Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Eastern Orthodoxy NOT Refuted 1-7

These are the videos of my recent (and still ongoing) discussions at YouTube with a self-describe "Puritan," drakeshelton. He deleted the three original videos which my first three respond to, so I'm not able to post them here, but I have included his videos as well as my responses in the case of the final four videos. I will continue to post his videos and my responses here for the duration of the conversation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

St. Clement of Alexandria & Sola Scriptura

St. Clement of Alexandria was born to pagan parents and later converted to Christianity. He studied under Pantaenus, who was the head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria (in modern-day Egypt), was ordained a Priest, and later became himself the head of the School after the passing of his teacher. He is also famous for having been the mentor of Origen of Alexandria, who became head of the School after Clement's passing.

Clement's writings, which he penned during his time in Alexandria from about AD 180 to AD 200, are some of the most difficult of the writings of the early Fathers. He never attempts, in any of his writings, to explicate a cohesive, overarching argument; he instead jumps from topic to topic, often without any logical transition, following his thoughts wherever they take him. His writings have also been the subject of some controversy in the Church, even into modern times, as he drew freely on pagan and heretical works and ideas, using them to support his own theses; but more on this in a moment.

First, let's look at the common proof-text presented by Protestant apologists:

"But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits, will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves." - St. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, 7, 16

Sounds like a good proof-text in support of Sola Scriptura at first read, but if we dig anywhere below surface level, we start to encounter some major problems. First, these apologists apparently didn't finish the chapter this quote comes from. Here's Clement a few paragraphs later on what heretics do with the Scriptures:
"And if those also who follow heresies venture to avail themselves of the prophetic Scriptures; in the first place they will not make use of all the Scriptures, and then they will not quote them entire, nor as the body and texture of prophecy prescribe. But, selecting ambiguous expressions, they wrest them to their own opinions, gathering a few expressions here and there; not looking to the sense, but making use of the mere words. For in almost all the quotations they make, you will find that they attend to the names alone, while they alter the meanings; neither knowing, as they affirm, nor using the quotations they adduce, according to their true nature." - Stromata, 7, 16
And again, seeming to actually argue against Protestants nearly 1300 years before Protestants even existed:

"For those are slothful who, having it in their power to provide themselves with proper proofs for the divine Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, select only what contributes to their own pleasures. And those have a craving for glory who voluntarily evade, by arguments of a diverse sort, the things delivered by the blessed Apostles and teachers, which are wedded to inspired words; opposing the divine tradition by human teachings, in order to establish the heresy.

For, in truth, what remained to be said—in ecclesiastical knowledge I mean—by such men, Marcion, for example, or Prodicus, and such like, who did not walk in the right way? For they could not have surpassed their predecessors in wisdom, so as to discover anything in addition to what had been uttered by them; for they would have been satisfied had they been able to learn the things laid down before." - Stromata, 7, 16 [emphasis mine]

According to Clement, then, the heretics introduce innovations and contradict the Apostles by falsely believing that they can interpret Scripture for themselves; they disregard the Apostolic Traditions which, according to Clement, have been "wedded" to the Scriptures, and produce their own necessarily false interpretations. And what is Clement's answer to this problem? The Church.

"Now, since there are three states of the soul—ignorance, opinion, knowledge—those who are in ignorance are the Gentiles [pagans], those in knowledge, the true Church, and those in opinion, the Heretics. Nothing, then, can be more clearly seen than those, who know, making affirmations about what they know, and the others respecting what they hold on the strength of opinion, as far as respects affirmation without proof." - Stromata, 7, 16
And again, on membership in the Church being necessary to correctly interpreting Scripture, a few paragraphs later:
"Our Gnostic [not referring to the heretical groups of the same name, but to an Orthodox Christian with True Knowledge of God] then alone, having grown old in the Scriptures, and maintaining apostolic and ecclesiastic orthodoxy in doctrines, lives most correctly in accordance with the Gospel, and discovers the proofs, for which he may have made search (sent forth as he is by the Lord), from the law and the prophets. For the life of the Gnostic, in my view, is nothing but deeds and words corresponding to the tradition of the Lord." - Stromata, 7, 16
And Clement closes this chapter with an indictment of the heretics as having corrupted the truth and stolen the Holy Scriptures, which properly belong to the Church:
"For we must never, as do those who follow the heresies, adulterate the truth, or steal the canon of the Church, by gratifying our own lusts and vanity, by defrauding our neighbours; whom above all it is our duty, in the exercise of love to them, to teach to adhere to the truth." - Stromata, 7, 16
When we move into the next chapter, chapter 17, Clement tells us more about this Church, in fact, he uses many of the same arguments we encountered with St. Irenaeus of Lyons previously. Here's a few quotes (although I strongly encourage you to read Clement's arguments for yourself here):
"But not having the key of entrance, but a false (and as the common phrase expresses it), a counterfeit key , by which they [heretics] do not enter in as we enter in, through the Tradition of the Lord, by drawing aside the curtain; but bursting through the side-door, and digging clandestinely through the wall of the Church, and stepping over the truth, they constitute themselves the Mystagogues [those who initiate into the mysteries] of the soul of the impious." - Stromata, 7, 17

"From what has been said, then, it is my opinion that the true Church, that which is really ancient, is one, and that in it those who according to God’s purpose are just, are enrolled. For from the very reason that God is one, and the Lord one, that which is in the highest degree honourable is lauded in consequence of its singleness, being an imitation of the one first principle. In the nature of the One, then, is associated in a joint heritage the one Church, which they strive to cut asunder into many sects." - Stromata, 7, 17

"But the pre-eminence of the Church, as the principle of union, is, in its oneness, in this surpassing all things else, and having nothing like or equal to itself." - Stromata, 7, 17
Now let's look at the opening chapter from the same writing, The Stromata, in which Clement explains how he came to the knowledge of the True Faith, and how the True Faith is passed down, namely, through Apostolic Succession:
"Well, they [the three men whom Clement learned of the Faith from -- probably Tatian the Syrian, Theodotus of Byzantium, and Pantaenus of Alexandria] preserving the Tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the Holy Apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the sons receiving it from the father (but few were like the Fathers), came by God’s will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds. And well I know that they will exult; I do not mean delighted with this tribute, but solely on account of the preservation of the Truth, according as they delivered it. For such a sketch as this, will, I think, be agreeable to a soul desirous of preserving from escape the blessed Tradition." - Stromata, 1, 1
So, we can see that using the proof-text from Clement's Stromata to support Sola Scriptura is taking his words out of context. But there's also another problem with a Protestant using his quote this way. Clement's idea of what constitutes "Scripture" is very, very different from a Protestant's; in fact, it's very different from mine as well. Essentially, Clement believed that anything that agreed with the Faith of the Church could be considered Scriptural, no matter by whom it was written, when, or where. Here's Bruce Metzger (a Presbyterian, by the way), one of the most famous and widely respected historians of early Christianity, in his book The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance:
"He [Clement] refers to [pagan poet] Orpheus as 'the theologian', and speaks of [pagan philosopher] Plato as being 'under the inspiration of God'. Even the Epicurean [pagan philosopher] Metrodorus uttered certain words 'divinely inspired'. It is not surprising then that, that he can quote passages as inspired from the epistles of Clement of Rome and of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Apocalypse of Peter." (page 134)
In all, of the approximately 8000 citations of other works in Clement's writings, about one-third of them are from pagan authors. He cites 359 pagan writings, 70 biblical writings (including all of the deuterocanonical books and some apocryphal ones -- all as authoritative), and 36 patristic or New Testament apocryphal writings, including those of heretics.

It's to be noted, though, that 1. he doesn't quote all of these various writings as Scriptural, though he quotes many that neither you nor I would consider Scriptural as such; and 2. even though Clement's definition of "Scripture" was a little wider than that used by your or I, he does seem to have attributed more authority to the writings of Apostles than to other writings. Even here, however, his list of books differed significantly from our current 27-book New Testament (the New Testament being, as it is, an attempt at a complete library of Apostolic writings).

St. Clement believed all of the following books were Apostolic writings, in addition to what we have in our New Testament today:
  • Gospel of the Egyptians
  • Gospel of the Hebrews
  • Traditions of Matthias
  • Preaching of Peter
  • 1 Clement
  • Epistle of Barnabas
  • Didache
  • Shepherd of Hermas
  • Apocalypse of Peter
And his New Testament didn't include the following books which we do include:
  • Philemon
  • James
  • 2 Peter
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
The problem all of this presents for the Protestant apologist is obvious. Even if Clement was a Sola Scripturist (we've already seen that he was not), his Scriptura was very different from that of a Protestant. Hence, he couldn't have been Sola Scripturist in the way a Protestant is; from a Protestant perspective, he's including a whole lot of extra-biblical stuff in his theology, and excluding some of Scripture!

If you'd like to read the writings of St. Clement of Alexandria for yourself, check them out here.

(originally posted as Pious Fabrications on 5 January 2010)
Saturday, March 6, 2010

St. Irenaeus of Lyons & Sola Scriptura

St. Irenaeus of Lyons was a disciple of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of St. John the Apostle. Irenaeus' greatest achievement, and the one for which he is most remembered, was his five-volume Against Heresies in which he thoroughly examines and refutes the Gnostic heretics. Every time I read anything from this great writing, I have to wonder if Irenaeus was a prophet; he often seems to be arguing against Protestantism over a thousand years before that particular heresy ever existed.

Of particular interest in examining St. Irenaeus' position on Sola Scriptura are the first five chapters of Book 3 of Against Heresies. Let's look at the common Protestant proof-text:
"We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those [the Apostles] 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." - St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 3, 1, 1
In order to really understand what Irenaeus is saying here, we need to examine the context. This statement is only the beginning of his argument which extends until the end of chapter 5 in the same book. His argument is so intricate (and great, by the way) and his every word so important to that argument, that a summary can't do it justice. I'll attempt to summarize his argument, but I highly recommend that you read chapters 1-5 of Book 3 of Against Heresies for yourself here.

Now, I'll try to explain what Irenaeus is saying; forgive me if I oversimplify his argument. First, let's note two very important things which it may be easy for some to miss in the quote above:
  1. A careful reading of the quote reveals that St. Irenaeus is not referring to all Scripture as "the ground and pillar of our Faith;" he's referring specifically to the Gospels, and, even more specifically, to the message of the Gospels which he outlines in the paragraph that follows the quote above:
    "These [the Gospels] have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God." - AH, 3, 1, 2
    These statements are "the ground and pillar of our Faith" which Irenaeus is referring to. And, in saying this, he's paraphrasing the dialogue between St. Peter the Apostle and Christ in Matthew 16:15-18:
    "He [Christ] said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it." (NKJV)
  2. His wording is very intentional. He's calling his reader's attention back to the words of St. Paul in 1 Timothy 3:15, in which the Apostle says that the Church is "the ground and pillar of the truth." St. Irenaeus is hearkening back to this statement of the Apostle for a reason: he's identifying the message of the Gospel with the Church as being our "ground and pillar," and also identifying "our Faith" with "the truth." And he's doing all of this, as he explains in the chapters following, in contradistinction to the "secret traditions" of the Gnostics, which conflict with the True Faith taught by the Apostles about Christ and handed down in the Church via Apostolic Succession (but more on that in a moment).
Another common Protestant proof-text comes from the next chapter:
"When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce." - AH, 3, 2, 1
Taken alone, this is often made to sound as if Irenaeus is condemning tradition in general; he's not, though. As in the previous quotes, in which he juxtaposes Scripture with the Gnostic's "secret traditions," he now juxtaposes these "secret traditions" with Holy Tradition. Comparing Holy Tradition with the Gnostic's "secret traditions," he enumerates two major differences:
  1. Contrary to the "secret traditions" of the Gnostics, which often contradict each other and trace their lineage back to men like Basilides, Marcion, Valentinus, and Cerinthus, and which are passed down only to "the perfect," Irenaeus asserts that Holy Tradition comes from the Apostles themselves and is passed down through the Priests whom the Apostles appointed to oversee the Church:
    "But, again, when we refer them to that Tradition which originates from the Apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of Priests in the Churches, they object to Tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the Priests, but even than the Apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. ... It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to Tradition." - AH, 3, 2, 2
  2. In contradistinction to the secretive, "hidden" nature of the Gnostics' "traditions," Irenaeus contrasts Holy Tradition, which is open all people through the Church:
    "It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the Tradition of the Apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the Apostles instituted Bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [Gnostic heretics] rave about." - AH, 3, 3, 1
In Book 5 of Against Heresies he also makes very clear the Scripture can only be interpreted rightly in the context of the Church, building on the identification of Scripture and Church which he laid out in the quotes above:
"Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy Priests, not taking into consideration of how much greater consequence is a religious man, even in a private station, than a blasphemous and impudent sophist. Now, such are all the heretics, and those who imagine that they have hit upon something more beyond the truth, so that by following those things already mentioned, proceeding on their way variously, inharmoniously, and foolishly, not keeping always to the same opinions with regard to the same things, as blind men are led by the blind, they shall deservedly fall into the ditch of ignorance lying in their path, ever seeking and never finding out the truth. It behoves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures. For the Church has been planted as a garden in this world; therefore says the Spirit of God, 'Thou mayest freely eat from every tree of the garden' that is, Eat ye from every Scripture of the Lord; but ye shall not eat with an uplifted mind, nor touch any heretical discord." - AH, 5, 20, 2
So, we've now established that Irenaeus is not arguing for the authority of Scripture alone, nor does he assert Scripture's authority over or outside of the Church. Instead, Irenaeus asserts that Scripture is a part of the Holy Tradition of the Church whose Truth is preserved by means of Apostolic Succession from the Apostles. And I'll close this post with a quote from Irenaeus in which he tells us exactly where that Church is to be found -- even in our own day:
"Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the Apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the Tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the Apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the Apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the Tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?" - AH, 3, 4, 1 [emphasis mine]
Again, I can't recommend strongly enough that you read chapters 1-5 of Book 3 of Against Heresies for yourself here. St. Irenaeus' argument in those chapters is outstanding and I have no doubt that, like me, you'll be shaking your head as you read and wondering how the Protestant apologist can read these chapters and not realize that Irenaeus is talking about him all throughout. I'm almost certain that St. Irenaeus had the gift of prophecy.

(originally published 30 December 2009 at Pious Fabrications)





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