My words will be in this color
(teal) to offset them from Mr. Webster’s words.
The Reformation was responsible for restoring
to the Church the principle of sola Scriptura, a principle which had
been operative within the Church from the very beginning of the post apostolic
The problem we
have, from the very beginning, is the precept is not taught IN Scripture.This makes sola scriptura an extra
Initially the apostles taught orally…
And here we
have the admission that “initially” – that is “from the beginning” the Church
taught orally, in fact for most of the 1st century, the Scriptures
were incomplete.The fact of the matter
is too, it would be nearly 400 years until the Church (at the Councils of
Carthage and Hippo) stated the Canon of Sacred Scripture like we have it
today.It would be about 1500 years
before Christendom had a “Bible” identical to what Protestantism uses today.
…but with the close of the apostolic age all
special revelation that God wanted preserved for man was codified in the
This is pure
conjecture, and an unsupported (and unsupportable) statement.
Sola Scriptura is the teaching and belief that there is only one
special revelation from God that man possesses today, the written Scriptures or
the Bible, and that consequently the Scriptures are materially sufficient and
are by their very nature as being inspired by God the ultimate authority for
And again, I
assert – this is NOT taught IN Scripture, thus if Scripture is to be the “only
one special revelation from God,” then certainly God would have made that clear
to us IN Scripture and not force us to go beyond Scripture to develop a precept
that restricts us to Scripture.Are you
getting dizzy yet?Sola scriptura is a
self-refuting proposition.If we have to
go beyond Scripture to get the teaching of sola
scriptura, then the teaching itself denies the precept!
This means that there is no portion of that
revelation which has been preserved in the form of oral tradition independent
where is this taught IN SCRIPTURE?There
are teachings of the sufficiency of Scripture, but there’s not one definitive
teaching that says sola scriptura.It’s just not there, so it is an
invention – and when do we first see the Latin words “sola scriptura?”You will
not find these words used until just about the time of the Protestant schism
from THE Church.It is rather obvious to
the objective reader that sola scriptura
is an invention of the innovators of the 16th century who, in their
revolt, had to invent a new authority
to justify their abandonment of the Church which Jesus Christ founded and built
upon the Apostles.
The Council of Trent in the sixteenth
century, on the other hand, declared that the revelation of God was not
contained solely in the Scriptures. It was contained partly in the written
Scriptures and partly in oral tradition and therefore the Scriptures were not
materially sufficient. This was the universal view of Roman Catholic
theologians for centuries after the Council of Trent and is the predominant
The fact of
the matter is, the Church convenes a dogmatic ecumenical council when it needs
to.When the Trinity and the Nature of
Jesus was being taught falsely by false and/or deceptive or at least deceived
leaders, the Church answered with the Councils of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephasus, Chalcedon, etc.Likewise, when Luther and Calvin, et al, were
teaching heresy and dividing Christendom, the Church answered with the Council
of Trent. Church councils are not new, but as I have pointed out earlier, sola scriptura certainly was new and
unheard of until about the 16th century.Again, the objective reader here can
certainly see the novelty of sola
scriptura.I challenge Mr. Webster,
or any sola scripturist, for that
matter, to document the first use of the terminology sola scriptura, that is prior to the era of the 16th
century.I have asserted there is NO USE
of this terminology, and one would THINK that among the Early Church Fathers –
most of whom spoke and wrote Latin – that we’d see the Latin terms sola scriptura not only used, but it
should predominate the Early Church writings and teachings – and we should find
it IN THE BIBLE!Since I cannot prove a
negative, the burden of proof lies with those who hold the positive – namely
that it WAS taught and WAS used by the Early Church Fathers (patristics).
It is interesting to note, however, that in
Roman Catholic circles today there is an ongoing debate among theologians on
the nature of Tradition. There is no clear understanding of what Tradition is
in Roman Catholicism. Some agree with Trent and some don't. But the view
espoused by Trent is contradictory to and is a repudiation of the
belief and practice of the Church of the patristic age.
What is truly
interesting to note, to the observant reader, is that Mr. Webster again makes
an unsupported claim.He does not demonstrate
for us this alleged “view espoused by Trent” and then show us how
it is contradictory to the belief and practice of the Church of the patristic
The early Church held to the principle of sola
Scriptura in that it believed that all doctrine must be proven from
Scripture and if such proof could not be produced the doctrine was to be
I do not deny
that Scripture was used as a litmus for teachings, but it was not the sole
source of authority, revelation or instruction.More accurately speaking, when a teaching was tested by Scripture – it
had to not contradict Scripture.That’s a far different cry from the belief in
From the very beginning of the post apostolic
age with the writings of what we know as the Apostolic Fathers we find an
exclusive appeal to the Scriptures for the positive teaching of doctrine and
for its defense against heresy.
is utterly false!One of the earliest
heresies the Church had to combat was the teachings of Arius and the heresy known
as Arianism.Arius based his teachings
on Scripture too, and the scary part was, he got most of the Church to follow him into heresy!It would not be Scripture alone that ended
the heresy of Arius – it would be the Council of Nicea, and even after that
council the heresy lingered.In the
modern age it has been reborn among groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The writings of the Apostolic Fathers
literally breathe with the spirit of the Old and New Testaments.
breathe with Sacred Tradition and Apostolic Authority of the Church AND the
With the writings of the Apologists such as
Justin Martyr and Athenagoras in the early to mid second century we find the
same thing. There is no appeal in any of these writings to the authority of Tradition
as a separate and independent body of revelation.
And that would
be Mr. Webster’s misrepresentation of the TrueChurch.The authority of the Church is NOT something
that is “separate and independent” from the Scriptures.The Church’s authority is from Jesus Christ
Himself and is recorded IN the Scriptures!
It is with the writings of Irenaeus and
Tertullian in the mid to late second century that we first encounter the
concept of Apostolic Tradition that is preserved in the Church in oral form.
I submit to
the readers, writings from the “mid to late second century” (we’re talking in
the 100’s AD now) are among the EARLIEST of the Patristic writings!Very few other writers works are still extant
from prior to the mid to late second century.
said, St. Clement of Rome, our fourth Pope,
teaches of the authority of the “generals” (we can relate that to the
bishops/overseers) who are above others, yet the great need the small, and the
small need the great.He also relates
the same hierarchical structure to the head of the body needing the feet, and
the feet needing the head. (1st Epistle, Chapter 37).“The layman is bound by the laws that pertain
to laymen” (ibid, Chapter 40).
42 -- THE ORDER OF MINISTERS IN THE CHURCH.
apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus
Christ [has done sol from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the
apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way,
according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being
fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in
the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth
proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and
cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved
them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards
believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was
written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture a certain
place, "I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons
in faith." (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1010.htm)
Well, here we have our fourth Pope describing those who had
“received their orders” were to be “bishops and deacons.”We truly do see the foundations of the
Catholic Church, but we don’t see sola
scriptura – even though St. Clement does mention Scripture from time to
time, he never says “sola.”
The word Tradition simply means teaching.
No, it does
not.Tradition means much more than
simply teaching.Traditions are practices
and teachings which are passed down from previous generations.The word tradition comes from the Latin word
traditio which literally means “the action of handing over” (www.m-w.com).The definition from Merriam-Webster begins
with:“1. the inherited, established or
customary pattern of thought, action or behavior (as a religious practice or
social custom)” (ibid).So yes, from a
certain point of view “tradition” includes
“teaching” but it most certainly is not “simply teaching,” but is much deeper
and richer than this minimalist definition.It is apparent that Mr. Webster is attempting to minimize the word so
that it might fit his paradigm.
But what do these fathers mean when they say
this Apostolic Teaching or Tradition is preserved orally. All they mean is that
the Bishops of the Church preach the truth orally and anyone interested in
learning the true Apostolic Tradition could learn by simply listening to the oral
teaching of the Bishops of any orthodox Church of the day.
mean…” is a pretty big statement, and I contend that they didn’t “simply” mean
what Mr. Webster contends, as I shall demonstrate below.
Irenaeus and Tertullian state emphatically that
all the teaching of the Bishops that was given orally was rooted in Scripture
and could be proven from the written Scriptures. Both fathers give us the
actual doctrinal content of the Apostolic Tradition that was orally preached in
the Churches and every doctrine is derived from Scripture. There is no doctrine
in this Apostolic Tradition that is not found in Scripture. And there is no
appeal in the writings of these fathers to a Tradition that is oral in nature
for a defense of what they call Apostolic Tradition. The Apostolic Tradition
for Irenaeus and Tertullian is simply Scripture. It was Irenaeus who stated
that while the apostles at first preached orally their teaching was later
committed to writing in the Scriptures and the Scriptures have since that day
become the pillar and ground of our faith. His exact statement is as follows:
"We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from
those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time
proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to
us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith" (Alexander
Roberts & W.H. Rambaugh Translators, The Writings of Irenaeus, Against
Heresies (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1874), 3.1.1). Tradition, when referring to oral proclamation such as preaching or
teaching, was viewed primarily as the oral presentation of Scriptural truth, or
the codifying of biblical truth into creedal expression.
has at least a couple problems here.First, Book 3 of Against Heresies is speaking to ONE
error of the heretics contemporary to St. Irenaeus.Second, in this chapter St. Irenaeus does not
make any mention of the Scriptures being the sole authority.It is also interesting to note that the
actual subject of what Mr. Webster is quoting here is NOT the Scriptures, but
the Apostles!Consider using parentheses
instead of commas, and you get:“We have
learned from non others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom
the gospel has come down to us (which they did at one time proclaim in public,
and at a later period by the will of God, hand down to us in the Scriptures) to
be the ground and pillar of our faith.”Mr. Webster would like the emphasis of this snippet to be on Scripture,
but the actual syntax of the sentence points to the Apostles as the pillar and
ground of the faith, and this latter explanation more cohesively fits with the Scriptures themselves wherein the Church is proclaimed
to be the pillar and ground of the faith (truth).
biggest problem one would have in reading Mr. Webster’s “take” on this passage
from Against Heresies, is a matter of
context.One need only read the very
next chapter in Book 3 and we find
again, when we refer them to that tradition
which originates from the apostles,
[and] which is preserved by means of the succession
of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than
the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the
unadulterated truth.(Against Heresies, Book 3,
in mind, St. Irenaeus certainly cannot be stolen from the Catholic Church to
support the 16th century innovation of sola scriptura.Just in
reading the above, it sounds exactly like St. Irenaeus is preaching to the proponents
of sola scriptura, for they believe
they have discovered the unadulterated truth in opposition to the tradition
handed down to us which originates from the apostles and is preserved by the
means of the succession of presbyters!
Irenaeus and Tertullian had to contend with
the Gnostics who were the very first to suggest and teach that they possessed
an Apostolic oral Tradition that was independent from Scripture. These early
fathers rejected such a notion and appealed to Scripture alone for the proclamation
and defense of doctrine. Church historian, Ellen Flessman-Van Leer affirms this
For Tertullian Scripture is the only means
for refuting or validating a doctrine as regards its content...For Irenaeus,
the church doctrine is certainly never purely traditional; on the contrary, the
thought that there could be some truth, transmitted exclusively viva voce (orally),
is a Gnostic line of thought...If Irenaeus wants to prove the truth of a
doctrine materially, he turns to scripture, because therein the teaching of the
apostles is objectively accessible. Proof from tradition and scripture serve
one and the same end: to identify the teaching of the church as the original
apostolic teaching. The first establishes that the teaching of the church is this
apostolic teaching, and the second, what this apostolic teaching is (Ellen
Flessman-van Leer, Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church (Van
Gorcum, 1953, pp. 184, 133, 144).
has mentioned Tertullian several times now, but has not cited a single passage
from him.All he’s cited is St. Irenaeus
– and I’ve already demonstrated that he does NOT support the concept of sola scriptura, and in fact speaks
against those who put themselves above the authority of the succession of
presbyters.We must also not overlook
the straw man that Mr. Webster has used in the above quote.It is pointed out that St. Irenaeus is
against an authority which is “exclusively viva
voce” (more accurately: living voice, or living tradition) – and the
Catholic Church opposes such exclusivity as well.
It is also
interesting to note that the “viva voce” quote actually comes from Chapter 2,
but Mr. Webster (and his secondary source) conveniently skip over the part that
reinforces the authority of the succession of presbyters in the Church.
The bible was the ultimate authority for the
fathers of the patristic age. It was materially sufficient and the final
arbiter in all matters of doctrinal truth. As JND Kelly has pointed out:
The clearest token of the prestige enjoyed by
(Scripture) is the fact that almost the entire theological effort of the
Fathers, whether their aims were polemical or constructive, was expended upon
what amounted to the exposition of the Bible. Further, it was everywhere taken
for granted that, for any doctrine to win acceptance, it had first to establish
its Scriptural basis (Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco:
Harper & Row, 1978), pp. 42, 46).
from misrepresenting quotes from Early Church Fathers to commentary from a
modern non-Catholic secondary source.
Heiko Oberman makes these comments about the
relationship between Scripture and Tradition in the early Church:
Scripture and Tradition were for the early
Church in no sense mutually exclusive: kerygma (the message of the gospel),
Scripture and Tradition coincided entirely. The Church preached the kerygma
which is found in toto in written form in the canonical books. The Tradition
was not understood as an addition to the kerygma contained in Scripture but as
handing down that same kerygma in living form: in other words everything was to
be found in Scripture and at the same time everything was in living Tradition (The
Harvest of Medieval Theology (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1963), p.
Oberman is yet
another relatively modern source.Webster’s task was to show us authentic Early Church Father’s teachings,
not modern commentaries.
That the fathers were firm believers in the
principle of sola Scriptura is clearly seen from the writings of Cyril
of Jerusalem, the bishop of Jerusalem
in the mid fourth century. He is the author of what is known as the Catechetical
Lectures. This work is an extensive series of lectures given to catechumens
expounding the principle doctrines of the faith. It is a complete explanation
of the faith of the Church of his day. And his teaching is thoroughly grounded
in Scripture. There is in fact not one appeal in the entirety of the Lectures
to an oral Apostolic Tradition that is independent of Scripture. He states in
unequivocal terms that if he were to present any teaching to these catechumens
which could not be validated from Scripture, they were to reject it. This tells
us that his authority as a Bishop was subject to his conformity to the written
Scriptures in his teaching. The following are some of his statements from the
Lectures on the final autghority of Scripture:
This seal have thou ever on thy mind; which
now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant,
shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture-proofs. For
concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to
deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn
aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe
me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy
Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our
faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures (A
Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1845),
The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril 4.17).
But take thou and hold that faith only as a
learner and in profession, which is by the Church delivered to thee, and is
established from all Scripture. For since all cannot read the Scripture, but
some as being unlearned, others by business, are hindered from the knowledge of
them; in order that the soul may not perish for lack of instruction, in the
Articles which are few we comprehend the whole doctrine of Faith...And for the
present, commit to memory the Faith, merely listening to the words; and expect
at the fitting season the proof of each of its parts from the Divine
Scriptures. For the Articles of the Faith were not composed at the good
pleasure of men: but the most important points chosen from all Scriptures, make
up the one teaching of the Faith. And, as the mustard seed in a little grain contains
many branches, thus also this Faith, in a few words, hath enfolded in its bosom
the whole knowledge of godliness contained both in the Old and New Testaments.
Behold, therefore, brethren and hold the traditions which ye now receive, and
write them on the table of your hearts (Ibid., Lecture 5.12).
Notice here that Cyril states that these
catechumens are receiving Tradition and he exhorts them to hold to the
traditions which they are now receiving. Where is this Tradition derived from? It
is obviously derived from the Scriptures. The Teaching or Tradition or
Revelation of God which was committed to the Apostles and passed on to the
Church is now accessible in Scripture ALONE. It is significant that Cyril of
Jerusalem, who is communicating the entirety of the faith to these catechumens,
did not make a single appeal to an oral Tradition to support his teachings.
more than just an oral teaching; it consists of the practices and beliefs of
the Church that were not enscripturated.What else does St. Cyril teach?I
wonder if Mr. Webster has read Lexture 23 wherein St.
Cyril describes what happens in every Catholic Mass?How about Lecture 4.35 where St.
Cyril states Baruch is part of the Canon of the Old Testament?Let’s not overlook Lecture 3 which teaches
us of baptismal regeneration wherein our sins are indeed washed away in the
Sacrament of Baptism.I would not deny
St. Cyril’s support of Scripture, but would Mr. Webster accept his support of
these other Catholic traditions?
The entirety of the faith is grounded upon
Scripture and Scripture alone. This principle is also enunciated by Gregory of
The generality of men still fluctuate in
their opinions about this, which are as erroneous as they are numerous. As for
ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points,
were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to
add a discussion on the soul to those speculations, but while the latter
proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed
consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such license, I
mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and
the measure of every tenet (dogma); we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and
approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those
writings. (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace,Nicene
and Post-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrikson, 1995), Second Series: Volume
V, Philosophical Works, On the Soul And the Resurrection, p. 439).
Gregory of Nyssa says this, but he’s not saying sola scriptura.He does not
say that there cannot be other tenets, but that the Holy Scriptures are the
rule and measure of every tenet (or dogma).St. Gregory goes on to say that these teaching which “harmonize” with
the Scriptures are to be approved.To be
in harmony or more importantly, to be not out of harmony with – that is to not
be contradictory to – the Scriptures is his point here.There is no mention of sola scriptura.
Basil the Great, the bishop of Caesarea from 370 to 379 A.D., testifies to his belief in the all-sufficient
nature of the Scriptures in these words taken from a letter he wrote to a
Enjoying as you do the consolation of the
Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of
anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient
counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right (Philip
Schaff and Henry Wace,Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrikson, 1995), Second Series: Volume
VIII, Basil: Letters and Select Works, Letter CCLXXXIII, p. 312).
Again, we find
part of this passage is omitted, let’s look a bit more at the sentence the
precedes that which Mr. Webster has quoted:
Your dream, I think, reveals more
perfectly the necessity of making provision for spiritual contemplation, and
cultivating that mental vision by which God is wont to be seen. Enjoying as you do the consolation of
the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of
anybody else to help you to comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient
counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right. (Letter 283).
The subject of
this paragraph is the widow’s dream primarily, and secondarily her consolation
of the Holy Scriptures.So again this is
not sola scriptura and again Mr.
Webster misrepresents the Church Father.
These fathers are simply representative of
the fathers as a whole. Cyprian, Origen, Hippolytus, Athanasius, Firmilian,
Augustine are just a few of the fathers that could be cited as proponents of
the principle of sola Scriptura, in addition to Tertullian, Irenaeus,
Cyril and Gregory of Nyssa. The early Church operated on the basis of the
principle of sola scriptura and it was this historical principle that the
Reformers sought to restore to the Church.
It has already
been demonstrated that Tertullian, Sts. Irenaeus and Gregory of Nyssa cannot be
used to support sola scriptura.
The extensive use of Scripture by the fathers
of the early Church from the very beginning are seen in the following facts:
Irenaeus: He knew Polycarp who was a disciple
of the apostle John. He lived from @ 130 to 202 A.D. He quotes from 24 of the
27 books of the New Testament. He makes over 1800 quotes from the New Testament
Clement of Alexandria: He lived from 150 to 215 A.D. He cites all the New
Testament books except Philemon, James and 2 Peter. He gives 2400 citations
from the New Testament.
Tertullian: He lived from 160 to 220 A.D. He
makes over 7200 New Testament citations.
Origen: He lived from 185 to 254 A.D. he
succeeded Clement of Alexandria at the Catechetical school at Alexandria. he makes nearly 18,000 New Testament citations.
We do not deny
that Scripture is a source of authority and instruction – we just deny the 16th
century precept that Scripture is the sole source, or even the sole infallible
By the end of the third century virtually the
entire New Testament could be reconstructed from the writings of the Church
fathers. Norman Geisler and William Nix sum up the position of the New
Testament Scriptures in the early Church in these words: "In summary, the
first hundred years of the existence of the twenty-seven books of the New
Testament reveal that virtually every one of them was quoted as authoritative
and recognised as canonical by men who were themselves the younger
contemporaries of the apostolic age" (Norman Geisler and William
Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody, 1980), p.
other non-canonical books are quoted from, and some even listed as canonical
which were eventually not accepted in the canon (Shepherd of Hermes, Epistles
of Clement, etc.).This quote from
Geisler is really meaningless.I must
also point out that Mr. Webster is drifting from the thesis here.The necessary point for him to prove was not
the canon of the New Testament, we AGREE on that!His task was to demonstrate and prove the
concept of sola scriptura.
B.F. Wescott comes to a similar conclusion: "With the exception of the
Epistle to the Hebrews, the two shorter Epistles of St John, the second Epistle
of St Peter, the Epistles of St James and St Jude, and the Apocalypse, all the
other books of the New Testament are acknowledged as Apostolic and
authoritative throughout the Church as the close of the second century. The
evidence of the great Fathers by which the Church is represented varies in
respect of these disputed books, but the Canon of the acknowledged books is
established by their common consent. Thus the testimony on which it rests is
not gathered from one quarter but from many, and those the most widely
separated by position and character. It is given, not as a private opinion, but
as an unquestioned fact: not as a late discovery, but as an original tradition (B.F.
Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (Cambridge:
Macmillan, 1889), pp. 337-338).
And again, Mr.
Webster is diverting attention from his thesis, and again we AGREE on the canon
of the New Testament!
It is true that the early Church held to the
concept of Traditon as referring to ecclesiastical customs and practices and
that they often believed that such practices were actually handed down from the
Apostles even though could not necessarily be validated from the Scriptures.
this?The admission of the fact that the
EarlyChurch held to Traditions not
explicitly found in the Bible?
But these practices did not involve the
doctrines of the faith and were often contradictory among different segments of
baptismal regeneration?Would that not
be a “doctrine of faith?”Certainly for
those who accepted that Baptism indeed washed away Original Sin, it was – for
those who do not accept baptismal regeneration, it’s not a doctrine of faith –
is that what Mr. Webster means?How
about the teaching that the bread and wine actually become the Body, Blood,
Soul and Divinity of Jesus and that the Mass is indeed a sacrifice?These are matters that are “doctrines of
faith” which one assumes Mr. Webster disagrees with, yet these teachings quite
prevalent among the Early Church Fathers.
An example of this is found early on in the
second century in the controversy over when to celebrate Easter. Certain
Eastern churches celebrated it on a certain day, while the West celebrated it
on a different one, but both claimed that their particular practice was handed
down to them directly from the Apostles. It actually led to conflict with the
Bishop of Rome who was demanding that the Eastern fathers submit to the Western
parctice. This they refused to do firmly believing that they were adhering to
Apostolic Tradition. Which one is correct? There is no way to ascertain which,
if either, was truly of Apostolic origin. It is interesting, however, to note
that one of the proponents for the Eastern view was Polycarp, who was a
disciple of the apostle John. And there are other examples of this sort of
claim in Church history. Just because a particular Church father claims that a
particular practice is of Apostolic origin does not mean that it necessarily
is. All it means is that he believes it was. But there is no way to verify if
in fact it truly was a tradition from the apostles.
example is flawed.The date of Easter is
not a matter of dogma.Yes, it was
controversial, but it was not a “doctrine of faith,” as Mr. Webster contends.
There are numerous practices which the early
Church engaged in which they believed were of Apostolic origin which are listed
for us by Basil the Great which no one in the Church practices today. So
clearly, such appeals to oral Apostolic Tradition are meaningless.
assertion is meaningless – he provides no examples, no citations – yet we’re
supposed to just accept his word on this?
The Roman Catholic Church states that it
possesses an oral Apostolic Tradition which is independent of Scripture and
which is binding upon men.
No, the Church
does not teach that Apostolic Tradition is “independent” of Scripture.Apostolic Tradition is in “conjunction” with
Scripture, and in fact is derived from Scripture!In Matthew and Matthew men are given infallible authority – for whatsoever they
bind on earth is also bound in heaven.Unless one believes error could be bound in heaven, then whatsoever is
bound by these men is infallibly bound.
It appeals to Paul's statement in 2
Thessalonians 2:15 for the justification for such a claim, where Paul states
that he handed on traditions or teachings to this Chruch in both oral and
written form. Rome asserts that, based on Paul's teaching in this passage, the
teaching of sola Scriptura is false, since he handed on teachings to the
Thessalonians in both oral and written form.
If this were
the only reference Catholics used, maybe Mr. Webster would have a point.However, we have just seen two passages in
Matthew’s Gospel which establish infallibility of the bishopric of the
But what is interesting in such an appeal is
that Roman apologists never document the specific doctrines that Paul is
referring to which they claim they possess and which are binding upon men. In
all the writings of apologists from the Reformation to the present day no one
has been able to list the doctrines that comprise this supposed Apostolic Oral
Tradition. From Francis De Sales to the writings of Karl Keating and Robert
Sungenis there is this conspicuous absence.
Is there this
absence?How about the doctrine of
infallibility?Though it is rooted in
Scripture, I believe Mr. Webster would not accept it as such – yet it is
something we believe has been handed down from the Apostles to the present day.
Sungenis is editor of a work recently
released on a defense of the Roman Catholic teaching of Tradition entitled Not
By Scripture Alone. It is touted as a definitive refutation of the
Protestant teaching of sola Scriptura. It is 627 pages in length. But
not once in the entire 627 pages does any author define the doctrinal content
of this supposed Apostolic Tradition that is binding on all men. All we are
told is that it exists, that the Roman Catholic Church possesses it, and that
we are bound therefore to submit to this Church which alone possesses the
fulness of God's revelation from the Apostles. But they can't tell us what it
is. And the reason is because it doesn't exist. If they are of such importance
why did Cyril of Jerusalem not mention them in his Catechetical Lectures? I
defy anyone to list the doctrines Paul is referring to in 2 Thessalonians 2:15
which he says he committed orally to the Thessalonians.
By Scripture Alone, was very well done.I have already stated at least one Sacred Tradition, the authority of
men to bind things infallibly, and this was no mystery prior to me writing
it.This being said, one need only read
as far as page 4 of Not
By Scripture Aloneto find: “It (sola scriptura) does not work –
really, it cannot work – simply because the written Word cannot cry out to you,
‘Wait!You have misinterpreted me!’But the Church can.”Clearly, one does not have to go very far
into this book to see that the Church is an accompanying authority – not
independent of Scripture, but in conjunction with it.Mr. Webster’s assertion is false.
The Roman Catholic authority on Tradition,
Yves Congar, makes this interesting observation about the nature of revelation
from the Old Testament dispensation:
Revelation is a disclosure of his mystery which
God makes to men...a disclosure through created signs, guaranteed by God not to
mislead us, though they may be very imperfect. These signs are events,
realities, actions and words; but ultimately, at least as regards the Old
Covenant, the events and actions are known to us only in words, and written
words at that: the writings of sacred Scripture (Yves Congar, Tradition
and Traditions (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p. 238).
Yves Congar readily admits the principle of sola
Scriptura with regard to the Old Testament. The only revelation we possess
of that dispensation is the written Scriptures, even though prophets from the
very beginning preached and taught orally. Protestants are simply saying that
the same principle applies to the New Testament dispensation. To paraphrase
Congar: God's revelation in the New Testament dispensation is known to us only
in words, and written words at that: the writings of sacred Scripture. The only
special revelation man possesses today from God that was committed to the
Apostles is the written Scriptures of the New Testament. This was the belief
and practice of the Church of the patristic age and was the principle adhered
to by the Reformers which they sought to restore to the Church after doctrinal
corruption had entered through the door of Tradition.
one who happens to be a Catholic, writes a book on Tradition, doesn’t make that
book “authoritative” nor “accurate.”The
fact is the late Fr. Yves Congar was reputed to be a neo-modernist and it is no
secret that Pope Pius XII in Humani
Generis, was condemning the philosophies of “reform” being espoused by
Fr. Congar.Little credence can be put
on Mr. Webster’s reference to Fr. Congar, and it speaks volumes to Webster’s
lack of research when he cites Fr. Congar as “THE Roman Catholic authority on
Tradition,” in fact it is quite laughable.
The teaching of a separate body of Apostolic
revelation known as Tradition which is oral in nature originated, not with the
Christian Church, but with Gnosticism. This was an attempt by the gnostics to
bolster their authority by asserting that the Scriptures were not sufficient.
They stated that they possessed the fullness of apostolic revelation because
they not only had the written revelation of the apostles in the Scriptures but
also their oral tradition, and the key for interpreting and understanding that
revelation. Just as the early fathers repudiated this teaching and claim by an
exclusive reliance upon and appeal to the written Scriptures, so must we.
And again I
must point out that all we have here is a straw man argument from Mr.
Webster.The Catholic Church does not
teach that Tradition is a “separate body” of authority.Webster builds up this false argument, and
then blows it down – thus the unsuspecting and/or unknowledgeable reader might
accept what he is saying without question.I also reiterate that it is precisely against those who claim to “go
back to the original teachings” that St. Irenaeus opposed in Against Heresies, Book 3,
Chapter 2.St. Irenaeus opposed those
who claimed to be "going back to the original teachings" in opposition to the
Church AND Scripture, and how is Mr. Webster's argumentation any different
than that which St. Irenaeus opposed? Just as the Early Church
Fathers repudiated false teachers and teachings of those who rejected the
Apostolic Authority of the Church as recorded in the Scriptures, so must we.