Friday, August 28, 2009

Cyril of Jerusalem (2)

The Material Sufficiency of Scripture

What else is there that knoweth the deep things of God, save only the Holy Ghost, who spoke the Divine Scriptures? But not even the Holy Ghost Himself has spoken the Scriptures concerning the generation of the Son from the Father. Why then dost thou busy thyself about things which are not written? There are many questions in the Divine Scriptures; what is written we comprehend not, why do we busy ourselves about what is not written? It it sufficient for us to know that God hath begotten One Only Son.

NPNF2, Vol. VII, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture XI.12

26 comments:

MG said...

Catz--

Do you think there are views other than Sola Scriptura that would agree that Scripture is materially sufficient?

Catz206 said...

What do you have in mind MG?

MG said...

I’m thinking of the fact that Prima Scriptura can affirm the material sufficiency of the Scriptures as the only infallible rule of faith and practice that provides the content of Christian doctrine. Yet at the same time, Prima Scriptura denies the doctrine of private judgment, and so denies Sola Scriptura. The fact that Cyril affirms the material sufficiency of Scripture (if your quote proves such) would not imply that he believes Sola Scriptura, because he denies private judgment. At most, Saint Cyril would believe in Prima Scriptura, then.

Catz206 said...

^_- Yes, I have heard it said that Prima Scriptura affirms the material sufficiency of Scriptures…ect. In Eastern Orthodoxy, written tradition is primary but not exclusive. Question: Can you tell me where icons are upheld in Scripture to the same degree as the 7th council does? Even going so far as declaring anathema those who do not venerate icons? Where in Scripture is the veneration of icons (in the Eastern Orthodox sense) required?

“Yet at the same time, Prima Scriptura denies the doctrine of private judgment, and so denies Sola Scriptura.”

Perhaps I am misunderstanding you- private judgment is not at the center of Sola Scriptura…though maybe at the center of an American Evangelical tendency. Neither Luther nor Calvin advocated having one’s private judgment undermine the Church. What “doctrine of private judgment” are you referring to?

“The fact that Cyril affirms the material sufficiency of Scripture (if your quote proves such) would not imply that he believes Sola Scriptura, because he denies private judgment. At most, Saint Cyril would believe in Prima Scriptura, then.”

One’s private judgment is not what Sola Scriptura goes out of its way to defend…the magisterial reformers had a great deal of concern and belief that they were upholding the beliefs of the Church. They did not espouse a radical individualism.

Anyway, when it comes to Cyril he affirms more than the ultimate authority and material sufficiency of Scripture. Lecture IX.13, p192.

MG said...

Catz—

Private judgment denies that a believer's conscience can be bound by the inherent authority of the interpretive/doctrinal decisions of other Christians. Did Calvin and Luther think that the Church could bind their consciences to believe and do certain things, in virtue of its intrinsic authority? Do you think that the Church can bind your conscience to believe and do certain things, in virtue of its intrinsic authority?

Saying its not something SS goes out of its way to defend is ambiguous. Are you saying it is not part of the definition of SS that believers have the right of private judgment, so it doesn't need to be defended? Or are you saying private judgment is not something that some proponents of SS like to focus on? Even if private judgment is not "at the center" it sure seems that it is *at least one component of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura* that the Reformers believed and that served as the basis for the Reformation and all subsequent Protestantism. If so, then it still needs to be defended as a component. I wasn’t making claims about the centrality of a concept, just about whether or not it is necessary.

Also, I should mention that every Reformed and Lutheran person that I've brought this up with seems to want to defend private judgment (as I explained it above). This seems to imply they think it was part of the definition of SS as the Reformers considered it.

Do you think Cyril thought that we have the right of private judgment? Did he think all interpretations of Scripture were human in their authority, and therefore revisable? Seems to me like he thought the Creed was unrevisable. (I brought this up in our discussion about Cyril and the ultimate authority of Scripture) He also seemed to think that the divine doctrine of the biblical canon was taught authoritatively by the Church, and that this is where we learned it from. So the Church seems to teach with divine authority on Cyril’s view. That’s incompatible with SS.

MG said...

The magisterial Reformers seemed to uphold Catholic teaching when it fit with their already-decided ideas of how to interpret Scripture. When Catholic teaching disagreed with their private interpretive decisions about the meaning of Scripture, they rejected Catholic teaching. This shows that they did not think it was intrinsically authoritative, but that doctrines bound their consciences when these doctrines agreed with their own interpretations (which basically means the Church doesn’t have any *real* authority). This is just another way of saying that believers are entitled to private judgment. The early proponents of Sola Scriptura may *just so happen* to agree with the consensus of the Fathers in some cases, just like a Solo Scripturaist may *just so happen* to believe in the Trinity. But that doesn’t mean that the Solo Scripturaist thinks there is something intrinsically important about *the fact that the early post-Apostolic Church taught the Trinity*. Nor does the Sola Scripturaist think there is something important—well, at least there is nothing authoritative and binding about patristic teaching. Respect for tradition out of coincidentally agreeing with tradition is not the same as obedience to tradition.

Radical individualism is not the issue I am critiquing (I don't think I've brought it up). I do think Solo and Sola Scriptura are individualistic. But the question at hand is not that, but whether or not some interpretations can be inherently normative to bind our consciences. And of course, I don't think the definition of Sola Scriptura just *is* "radical individualism". It is a specific doctrine about authority and the relationship between Scripture, the interpreter, tradition, the Church, and doctrine. Whether or not it is radically individualist seems to hinge more on whether or not the doctrine *implies* something individualistic, not whether the doctrine stated as such is that “individualism is true, and this is the definition of Sola Scriptura”. So I’m not concerned with arguing “SS is individualistic, and if SS is individualistic it must be false; therefore it is false, or not taught by the Fathers, or whatever”. My argument concerns the conceptual content of the thesis of private judgment as a necessary part of the definition of SS, not whether it implies something individualistic. If the conceptual content of the thesis of private judgment is not taught by the Fathers, then Sola Scriptura is not taught by the Fathers.

MG said...

Concerning the Cyril's quote (this is the one which I assume you were trying to reference, please correct me if I'm wrong):

"that thou also, by ranging over the Holy Scriptures, mayest lay hold of salvation for thyself, and being filled with them mayest say, How sweet are thy words unto my throat, yea sweeter than honey and the honeycomb unto my mouth"

The quote from Cyril is rather beautiful, but I do not see its relevance for Sola Scriptura. Does this quote deny that the interpretive decisions of hierarchs are normative? Does it teach private judgment? It seems we could give an individualist interpretation of this quote, where "lay hold of salvation for thyself" means read Scripture and teach yourself from it private, without appealing to the authority of the Creed or depending on hierarchs and sacraments. This pits "salvation for thyself" against "salvation in the Church and her sacraments", and implies there is an incompatibility (dialectic of opposition) between hierarchy and laity, between personal salvation and sacramental union. But given that Cyril believes in the authority of the Church, and has a sacramental view of salvation, it sure seems like he wouldn't mean *that*. Cyril is probably saying that part of the process of salvation can include a personal survey of the Scriptures; but does this mean you can get the saving benefit if you don’t interpret according to the Rule of Faith (and by extension, the Symbol of Faith)?

MG said...

I will have a response to you about the necessity of iconography and prima Scriptura sometime today or tomorrow, I suspect.

MG said...

Catz--

I have responded to your question about icons here:

http://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2009/09/04/church-authority-argument-4-sola-scriptura-vs-prima-scriptura-and-icons/

Catz206 said...

“Private judgment denies that a believer's conscience can be bound by the inherent authority of the interpretive/doctrinal decisions of other Christians. Did Calvin and Luther think that the Church could bind their consciences to believe and do certain things, in virtue of its intrinsic authority? Do you think that the Church can bind your conscience to believe and do certain things, in virtue of its intrinsic authority?”

The following will also address some of your later concerns:

They did not believe the Church had an infallible authority and could, and in fact did error. They also maintained the authority of the Church under Scripture. This can be seen in their appeals to the authority of councils and fathers and his critique of the Catholic church. In “On the Councils and the Church” (according to Mathison and the snippets I have read of Luther- some works more than others) Luther calls for a reform based off of the councils and fathers. He actually believed that what the Catholic Church was teaching went contrary to the fathers who held that the authority of the councils was subjected to Scripture.

The individual was not encouraged to go off all by himself. This is evident for example in Luther’s Larger Catechism. Here the Holy Spirit works in the corporate body.

Your paragraph seems to come down to whether or not they affirmed another infallible authority. The answer is no. A question of whether or not the Church has a secondary and authoritative say on matters of faith and practice would be answered in the affirmative.

“Even if private judgment is not "at the center" it sure seems that it is *at least one component of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura* that the Reformers believed and that served as the basis for the Reformation and all subsequent Protestantism.”

Luther thought the Catholic church of his time was not living in continuity with the early church fathers and ecumenical councils.

“Also, I should mention that every Reformed and Lutheran person that I've brought this up with seems to want to defend private judgment (as I explained it above). This seems to imply they think it was part of the definition of SS as the Reformers considered it.”

You might want to ask them what they mean by private judgment. Currently, I am attending a staunch Reformed university (Westminster Philadelphia), going to a church of like mind, reading books on Sola Scriptura by Reformed folk and hearing from my other Reformed friends (one being Nate Taylor from Westminster CA) who all seem to think their denomination teaches that Scripture is the only final and infallible authority but also are very much against individualism and not living in continuity with the early Christian Church- one going so far as to insist nothing but Psalms from the Old Testament be used in Church worship on the basis of Scripture and what the councils have said on the matter (whether they are right is another issue).

Catz206 said...

“Do you think Cyril thought that we have the right of private judgment? Did he think all interpretations of Scripture were human in their authority, and therefore revisable? Seems to me like he thought the Creed was unrevisable. (I brought this up in our discussion about Cyril and the ultimate authority of Scripture) He also seemed to think that the divine doctrine of the biblical canon was taught authoritatively by the Church, and that this is where we learned it from. So the Church seems to teach with divine authority on Cyril’s view. That’s incompatible with SS.
September 3, 2009 2:25 AM”

Oh, sorry I missed your last comments in the other post. I’ve been a little busy. I will respond to what you had to say there as well. But for now I have promised my time to another person and will have to get around to everything else you have said later (hopefully tomorrow). Don't give me anything else yet- I'll get back to you soon!

Catz206 said...

MG-
Sorry about the delay again. Here ya go:

“Do you think Cyril thought that we have the right of private judgment? Did he think all interpretations of Scripture were human in their authority, and therefore revisable? Seems to me like he thought the Creed was unrevisable. (I brought this up in our discussion about Cyril and the ultimate authority of Scripture)…”

I have now responded to you over there.

“The magisterial Reformers seemed to uphold Catholic teaching when it fit with their already-decided ideas of how to interpret Scripture. When Catholic teaching disagreed with their private interpretive decisions about the meaning of Scripture, they rejected Catholic teaching. This shows that they did not think it was intrinsically authoritative, but that doctrines bound their consciences when these doctrines agreed with their own interpretations (which basically means the Church doesn’t have any *real* authority).”

Please forgive me if I am wrong but I think you grossly misunderstand their outlook. The above seems to be more of an expression of dislike for the Reformers without solid examples so I will just be giving some thoughts on the last part of your paragraph.

They believed the Church’s authority to be tied in with what the Church has always believed at all times. Mathison says that since they held to the perspicuity of Scripture when it came to essential matters it followed that they held to the authority of the ecumenical councils- “the written form of the confession of the faith of the universal Church. They are a confession of what the Church as a whole has read in the Scriptures.”

It may be that one can find themselves in disagreement with some of the things the Reformers held but their key grievances are valid- I think the Eastern Church might agree with much of that.

“Nor does the Sola Scripturaist think there is something important—well, at least there is nothing authoritative and binding about patristic teaching. Respect for tradition out of coincidentally agreeing with tradition is not the same as obedience to tradition.”

Come on MG. I am sure we both know that key to the Reformers grievances was a belief that the Catholic church was functioning in a way that was out of line with the patristic teaching. At least this is what they are saying. If you can give me something from their writings to indicate otherwise I would be appreciative.

“Radical individualism is not the issue I am critiquing (I don't think I've brought it up). I do think Solo and Sola Scriptura are individualistic. But the question at hand is not that, but whether or not some interpretations can be inherently normative to bind our consciences…”

Really? I guess I misunderstood what you were getting at when you were referring to “private judgment.” From what I understand, many Reformed uphold the idea of private judgment in the sense of having the freedom to follow God’s Word and not the inventions of men. This idea is accepted with a commitment to upholding what Christians have believed at all times and places (Apostles Creed as one example)- making it a corporate and not merely individual matter.

If you want to just talk about whether interpretations are inherently normative to bind consciences go for it. I have yet to see anything unambiguous out of the early church fathers or anything convincing by ways of reason…even less so from Scripture.

Catz206 said...

"that thou also, by ranging over the Holy Scriptures, mayest lay hold of salvation for thyself, and being filled with them mayest say, How sweet are thy words unto my throat, yea sweeter than honey and the honeycomb unto my mouth"

“The quote from Cyril is rather beautiful, but I do not see its relevance for Sola Scriptura. Does this quote deny that the interpretive decisions of hierarchs are normative? Does it teach private judgment?”

Yes, it is indeed beautiful but not in isolation to its rhetoric. It is indication of the clear things in Scripture (salvation) being available to the individual believer…but I assume that you also teach a form of “private judgment” (if you mean by it what I think u mean by it). After all, when the Church supposedly communicates something infallibly there is the assumption that individuals can understand what is being said and decide whether or not to heed it.

Also, I think you misunderstand what SS needs to show in order to be valid in respects to the church fathers. You keep asking (here and other places) for a denial of the interpretive decisions of hierarchs as normative…I will be (little by little) giving positive indication of an SS concept (all its parts) within the early Church. I actually hold that there is nothing to clearly indicate the belief in an infallible interpretive authority of Scripture or in addition to Scripture. I need YOU to give me indication that the early Church held to this kind of thing.

“Cyril is probably saying that part of the process of salvation can include a personal survey of the Scriptures; but does this mean you can get the saving benefit if you don’t interpret according to the Rule of Faith (and by extension, the Symbol of Faith)?”

Rather, the expectation is that if an individual studies the Scriptures he will gain what he needs for salvation because the Scriptures have what is needed…this same thing will also be reflected in the Rule of Faith. For those who are illiterate and unable to study the Scriptures a summary creed was provided in line with what everyone else agreed the Scriptures said was needed for salvation.

Your question “does this mean you can get the saving benefit if you don’t interpret according to the Rule of Faith?” is rather an odd question to ask someone believing in Sola Scriptura. You are creating a division where there is none. Again, SS believes the Scriptures are clear about what the individual needs for salvation and because the Scriptures are clear, the whole Church will be in agreement on these important things (The Rule of Faith). If an individual or church’s interpretation is not in line with the Rule of Faith then it can be judged heretical and has been.

“I have responded to your question about icons here:

http://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2009/09/04/church-authority-argument-4-sola-scriptura-vs-prima-scriptura-and-icons/”

Cool! I’ll try and check it out when I have yet more time! Hopefully soon.

MG said...

Catz—

I don’t think that private judgment means “individualism”. Private judgment means the denial that your conscience can be bound to believe and do certain things based on the inherently authoritative interpretive decisions of other Christians. So the fact that Calvin and Luther and others did not recommend “going off on your own” does not mean they denied private judgment. Saying “God works in the Church, and we shouldn’t pretend we are isolated individuals” and “My conscience is bound by the inherent authority of the Church’s decisions” are two different things.

When you say that Calvin and Luther thought that the Church had authority under Scripture, what is this authority? Does it include the inherent ability to bind consciences to believe and do certain things? If it does not include this ability, then in what sense is the Church authoritative?

When asking Reformed and Lutheran Christians about private judgment, I explain to them what the concept means. As I have defined it, they seem to accept that Christians have this right. The fact that they resist individualistic tendencies is not the issue, because “individualistic tendencies” is not the definition of private judgment.

Regardless of whether or not Luther thought the Catholic Church needed to return to the early Fathers or not, it seems like he would have attempted to reform based on his own doctrinal opinions which disagreed with Catholicism. The fact that the Fathers taught x that Luther agreed with did not bind Luther’s conscience to accept that x was true.

It seems like nothing you have said disagrees with the statement that private judgment is true (as defined above). Would you agree that private judgment is true (in the sense that it is explained)?

MG said...

Don’t worry about the delay. Especially with friends, I see no need for pressuring others to respond in discussion at light speed.

I don’t see how anything I said indicates dislike for the Reformers. I just made statements about what I take to be the Reformers’ decision to disagree with the consensus of the Church.

By authority, I mean a inherently normative power to bind human consciences to believe and do certain things. This seems to be what we commonsensically mean by “authority”. If the Church can’t bind our consciences to believe and do certain things, then it is hard to see in what sense it is an authority. I gave an explanation of the distinction between accuracy and authority on my blog here:

http://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/accuracy-authority-and-the-visibility-of-the-church/

It does not seem to follow from the perspicuity of the Scriptures that the ecumenical councils have authority. If the Reformers thought they could make this inference, then that seems incorrect. Nothing about the fact that “Scripture is clear that x” implies that “the majority of the Church has believed x; therefore, our consciences are bound to believe x”. If a fallible Church has correctly exegeted the obvious parts of Scripture, and we find that our interpretive decisions agree with those of the fallible Church, then that might be a reason to agree with the Church’s councils. But that is not a reason to think the Church’s councils have any kind of inherent authority. Why should we accept the Church’s inferences from Scripture about what the New Testament teaches, if there is nothing inherently normative about the Church’s inferences?

Did the Reformers think the Seventh Ecumenical Council was authoritative? If not, did they make use of private judgment when they disagreed with it?

MG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MG said...

You wrote:

“Come on MG. I am sure we both know that key to the Reformers grievances was a belief that the Catholic church was functioning in a way that was out of line with the patristic teaching. At least this is what they are saying. If you can give me something from their writings to indicate otherwise I would be appreciative.”

Again, the issue is not whether they were grieving that Rome was out of line with patristic teaching. The issue is whether or not they thought there was an intrinsic, binding normativity to the Church’s interpretive decisions. Did they want to return to the Fathers because they considered them inherently authoritative, or because the Fathers agreed (sometimes) with the Reformers’ private judgment?

You wrote:

“Really? I guess I misunderstood what you were getting at when you were referring to “private judgment.” From what I understand, many Reformed uphold the idea of private judgment in the sense of having the freedom to follow God’s Word and not the inventions of men. This idea is accepted with a commitment to upholding what Christians have believed at all times and places (Apostles Creed as one example)- making it a corporate and not merely individual matter.”

The definition for private judgment that I gave was “Private judgment denies that a believer's conscience can be bound by the inherent authority of the interpretive/doctrinal decisions of other Christians.” I tried to make it clear that I was not defining private judgment as “individualism about doctrine” or “only caring about what I think and want to believe” or “thinking that no one else is a good conversation partner for trying to understand doctrine”.

MG said...

Does the freedom to follow God’s Word and not the inventions of men include the ability to disagree with the teachings of the Church as a whole when these teachings disagree with one’s private judgment? If there is commitment to upholding what Christians have believed at all times and places, is this because what Christians have believed at all times and places is intrinsically authoritative? Or is it just because it agrees with one’s own private judgment? It seems to me like SS would say that the teachings of the Church as a whole are teachings of men; they may accurately represent biblical doctrine, but this does not mean they are the teachings of God.

You wrote:

“If you want to just talk about whether interpretations are inherently normative to bind consciences go for it. I have yet to see anything unambiguous out of the early church fathers or anything convincing by ways of reason…even less so from Scripture.”

I’m just trying to show that your quotes do not exclusively support SS. I think that when we supplement the quotes that you give with quotes that affirm the binding authority of hierarchs’ judgments, and the infallibility of the Creed, the infallibility of the Ecumenical Councils, etc. we get the conclusion that the Fathers taught Prima Scriptura, not Sola Scriptura. I will continue to argue for this slowly but surely.

In terms of positive arguments from Scripture, I have given some arguments in my post, linked above “Church Authority, Argument 3”.

MG said...

You wrote:

“Yes, it is indeed beautiful but not in isolation to its rhetoric. It is indication of the clear things in Scripture (salvation) being available to the individual believer…but I assume that you also teach a form of “private judgment” (if you mean by it what I think u mean by it). After all, when the Church supposedly communicates something infallibly there is the assumption that individuals can understand what is being said and decide whether or not to heed it.”

No, I do not believe in private judgment. The definition offered was: “Private judgment denies that a believer's conscience can be bound by the inherent authority of the interpretive/doctrinal decisions of other Christians.” What I believe is necessary for everyone to do is to accurately discern where actual, true authority is, and when it is being exercised. But accuracy and authority are distinct. The obligation to discern authority means that you try to locate where an authority is to which you submit your judgment—not that you judge the authority worthy or unworthy based on the degree to which they agree with your own interpretation. You must be accurate in order to do this discerning; one ought to seek for the actual teachings of the Church, instead of things that are just apparently taught by the Church. But this does not entail that one’s conscience cannot be bound by the decisions of other Christians. It entails rather that one’s conscience is bound by real authority, and that we can recognize it as bound when we find actual authority (though in some cases we are culpable for not finding proper authority). Once you locate a proper authority, you acknowledge his or her authority (the intrinsic normativity of his/her judgments) and then submit.

This is different from saying that we should “agree with a church when its teachings fit with our own exegesis of Scripture” which seems to be the view of Protestantism. For on the first explanation (where the Church has inherent authority) we submit to the Church’s teachings because we believe that *the Church* has said those teachings. We are trying to discern what the decisions of the Church are; and so whatever they are, those decisions are normative for us. On the second view (where the church does not have inherent authority) we submit to the church’s teachings based on their conformity to our own exegesis of Scripture, using the proper exegetical method. We are trying to discern whether a church’s teachings agree with ours, and then if they do, we consider their teachings to be true and conscience-binding. But there is nothing about *the fact that the Church has said x* that implies we should believe “x is true”. If we have good exegetical arguments for x, then this might imply we should accept that x, and only agree with Churches that teach x. But that’s definitely not the same as saying the Church has any kind of real authority. This certainly doesn’t mean the Church has the normative power to bind human consciences to believe and do certain things.

So notice that “individuals understanding what is being said and deciding whether or not to heed it” is not the same as private judgment (as defined throughout my comments).

MG said...

You wrote:

“Also, I think you misunderstand what SS needs to show in order to be valid in respects to the church fathers. You keep asking (here and other places) for a denial of the interpretive decisions of hierarchs as normative…I will be (little by little) giving positive indication of an SS concept (all its parts) within the early Church. I actually hold that there is nothing to clearly indicate the belief in an infallible interpretive authority of Scripture or in addition to Scripture. I need YOU to give me indication that the early Church held to this kind of thing.”

Private judgment is a necessary part of the doctrine of SS, and in order to claim that the Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura, it must be shown that they taught Private judgment. If the Fathers are silent on the issue of whether or not there is something inherently normative about some interpretations of Scripture, then this does not mean they teach private judgment. At most, it would show they don’t take a position one direction or the other. So it seems like both sides need to make a case for the Fathers teaching either private judgment or not.

MG said...

You wrote:

“Rather, the expectation is that if an individual studies the Scriptures he will gain what he needs for salvation because the Scriptures have what is needed…this same thing will also be reflected in the Rule of Faith. For those who are illiterate and unable to study the Scriptures a summary creed was provided in line with what everyone else agreed the Scriptures said was needed for salvation.”

Okay, perhaps, but how does any of that show that Cyril denied the normativity of some interpretations of Scripture?

You wrote:

“Your question “does this mean you can get the saving benefit if you don’t interpret according to the Rule of Faith?” is rather an odd question to ask someone believing in Sola Scriptura. You are creating a division where there is none. Again, SS believes the Scriptures are clear about what the individual needs for salvation and because the Scriptures are clear, the whole Church will be in agreement on these important things (The Rule of Faith). If an individual or church’s interpretation is not in line with the Rule of Faith then it can be judged heretical and has been.”

The specific doctrinal formulation of the Rule of Faith is not contained in Scripture, which does not state the words that Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others used. Surely the words are distinct, even if the concepts are the same.

MG said...

The fact that the specific words are not in the Scriptures means there are two distinct things that may or may not be authoritative: Scriptural teaching that is conceptually identical to the Rule of Faith, and the doctrinal formulation of the Rule of Faith itself. Even if you agree with the concepts taught in the Rule of Faith, and think they are authoritatively taught in the Bible, this doesn’t entail that you think the *specific formulation* of these concepts in the Rule of Faith is inherently authoritative. So there is a distinction between the Rule of Faith and Scripture, even though there is no opposition.

What needs to be asked then is if Cyril thought you could reject the Rule of Faith as intrinsically authoritative, and say that it is “true, but able to be revised”. If he thought of the Rule of Faith in this way, then surely he could have believed in Sola Scriptura. But if he thought the Rule of Faith was inherently authoritative so as to be unrevisable, and that accepting it as such was necessary to fully benefit from the saving power of the Scriptures, then that would mean Sola Scriptura is false.

Could the Church refuse to agree with the important, clear things of Scripture? If it can refuse to do so, then does it really follow from the clarity of Scripture that the Church will be in agreement on those things? Or does it merely follow that it is possible, or perhaps likely, that the Church will agree on those clear things?

David Nilsen said...

If I may throw in my quick 2 cents:

MG, do you think it at least possible that you might be asking some anachronistic questions here? After all, I have a strongly confessional prof at seminary who agrees with every word of the Three Forms of Unity and would have some very strong language (for CRC or FV folk) about not revising them or "abandoning the historic Reformed faith", etc. In fact, if I were to find his writings in a few hundred years, I might think that he believed in something like Prima Scriptura and not SS. But I would be wrong. This is because, when my prof uses such heavy-handed confessional language, he isn't addressing someone who rejects SS, he's addressing someone who embraces the sort of radical individualism that Catz has been talking about.

It seems to me that this is the same sort of the audience (Gnostic types, for example) that the early Fathers would have been addressing (or guarding against) in their writings. Just like a staunchly Reformed person who argues against a Pentecostal, there is no need to go into explicit detail that bishops are not equal in authority to Apostles, or that creeds are not the same as Scripture, because their opponents already agree with those propositions, they simply take them to extremes. Thus far it seems to me that a historic, confessional Protestant can agree with everything that the Fathers said regarding authority and tradition, especially given their context. That seems to be Catz's position as well.

To give an example, arguing that the creed ought not to be changed because it is in accord with Scripture does not at all entail that the creed itself is as authoritative as Scripture. I don't believe that the Nicene Creed should be revised. Now, you brought up the difference between wording and concepts. Yes, if you were to push me I would say that the wording of the Nicene Creed might be able to be changed without damaging the concepts therein, but remember that the Fathers aren't arguing with people who simply want to change some phrasing (and just think about the huge differences between two little words, homoousia and homoiousia!).

The main point is this: your argument seems to be that the language of the Fathers SOUNDS like it COULD be a denial of SS for PS, but such an argument seems anachronistic to me, and I see no positive reason to believe that there is an actual REJECTION of SS (implicit or otherwise) in the Fathers.

Catz206 said...

MG-
have a response to you (and I will look at your blog post eventually too)nearly ready but in need of some additional editing.

All hell is breaking loose over here in Philadelphia and my attention is needed elsewhere. I'm afraid posting will be irregular for a while. Thank you for your patience!

MG said...

David--

Yes, it is possible that I am being anachronistic. Surely the prima-sola scriptura debate is post-patristic in a sense. But I do not think it is likely that I'm being anachronistic, for a few reasons. First, given the collectivist, hierarchical, traditionalist way that ancient cultures (especially Judaism) thought and lived, it seems antecedently improbable that the Bible or the Fathers would deny that the interpretive decisions of a hierarch are normative in some sense.

Second, I think that much of your argument turns on whether the Fathers have a precise theology, both in terms of concepts and vocabulary. I happen to think they do. They were incredibly sophisticated and clever. The fact that they were ancient, and pre-Reformation does not mean that their thoughts about doctrine (including authority) lacked a considerable amount of precision. Just read what St. Vincent of Lerins has to say about Catholicity, and this is obvious. Imprecise expression by present day Reformed theologians may alert us to the possibility that other people use imprecise expression. But this is unlikely to hold with the Fathers, who were often nit-picky about specific *words* (think Nestorian controversy). They frequently were doing exactly what you deny they did, namely "arguing with people who simply want to change some phrasing". This makes it difficult to accept the idea that these were just battles over the concepts.

Third, you seem to be admitting that a prima facie reading of Cyril of Jerusalem would yield the conclusion that the Creed is unrevisable, just like a prima facie reading of your professor's text would probably yield the conclusion of prima scriptura. The burden of proof is then on you to show that Cyril is like your professor in how he speaks of things. Does he frequently use "loose language" when making catechetical exhortations? Does he frequently overstate himself? Do we have prior reasons for believing that he articulates things in a way that requires rejecting the prima facie reading of his words? With your professor, we have an entire history of reformed thought to situate him in, which clear as day denies that the Church has divine authority. There would need to be some pretty strong arguments that the Church taught that it lacked divine authority before Cyril came around (note: you wouldn't just need to challenge arguments in favor of the infallibility of the Church, because this would leave open the possibility that the Church was thought to be infallible; and then this would not serve as a reason for reading Cyril any other way than according to the prima facie sense of the text).

MG said...

Fourth, there are probably a number of disanalogies between what your professor says and what Cyril says. I don't have your professor's wording, but I doubt he would say that "if an angel from heaven declares to you something different from the Three Forms of Unity, let that angel be anathema." He might say, if you were asked to change the wording in clear instructions by an angel, "you are abandoning the Reformed faith" but he would not say "you are abandoning the teachings of God!" Cyril's statement gives us strong reason for thinking that, whereas your prof thinks the Three Forms of Unity are doctrines of men, Cyril thought that the Creed was the doctrine of God.

Fifth, the Fathers are not just answering Gnostic types that are individualistic. The majority of the time during and after the third century the Fathers were disciplining the Church against widespread Christological and Trinitarian heresies. There were hierarchical leaders of these heresies that were frequently part of the institutional Church, governing their own dioceses or Patriarchate. This shows that they were not straightforwardly individualistic. They may have been prideful in some cases, but that is not the same as being fundamentally individualistic. It is within this context of an understood hierarchy and an understood collectivism that Cyril's statements, and the statements of other Fathers of the third century and later, need to be interpreted. This complicates things for your suggestion, because it means they did not generally have an extreme of individualism and anti-hierarchy to balance out. The idea that their language could have been vague and imprecise to balance out an opposite extreme is thus not a particularly good assessment of the ecclesial situation. It is more likely that they were dealing with an understood, clear vocabulary of Church discipline and authority. This makes Cyril's statements about the unrevisability of the Creed all the more important.

Also, I'm not sure if you meant to imply this, but we would not say without qualification that bishops are equal to Apostles in authority. And the Creeds are not Scripture on our view either, though they have the same formal character.