule of faith is not Scriptures alone but Scriptures Plus, despite his attempted denial of this logical consequence of asserting that HMDT and IAT are also a rule of faith, in addition to Scripture.

MB makes an argument from what he thinks are the teachings of “the Church,” but as Augustine put it, in his essay on Church Unity: “Whoever dissents from the sacred Scriptures, even if they are found in all places in which the church is designated, are not the church.”

MB’s attempt to appeal to the Jews fell short. As MB himself admitted in his opening statement, the Rabbis did not have the guidance of the Holy Spirit that MB believes that “Jesus guaranteed we would have” (MB has failed to recognize that this guarantee is met in Scripture).

Likewise, MB’s attempt to attack the authority of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) was lacking. The WCF does not claim to be self-authoritative, but derives its authority from its agreement with Scripture. Unfortunately, MB seems to have interpreted the WCF through the lenses of his own church’s method of asserting authority for itself. MB fails to recognize that the WCF is more like Augustine who wrote, in his treatise on the Trinity: “So to the latter I say, Do not correct my writings according to the standard of your own opinion or argument, but according to that of the divine Scriptures or irrefutable reason, But if you find anything in them that is true, this is not mine by the mere fact that it is there, and by understanding and loving it, it will become yours as well as mine; but if you find anything false, then the error was mine, but if we avoid it, it will be neither yours nor mine.”

Or, as Jerome put it, “For all questions, let us seek for suitable beams from the testimonies of the Scriptures, and cut them down, and build the house of wisdom within us,” in his comments on Haggai. And again, in his commentary on Matthew, “That which does not have authority from the Scriptures, we may as readily despise (contemn), as well approve.” Jerome clearly saw the unique position of Scripture in establishing doctrines.

MB claims that “we can find ample evidence proving that the Deuterocanonical books were considered Scripture by most Christians for the first 300-400 years,” but MB’s claim is based on focusing on those Christians unfamiliar with the difference between the Jewish canon and the canon of the so-called Septuagint. MB argues from the most ignorant against the most educated of the early church fathers.

MB also presents the issue of contraception. However, as already noted, MB does not and cannot provide a Scriptural case for his position in this regard, leaning instead on the traditions of the men of his church. Meanwhile, during the debate MB complains about the cursory treatment I give to contraception while he provides no treatment at all of the much more relevant innovation of papal infallibility. MB is simply either unwilling or (as seems more probably) unable to provide any defense for this innovation of his church in creating a new rule of faith unknown to even the medieval period.

Throughout the debate, MB is unable to substantiate either HMDT or IAT. IAT is particularly troubling for MB, because not only Scripture but also the early Christian writers are completely silent on this category. HMDT is not so bad, but MB overlooks that all the patristic references to HMDT are either to Scripture (which was handed down from the apostles. For example, in Basil’s Morals, he states: “What is the mark of a Christian? That his justice abound in all things more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, according to the rule of the doctrine which has been handed down in the Lord's Gospel.”) or to customs, such as infant baptism, the celebration of Easter, and the like.

MB seems to fail to appreciate that the only doctrines we can definitively say were handed by the Apostles are those found in Scripture. If one could establish that, for example, that the blanket prohibition on contraception or the view of papal infallibility were the teachings of the apostles, who would refuse to accept them? However, one cannot establish those things as a matter of historical fact. In fact, history does not support such claims, with history only evidencing (and powerfully evidencing) the apostolicity of the New Testament.

As noted above, MB appeals to the “unanimous clear witness of every ancient church before the Reformation” as allegedly denying Sola Scriptura. Unfortunately for MB’s claim, however, MB is not referring to the ancient statements of these “ancient churches” but modern statements of these churches. Furthermore, even if these “ancient churches” are united against Sola Scriptura, they are also (excepting MB’s own church) united against the unscriptural and unhistorical claim of papal infallibility. MB does not listen to them on the latter issue, so why does he expect us to listen to them on the former issue?

We see this same inconsistency in MB’s presentation over and over again. No source that MB relies upon fully agrees with him – even his own pope (in writings from his pre-papal days) denies that Tradition is the Word of God, contrary to MB’s dogmatic assertions. MB appeals to the Jews for the concept of an “Oral Torah” (the very “traditions of men” rejected by Jesus) but then refuses to accept their canon of the Old Testament. Most of all, though history and the fathers are referenced by MB, it is history and the fathers that demonstrate the fact that the general consensus among the educated church fathers was Sola Scriptura.

MB asks whether “we [are] to assume that the Church that Jesus Christ is the head of gives us false doctrine?” Let us simply ask him who gave the church fathers their doctrine? Was it from “the Church” or from Scripture or from where? Since their agreement with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura has been shown, let MB blush to call them all heretics for asserting the same doctrines as we do.

In this debate, MB’s five answers to the five questions really demonstrate why Sola Scriptura has prevailed.

To the many quotations demonstrating that it was common for the ECFs to define the church in terms of believers (rather than defining the church in terms of communion with Rome), Mr. Bellisario asserted “selected emphasis” on my part and claimed he reads the fathers “in their complete context” but couldn’t even produce a single quotation to suggest that anyone defined the church in terms of communion with Rome. Instead, MB provides a quotation from Irenaeus allegedly demonstrating apostolic succession through bishops and the idea that people can appeal to the ancient churches, a questionable quotation from Cyprian of Carthage that Cyprian that he either did not write or later repudiated on the primacy of Peter, and a quotation from Ephraim of Syria on the primacy of Peter.

To the demonstration of the “two sources” position in official Catholicism demonstrating that “Scripture Plus” is an accurate characterization, MB appealed to mystery to solve the contradiction between his explanation and the explanation in the official sources. Furthermore, he went on to insist that Tradition (specifically IAT, if he was answering the question asked) is a form of Divine Revelation, despite the fact that Catholicism teaches that public revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle. “. The term “public Revelation” refers to the revealing action of God directed to humanity as a whole and which finds its literary expression in the two parts of the Bible: the Old and New Testaments.” (theological commentary on Fatima by Ratzinger) Furthermore, MB claimed that Tradition like Scripture is “the Word of God,” contrary to the teachings of Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) (quotation provided earlier in this essay). He provided some quotations regarding how in Catholicism it is believed that Tradition and Scripture cannot stand without each other, but this – of course – in no way denies that Catholicism teaches that Tradition is an authority that is additional to Scripture.

To the request that MB identify patristic teachings of infallible IAT, MB provided five quotations from three early Christian writers, but none of them made mention of infallible IAT. Instead, the first mentioned the idea that Orthopraxy accompanies Scripture, its orthodox interpretation, and “the truth … of all the Christian traditions,” the second and third identify the practice (i.e. custom) of infant baptism as allegedly an apostolic tradition (its unclear whether MB acknowledges that infant baptism is taught in Scripture or whether this is supposed to be HMDT), the fourth and fifth were presented to allegedly show that Athanasius thought that the Church’s interpretation was an infallible one. Athanasius, of course, explicitly affirmed Sola Scripture even in the face of a corrupt church that was promulgating heresy (“For if ever God shall give back the churches (for we think He will) yet without such restoration of the churches the Faith is sufficient for us. And lest, speaking without the Scriptures, I should [seem to] speak too strongly, it is well to bring you to the testimony of Scriptures, for recollect that the Temple indeed was at Jerusalem; the Temple was not deserted, aliens had invaded it, whence also the Temple being at Jerusalem, those exiles went down to Babylon by the judgment of God, who was proving, or rather correcting them; while manifesting to them in their ignorance punishment [by means] of blood-thirsty enemies. And aliens indeed had held the Place, but knew not the Lord of the Place, while in that He neither gave answer nor spoke, they were deserted by the truth.”)

Furthermore, MB’s misuse of the quotations is an example of the very “selected emphasis” error he attempts to assert against others. In the quotation from Athanasius, the “they do not rightly know them nor their power” is a reference to Scriptures (i.e. the opinions handed down) not to the “traditions of men” from which Athanasius distinguishes them. MB even goes so far as to falsely claim that Athanasius “does not appeal to Sacred Scripture outside of this understanding,” which we have already shown is false with explicit quotations affirming Sola Scriptura in Athanasius. Thus, Athanasius wrote to Alexander of Constantinople saying of the Arians, “They are not ashamed to oppose the godly clearness of the ancient scriptures.”

To the question of how believers can judge whether their teachers are false (as commanded in Scripture, such as in 1 John 4:1), MB was unable to answer. Instead, MB presented arguments that, just because believers must judge their teachers, doesn’t mean that they can only refer to Scripture. Furthermore, MB is unable to explain why he argues the opposite of Augustine. The reader can see that the reason is that unlike Augustine, MB must rely on the self-proclaimed authority of his church, rather than on the authority of Scriptures alone.

Where do you see the Sola Scriptura humility of Augustine in Catholicism? Augustine wrote, “I do not want you to depend on my authority, so as to think that you must believe something because it is said by me; you should rest your belief either on the canonical Scriptures, if you do not yet see how true something is, or on the truth made manifest to you interiorly, so that you may see clearly,” but one does not see MB’s church making that claim.

Chrysostom, commenting on John’s gospel, explained the answer that MB should have realized was true: “With good reason did He call Scripture a 'door.' For it leads us to God and opens to us the knowledge of God; it makes us His sheep; it guards us; and it does not permit the wolves to enter. Indeed, just as a door provides security, so Scripture prevents the entrance of heretics, places us in safety with regard to all our desires, and does not permit us to go astray. If we do not remove it, we shall not easily be overcome by our enemies. By means of it we shall be able to discriminate between all men: both the true shepherds and those who are not.”

MB was also unable to answer the question of the canon of IAT and HMDT. This naturally takes away all the force of his canon argument against Sola Scriptura since he is unable to provide a canon for his counter-plan of Scripture Plus. Amazingly, MB further concedes that “Tradition does not produce any new content in regards [sic] to the Word of God.” Of course, if that is true, then Scriptures, which are without doubt the Word of God, already have all the content of the Word of God including the canon of Scripture (if that is indeed a part of the Word of God). Of course, on this, MB disagrees with Cardinal Ratzinger as already quoted in Question 2.

In the second phase of cross-examination, MB provided several questions. His first question related to the alleged disuse of sola scriptura by the Jews. It was an odd question, since it was premised on facts that MB himself rejected as untrue in his opening statement. The Jewish traditions were fallible, not infallible. So, whether Jewish writers (“scholars”) today think otherwise is really a moot point.

Besides, there is a limit to what trust one must place in Jewish traditions. As Chrysostom wrote against Judaizing Christians, “Finally, if the ceremonies of the Jews move you to admiration, what do you have in common with us? If the Jewish ceremonies are venerable and great, ours are lies. But if ours are true, as they are true, theirs are filled with deceit. I am not speaking of the Scriptures. Heaven forbid! It was the Scriptures which took me by the hand and led me to Christ.”

MB’s second question related to the perspicuity of Scripture. Here MB (apparently for the first time) attempted to challenge the doctrine taught by the Early Church Fathers and the WCF that the necessary things for salvation are clearly taught in Scripture.

As Lactantius declared in the Divine Institutes, however, “For, being accustomed to sweet and polished speeches or poems, they despise the simple and common language of the sacred writings as mean. For they seek that which may soothe the senses. But whatever is pleasant to the ear effects persuasion, and while it delights fixes itself deeply within the breast. Is God, therefore, the contriver both of the mind, and of the voice, and of the tongue, unable to speak eloquently? Yea, rather, with the greatest foresight, He wished those things which are divine to be without adornment, that all might understand the things which He Himself spoke to all.”

MB’s third question demonstrated his apparent lack of historical knowledge of the church. Apparently imagining that Christendom 1000 years ago looked something like Christendom today, he asked for evidence of something like the Westminster Confession and some group of Christians before the 16th century who believed what we do. Then, he insisted that I not cite the Early Church Fathers in my defense. There’s an obvious reason why he asked for that: because all that the WCF has to say on Sola Scriptura can be found in the ECFs, and MB knows that. This is adequately evidenced above.

MB’s fourth question regarding the Nicene Creed has already been thoroughly addressed in the cross-examination portion. One might simply add to that discussion the testimony of Niceta of Remesiana, who wrote: “These things beings so, beloved, persevere in the tradition which you have learned. Be true to the pact you made with the Lord, to the profession of faith which you made in the presence of angels and of men. The words of the Creed are few—but all the mysteries are in them. Selected from the whole of Scripture and put together for the sake of brevity, they are like precious gems making a single crown. Thus, all the faithful have sufficient knowledge of salvation, even though many are unable, or too busy with their worldly affairs, to read the Scriptures.”

MB’s fifth question largely repeated earlier themes, and has been adequately and thoroughly rebutted in the answer portion of the cross-examination section.

Thankfully, MB did not appeal to the so-called “unanimous consent of the fathers.” As Fitzmyer explains: “No one can ever tell us where such a ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers’ is to be found, and Pius XII finally thought it pertinent to call attention to the fact that there are but few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, ‘nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous.’” (Scripture, the Soul of Theology, p. 70)

Has the burden been met? It has been demonstrated that Scripture speaks only of itself as inspired, that Scripture thoroughly (completely) furnishes the man of God, and that the bulk of the educated church fathers held to Scripture as the sole infallible rule of faith.

What is left? There is nothing but the sole rule of faith – even that commended by Jesus who commanded us to Search the Scriptures.

Basil, in his treatise on Baptism, wrote: “You could find many passages of this sort in the writings of the evangelists and the Apostle. Now, then, if a command be given and the manner of carrying it out is not added, let us obey the Lord, who says: 'Search the Scriptures.' Let us follow the example of the Apostles who questioned the Lord Himself as to the interpretation of His words, and learn the true and salutary course from His words in another place.”

Or to put it otherwise, as Basil of Caesarea declared (in Of Virtue and Life), “All the commands of the Savior are written.”


(written without the benefit of MB’s conclusion)

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