Friday, July 22, 2011

Christopher and the Church "Fathers"

Christopher Lake said:
I meant (that was) my last comment at Triablogue, nor merely my last comment under that thread.

And we can all see what good fruit that bore.

Scripture itself does not say that all we need to believe and do, as Christians, is explicitly stated in Scripture.

How can he then also affirm the words of Psalm 119?

In 2 Timothy 3:15-17, we see the richness of what the Scriptures are, and what they do:
-can give one wisdom…
-…so as to be saved (through faith)
-breathed out by God (cf: Matthew 22:31)
-profitable for teaching and correction
-can train one in righteousness
-to render the man of God adequate for every good work.

Jesus thought enough of it to say "The words I have spoken are spirit and are life" (John 6:63).

John 20:30Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Two things about this passage:
1) John's Gospel alone apparently was, to his mind, sufficient to have life in Jesus' name. What else do I need, again?
2) The "other signs Jesus also performed", which by his own admission receive no mention, are unnecessary to have life in Jesus' name.

I've done a whole debate on this.
So has TurretinFan. Oh, wait, he's done more than that.
James White might have done a few as well.

It does not even say that everything which is "essential" is *clear* in Scripture. 

"All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain." (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Second Thessalonians, 3, v. 5)
More on why Christopher won't accept this teaching from Chrysostom in a moment.

As a Calvinist Protestant, I had to, and did, assert that my own "private judgement" on the meaning of Scripture was better than that of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Augustine, Athanasius, and the other early Church Fathers

And you continue in that to this very day.
Here's the proof - they've said things that are contrary to the modern dogma of Rome, and you don't believe those things.
Now, you or some other Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox might remind us that a given Church Father taught elsewhere something that does in fact agree with the modern RCC/EOC.  So now we have two different teachings from the CF on a given topic. What do we do?

Let's just say for the sake of argument that you're right - the CF taught in more than one other place the opposite doctrine to what the Sola Scripturist already quoted.  
For example, that Athanasius taught Sola Scriptura.  Or that John Chrysostom, Basil of Caesarea, Jerome, Ambrosiaster, Hilary of Poitiers, and (Pope) Clement of Rome taught Sola Fide. Then an RC or EO friend counter-cites one or all of these men with clearly non-Sola-Scriptura/Fide verbiage.

That leaves us with CFs who have contradicted themselves. 

Now, to fulfill what Christopher wants us to do, namely to be consistent with these CFs (and remember, my claim is that modern RCC/EOC is inconsistent w/ them), we would either have to:
A: Teach just as inconsistently as these two guys do, sometimes saying one thing, sometimes the other, or
B: Call these teachings not actually part of Divine/Apostolic Tradition.

The problem with resolution A is that the cognitive dissonance would be pretty much unbearable. The upshot is that I don't know if I'd expect a lot of people to turn away from RCC/EOC in real life.

The thing about resolution B is that they have indeed already done just that. Somehow these godly, forcible, powerful writers, from whom RCC/EOC (and thus, by profession, Christopher) ostensibly derives much of their tradition and doctrine, also produced impious, ungodly, and flat wrong teachings.

Now, how would Christopher know judgment about wrong teachings? Apparently from judging these non-"Apostolic Traditions" by... yup, you guessed it! What The Church® Says.
In the end, it's a vicious circle of question-begging. I claim the modern RCC/EOC is not totally faithful with CFs and then cite them when challenged. Then they say, "Hey, those aren't part of ApostolicTradition!" I say, "Thanks for proving my point."

I also pause to note how pernicious this is. The Lord Jesus set an authoritative example for how one is to judge tradition - by Scripture. The RC/EO refuses to do that and instead appeals to his own doctrinal construct which is already in place to then look back on tradition and Scripture and pick and choose what he will and won't believe. Thus the RC/EO holds to the Scriptural teaching of the Deity of Christ and rejects the Scriptural teaching of salvation by grace alone thru faith alone. He accepts the Trinity and rejects Sola Scriptura. He accepts the fact that we should pray to God as commanded in the Scripture and rejects the fact that prayer to dead people and angels is strictly prohibited in the Scripture.

It becomes easy to see how this not only dishonors God in ideal (that is, that we should not judge men's teachings by God's) but also later in practice (bowing down to images, praying to dead people, trying to work one's way to salvation).

A few more points on this:

As Steve already reminded you, but you either didn't read, were too disingenuous to care, or didn't understand how this wrecks your point, you had to engage in private interpretation to choose Rome over other "infallible interpreters", other rival magisteria, such as the WatchTower, the LDS, the Eastern Orthodox, the Copts.
It's either sheer obstinacy or rank ignorance that brings Roman Catholics back to this ridiculous "argument" time and again. It's as predictable as a priestly sex scandal.

Christopher Lake said further:
anytime that I dipped into the above Church Fathers and found anything faintly "Catholic," I asserted that my understanding of Scripture was simply better than theirs. 

As mentioned above, however, you do that, and I commend you for it. The Apostle Paul's command to "test everything, hold fast to that which is good" is meant for everyone and anyone.  We test the 1st generation of the church just like we test this current generation.
Your problem is that you do the same thing but reproach us for preferring what the Scripture teaches versus the limited selection of "Church Father" teachings that Rome enjoins upon us. This brings up another fundamental incoherency of the "Church Father" argument.

  • You don't know that what these guys said is what the church of their time believed. 
  • You don't know how what they wrote was received by other churches. Any mere claims to "we believe thus" are not necessarily true. Not without proof, and  more proof than their say-so.
  • You don't know whether they were held in the highest respect by their contemporaries.  Maybe you're reading the Charles Stanley of their time - not really all that bad, but quite shallow compared to others, most of the time.
  • You don't know whether you have all their writings, or even what % their today-extant writings form of the total things they wrote over their lifetime. Thus you don't know if they ever took it all, or part of it, back.
  • You don't know whether what they said in public or in private teachings actually comports with the extant writings you have.
  • You don't take everything that is extant from a given "Church Father" and believe it. You believe only the parts that the modern Roman Catholic (though this applies to Eastern Orthodoxy too) Church has dogmatised and accepted for modern times. Why call them "Church Fathers" at all? Seems to me a traditional nomenclature that fails to take the above into consideration, fails to think through the divide between what any of them believed and what modern Rome believes, and has served as a useful tool for you, so you decided to keep it. And it is useful - citing "Fathers" sounds so imperial, so high-fallootin', so mysteriously powerful, that often it causes a brain block within the mind of the Sola Scripturist.  I myself have experienced this many times. 
Is this overzealous, unreasonably radical skepticism? Depends on whom you're asking, I suppose.
What this illustrates for certain is that our certain guide, our certain lamp for our feet, is the Scripture. The Scripture is simply not subject to these kinds of questions (at least not within the RC/EO/Sola Scripturist circle of debate), for we all accept its authority and sourcing - it is the very Word of God.
Such is demonstrably not the case for "Church Fathers", however. We read them like we read DA Carson today - to understand who they are, what they taught, and their theological contexts. They are not authorities. They (and I, or my pastor, or Billy Graham, or John MacArthur) have power only insofar as they repeat the Word of God. Where they do so, let us praise God for the insight they have shared. Where they have not, let us learn not to repeat their mistakes.

The only sense in which they are "fathers" is that they are older and came before us. They made many mistakes, however, and we do not necessarily know even the majority of what any one of them believed and/or taught.

Nobody invests them with great authority - not Sola Scripturists, not RCC, and not EOC.
Sola Scripturists - obviously.
RCC and EOC, for reasons mentioned above - if these men really were their authorities, they would teach like them: inconsistently. And they certainly wouldn't anathematise Sola Fide, for example.
No, for the RC and EO, the modern church is the only authority in practice. "By their fruits you shall know them."

But for us who love and follow Jesus and believe His words in Mark 7:1-13 wherein He told us to test traditions by Scripture, our Church Fathers are named: Jesus, Mark, Luke, Paul, Peter and John and the rest of the 11, James, Jude, and the guy who wrote Hebrews. Do you want to know what the earliest church believed? Read the New Testament.


PeaceByJesus said...

Your post is a saver.

Scripture itself does not say that all we need to believe and do, as Christians, is explicitly stated in Scripture.

They will look to texts such as
John 20:30, though 2Cor. 12:4 and Rev. 10:4 would be more specific ones, yet none of these are things we need to believe, and if they were, then the use of Scripture would not be uniquely advocated to make the man of God "perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:17) The very man Paul told Timothy to follow, and the teaching she was to keep, was a man who invoked Scripture as the supreme authority.

Moreover, SS does not reject preaching the word, (Acts 8:4) breaking down the hay for the sheep, and expounding such, but that the veracity of such is subject to Scriptural corroboration.

And while the formal sufficiency aspect of SS pertains to a completed, established canon, Scripture also establishes the principle of progressive revelation; in accordance with which further revelation was established as being from God due to it conformity with the Scriptures then established and the manner of supernatural attestation its reveals was given to new teaching , directly or indirectly, and was how Scriptural writings first became established.
Ask Moses, Jesus or the apostles

In contrast, teaching "traditions" such as the IM and Perpetual virginity and Assumption of Mary, etc. cannot be established by Scripture or its method, but are akin to those of the Pharisee, whom the Lord reproved by Scripture, though they sat in Moses' seat. (Mk. 7:1-13)

And Rome joins others who sanctify extra Biblical legends as if the IM was a writer of Holy Writ.

PeaceByJesus said...

Now, how would Christopher know judgment about wrong teachings? Apparently from judging these non-"Apostolic Traditions" by... yup, you guessed it! What The Church® Says.

And as you basically pointed out, while RCs impugn SS on the basis that truth is determined by what the individual believes the infallible Scriptures teach, those who allow Rome to do the thinking for them do so as a result of their interpretations by which they judge the IM worthy of their faith, as well as their interpretations of what the IM and is non-infallible subsidiaries (from whence comes most of RC practices) means.

On a related aspect, how truths are established as infallible is different in EO as opposed to Rome, and i would like to ask Rhology and James and kin to comment on this overall:

Rhology said...

I think it's funny, Sola Ecclesia-ists showing they have little unity after all.

PeaceByJesus said...

I think it's funny, Sola Ecclesia-ists showing they have little unity after all.

They do have substantial unity, and we concur with them on certain basic core truths, but they critically differ, and what it shows is that Tradition-based doctrine also has the problem with differing interpretations.

We (we who hold to SS and its basic historical Scriptural approach to exegesis) are further away from them not because of our disunity, but because of our unity in subjecting all truth claims to examination by the only transcendent material authority on earth which has been established as wholly breathed of God, with traditions of men often suffering from noticeable halitosis in comparison.

Our basic unity is manifest in a common contention against cults which deny core truths and teach inventions that are the result of holding another authority as superior to Scripture, and thus we contend against Rome's as well. And if were divided as they make us to be, then we would not be a threat to her.

The most critical unity is in who God/Christ is,with His absolute holiness and perfect justice, and sacrificial grace and that salvation is by that grace (not morally earned by grace, which is what Rome at least promotes), and the preaching of the evangelical gospel effects a spiritual unity that transcends denoms, and is greater than our divisions.

The institutional gospel does not effect this Christ and Scripture-based personal relationship and is basic bond, but one that is largely centered on identity with a particular visible church, and is much sight based (and like insurance companies, there is some psychology behind the costumes, titles and buildings, and icons).

But i would be interested in your comments on the EO basis for determining how truth is established, in contrast to Rome.

I think they both would have sided with the Jews against John the Baptist (who ordained him to baptize?) and against Christ (He claims authority from Scripture and miracles, but He did not come through us, and reproves us and our traditions, but we sit in Moses seat...)

Christopher Lake said...

Rhology: I don't have time to go to every place on the net where you re-post this from Triablogue, so I'll just ask the same question of you here that I asked of you there.

If, as you contend, these early Fathers, such as St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, and others, held to the *Protestant* understandings of "Sola Fide" and "Sola Scriptura"..... then why has the "Romanist" church, which you so detest, canonized these men, and in so doing, actually held them up as heroes of the faith, to be emulated by *all Catholics*?

If any of you want to learn what these men, and the early Church to which they belonged, really believed and practiced, on justification, faith, and works (through their *Biblical exegesis*), and on other subjects, go to



Viisaus said...

"If, as you contend, these early Fathers, such as St. Augustine, St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, and others, held to the *Protestant* understandings of "Sola Fide" and "Sola Scriptura"..... then why has the "Romanist" church, which you so detest, canonized these men, and in so doing, actually held them up as heroes of the faith, to be emulated by *all Catholics*?"

Well, to hijack their legacy for one thing. See Matthew 23:29-32 for the basic Pharisaical modus operandi.

Viisaus said...

For example, a person like Chrysostom is simply a "too big name" to be posthumously denounced for teaching the perspicuity and sufficiency of Holy Scriptures. It would be bad PR to do so.

So the better Roman policy is to bury his teachings on the Bible use quietly to an Orwellian memory hole instead of drawing attention to such embarrassments.

PeaceByJesus said...

If any of you want to learn what these men..really believed and practiced...go to

and yet "95% of all the writings of the Church Fathers on the internet are derived from the Oxford/Edinburgh "Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers" 38 volume series. This effort was completed in the late 19th century by the Anglican divines [no less]. This entire 38 volume set is in the public domain. Nevertheless, this effort only provides a small selection of writings of the Church Fathers." (

why has the "Romanist" church, which you so detest, canonized these men, and in so doing, actually held them up as heroes of the faith, to be emulated by *all Catholics*?

Why did the Pharisees build monuments to O.T. martyrs even though they were like them?

Why does Rome affirm the books we hold as being Scripture even though it offers no support for practices such as praying to the departed, or requires (almost) an entire class of clergy to have the gift of celibacy?

Why does Rome forbids interpreting the "fathers" contrary to the unanimous consent of the fathers" when it does so itself, including the use of images?

The answer is twofold?

Most were ignorant of the "fathers," while what is declared is that what Rome says the Scriptures and the fathers say is the only thing that matters. As said by one of your chiefs:

" It was the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity. But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine.

I may say in strict truth that the Church has no antiquity. It rests upon its own supernatural and perpetual consciousness. Its past is present with it, for both are one to a mind which is immutable. Primitive and modern are predicates, not of truth, but of ourselves."


“He [the Catholic] is as sure of a truth when declared by the Catholic Church as he would be if he saw Jesus Christ standing before him and heard Him declaring it with His Own Divine lips.”— Henry G. Graham, "What Faith Really Means", (Nihil Obstat:C. SCHUT, S. T.D., Censor Deputatus, Imprimatur: EDM. CANONICUS SURMONT, D.D.,Vicarius Generalis. WESTMONASTERII, Die 30 Septembris, 1914 )

Cardinal Congar admits that "it does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching," but this is not a problem for an autocratic entity, for “It is the Church, not the Fathers, the consensus of the Church in submission to its Saviour which is the sufficient rule of our Christianity.” - Yves M.-J. Congar, Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and a Theological Essay (London: Burns & Oats, 1966), p. 398-99.

Through the art of the Development

Rome can reconcile all to herself.

PeaceByJesus said...

Correction: "Why did the Pharisees build monuments to O.T. martyrs even though they were like them" who killed them.

Also, the ignorance of the fathers was in a general sense, while there is some disagreements as to who all the fathers (and "mothers")

PeaceByJesus said...

Also, the "appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy" quote is from Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost: Or Reason and Revelation (New York: J.P. Kenedy & Sons, originally written 1865, reprinted with no date), pp. 227-228.

Sorry for forgetting i had not read this through.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

The Orthodox faith of the Fathers is indeed obvious from the pages of Scripture.

(Which is not to say that for the last two thousand years various heresies have not put forth some more-or-less-plausible alternative readings of Holy Writ, in rivalry with those set forth by the Holy Fathers: but this doesn't make the patristic interpretation forced or obscure or unlikely).

Christopher Lake said...

For anyone else here, still reading these comments at this point (perhaps?): I have answered Rhology's questions to me, in this post (the "how do you know's" together in a list), over at the post of the same name on Triablogue.

Contrary to his contentions, I was really answering those questions all along, in the 50-plus comment thread, but if you go, specifically, to my last five or six comments, I answer them very directly:

Perhaps the reason that Rhology won't accept my answers *as* answers can be found in his response to "orthodox" in the combox for a post at Rhology's own blog:

"Yes, I confess that right now early church beliefs and their implications are kind of confusing.
But I do know what the answers CAN'T be: there is an infallible interpreter from whom we derive the Canon."


If anyone is interested, *all* of the writings of the early Church Fathers are here, in full, for free (and they are also for sale, in numerous places, in book form):

The writings of the early Fathers, read at length and in context (and not as simply quoted, in snippets, by Protestant apologists/polemicists), amply show that they did not support "Sola Fide" or "Sola Scriptura" in the Reformed Protestant understandings of those terms.

One last thought on this post-- in all respect and charity, if Catholic, Orthodox, conservative Protestant, and secular scholars all refer to them as the early "Church Fathers," then Rhology's objection to, and challenge of, the term here simply does not carry much weight.