Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cyril of Jerusalem Revisted: On The Material and Formal Sufficiency of Scripture

I began responding to a blogback comment from my entry, Cyril of Jerusalem And Sola Scriptura, and it began to take on a life of its own. Due to its length, I figured it should probably be its own blog entry. A Catholic blogger I link to has been stopping by and commenting. Of course, Catholics are welcome to comment. I get all sorts of comments (sometimes fresh comments on blog entries from months ago). I don’t always get a chance to respond to everything- my apologies. My time commitments don’t allow me to respond to everything.

I’ve put my response in dialog form. We begin this discussion with my comment: Cyril definitely believed the church has authority, as do I. The issue is what Cyril believed was the ultimate authority for Christian truth. Keep this point in mind: I contend Cyril affirmed the Church must be subordinate to the authority of the Scriptures. He did not teach an infallible Magisterium, or an infallible extra-biblical tradition. This sets him in direct conflict with modern-day Roman Catholics.

phatcatholic said:
Well, I could have sworn that you said, either on your blog or in the CARM debate, that Cyril believed that Scripture was the "sole authority," in which case you would be incorrect because he obviously views the Church to be authoritative as well. But, I can't seem to find that now. Perhaps someone else said it.”

I don’t think I ever used the words “sole authority”. I did frequently refer to “ultimate authority” in the CARM discussion. If I used the words “sole authority”, I’d like to see the context I said them in. My position has usually been expressed in terms of ultimate authorities and sub-authorities, as do most strong advocates of sola scriptura. Scripture teaches that there must be a teaching ministry in the church (Eph. 4:11-16). Thus, Scripture affirms and teaches the need for a sub-authority beneath it. That sub-authority though is not infallible, and must be subject to the very words of God as found in the Scriptures.

phatcatholic said:
With your comment, I see that you believe Cyril was a "sola" scripturist, not a "solo" scripurtist. I have always been confused by this distinction. It just seems like a desparate attempt to acknowledge the role of Tradition and of our ancient creeds yet still maintain the "ultimate" authority of Scripture.”

The distinction “solo Scriptura” was popularized by Keith Mathison in his book The Shape of Sola Scriptura. Mathison argues that sola scriptura is not a rejection of tradition or the subordinate authority of the church. Rather, in Mathison’s view, sola scriptura rejects relativistic individualism (solo scriptura) and also a rejection of Rome’s “two source” view of revelation.

My view of Cyril is that with respect to ultimate authority, his was not the modern-day Roman Catholic ecclesiastical position (sola ecclesia), but rather conformity to the truth of Scripture. In the modern Roman Catholic view of authority, Scripture and Tradition are sub-authorities governed by the ultimate authority of the Church (sola ecclesia).

phatcatholic said:
In the "sola" understanding, is the Church (or Tradition) really that much of an "authority" in the life of a protestant if it gets dismissed every time it disagrees with his interpretation of Scripture? In that system, Church doesn't seem like much of an authority at all. But, perhaps this is a digression.”

In my church, we have confessions of faith which define and explain the beliefs we adhere to. These also serve as a means in evaluating persons for church membership, and roles in the church, and also function as rule for church discipline. These sub-standards are more than a paragraph or two. They comprise nearly 100 pages. They are basically a systematic theology.

phatcatholic said:
The point is that I don't see "solo" or "sola" in the paragraphs from Cyril's Lectures that you cited. I think that a balanced look at how he viewed both the authority of Scripture and the authority of the Church shows that he is speaking of the material sufficiency of Scripture, not its formal sufficiency.”

A few things- First, an irony. David King points out that “…nearly every theologian from the Council of Trent to Vatican I (a span of about 300 years) understood the teaching of Trent to be a denial of both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture” (Holy Scripture, Vol 1, p.183). I realize there is debate within the Catholic community on this point- for instance, Yves Congar would admit the material sufficiency of Scripture: “…we can admit sola Scriptura 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.” [Cited by James Akin, “Material and Formal Sufficiency,” This Rock 4, no. 10 (October 1993): 15].

The Reformers maintained that the Scriptures were materially sufficient: there was not additional infallible God-breathed revelation preserved in “Tradition”. I would argue Cyril felt likewise. Cyril exhorts his pupils to memorize that which he is to teach them. He then says in 5:12-

So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments. Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which ye now receive, and write them an the table of your heart.”

The “traditions” he is giving them is a recitation of the Creed. According to Cyril, The Creed finds its sole substantiation in the Scripture. Thus, the Creed is only authoritative in how closely it conforms to Scripture.

William Webster points out:

“…Cyril used the verb form of the word tradition (paradidosthai) to refer to the handing down of the faith, saying that no teaching of the faith is to be delivered or ‘traditioned’ apart from the Scriptures. He is insistent that if a doctrine is not written it cannot be known and is to be rejected. He rejected speculation on subjects not written in Scripture. Furthermore, he stated that his Lectures contained the entirety of the faith with nothing omitted.” (Holy Scripture, Vol 2, p.51-52).

Now about Cyril and formal sufficiency. You will need to argue that he understands the teaching magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church to be an infallible authority. Patrick Madrid attempts to do this: “Cyril’s Catechetical Lectures are filled with his forceful teaching on the infallible teaching of office of the Catholic Church (18:23)…” But actually, Cyril didn’t say in 18:23 that the church taught infallibly. Rather he held the church teaches “completely” or “precisely”. Find me a statement from Cyril that admits and supports an infallible church. We’ll see in a moment that in 5:12 presents an awkward problem for those who seek to do this.

phatcatholic said:
Lecture 5:12 is a critical piece of this context. Look at what it says again: "But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures" (5:12). Catechumens are to keep that only which is 1. Delivered to thee by the Church (this would be Tradition). 2. Built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.”

But also take a closer look at 5:12. Cyril notes: “For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that ye have received, let him be to you anathema.” Who is the “we” Cyril is referring to? If it is an authority like the teaching magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, why does Cyril imply non-infallibility? He allows the possibility that the “we” could possibly teach another gospel. This is an awkward problem.

phatcatholic said:
But, what is that which is delivered by the Church and attested in the Scriptures? It is the Teaching of Christ, the Deposit of Faith handed on to the apostles. That is what is important to Cyril, and as a bishop he would have felt a great responsibility to preserve Apostolic teaching. The Church and the Scriptures are rules (and equal rules) because they both attest to this Deposit. That is what the Catholic Church believes and that is what Cyril believed.”

I agree with your statement except for the last two sentences: “The Church and the Scriptures are rules (and equal rules) because they both attest to this Deposit. That is what the Catholic Church believes and that is what Cyril believe.” This is an unproven assumption. Cyril doesn’t affirm an infallible Church in his writings. We saw this earlier in Cyril’s warning of anathema. On the other hand, Cyril repeatedly upholds the infallibility and perfection of the Scriptures- exhorting his readers to read them, and to even subject his writings to them:"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."

phatcatholic said:
How could one say that Cyril believed the Church to be something he could toss aside whenever it disagreed with him? Cyril specifically says that it is the Church who:--"teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men's knowledge" (18:23)--is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (18:25; quoting 1 Tim 3:15)--is the one in whom we should ever abide (18:26)--has "power without limit over the whole world" (18:27)--delivers instruction for eternal life (18:28).”

This is an argument based on a false assumption. You assume that for Cyril the church must be an infallible equal rule with Scripture. Cyril never says this. In other words, you’re reading something into the text that’s not there. In fact, I, deny the infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church and can affirm everything you’ve quoted from Cyril above. The citations you’ve culled do not require the church to be infallible in order to be affirmed.

phatcatholic said:
I think you have severely downplayed Cyril's understanding of the role of the Church. In Cyril's mind, the Church is not an inferior rule. Instead, the Church is just as much a guide as the Scriptures, and a doctrine taught by the Church is just as sure as a doctrine taught in Scripture.”

No- I’ve presented what Cyril believed to be the ultimate rule of faith, and you have attempted to confuse the teaching role of the church with an infallible church.


FM483 said...

Here are some additional comments from early church fathers on sola scriptura:

phatcatholic said...

Mr. Swan,

Thank you for your thorough response. I will respond in kind as soon as I can.

Pax Christi,

James Swan said...

Please call me james-

If you want to respond, that's fine. No hurry.