St. Irenaeus was no stranger to the claims that the Scriptures are insufficient. He writes: “When, however, [heretics] are confuted by the Scriptures, they turn around and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition.” (Against Heresies III.2)
Glad to see you engaging the Fathers here.
That said, you just can’t cite the Fathers in support of the Reformed view of Scriptures. Folks like Irenaeus and Cyril believed numerous doctrines you consider to be without Scriptural foundation.
They believed in Christ’s physical presence in the Eucharist, they believed that the Sacrament of Confirmation bestowed the real seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, they believed that the waters of Baptism were really and truly salvific, they believed in the invocation of dead saints, they believed in the veneration and power of relics of saints who had passed, they believed that the Eucharist was a sacrifice that could only be conducted by the ministerial priesthood of the Church, they believed that the Apostolic succession was physically passed down through the Bishops, they believed that the Mother of God was Ever-Virgin and a powerful intercessor with her Son, and the list goes on.
To cherry pick a few quotes out of context to make them look like they believed protestant doctrine is not only ridiculous, it’s a little underhanded.
I mean, you quoted Cyril’s Catachetical Lectures earlier trying to support sola scriptura.
Funny you didn’t quote from his lecture on Confirmation, a Sacrament that doesn’t appear in Sacred Scripture and which the reformed reject on that basis.
Or his lecture on the Eucharist, where he clearly teaches physical presence and that the Eucharist is a sacrifice.
Clearly whatever Cyril meant in his quote about Sacred Scripture, he categorically did not mean that practices handed down by tradition are unacceptable.
Vainly do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council is needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.
al sends (for his EO friends)
Matt, I can’t help but imagine Toby pointing out that a guy likes Metallica, only to have Jason say, “Yeah, but he also likes Coldplay, so he’s gay.”
Just cause I can’t resist, I have to throw in an anonymous quote I heard this morning:
Protestants use the Fathers like a drunk uses a lamp post, for support rather than for illumination.
Which is to say, you don’t look to the Fathers to find out what true doctrine is, but rather decide what you think true doctrine is and find such fragments of the Fathers as seem to support your view.
It’s not unlike if I went digging through Calvin’s work for quotes that were strong on ecclesial authority and claimed that on the basis of those that he was a papist.
If the Fathers believed a whole host of doctrines you believe to be heretical, which they do, you ought to be honest and call them heretics instead of trying to claim them as your own.
Just a brief comment for today:
Matt, while it is certainly true that the Fathers held views that may or may not accord with Scripture, I’m not so sure about some of your assertions. I’ve read Cyril’s Catechetical Letctures several times, and I’m not sure he holds his positions they way you describe them. And for that matter, it’s not true that the Reformed don’t have/have never had a doctrine of confirmation. Luther and Bucer and the English Protestant Church all had/have doctrines of confirmation.
Seriously, have you read his lecture on the Body and Blood of Christ? He literally compares the transformation from bread and wine to Body and Blood in the Eucharist to the physical transformation of water into wine at Cana. Says they’re the same kind of miracle. And that’s just one example.
Also, the Lutheran rite of confirmation can in no wise be compared to the Catholic Sacrament of Chrismation. The former is a social rite of passage, the latter understands itself to be conferring upon the recipient the actual power and seal of the Holy Spirit. Such notions as that are nowhere to be found in modern reformed thought.
Again, I’m simply asking you to honestly admit what your sources actually taught and believed, because whatever it was, it was certainly out of sync with your notion that the only infallible doctrines and practices that govern the Christian faith are able to be glibly deduced from a brief skimming of Sacred Scripture.
A few thoughts:
First, with regard to your concerns that I (and other Protestants) merely read the Church Fathers for confirmation of what I already believe, I’m not sure I can say anything to persuade you otherwise. This is not my intention at all. The fact is that Calvin and Bucer and Luther wanted to restore the true catholic tradition built on the Fathers which had grown up in the middle ages. The Reformers were the world’s finest patristic scholars in their day. I’ve read and continue to read the early church fathers in order to be taught by them. However, they with Paul would urge me to compare what they say and teach with Scripture.
And Jon’s point is spot on. Roman Catholics pick and choose stuff on the Fathers too. It’s not just a Protestant thing. They were people (like us) trying to be faithful in their situations. Don’t pretend that there’s been perfect sobriety throughout the centuries when it comes to the Vatican’s use of the Fathers or that you really want to do and believe everything the Father’s said and did.
Second, the early Church fathers were not Aristotelians. They did not have a doctrine of transubstantiation. Their insistence that something miraculous occurs in the Eucharist, and that God feeds his people on the body and blood of Jesus is something Calvin, Bucer, and the best of the Reformed Tradition has always affirmed. Transubstantiation was not made dogma until the 13th century, and there was a breadth allowed for in describing the glory of the sacrament until then.
And third, I’m afraid you’re just mistaken regarding the Protestant doctrine of “laying on of hands.” Calvin said that he had no problem calling this rite a sacrament, and Bucer and Luther agreed. Furthermore, they all recognized that the laying on of hands was used to confer the Holy Spirit and seal individuals for service in the Church (as ordination for some and confirmation for all). The English Church and Lutheran Churches practice confirmation, and following the most ancient practice (with our Orthodox brothers), we lay hands on infants immediately following baptism and pray that the fullness of the godhead would rest upon them. The apostles clearly practiced this rite (Act 8:14-17, 19:5-6, 2 Tim. 1:6-7). In the early church, laying on of hands and anointing (chrismation) were used interchangeably and without universal conformity. Tertullian believed that the Holy Spirit was bestowed in the laying on of hands following baptism, Cyril describes the entire baptismal rite as though the Spirit is being bestowed in the water, the oil, and the imposition of hands. Hyppolytus, to cite just one other example, is not clear exactly at what point the Spirit is bestowed upon new believers but comes close when he recites the post baptismal prayer of the bishop who lays hands on the new Christian.
This is a good case and point for some of the Protestant take on the early church. It is clearly the case that within the guidelines of the basic baptismal formula (Mt. 28), the early church fathers allowed for a diversity of practice. Can we not imitate them in this?
Matthew N. Petersen says
This is an old post so I don’t know if you’ll see the comment, but I think it’s worth noting that Matt is not Roman Catholic. He’s Byzantine Catholic. And while Byzantine Catholics are more favorable toward Aristotle than Orthodox, they still tend to be rather skeptical of him. In other words, it wouldn’t be hard to find a priest or bishop in Matt’s diocese who strongly objects to St. Thomas’ Aristotelean formulation of the Presence of Christ.