According To The Fathers (Continued)
In this article we will conclude our quotations from Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church,” to show to our readers how the church, during the early periods of the new dispensation viewed the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures. In Vol. III the author discusses the Third Period, A.D. 311-590. In paragraph 118, pages 606 ff., he continues to call attention to Sources of Theology, Scripture and Tradition.
“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 (this “catholic church” must not be identified with the Romish Church of later date; this “catholic church” is the universal church of Christ since the days of the apostles—H.V.) 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. The relation of the two in the mind of the ancient church may be illustrated by the relation between the supreme law of a country (such as the Roman law, the Code Napoleon, the common law of England, the Constitution of the United States) and the courts which expound the law, and decide between conflicting interpretations. Athanasius, for example, “The father of orthodoxy,” always bases his conclusions upon Scripture, and appeals to the authority of tradition only in proof that he rightly understands and expounds the sacred books. The catholic faith, says he, is that which the Lord gave, the apostles preached, and the fathers have preserved; upon this the church is founded, and he who departs from this faith can no longer be called a Christian.”
This, we understand, is a far cry from the present position of Rome, Rome views Tradition as of equal authority with the Scriptures. According to Rome, one needs not to quote from the Bible; Tradition is quite sufficient. However; if the relation between Tradition and the Bible be the same as between the Constitution of the United States and the courts of our land, then it must be evident that Scripture is the sole rule for doctrine and life.
“The old catholic doctrine of Scripture and tradition, therefore, nearly as it approaches the Roman, must not be entirely confounded with it. It makes the two identical as to substance, while the Roman church rests upon tradition for many doctrines and usages, like the doctrines of the seven sacraments, of the mass, of purgatory, of the papacy, and of the immaculate conception, which have no foundation in Scripture. Against this the evangelical church protests, and asserts the perfection and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures as the record of divine revelation; while it does not deny the value of tradition, or of the consciousness of the church, in the interpretation of Scripture, and regulates public teaching by symbolical books. In the Protestant view tradition is not coordinate with Scripture, but subordinate to it, and its value depends on its agreement with the Scriptures. The Scriptures alone are the norma fidei; the church doctrine is only the morma doctrinae. Protestantism gives much more play to private judgment and free investigation in the interpretation of the Scriptures, than the Roman or even the Nicene church.”
When we read that the two, Scripture and Tradition, are identical as to substance, the meaning is, of course, that Tradition is of value only insofar as it is in agreement with the Word of God. Roman Catholic Tradition, however, teaches many things which are not recorded in the divine Scriptures. And the test to which Tradition must always be subjected is exactly whether it be in conformity with the divine Scriptures.
“Protestantism retained the New Testament canon of the Roman church, but, in accordance with the orthodox Jewish and the primitive Christian view, excluded the Apocrypha from the Old. The most eminent of the church fathers speak in the strongest terms of the full inspiration and the infallible authorityof the holy Scriptures, and commend the diligent reading of them even to the laity. Especially Chrysostom. The want of general education, however, and the enormous cost of books, left the people for the most part dependent on the mere hearing of the word of God in public worship; and the free private study of the Bible was repressed by the prevailing spirit of the hierarchy. No prohibition, indeed, was yet laid upon the reading of the Bible; but the presumption that it was a book of the priests and monks already existed.
“The Holy Scriptures were universally accepted as the supreme authority and infallible rule of faith. But as the Scriptures themselves were variously interpreted, and were claimed by the heretics for their views, the fathers of our period, like Irenaeus and Tertullian before them, had recourse through the unbroken succession of the bishops. With them the Scriptures are the supreme law; the combined wisdom and piety of the catholic church, the organic body of the faithful, is the judge which decides the true sense of the law. For to be understood the Bible must be explained, either by private judgment or by the universal faith of Christendom. Strictly speaking, the Holy Ghost, who is the author, is also the only infallible interpreter of the Scriptures. . . . .Even Augustine, who of all the fathers stands nearest to evangelical Protestantism, on this point advocates the catholic principle in the celebrated maxim which he urges against the Manichaeans: ‘I would not believe the gospel, if I were not compelled by the authority of the universal church.’ But he immediately adds: ‘God forbid that I should not believe the gospel.'” Calvin, in his Institutes, also calls attention to this saying of Augustine, and he shows that that church father certainly did not mean with this statement what is commonly and understandably ascribed to it by the Romish Church.
We also wish to quote from Calvin. That noted reformer, of course, also affirms his belief in the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. He does this in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion.” In Book I, Chapter VII, IV, he writes, and we quote: “It must be maintained, as I have before asserted, that we are not established in the belief of the doctrine till we are indubitably persuaded that God is its Author. The principal proof, therefore, of the Scriptures is every where derived from the character of the Divine Speaker. The prophets and apostles boast not of their own genius, or any of those talents which conciliate the faith of the hearers; nor do they insist on arguments from reason; but bring forward the sacred name of God, to compel the submission of the whole world . . . . . It is true that, if we were inclined to, argue the point, many things might be adduced which certainly evince, if there be any God in heaven, that he is the Author of the Law, and the Prophecies, and the Gospel. Even though men of learning and deep judgment rise up in opposition, and exert and display all the powers of their minds in this dispute, yet, unless they are wholly lost to all sense of shame, this confession will be extorted from them, that the Scripture exhibits the plainest evidences that it is God who speaks in it, which manifests its doctrine to be divine. And we shall soon see, that all the books of the sacred Scripture very far excel all other writings. If we read it with pure eyes and sound minds, we shall immediately perceive the majesty of God, which will subdue our audacious contradictions, and compel us to obey him . . . . . With the greatest justice, therefore God exclaims by Isaiah, that the prophets and all the people were his witnesses; because, being taught by prophecies, they were certain that God had spoken without the least fallacy or ambiguity . . . . . Herein God deigns to confer a singular privilege on his elect, whom he distinguishes from the rest of mankind. For what is the beginning of true learning but a prompt alacrity to hear the voice of God? By the mouth of Moses he demands our attention in these terms: ‘Say not in thine heart, who shall ascend into heaven: or, who shall descend into the deep? The word is even in thy mouth.'”
And then Calvin proceeds to show the truth of divine inspiration by referring to the content of the Word of God. He writes that the diction of some of the writers is neat and elegant, and even splendid, as the writings of David, Isaiah, and others, and that the literary style, of Amos the herdsman, Jeremiah, and Zechariah savors of rusticity; but the divine inspiration of the Word of God remains secure. He calls attention to the various prophecies in the Old Testament that can never be explained merely in the light of human reason or ingenuity and which prophecies are fulfilled. Indeed, he realizes that clamorous men, who would ostentatiously display the force of their understanding in opposing divine truth, even dare to question whether such a man as Moses ever existed, but he dismisses such effrontery as madness. He asks that, when Moses mentions the impious murmurings of Aaron, his brother, and Miriam, his sister, whether he spake according to the dictates of the flesh, or obeyed the command of the Holy Spirit? Besides, Calvin continues, whereas Moses enjoyed the supreme authority; why did he not leave to his own sons, at least, the office of the high-priesthood, but place them in the lowest station? The reformer calls attention to the prophecy of Isaiah with respect to Cyrus, by whom the Chaldeans were to be subdued, and the people restored to liberty. This prophecy was uttered by Isaiah long before that emperor was born. How could any man divine that there would be a Cyrus, who would engage in a war with the Babylonians, who would subjugate such a powerful monarchy, and release the people of Israel from exile. Does not this bare narration, without any ornaments of diction, plainly demonstrate that Isaiah delivered the undoubted oracles of God, and not the conjectures of men? And how must we explain that Jeremiah, just before the people were carried away, limited the duration of their captivity to seventy years, and predicted their liberation and return? Was not his tongue under the direction of the Spirit of God? Thereupon Calvin calls attention to the time of the Maccabees, and to that Old Dispensational monster of iniquity, Antiochus, who commanded all the books to be burned. What can explain the preservation of the Old Testament Scripture if not that it was the Lord Who marvelously preserved His own Word. Then the reformer calls attention to the New Testament, and, among other things, he mentions the apostle Paul. Paul was a cruel and sanguinary enemy, was converted to a new man. And this proves that he was constrained, by a command from heaven, to vindicate that doctrine which he had before opposed. And he challenges wicked men to deny that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles on Pentecost and that they were taught by them. And he concludes by calling attention to the fact that the truth of the inspired Word of God was confirmed and witnessed by the blood of so many saints! Of course, we are not surprised that Calvin maintained the infallibility of the Holy Scriptures. In our next article we will continue our discussion of the Reformed Confessions.