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5"We make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet"

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  • Christopher Orr
    Feb 25, 2007
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      From the Orthodox-Lutheran Dialogue list:

      I've observed before that the Sacred Scriptures teach us to value
      Tradition while at the same time the Church's Tradition teaches us
      that everything taught as dogma in the Church must be grounded in the
      Scriptures and that even a Catechumen can judge by the light of the
      Scriptures whether or not to accept as true what his teacher is
      presenting to him (see St. Cyril below).

      On this point the Fathers seem pretty darned unanimous. I'd love
      to see the Orthodox (or Roman Catholics) DEAL with these sayings,
      rather than dismiss us poor benighted Lutherans who can't understand
      what the Fathers mean since [it is falsely believed] we're "not in the
      Church of the Fathers." Go read them in their context and see whether
      or not I've done injustice to any of them by importing to their words
      a meaning that the original context precludes. I don't think I have.

      So:

      “Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I
      will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with
      Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.” -St.
      John Chrysostom, Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, p. 118, vol.
      96 FOTC

      "Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of
      truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the
      Divine words." -St. Gregory of Nyssa: On the Holy Trinity, NPNF, p. 327

      "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; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve
      that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those
      writings." -St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection
      (NPNF II, V:439)

      “We must neither doubt nor hesitate respecting the words of the
      Lord, but be fully persuaded that every word of God is true and
      possible, even if nature rebel; for therein is the test of faith.”
      -St. Basil the Great, Rule 8 of The Morals (p. 81, vol 9 TFOTC)

      “We must not rely on our own reasoning to the point of rejecting
      the words of the Lord; but we must be convinced that the Lord’s words
      are more worthy of credence than our own fullest knowledge.” -Basil
      the Great, Rule 8 of The Morals (see above)

      “What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions
      of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not
      venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if ‘all that
      is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by
      hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy
      Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.” -Basil the Great, The Morals,
      p. 204 see above.

      “But if ‘the Lord is faithful in all his words,’ and ‘all his
      commandments are faithful, confirmed for ever and ever, made in truth
      and equity’ to delete anything that is written down or to interpolate
      anything that is not written amounts to an open defection from the
      faith and makes the offender liable to a charge of contempt. For our
      Lord Jesus Christ says: ‘My sheep hear my voice,’ and before this, He
      said: ‘But a stranger they follow not but fly from him because they
      know not the voice of strangers.’ And the Apostle, using a human
      parallel, more strongly forbids adding to or removing anything from
      Holy Writ in the following words: ‘ yet a man’s testament if it be
      confirmed, no man despiseth or addeth to it.” -St. Basil the Great,
      Concerning Faith, p. 59 (Vol 9 TFOTC)

      “We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the
      Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of
      the Scripture.” -St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, Chapter 7,
      par. 16

      [Note that whatever St. Basil meant in the oft cited paragraph 66
      of *On the Holy Spirit*, I don't think he meant something in
      contradiction to the numerous citations above]

      "For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not
      even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures;
      nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of
      speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute
      credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce
      from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe
      depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy
      Scriptures." -St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in
      The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B.
      Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983 reprint], Second Series, Volume VII,
      p. 23

      "In Christ, Your Son, our Lord, and in the Holy Scriptures
      approved by the authority of Your Catholic Church, You have laid down
      the way of salvation to the life which is to come after death." -St.
      Augustine, Confessions VII:7

      "Since then we are to discourse of the things of God, let us
      assume that God has full knowledge of Himself, and bow with humble
      reverence to His words. For He Whom we can only know through His own
      utterances is the fitting witness concerning Himself." -St. Hilary of
      Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book I:18

      "It isn't by cleaving to a preconceived opinion, but by studying
      the force of the words, that we can possess this faith." -St. Hilary
      of Poitiers, On the Trinity, VIII:33

      Don't you think, though, that the passages cited go beyond "primacy"?

      For example, would the Orthodox today agree with St. Cyril that
      the catechumens shouldn't believe what the saint himself taught them
      without receiving the proof of it from the Sacred Scriptures? That
      seems to imply that the clarity of the Scriptures is sufficient so
      that even those who are just coming to Christ can judge whether or not
      what their teacher is proclaiming to them is true on the basis of
      the Scriptures ("where is this written?" as we Lutherans like to
      ask!). It also implies that the saint doesn't want to teach a single
      thing that is not in the Sacred Scriptures.

      Also would you agree with St. Gregory's assertion that if
      Scripture is the umpire and that doctrine is approved which is found
      in agreement with the divine words?

      Or with St. Basil's assertion that to go beyond the Scriptures is
      out of bounds for the faithful soul?

      It seems to me that such comments from the holy fathers present a
      challenge to a way of reading the Scriptures that says, at least so it
      seems to me, "I believe Scripture means whatever the Church says it
      means."

      --------------------------------

      My dear Pr W_____ has brought up another well-thought out question
      (critique) concerning the popular way that Scripture and Tradition are
      discussed in the Orthodox Church in contrast to the above language of
      the Fathers.

      The real key to this discussion is the parenthetical, "[Note that
      whatever St. Basil meant in the oft cited paragraph 66 of *On the Holy
      Spirit*, I don't think he meant something in contradiction to the
      numerous citations above]". Is this true? Again, this is an example of
      attempting to "let the Fathers interpret the Fathers" in the same way
      sola Scriptura Protestants attempt to "let the Scripture interpret the
      Scripture". Do we simply use the "sola Scriptura Basil" as the key to
      reading everything else he wrote in the same way Protestant use
      certain sections of Paul to interpret James and every other "works"
      discussion and commandment in the Bible?

      Or, is St. Basil giving us a key to recalibrating our understanding of
      what exactly it means to "[follow] the meaning of the Scripture" and
      to rely only "on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures." If we are to
      hold these saints as witnesses to the use of Scripture as the
      touchstone and referee in proving all doctrines "with Scripture
      (alone), so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast" letting
      "the inspired Scriptures be our umpire" so that "the vote of truth
      will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine
      words", then we must look at what these authorities found in
      Scripture. We must look at the results of the methodology we appeal to
      these Fathers for.

      St. Cyril of Jerusalem, for instance, sees the full rites of Baptism
      and Chrismation, with all of the excorcisms and anointings, in
      Scripture if he is following his own 'rule', as we can assume.
      However, a Protestant will only see in Scripture the simple, literal
      injunction to baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of
      the Holy Spirit. Of course, then many Protestants will refer to Acts
      2:38 saying we should actually only be baptized into the name of
      Jesus. There is disagreement as to whether the very word baptism
      should be understood to mean immersion, or simply cleansing which
      would allow for pouring or sprinkling, or whether it must refer to
      water at all meaning that it is a spiritual cleansing by the Holy
      Spirit. St. Cyril, using the methodology that is being referred to as
      authoritative by Pr Weedon, can describe the elaborate initiation rite
      of the Church implying that he sees it as being 'proven' and
      'demonstrated' from the Divine Scriptures. This is especially true
      since "concerning the divine and holy mysteries [sacraments] of the
      Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy
      Scriptures" and Baptism is far from a 'casual statement' in St.
      Cyril's mind.

      The way in which the Fathers saw the Divine Scriptures speaking to
      contemporary conditions long after the writing of the texts is a very
      different thing than the literal meaning of the literal text in front
      of them. The Fathers did not limit themselves to 'receiving' only
      those allegorical and typological images that the New Testament
      authors saw in the Old Testament. This hermeneutic was owned by the
      Fathers and continued to be utilized as God Himself in His Body, the
      Church, sought to address and pastor new Christians of new cultures
      with new tongues and temperaments for centuries. These images that
      most Protestants will see as simply 'reading into the text' were
      celebrated as hidden spiritual messages and gems placed in Scripture
      for our benefit by the foresight and providence of God. This is
      similar to the double meaning of the prophecy of Isaiah that in the
      near present a young woman will give birth while also prophesying that
      the Virgin will give birth (our two words being one in the Hebrew -
      two also in the Greek).

      So, chrismation is in the Scriptures. Invocation of the saints is in
      the Scriptures. The separate offices of bishop and presbyter are in
      the Scriptures. Prayer for the dead is in the Scriptures. As is the
      doctrine of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. ...if one but
      look for it with the eyes of Christ to which we have access only when
      we are members of His Body, the Church. Apart from this physical union
      with Christ's real Flesh, which is what the term Body refers to vis a
      vis the Church, we have eyes and yet cannot see, ears and cannot hear.
      The Scriptures are veiled to us. It is in this mystical way that those
      outside of the Church cannot see the meaning of Scripture, not that
      the non-Orthodox are stupid, silly, unable, etc. It is that they are
      looking with fleshly eyes and not with the Mystical Eyes of Christ's
      Body, the Church. We have all had "Ah-ha!" moments reading the Bible,
      or any text. Were we lacking diligence or intelligence when reading
      the previously veiled passage before? No, the Light was simply not
      shining on it to allow us to perceive it, or, we were not prepared to
      or expecting to see it.

      So, yes, to answer Pr W's concluding question: I believe "that such
      comments from the holy fathers present a challenge to a way of reading
      the Scriptures that says". I believe it challenges, not he Church's
      understanding of the Scriptures, but of the self-aggrandizement that
      assumes that 'my' level of understanding is the measure of what the
      Scripture means: "I believe Scripture means whatever [I see]." This is
      at the base of the profusion of denominations and sects born of the
      Protestant Reformation, and it eerily echoes the way in which critics
      of both the Bible and of Christianity approach the Scripture: like data

      The Fathers' references to the totality of the Faith being found in
      the Scriptures is not a promulgation of sola Scriptura, far from it.
      In fact, it is a challenge to us to struggle to see all that they saw
      in it, in ways beyond our simple, literal, almost materialist way of
      reading the bare text - as if we were historians, literaries and
      grammarticians. Our challenge is to see their practice of the faith in
      the Bible, through this "Scripture first, alone" methodology.

      If these Fathers invoked the saints in prayer and offered prayers for
      the benefit of the departed and saw the offices of Bishop and
      Presbyter as unchallengeable, then they must have seen this in
      Scripture as the Bible is "the the rule and the measure of every
      tenet". Right?

      Where? and How?
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