Friday, August 10, 2007
Checking a Basil Quote
(Revised and extended 8/11/07)
I spent about 10 minutes looking for the context of this quote from Basil, as posted by Catholic apologist Steve Ray:
"The Church preserves many beliefs and practices that generally are accepted or publicly commanded. Some are taken from written teaching; others have been passed on to us 'in a mystery' by the tradition of the apostles. In relation to true religion, both of these have the same force." —St. Basil the Great (c. 330-c. 379)Father of Eastern Monasticism
Steve Ray comments,
"I just came across this quotation again. What a great reminder of the authority of the Church and the Apostolic Tradition! How did I fall for sola Scriptura back in my old life?"
If anyone has a link to the context, or can point me to a source, I would appreciate it. This weekend I will check through my Steve Ray books as well. I did a brief search of my Early Church Fathers collection, but I didn't find anything. I'm not saying the quote doesn't exist, I simply want the context.
Thanks to those of you who posted such helpful information. I initially read this quote (as cited by Steve Ray) a few minutes before heading out the door yesterday. I must say, I did have a suspicion that this Basil quote cited by Steve Ray either did not say what was claimed, did not support a denial of sola scriptura, or in context totally destroyed the modern claims made by the defenders of Rome.
First, thank you John Bugay for a link to the context. Thank you Carrie for locating a translation that may have been used by Ray.
Many thanks to Kepha for his citation of Orthodox writer Michael Whelton's Popes and Patriarchs: An Eastern Perspective on Roman Catholic Claims. If you typed all of it in, thank you. If you scanned it, thank you!
However, in spite of this, Roman Catholic apologist Stephen K. Ray, in his book Upon This Rock, claims that "Basil sees Rome as the caretaker of the troubled Eastern Churches," and amazingly uses Pope Damasus' support of Paulinus as clear evidence of Rome's supreme universal jurisdiction over the Eastern Church. [footnote, Ray, op. cit., p. 208.]
Ray briefly quotes St. Basil's letter to Terentius as saying that certain men were "carrying about letters from the westerners, handing over the bishopric of Antioch to them." From this Ray concludes: "How could Rome prove its primacy in any stronger terms than to hand the Antiochian bishopric over to someone of its own choosing? Obviously Rome had the right and duty of overseeing such ecclesastical matters, and Basil recognized this authority." [footnote, Op. cit., p.. 209.]
A more glaring case of quoting out of context would be hard to come by. However, I am sure Mr. Ray is quoting from another source and is thus unaware of the entire context of the letter. St. Basil's first real encounter with Rome was his clash with Pope Damasus over the episcopal succession at Antioch, and his letter to Terentius (when quoted in full context) clearly shows that he did not recognize Rome's authority in the East. In fact, a more explicit denial of Roman authority is hard to imagine. Here follows Basil's letter:
I hear moreoever, that the Paulinians are carrying about a letter of the Westerners, assigning to them the episcopate of the Church in Antioch, but speaking under a false impression of Meletius, the admirable bishop of the true Church of God. I am not astonished at this. They are totally ignorant of what is going on here; the others, though they might be supposed to know, give an account to them in which party is put before truth: and it is only what one might expect that they should either be ignorant of the truth, or should even endeavor to conceal the reasons which led the Blessed Athanasius to write to Paulinus. But your excellency has on the spot those who are able to tell you accurately what passed between the bishops in the reign of Jovian, and from them I beseech you to get information. I accuse no one; I pray that I may have love to all, and "especially unto them that are of the household of faith;" and therefore I congratulate those who have received the letter from Rome. And, although it is a grand testimony in their favour, I only hope it is true and confirmed by facts. But I shall never be able to persuade myself on these grounds to ignore Meletius, or forge the Church which is under him, or to retreat as small, and of little importance to the true religion, the questions which originated the division. I shall never consent to give in, merely because somebody is very elated at receiving a letter from men. Even if it had come down from heaven itself, but he does not agree with the sound doctrine of faith, I cannot look upon him as in communion with the saints. [footnote, St. Basil, Letter CCXIV, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VIII; emphasis Whelton's]
This clash centered on the person of St. Meletius, Bishop of Antioch (who was not in communion with Rome), and is thus knwon to history as the Meletian schism. St. Basil, along with the Eastern Church, supported Meletius as the rightful claimant to the see of Antioch over Rome's candidate, Paulinus. [footenote, Chadwick, op. cit., p. 149. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1972, Vol. 3, pp. 239-240.] The reverence the Eastern Church held for St. Meletius may be judged by the fact that he was made president of a council of 150 bishops convened by the Emperor Theodosius in Constantinople in 381 -- the Second Ecumenical Council. When Meletius suddenly died during the council, Rome's candidate Paulinus was still ignored in the election of Flavian to the now-vacant see of Antioch. (Whelton, pp. 120-122)
And to really put things into perspective, David King (author of Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Volume 1) provided this examination:
The Basil quote is taken from His work On the Holy Spirit, chapter 27, and the beginning of section 66. What is problematic for Romanists here is the fact that Basil goes on to name some of these practices (beliefs) and some of them are practices that Rome does not observe today. Here's what Basil says some of these practices/beliefs are...
Basil: "For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation?"
If these unwritten traditions are indeed apostolic and so important to Romanists, why is it that Rome no longer practices all of these unwritten traditions that Basil listed? Do Romanists still turn to the East in prayer? Does Rome still practice triple immersion? If Rome doesn't, then what force are we to give to Basil's words when they cite him? It has the force of turning this whole apologetic on their heads, because they do not practice these very unwritten traditions that Basil lists.
Emmanuel Amand de Mendieta:
"The whole passage has frequently been misinterpreted by Roman Catholic theologians, who imagine that in it they have found something to prove the Tridentine dogma of Tradition, considered as an equal and distinct source of revelation. . . .
In reality, this passage of Basil, the beginning of which is a little vague and lacking in precision, cannot be considered as confirming the Tridentine dogma that doctrinal Tradition is a second fully distinct source of divine revelation. In order to be convinced of the falsity of such an assertion, one need only take the trouble to read the whole passage....In brief, in all his homiletic, doctrinal, ascetic and monastic works, Basil refers constantly, and almost in every line, to the Bible, quoting, expounding, or illustrating it, or drawing out in detail what it teaches without departing from the traditional doctrine of the Church. He leaves us in no doubt that he regards the Bible, especially the New Testament, as the sovereign and all-sufficient moral and doctrinal standard for all Christians, and particularly for the cenobites under his charge. Basil of Caesarea thus taught me a never-forgotten lesson." Emmanuel Amand de Mendieta, Rome and Canterbury: A Biblical and Free Catholicism, trans. Coslett Quin (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1962), pp. 140, 141, 143.
Emmanuel Amand de Mendieta is a former Roman Catholic who became a convert to Anglicanism. To be sure, de Mendieta emphasizes that he was no proponent of sola Scriptura, but he recognizes that in Basil no Christian dogma rested on the authority of unwritten tradition.
For an extended treatment of this quote by Basil, see William Webster, Holy Scripture, the Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (Battle Ground: Christian Resources, 2001), Vol. 2, pp. 142ff.
So, I did as David suggested, and I reviewed Holy Scripture Volume 2. William Webster makes some excellent points:
"...[W]hile Basil did affirm the existence of apostolic tradition handed down through the Church independent of scripture, his statements are rarely given in context. The importance of so doing is that Basil defined what he meant by apostolic unwritten tradition." [Holy Scripture Volume 2, p.144]
"A second point needs to be made regarding Basil's claims, and is true for all references by Church fathers to oral tradition with respect to customs and practices. These claims cannot be proven. The fathers only assumed that these practices were apostolic in origin, but there is no way to validate this. The importance of this is underscored by the fact that the early Church witnessed many contradictory claims of apostolic tradition within various segments of the Church. The mere assertion of a claim does not make it true. There are instances...where claims for apostolic tradition are made by one section of the Church, which were repudiated by another." [Holy Scripture Volume 2, p.145]
"A third point is that Basil's defense of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was not based on unwritten tradition exclusively sense. He appealed to the primacy of Scripture and demonstrated that the particular practice or custom was in conformity with Scripture. In referring to his appeal to the tradition of the fathers he made it clear that he was willing to receive their teachings only because they expressed the overall teaching of Scripture... Basil was clear. Tradition apart from Scripture is not sufficient for the establishment of doctrinal truth. The authority of the teaching of the fathers was directly contingent on their conformity to the teaching of Scripture." [Holy Scripture Volume 2, p.145-146]
Webster cites Basil:
"But it is not sufficient for us, that it is the tradition of the Fathers. For they also followed the mind of Scripture; having taken their first principles from the testimonies which, a short time since, we placed before you, from the Scripture."