A discussion on the CARM boards recently caught my attention concerning Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem from 348 A.D. to 386 A.D. Cyril is an interesting Early Church Father due to his lengthy catechetical treatise for the early church.
It was brought up that Cyril made statements that advocate sola scriptura. For Cyril, the ultimate issue with respect to authority was not the ecclesiastical position (sola ecclesia), but rather conformity to the truth of Scripture:
"Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures."
There is no way to subsume Cyril's understanding of the authority of Scripture into the Roman Catholic paradigm. The Roman Catholic Church holds that a doctrine can be defined, but the scriptural proofs used to support it utilized by the Church’s theologians might not actually support it. In other words, one can have (alleged) certainty for a doctrine, but not have certainty in the scriptural proof texts for that doctrine. The infallibleness is in the decree, not in the reasoning to that decree. Cyril would probably run far away from such reasoning. In describing his argumentation, Cyril says at one point:
"Now mind not my argumentations, for perhaps thou mayest be misled but unless thou receive testimony of the Prophets on each matter, believe not what I say: unless thou learn from the Holy Scriptures concerning the Virgin, and the place, the time, and the manner, receive not testimony from man."
In the CARM discussion, Cyril had to be reinterpreted by Catholics to make him into a modern-day Roman Catholic. It was pointed out that Cyril appears to have believed in such things like “prayers for the dead” and held to a position on the Eucharist similar to modern day Catholics. Thus, Cyril could not have been an advocate of sola scriptura, because those who advocate sola scriptura do not find these teaching in the Bible.
This type of defense have misses a key point: the distinction between the principle of sola scriptura and the principle of interpretation. Every doctrine Cyril proclaimed he declared to be based on proof furnished from the Scriptures. While I don't agree with his conclusions in some instances, I agree with his underlying presupposition of sola scriptura.
One thing appears certain with Cyril- he doesn't agree with the underlying presuppositions of the Roman Catholic Church, that certain doctrines find their certainty outside of Scripture, proclaimed to be true by unwritten extra-Biblical tradition or papal pronouncement.
In the CARM discussion, I found a distinct desire to make Cyril a modern day Roman Catholic- believing all the doctrines they would. Rather, I wish they would simply let Cyril be Cyril. I saw a strong attempt to dismiss his quotes which imply sola scriptura or not interact directly with them. Why not Just accept what Cyril says? He's not the Pope, nor his he an infallible council. He's just an Early Church Father.
The early church fathers said a lot of things that a modern day Roman Catholic would disagree with. Also, the writings of the early church fathers have not avoided corruption. I'm reading a book currently that points out how the early church father's had passages deleted, or even added too, as well as translated incorrectly, either by maliciousness or accident. I point this out to note what Cyril does: his writings prove nothing. Only the Scriptures can be trusted.
Cyril did not hold to the modern-day authority structure of the Roman sect. some try to prove he did by citing him from book 18:23 that he held the church teaches infallibly, but in actuality a proper translation renders the sentence that the church teaches "completely" or "precisely".
If Roman Catholics want to believe in the ultimate authority of the Roman Catholic Church, that's unfortunate, but they are entitled to do so. But they should try to at least just let the Early Church Fathers say what they said. Many of them contradict the modern Roman Catholic position on various issues, as well as contradict each other
You know what's ironic- I'd much rather discuss doctrine with Cyril than modern day Romanists. Cyril and I would have a fruitful discussion, rather than quibbling about philosophical sophistry. At least we would agree on the basic foundation of objective truth.