Holy Scripture Volume
The Ground and Pillar of Whose Faith?
(or what William Webster and David King don't tell you)
James White mentions this
article on the air, calls it "knee-jerk" and "surface-level"
listen to 1/5/2002 Dividing Line and click here for the Monty Python FAQ
an unfinished work in progress, if anyone would like to contribute please email me.
[comments in brackets are notes for further response, research, etc]
To jump below to the evidence from the Church Fathers contrary to Webster/King Click Here
This is a response to the three massive volumes by anti-Catholic Evangelical Protestant apologists William Webster and David King titled Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (2001), self-published by Webster's Christian Resources. A few representative comments from each of the volumes gives their thesis statement on the Fathers --
" The patristic evidence for sola Scriptura is, we believe, an overwhelming indictment against the claims of the Roman communion. " (volume 1 by David King, page 266)
" Such statements [regarding the unhistorical nature of sola Scriptura] manifest an ignorance of the patristic and medieval perspective on the authority of Scripture. Scripture alone as the infallible rule for the ongoing life and faith of the Church was the universal belief and practice of the Church of the patristic and medieval ages. " (volume 2 by William Webster, page 84-85)
" When they [the Church Fathers] are allowed to speak for themselves it becomes clear that they universally taught sola Scriptura in the fullest sense of the term embracing both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. " (volume 3 by Webster/King, page 9)
What Webster/King attempt to do in these 3 volumes is demonstrate that the Church Fathers taught and indeed Scripture itself teaches the Protestant concept of Sola Scriptura, which they define variously as
"Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church" (from the forward by James White);
"Scripture alone is the only certain, infallible norm by which all theology, doctrine, creeds (beliefs), practice and morality of the Christian Church is to be regulated, in accordance with that which is 'either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture'..." (vol 1, p. 129);
"...[the Scriptures are] the only special revelation that has been preserved, and as such, are sufficient to communicate clearly all truths necessary for man's salvation and conduct of life..." (ibid);
"...the inscripturated Word of God is the final bar of judgment before which all theological and ecclesiastical controversies are to be adjudicated..." (ibid), etc.
[a section here to describe Webster/King meaning on distinction between material and formal sufficiency, and what they claim they need to prove for formal sufficiency]
These volumes are mainly a direct response to the excellent and "small" work (by comparison "only" 600 pages) edited by Robert Sungenis titled Not By Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Queenship, 1997). Aside from a few decent points made and some interesting patristic citations brought forward, while massive (over 1100 pages of text) the Webster/King volumes fail miserably to refute the many biblical, historical, logical and philosophical arguments and practical problems leveled by Sungenis and his contributors against the primary Protestant principle. Here is a brief survey and review of the three volumes.
To jump below to the evidence from the Church Fathers contrary to Webster/King Click Here
Volume I: A Biblical Defense
In volume 1, David King attempts to present a "biblical defense" of Sola Scriptura. In 300+ pages, after laying down some nice groundwork on the nature of "general revelation" and "special revelation" what does King have to offer in terms of a so-called biblical defense? 2 Timothy 3:15-17 and 2 Peter 1:19-21, the second of which does not even address the issue either of "sufficiency" or "Scripture alone." He makes the same illegitimate move that other Protestant apologists have made on 2 Timothy 3:16f that "profitable" = "sufficient" -- "All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable..." in one sentence (vol 1, p. 82), while on the next page he says therefore Scripture "is sufficient for all matters necessary to be believed and practiced by the Church...." (vol 1, p. 83). He moves from "profitable for doctrine" to "sufficient for doctrine" in a section titled "The Profitableness of Scripture." Make up your mind, is Scripture "sufficient" or "profitable" ? The Bible says the latter (ophelimos in Greek). And there is an oblique reference to 1 Corinthians 4:6 (vol 1, p. 127) -- all of which Sungenis demolished as not relevant to the topic or not proving "Scripture alone." This is so for several reasons: [elaborate on all the reasons why 2 Tim 3:15-17 does not mean "Scripture alone" or sufficiency as outlined in Sungenis]
James White (who writes the forward to the Webster/King volumes) has admitted (both in print and debate) that Sola Scriptura was not practiced by Jesus or His apostles since this was during times of enscripturation or revelation.
"...the doctrine [of sola scriptura] speaks of a rule of faith that exists. What do I mean by this? ...You will never find anyone saying, 'During times of enscripturation -- that is, when new revelation was being given -- sola scriptura was operational.' Protestants do not assert that sola scriptura is a valid concept during times of revelation. How could it be, since the rule of faith to which it points was at that very time coming into being? One must have an existing rule of faith to say it is 'sufficient.' It is a canard to point to times of revelation and say, 'See, sola scriptura doesn't work there!' Of course it doesn't. Who said it did?" (from James White's online article on the Bereans and Sola Scriptura at AOMin.org)
So why all the fuss over 2 Tim 3:15-17 once again? 2 Chronicles 29:25 and other important biblical texts addressed in the Sungenis work are completely ignored. Rather than mounting much of a "biblical defense" we get an attack on the supposed unreasonableness of Catholic "Sacred Tradition" since allegedly no one can surely "identify it."
King attempts to rebut Catholic appeals to such texts as 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6; 1 Corinthians 11:2; John 20:30; 21:25; etc. [respond to King's exegesis of 2 Thes 2:15 and tradition passages, does not refute standing command, "we have no apostles" from Greg Bahnsen quote etc, discuss King admitting the oral and written both were equally binding and authoritative, discuss whether they were identical in content, what this all means, what he has yet to prove from Scripture, etc give intro sentence to the next paragraph for King's challenge to Catholics, etc]
He puts out this challenge in various ways: "No Roman apologist has ever been able to define or produce the doctrinal content of this oral tradition" (vol 1, p. 55). However, substitute the word "Protestant" for "Roman" and "Holy Scripture" for "this oral tradition" and the exact same challenge can be put to the Evangelical/Fundamentalist apologist: No Protestant apologist has ever been able to define or produce the doctrinal content of Holy Scripture! If any Protestant apologist would like to answer this challenge, then please tell me, the infallible doctrinal content of Holy Scripture, according to Protestantism, on (1) Baptism, (2) Eucharist, (3) the sacraments or "ordinances" in general, (4) Church government, (5) church services or how to conduct Liturgy, (6) salvation, (7) predestination and free will, (8) any number of moral issues: divorce, re-marriage, contraception, abortion, etc. Since there is great disagreement among "official" Protestant statements of faith, one cannot possibly know what is the official "Protestant position" (or from Holy Scripture the infallible "doctrinal content") on any of these issues.
It is obvious the Catholic Church has repeatedly defined and produced the specific doctrinal content of Apostolic Tradition and Holy Scripture in her Ecumenical Councils (beginning at Nicaea forward), her Creeds, her Liturgy, and official statements of doctrine. Yes, Protestants deny anything is infallible but the text of Holy Scripture so they are at a loss to produce or define anything concerning the Christian faith that is infallibly binding on the individual Christian. As Phil Blosser has shown in rigorous logical detail in the Sungenis book (see Blosser in Not By Scripture Alone, especially, p. 90-108), no Protestant can explain or justify why any individual Christian must submit to any "Christian authority" (whether council, tradition, or pastor) but themselves. In Protestantism it boils down to the individual and the doctrines one believes as one interprets Scripture, regardless of any other "authority." No other so-called "authority" is infallibly binding in Protestantism other than the explicit text of Scripture, and the "doctrines" one thinks one derives from Scripture.
We'll see how the Church Fathers identified Apostolic Tradition below when I discuss their various statements on Scripture, Tradition and Catholic doctrine. They sure talked a lot about "tradition" for something that supposedly does not exist or can't be identified! [elaborate: define tradition, and tradition in the Fathers briefly, show why tradition is something very much alive in the hearts and minds of the Fathers and early Church, not something non-existent or unidentifiable]
In his chapter on the perspicuity of Scripture and formal sufficiency, King fails to address the main biblical text Catholics use for the non-perspicuity of Scripture (2 Peter 3:16, although see vol 1, p. 198 which is probably a reference to it). Of course one could argue for a Catholic to appeal to Scripture at all implies one already believes the text is perspicuous or clear. But Catholics only say that Scripture is not perspicuous enough by itself to resolve disputes on major doctrinal and moral teachings without the necessary reference to Tradition and the living Magisterium (e.g. the Church's bishops meeting in Council) as authorities on par with Scripture. And by their constant appeal to Sacred Tradition and the Church's authority (e.g. the Council of Nicaea, etc) along with Scripture to refute heretics, the Fathers clearly affirmed they did not believe in the formal sufficiency of Holy Scripture.
[respond here to his reply to Acts 8 and Philip as mere "deacon"]
[respond here to texts where "Word of God" is equated with "Bible" by King, etc]
The positive points for King: he effectively answers Sungenis' "78% corruption rate" (see Sungenis, p. 250, 255, 256) among the biblical manuscripts and I believe King is right that this figure is "absurd." However Sungenis acknowledges that these are minor "variations [that] range from simple letters which change a word or its tense, to whole sentences which are either missing or significantly different" (Sungenis, p. 250, note 58). In his answer to an objection on the transmission of "oral tradition" (1 Cor 11:2) as "someone else's report" (a la MacArthur), Sungenis elaborates in Not By Scripture Alone:
"We can also apply the same principle to the transmission of Scripture. Since the original autographs upon which Paul wrote are no longer extant, all we retain of his inspired writings are copies -- copies which contain many differences among themselves. Would we dare to conclude that those people in the centuries following Paul did not really possess his inspired written teachings? Of course not. Even though the copied manuscripts had errors, the Church still claimed to possess the inspired word of God." (Sungenis, page 250)
Sungenis goes on to compare this with the passing on of "oral tradition" such as the practice of infant Baptism. So while Sungenis "78% figure" may be absurd, his point is that while there is some corruption in transmission -- whether of biblical manuscripts or oral teaching -- the "preponderance of truth" of a doctrine or practice can still be kept and maintained by the Church. I believe in any case that Sungenis should drop this argument of textual "corruption rate" used to counter the supposed "unreliability" of Sacred Tradition since even Catholic apologists (Karl Keating is quoted) admit the textual integrity of the New Testament is extremely high (in the 97-98% range). He should simply defend or explain why the Fathers taught Sacred Tradition is a reliable or inerrant witness to the Apostolic Faith.
Another good point made by King is the ambiguity in the word "tradition" as used by various Catholic scholars and apologists. Some argue (such as modern Catholic scholars and Cardinal Newman) for "material sufficiency" (or a one-source theory) while others (the authors suggest the Council of Trent, and both modern and traditional apologists) argue for an independent (or two-source) theory of "oral apostolic tradition" or revelation outside Scripture. However, these need not be mutually exclusive as they can complement one another by the maxim Totum in Scriptura, Totum in Traditione: ALL in Sacred Scripture and ALL in Sacred Tradition which can be shown was the position of the early Church. There is no doctrine that was ever believed that did not have at least some implicit backing in Scripture, as well as strong backing in the Church's Tradition (Joe Gallegos makes this point in Not By Scripture Alone, p. 396-7, 404-5). In fact, the Council of Trent does not explicitly state "two sources" but that the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles are "the source [singular] at once of all saving truth and rules of conduct...." and that "these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which [were] received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves" as inspired by the Holy Spirit (Trent, Fourth Session, April 8, 1546). The words "partly [in Scripture]...partly [in Tradition]" (while debated) does not appear in the official statement on Scripture and Tradition from Trent.
[a section here on the "inaccuracy" of the Latin Vulgate, and mention horrid early Protestant translations]
[a section here on King's claim that the Fathers told everyone to purchase, read, study their own Bibles, whether this was even possible, what the illiteracy rates were, what form those "Bibles" were in, and why Berean Christian Stores did not yet exist, the statement from White's God Who Justifies that the Fathers did not even have complete Bibles, how ignorant they were according to White, etc]
[a section here on King's quotations from Fathers that "prove" this or that...while ignoring the Catholic doctrines they taught]
[a section here on the false comparison with Gnostic tradition vs. Roman Catholic tradition]
[a section here about the Catholic Church allegedly "forbidding" Bibles, "forbidding" translations, counter with quotes from Vatican II, explain earlier "prohibitions", discuss Albigenses vernaculars]
[a section here on how King can identify the canon, his presuppositionalism and response to Blosser's arguments, that we allegedly have "sufficient evidence" that Scripture is inspired??? compared with RCC infallibility, that the Fathers allegedly recognized the "self-authenticating" nature of Scripture, that the Church "as a whole" did not claim infallibility, find earlier Webster quote where the church "as a whole" did believe in her own infallibility, etc]
To jump below to the evidence from the Church Fathers contrary to Webster/King Click Here
Volume II: A Historical Defense
In volume 2, William Webster attempts to present a "historical defense" of Sola Scriptura and justify his previous outrageous assertions (e.g. see his chapter in the book Roman Catholicism [Moody, 1994] edited by John Armstrong where he first made this in print) that the Church Fathers and medieval doctors (such as St. Thomas Aquinas!) taught the Protestant concept of Sola Scriptura -- that is, both the "material" and "formal" sufficiency of Sacred Scripture. Webster accepts this "material/formal" distinction and takes up the challenge.
[comment on some of the Fathers, Irenaeus, Tertullian, later Fathers Athanasius, Augustine, Chrysostom, etc comment on nature of tradition in the Fathers, give examples of Webster's sweeping assertions, where he has made blatant and simple mistakes, quote the section from volume on Seven Ecumenical Councils that Webster disagrees with, that the Fathers were allegedly "private exegetes", briefly show how Catholic the Fathers were etc]
This volume is even weaker than volume 1 in my opinion, since Webster once again makes his usual sweeping statements on the Fathers while ignoring how Catholic (or "Roman Catholic") these folks are! The volumes should more accurately be subtitled: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, But Not Your Faith or posed as a question The Ground and Pillar of Whose Faith? since the Catholic Faith of the early Fathers (whether of St. Irenaeus where they get this reference to Scripture as "ground and pillar" or any other early Father) is certainly NOT the Protestant fundamentalist/evangelical "faith" of Webster and King! Webster grudgingly acknowledges this but then dismisses it (see vol 2, p. 54-56 and p. 262-264 on Madrid vs. Jones) since he says he is allowed to contradict their "meaning" or interpretation of Scripture, even when they are unanimous!
[give examples of unanimous teachings in the Fathers that Webster/King deny, at least Baptism, Eucharist as sacrifice, apostolic succession, visible authoritative hierarchical Church, a high Mariology, etc]
But every one of these Fathers that vehemently disagree with Webster/King on doctrine, and who allegedly taught that Scripture was "perspicuous" (or clear), still supposedly read the same and believed the same Scripture alone! Seemingly Webster and King can pick and choose (or reject wholesale) whatever they want from the Fathers. In response, Webster/King allege that Roman Catholics (or Orthodox) do the same. I'll cover the Fathers in detail below to demonstrate how Webster/King must dismiss a large number of their (Roman) Catholic and Orthodox doctrines and interpretations, and there is simply no comparison.
Webster refers several times to something called "the Protestant Church" (see vol 2, p. 50, 57, 82, 164, 212, etc) which in reality does not exist! No one can point to any so-called giant "Protestant Church" as a whole that would agree with Webster and King on doctrine (aside from their respective congregations or denominations perhaps). He has the same problem that Catholics supposedly have about the identity of Sacred Tradition: he cannot identify or locate this so-called "Protestant Church" especially given the "invisible" nature of the "true church" (i.e. the elect or "saved Christians") in Protestantism.
[discuss Webster's statement that "the Protestant Church" agrees with the "rule of faith/truth" (the creed) of the Fathers, and the idea that the Fathers were basically "early Protestants" disagreeing on everything else but the creed, the concept of unity in the Fathers, whether there was one visible Catholic Church, or many churches teaching different doctrines, their sacramental theology, etc]
[comment on second half of the book on OT canon, and other anti-Catholic challenges on doctrine, etc]
To jump below to the evidence from the Church Fathers contrary to Webster/King Click Here
Volume III: Even More Church Fathers
In volume 3, Webster and King team up to edit a truckload of quotations (over 300 pages worth) from the Church Fathers. Unfortunately for them, the majority of which (say about 99%) are irrelevant since Catholics would wholeheartedly agree with these quotations on the authority of Scripture.
[quote examples of their irrelevant patristic quotations here, short quotes from Athanasius, Augustine, Chrysostom, etc, point out that Catholics/Orthodox love and cherish Scripture just as much, etc]
[quote what they attempt to prove by these quotations, discuss various sections of the quotations they use, for material sufficiency, perspicuity and formal sufficiency, ultimate authority, what is irrelevant, what they leave out, etc]
For example, consider these quotations that Webster/King could easily add to their dossier of "Church Fathers" who all supposedly taught both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture (i.e. Sola Scriptura) --
"Since, therefore, all that the inspired authors, or sacred writers, affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures. Thus 'all Scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work' [2 Tim 3:16-17]...."
"The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ. She has always regarded, and continues to regard the Scriptures...as the supreme rule of her faith. For, since they are inspired by God and committed to writing once and for all time, they present God's own Word in an unalterable form, and they make the voice of the Holy Spirit sound again and again in the words of the prophets and apostles. It follows that all the preaching of the Church, as indeed the entire Christian religion, should be nourished and ruled by sacred Scripture. In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life. Scripture verifies in the most perfect way the words: 'The Word of God is living and active' [Heb 4:12] and 'is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified' [Acts 20:32; cf. 1 Thess 2:13]."
Sounds like this "Church Father" believes in Sola Scriptura to the fullest extent, right? This "Church Father" teaches the inspiration and authority of Scripture; the inerrancy of Scripture; quotes from 2 Tim 3:16-17 the classical Protestant proof text; calls Scripture the "Word of God"; says the Word of God for the Church is the "supreme rule of her faith"; that Scripture presents God's own Word in an unalterable form; they are the voice of the Holy Spirit bringing the words of the prophets and apostles to us; that ALL the preaching of the Church, and the ENTIRE Christian religion should be ruled by Scripture; the Word of God has force and power as the Church's support and vigor; the children of the Church get strength for their faith, food for the soul, and find a pure fount of spiritual life in Holy Scripture. No stronger quotation from a "Church Father" could be found for Sola Scriptura! The only problem is this comes from the "Council Fathers" of Vatican Council II (Dei Verbum, 11, 21) ! And I deleted the important phrase "...and continues to regard the Scriptures, taken together with sacred Tradition, as the supreme rule of her faith..." Much of this ignoring of relevant sections of the Fathers devastating to their position goes on in the quotations of Webster/King. While Webster does address the issue of "tradition" in the Fathers, he fails to quote or address some of their most explicit statements that completely deny and contradict the "formal sufficiency" of Holy Scripture as believed by Protestant fundamentalists/evangelicals like Webster/King.
To jump below to the evidence from the Church Fathers contrary to Webster/King Click Here
Scholars Schaff, Kelly, Pelikan, and Yves Congar
Here are some Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic scholars that contradict the conclusions of Webster/King. They indeed cite or make reference to all of the following authors and their books. Yves Congar is especially noted in his groundbreaking work on Tradition, but Webster/King fail to quote his conclusions or analysis from the obvious chapters that rebut their entire work: Part I, Chapter 2: The Fathers and the Early Church; and Part II, Chapter 5: Scripture and Tradition in Relation to Revelation and to the Church which has an initial section "The True Position of the Fathers." Schaff and Kelly, two major Protestant patristic scholars and historians are quoted on the authority of Scripture (which Catholics would not disagree with), but they fail to quote or make reference to their conclusions on the authority of Tradition and Church --
Philip Schaff, Presbyterian/Reformed, History of the Christian Church
"The church view respecting the sources of Christian theology and the rule of faith and practice remains as it was in the previous period, except that it is further developed in particulars. The divine Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as opposed to human writings; AND the ORAL TRADITION or LIVING FAITH of the catholic church from the apostles down, as opposed to the varying opinions of heretical sects -- TOGETHER FORM THE ONE INFALLIBLE SOURCE AND RULE OF FAITH. BOTH are vehicles of the same substance: the saving revelation of God in Christ; with this difference in form and office, that the church tradition determines the canon, furnishes the KEY TO THE TRUE INTERPRETATION of the Scriptures, and guards them against heretical abuse." (volume 3, page 606)
JND Kelly, Anglican, Early Christian Doctrines
"It should be unnecessary to accumulate further evidence. Throughout the whole period Scripture AND tradition ranked as complementary authorities, media different in form but coincident in content. To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading and anachronistic terms. If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principle, tradition was recognized as the SUREST CLUE TO ITS INTERPRETATION, for in TRADITION the Church retained, as a legacy from the apostles which was embedded in all the organs of her institutional life, an UNERRING GRASP of the real purport and MEANING of the revelation to which Scripture AND tradition alike bore witness." (page 47-48)
"Thus in the end the Christian must, like Timothy [cf. 1 Tim 6:20] 'guard the deposit', i.e. the revelation enshrined in its completeness in Holy Scripture and CORRECTLY interpreted in the Church's UNERRING tradition." (page 51)
Jaroslav Pelikan, Lutheran (now Orthodox), The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine
"The catholic response to this claim [of the Gnostics], formulated more fully by Irenaeus than by any other Christian writer, was to appeal to 'that tradition which is derived from the apostles.' Unlike the Gnostic tradition, however, this apostolic tradition had been preserved publicly in the churches that stood in succession with the apostles....Together with the proper interpretation of the Old Testament and the proper canon of the New, this tradition of the church was a decisive criterion of apostolic continuity for the determination of doctrine in the church catholic. Clearly it is an anachronism to superimpose upon the discussions of the second and third centuries categories derived from the controversies over the relation of Scripture and tradition in the sixteenth century, for 'in the ante-Nicene Church...THERE WAS NO NOTION OF SOLA SCRIPTURA, but neither was there a doctrine of traditio sola.'...So palpable was this apostolic tradition that even if the apostles had not left behind the Scriptures to serve as normative evidence of their doctrine, the church would still be in a position to follow 'the structure of the tradition which they handed on to those to whom they committed the church.' This was, in fact, what the church was doing in those barbarian territories where believers did not have access to the written deposit, but still carefully guarded the ancient tradition of the apostles, summarized in the creed -- or, at least, in a very creedlike statement of the content of apostolic tradition....The term 'rule of faith' or 'rule of truth' did not always refer to such creeds and confessions, and seems sometimes to have meant the 'tradition,' sometimes the Scriptures, sometimes the message of the gospel." (volume 1, page 115-117)
"Fundamental to the orthodox consensus was an affirmation of the authority of tradition as that which had been believed 'everywhere, always, by all [ubique, semper, ab omnibus].' The criteria for what constituted the orthodox tradition were 'universality, antiquity, and consensus.' This definition of orthodox Catholic tradition was the work of Vincent of Lerins... To identify orthodox doctrine, one had to identify its locus, which was the catholic church, neither Eastern nor Western, neither Greek nor Latin, but universal throughout the civilized world (oikoumene). This church was the repository of truth, the dispenser of grace, the guarantee of salvation, the matrix of acceptable worship. Only here did God accept sacrifices, only here was there confident intercession for those who were in error, only here were good works fruitful, only here did the powerful bond of love hold men together and 'only from the catholic church does truth shine forth.'...[It was] the tendency of heretics to teach doctrines that were not contained either in Scripture or in tradition. But the church of the four Gospels and the four councils [Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, Chalcedon] was faithful to Scripture and to tradition and was universal both in its outreach and in its authority." (volume 1, page 334-335)
Let's summarize the conclusions of the Protestant scholars Schaff, Kelly, and Pelikan --
(A) For the early Church the divine Scriptures AND the oral tradition of the apostles or living apostolic Faith of the Catholic Church together formed the one infallible source and rule of faith for the Church; Church Tradition determined the canon of Scripture and furnished the key to the true interpretation of the Scriptures (Schaff);
(B) Throughout the whole period of the Fathers, Scripture AND Tradition ranked as complementary authorities, although overlapping or coincident in content; and if Scripture was "sufficient" in principle, Tradition provided the surest clue to Scripture's true interpretation, for in Tradition the Church received, as a legacy from the apostles, an unerring grasp of the real meaning of revelation that both Tradition AND Scripture enshrined and bore witness (Kelly);
(C) There was no notion of Sola Scriptura in the ante-Nicene Church, neither was there a notion of Sola Traditio (Tradition alone); the one universal Catholic Church of the Fathers (neither Western/Catholic nor Eastern/Orthodox) was the repository of all revealed truth, the dispenser of all grace, and the only place where the true God accepted true worship, sacrifices, intercessions, good works, etc -- only from this Church does the truth shine forth; heretics taught doctrines found neither in Scripture nor Tradition, while orthodox Catholics in the Church of the four Gospels and four Councils were faithful to both Scripture and Tradition (Pelikan).
And now some longer excerpts from Catholic scholar and theologian Yves Congar -- since Webster and King have tried to use him to support their Protestant fundamentalist/evangelical assertions -- from Tradition and Traditions: An Historical and a Theological Essay (published in one volume, 1967)
From Part I, Chapter 2: The Fathers and the Early Church (p. 23 ff)
Tradition in the Ante-Nicene Fathers (ante 325 AD) --
"The ante-Nicene Fathers call 'the rule of faith', or, more often, 'the rule of truth', that which the apostles, having received it from Jesus Christ, have handed down and that which the Church, receiving it from them, continues to transmit because this is normative for faith...[several examples are given, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Novation, Clement of Alexandria, Origen]...Thus, for the ante-Nicene Fathers 'rule of faith', 'rule of truth', designate the doctrine taught by the Church in accordance with what it received from the apostles...The true faith and the authentic interpretation of the Scriptures are found only in the Church and are bound up with the succession of her pastors.... The rule of faith, that is to say, the apostolic and Christian teaching, is not the whole of tradition. It is its principal part, but other things also are 'transmitted': rules of discipline or of behaviour, usages especially in worship or liturgy, examples or ways of doing things....
"So then, the content of the rule of faith, and hence of tradition, in so far as it is dogmatic, consisted materially of the Scriptures and the confession of faith, formally of the faith of the Church, of its reading of the Scriptures and of what it affirms in the creed; the mere texts alone were insufficient...What is handed on by tradition, then, involves together with the normative texts of Scripture and possibly a fixed confession of faith, an oral teaching which, since it expresses the sense of the Church, is also normative...We must remember that by 'Scripture' the Fathers, up to St. Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Theophilus of Antioch, usually meant the Old Testament. At first this was the only approved and recommended collection of writings. But the paradosis of the Church, faithful to that of the apostles, was precisely this transmission of the Christ-event, as based documentarily on the Old Testament writings and, at the same time, explaining the meaning of these writings....The doctrinal content of Tradition, in so far as it is distinct from Scripture, is the meaning of Scripture. When St. Irenaeus defines the rather vague word paradosis, he calls it 'the exposition of Scripture'....
"Heretics, on the other hand, have no understanding of the true meaning of Scripture. This is a point to which the Fathers of the second and third centuries never cease to return, as will those of the fourth and fifth centuries. For them the Ecclesia alone has received the apostolic deposit of the truth, for in her alone the Spirit lives....the Church alone is the legitimate possessor of the inheritance of the teaching which has come from God through Christ, and from Christ through the apostles....This gives a rough idea of the difference...between a reading of Scripture within the Church, within the paradosis of the Church, and a merely critical reading, which ultimately is completely personal, a reading like that made by Marcion or the Gnostics. This tradition -- the Church's tradition -- is, in itself, oral. If the apostles had not left anything written, it would have been necessary -- and sufficient -- to follow the ordo tradionis [the order of tradition] handed on by them to those to whom they entrusted the communities. But in fact there are apostolic writings....There also exists a non-written part of the apostolic tradition...In the minds of the faithful of the second and third centuries it mattered little that the transmission was purely oral, as long as there was assured the connexion which alone counted for guaranteed authenticity: the Churches received it from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from 'God'...However, the heretics, particularly the Gnostics, distorted the idea of a tradition transmitted orally by succession...
"On the other hand, in a sense, Scripture is everything for the Fathers. Their writings, dogmatic, spiritual and pastoral, considered as a whole, are nothing but an extended commentary on Scripture, nor would they claim to be anything different. Scripture is everything for them -- but they would also affirm that the tradition of the Church is everything: it is the totality of truth and even the totality of what is of value in culture, since it is the manifestation of the Wisdom of God....This is the Church, ecclesia. Tradition is constantly attributed to the apostles for its origin and to the Church as the subject which bears it. But what do we mean by 'the Church'? ...It [the Catholic Church of the Fathers] has a structure and a hierarchy but is completely living, active and responsible. The whole Church guards the apostolic tradition. The idea of tradition preceded that of apostolic succession, at least as explicitly and systematically formulated. But the idea that the ministers had authority to teach the faithful in continuity with the apostles is found, in one form or another, in all the ancient documents....the Catholics replied [to the Gnostics] by affirming the bond between the true tradition and the succession of legitimate ministers, bishops or presbyters, from the apostles...the Catholics replied with the idea of succession as the guarantee of authentic interpretation...
"The whole of the foregoing discussion shows how the whole activity of the early Fathers tends to unite three terms which the disjunctions of the sixteenth century were to set up in opposition: Scripture, Tradition, Church. Tradition is an interpretation of Scripture, which was originally the Old Testament. There are many sects which propose their own interpretations; tradition, however, is that interpretation of Scripture which is the interpretation of the Church. Its criterion is the apostolicity of that Church, guaranteed by the succession of hierarchical ministers."
"...it has always been affirmed that Scripture is the norm of our faith only when conjoined to the Church and her tradition...Even though recognized as the supreme rule, Scripture has never been considered 'sufficient', and consequently exclusive. To govern the faith of the Church according to the apostolic norm it is necessary to read Scripture within the tradition of the apostles, handed on by and living in the Church....This tradition is said to be maintained by the succession of presbyters or bishops; so the apostolicity of the Church is not realized exclusively by Scripture."
There is much more I could quote, but let's summarize what we find from Part I, Chapter 2 of Congar's Tradition and Traditions above on the ante-Nicene Fathers --
(A) The true Catholic Faith and true interpretation of the Scriptures is found only in the Church which is bound up with the succession of its ministers (apostolic succession, not of doctrine only -- as wrongly claimed by Webster/King -- but of its bishops, ministers, pastors succeeding the authority of the apostles);
(B) The "rule of faith" or "rule of truth" was not the whole of Tradition; it may be the principal part, but there are other things transmitted from the apostles by tradition: rules of conduct, behavior, on worship/liturgy, etc.
(C) The content of tradition consisted "materially" of the Scriptures, but "formally" of the Faith of the Catholic Church, its reading of the Scriptures in the Creed, etc; the mere text of Scripture alone was insufficient; heretics also quoted Scripture but they did not read that Scripture in the context of the Tradition or the orthodox Faith of the Catholic Church;
(D) The Catholic Church alone has received the apostolic deposit of truth, for in her the Holy Spirit of truth lives (John 14:16f; 16:13f); the Church alone is the sole inheritor of the true Christian teaching from God through Christ to the Apostles;
(E) This Tradition -- the Church's Tradition -- is itself oral; and if there were no NT Scriptures it would have been sufficient for the Church to follow "the order of tradition" received from the apostles; in the minds of the early Christians it made no difference if the transmission was purely oral since there was an assured connection to the apostles through the Churches founded by the apostles to guarantee authenticity;
(F) Scripture was everything for the Fathers, and Tradition was everything also;
(G) What was the nature of the Church of the Fathers? It was one universal visible Church ruled by a hierarchy of bishops, presbyters/priests, deacons, etc in succession from the apostles (apostolic succession, again not "succession of doctrine" only);
(H) The entire activity of the Fathers demonstrates that they united three terms that were separated and set in opposition by the controversies of the 16th century -- these three terms were Scripture, Tradition, and Church; it was always affirmed that Scripture is the rule and norm of faith only when conjoined to the Church and her Tradition;
(I) Hence, the Scriptures were never considered by the Fathers as formally "sufficient" or exclusive.
Yves Congar writes in "Excursis A: The Sufficiency of Scripture According to the Fathers and Medieval Theologians" the following conclusions and analysis --
"There is a 'fact of tradition' which it is essential to take account of. Personally, I find no difficulty, and not a little joy, in discovering there the positive affirmation that Scripture contains, at least in the form of suggestion or principle, the entire treasury of truths which it is necessary to believe in order to be saved (provided there is an adequate presentation of the Gospel message). To say that, in the sense in which the Fathers and the medieval theologians held it, does not in any way amount to a profession of the principle of Scriptura sola demanded by the Reformers....It was with the intention of restoring the sovereignty of God alone that they presented that of Scripture as exclusive. In order to do this effectively, they affirmed the sufficiency of this Scripture, not uniquely in a material sense, that is to say as the object quod creditur, but in a formal sense, that is to say as the means whereby we know, the constitutive light by which we understand, the principle of the rule of faith...Not only was the whole of faith contained in Scripture, but the Christian, benefiting from the interior witness of the Holy Spirit could find it there."
"Now, the Fathers and the medieval theologians, whom we have cited: (1) Admit the material sufficiency of Scripture...(2) Ever since they began discussing these matters, consistently affirmed that Scripture by itself cannot adequately present its true meaning; it is only understood correctly in the Church and in its tradition. If there is one position which the Fathers consistently maintained, it is the position that links inseparably Scripture, the Church and Tradition. Far from considering these three realities to be in opposition, they saw them as united and inseparable." (Congar, p. 116,117)
So Yves Congar demonstrates and concludes (after much evidence and analysis in the preceding pages) that the Church Fathers did not believe in Sola Scriptura in the "formal sufficiency" sense required by the Protestant Reformers. Webster/King accept this distinction and set out to prove "formal sufficiency" from many quotations of the Fathers. However, they fail to overthrow the consistent conclusions of Schaff, Kelly, Pelikan, and Congar as I have quoted them above.
Joe Gallegos in his over 160 pages on the Fathers (see Not By Scripture Alone, p. 389-554), following Congar's research, analysis and conclusions, has conceded the "material sufficiency" of Scripture in the Fathers, so "formal sufficiency" is where the debate needs to center. The vast majority of the quotations brought forward by Webster/King on the authority, the inspiration, inerrancy, power, beauty, etc of Holy Scripture in the Fathers are irrelevant to the debate. Even the perspicuity (clearness and clarity) of Scripture in the Fathers contradicts the assertions of Webster/King since the Fathers universally interpreted the text of Scripture in accordance with Catholic doctrine today (despite Webster's assertions on Matthew 16:18 which the Fathers did interpret in several ways, including Peter himself and Peter's Faith is the Rock, but this is not a problem -- note the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Matthew 16:18f, paragraphs 424, 442, 552, 586, 756, 881, etc).
Webster/King really could have saved us and them a lot of time by cutting out a great amount of irrelevant material from the three volumes, perhaps add more of a direct "biblical defense" (which is where ultimately their case must be established) of Sola Scriptura, and trimmed it down to one book of about 500 pages. Come on, who in the world is really going to wade through all this material, except insane Catholic or Evangelical apologist individuals like myself? :-)
Holy Scripture Volume IV? What Webster and King Don't Tell You
What I want to do now is present much primary source material and specific evidence that rebuts and refutes their claims that the Church Fathers believed in both the "material" and "formal" sufficiency of Scripture, and demonstrate how much Catholic doctrine from the Fathers that Webster/King must and indeed do deny. It is irresponsible to suggest these Fathers actually believed in Sola Scriptura in a Protestant fundamentalist/evangelical sense when all of them were either Catholic bishops, Catholic priests, and/or Catholic saints. There is no doubt that William Webster and David King would have been thrown out of the Catholic Church and castigated as heretics by these same Catholic Fathers and Bishops.
Does anyone think any of these guys were early Protestant "fundamentalists" or "evangelicals" ? If so, I invite you to the links below. Twenty-six major Church Fathers and early ecclesiastical writers cited by Webster/King, in alphabetical order
This is a work in progress -- if you wish to contribute, please email me.
Basil the Great
Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Rome
Cyprian of Carthage
Cyril of Alexandria
Cyril of Jerusalem
Epiphanius of Salamis
Gregory of Nazianzus
Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory the Great
Hilary of Poitiers
Hippolytus of Rome
Ignatius of Antioch
Optatus of Milevis
Theodoret of Cyrus
Vincent of Lerins
To go back to top Click Here
Dave Armstrong's Page on the Fathers, Saints, and Christian Antiquities
New Advent Collection of the Fathers
Back to Apologetics Articles
Back to Home Page
About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links