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THE TIME OF THE REFORMATION 

VIEWS ON THE CHURCH 

FORMAL PRINCIPLE 

(continued) 

In our preceding article we remarked that the main principles of the Reformation are usually to be considered to be two, namely the formal and the material principle. When we speak of the formal principle we mean that the Reformers acknowledged only one source of authority: the Holy Scriptures. Maintaining this principle they stood opposed to the views of Roman Catholicism, False Mysticism, and Rationalism. So, the Reformers took a stand, first of all, which was directly opposed to that of Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church acknowledged, besides the Word of God, also tradition as a source of authority. And in our preceding article we quoted from the Systematic Theology of Hodge and also from the Decrees of the Council of Trent. 

We now wish to quote one more passage from the dogmatic decrees of the Roman Catholic Church. Chapter 2 of the Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, on the subject of Revelation, reads as follows:

“The same holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, may be certainly known by the natural light of human reason, by means of created things; ‘for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,’ but that it pleased his wisdom and bounty to reveal himself, and the eternal decrees of his will, to mankind by another and a supernatural way: as the Apostle says, ‘God, having spoken on diverse occasions, and many ways, in times past, to the Fathers by the Prophets; last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by his Son.’

It is to be ascribed to this divine revelation, that such truths among things divine as of themselves are not beyond human reason, can, even in the present condition of mankind, be known by everyone with facility, with firm assurance, and with no admixture of error. This, however, is not the reason why revelation is to be called absolutely necessary; but because God of his infinite goodness has ordained man to a supernatural end, viz., to be sharer of divine blessings, which utterly exceed the intelligence of the human mind; for ‘eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.’ 

Further, this supernatural revelation, according to the universal belief of the Church, declared by the sacred Synod of Trent, is contained in the written books and unwritten traditions which have come down to us, having been received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself; or from the Apostles themselves, by the dictation of the Holy Spirit, have been transmitted, as it were, from hand to hand. And these books of the Old and New Testament are to be received as sacred and canonical, in their integrity, with all their parts, as they are enumerated in the decree of the said Council, and are contained in the ancient Latin edition of the Vulgate. These the Church holds to be sacred and canonical, not because, having been carefully composed by mere human inductry, they were afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation, with no admixture of error; but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself. 

And as the things which the holy Synod of Trent decreed for the good of souls concerning the interpretation of Divine Scripture, in order to curb rebellious spirits, have been wrongly explained by some, we, renewing the said decree, declare this to be their sense, that, in matters of faith and morals, appertaining to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be held as the true sense of Holy Scripture which our holy Mother Church hath held and holds, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scripture: and therefore that it is permitted to no one to interpret the Sacred Scripture contrary to this sense, nor, likewise, contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.”

― end of quote from the Vatican Decrees. 

In these quotations it is evident that the Roman Catholic Church has decreed that one must “receive and venerate with an equal affection of piety and reverence all the books of the old and of the New Testament, as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith and to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.” And in these quotations the Roman Catholic Church has also decreed that no one may presume to interpret the said sacred Scriptures contrary to that sense which holy mother Church has held and does hold. In fact, no one has the right to interpret the Scriptures contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers. 

Before we offer our remarks on this doctrine of Tradition as set forth by the Roman Catholic Church, we wish to observe that the Protestants rejected everything as having authority except the Word of God. This doctrine, as setting forth the authority of the Holy Scriptures and that this authority belongs to them exclusively, is also clearly expressed in our Confession of Faith or the Thirty-Seven Articles, in the articles 5-7, which we now quote as follows:

“V.―FROM WHENCE DO THE HOLY SCRIPTURES DERIVE THEIR DIGNITY AND AUTHORITY. ― We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnesseth in our hearts, that they are from God, whereby they carry the evidence in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling. (Notice, please, how this article places the emphasis upon the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and not upon any act of the Church to receive and approve them as such; notice, too, that, according to this article, the very blind are able to perceive that the things in the Word of God are true. We must remember that the Roman Catholic Church declares that the laity, the common people, are not able of themselves to read and understand the Scriptures ― H.V.) 

VI. ―THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CANONICAL AND APOCRYPHAL BOOKS. ― We distinguish those sacred books from the apocryphal, viz.: the third and fourth book of Esdras, the books of Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Syrach, Baruch, the appendix to the book of Esther, the Song of the three Children in the Furnace, the history of Susannah, of Bell and the Dragon, the prayer of Manasses, and the two books of the Maccabees. All of which the Church may read and take instruction from, so far as they agree with the canonical books; but they are far from having such power and efficacy, as that we may from their testimony confirm any point of faith, or of the Christian religion ; much less detract from the authority of the other sacred books. 

VII. ―THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, TO BE THE ONLY RULE OF FAITH. ― We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein. For, since the whole manner of worship, which God requires of us, is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures; nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul saith. For, since it is forbidden, to add unto or take anything from the Word of God, it doth thereby evidently appear, that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects. Neither do we consider of equal value any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore, we reject with all our hearts, whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule, which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God. Likewise, if there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house.”

― end of quote. 

On the question of the Roman Catholic doctrine concerning the Scriptures, as also involving Tradition, Hodge writes as follows in his Systematic Theology, I, 104-106:

“On this subject Romanists agree with Protestants, (1) In teaching the plenary inspiration and consequent infallible authority of the sacred writings. Of these writings the Council of Trent says that God is their author, and that they were written by the dictation of the Holy Spirit. (2) They agree with us in receiving into the sacred canon all the books which we regard as of divine authority. 

Romanists differ from Protestants in regard to the Scriptures, ― 1. In receiving into the canon certain books which Protestants do not admit to be inspired, namely: Tobit, Judith, Sirach, parts of the Maccabees (the Third Book of Maccabees, however, is not included in the Vulgate), Baruch, the Hymn of the Three Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. These books are not all included by name in the list given by the Council of Trent. Several of them are parts of the books there enumerated. Thus, the Hymn of the Three Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon, appear as parts of the book of Daniel. Some modern theologians of the Romish Church refer all the apocryphal books to what they call “The Second Canon,” and admit that they are not of equal authority with those belonging to the First Canon. The Council of Trent, however, makes no such distinction. 2. A second point of difference is that Romanist deny, and Protestants affirm, the completeness of the sacred Scriptures. That is, Protestants maintain that all the extant supernatural revelations of God, which constitute the rule of faith to his Church, are contained in his written word. Romanists, on the other hand, hold that some doctrines which all Christians are bound to believe, are only imperfectly revealed in the Scriptures; that others are only obscurely intimated; and that others are not therein contained at all . . . but what the doctrines are, which are thus imperfectly revealed in the Scriptures, or merely implied, or entirely omitted, has never been authoritatively decided by the Church of Rome. The theologians of that Church, with more or less unanimity, refer to one or the other of these classes the following doctrines: (1.) The canon of Scripture. (2.) The inspiration of the sacred writers. (3.) The full doctrine of the Trinity. (4.) The personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. (5.) Infant baptism. (6.) The observance of Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. (7.) The threefold orders of the ministry. (8.) The government of the Church by bishops. (9.) The perpetuity of the apostleship. (10.) The grace of orders. (11.) The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. (12.) The seven sacraments. (13.) Purgatory. It lies in the interests of the advocates of tradition to depreciate the Scriptures and to show how much the Church would lose if she had no other source of knowledge of divine truth but the written word. Tradition is always represented by Romanists as not only the interpreter, but the complement of the Scriptures. The Bible, therefore, is, according to the Church of Rome, incomplete. It does not contain all the Church is bound to believe; nor are the doctrines which it does contain, therein fully or clearly made known.”

– end of quote of Hodge. 

H.V.