Friday, June 11, 2010

St. Hippolytus of Rome & Sola Scriptura

St. Hippolytus of Rome, who was born in about AD 170 and departed this life in about AD 235, is known for many things, both good and bad. He was a Priest; a prolific writer; the first "Antipope"; a genius; a hard-liner; and a martyr.

St. Hippolytus was a disciple of St. Irenaeus of Lyons. As a Priest in Rome, he broke communion with the Bishop of Rome in about AD 220, accusing St. Callixtus I, then Bishop of Rome, of being too lax in the matter of receiving back into the Church those guilty of gross offenses. After this break, he allowed himself to be elected as a kind of counter-Bishop of Rome, becoming the first so-called "Antipope". Later, he and the legitimate Pope of Rome were exiled together by the Emperor, reconciled with each other, and eventually martyred together.

Let's take a look at the commonly quoted proof-text presented in favor of Sola Scriptura:
"There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. For just as a man, if he wishes to be skilled in the wisdom of this world, will find himself unable to get at it in any other way than by mastering the dogmas of philosophers, so all of us who wish to practise piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn; and as the Father wills our belief to be, let us believe; and as He wills the Son to be glorified, let us glorify Him; and as He wills the Holy Spirit to be bestowed, let us receive Him. Not according to our own will, nor according to our own mind, nor yet as using violently those things which are given by God, but even as He has chosen to teach them by the Holy Scriptures, so let us discern them." - St. Hippolytus of Rome, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 9
What the Sola Scripturists are ignoring here, though, is context. Noetus was the inventor of a heresy which held to the position now called Modalism, claiming that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not distinct Persons within the Godhead, but, instead "modes" or "aspects" of the One God as perceived by the believer.

The statement by Hippolytus above comes at a transition point in his writing against this heresy. He has discussed the history and contents of the heresy, refuting it, and is now moving on to an explanation of the truth of the Trinity. And what he's telling us here is that the true knowledge of God is to be found in the Holy Scriptures, if those Scriptures are rightly interpreted. Take a look at his last sentence: we are not to interpret Scripture "according to our own will, nor according to our own mind," but "even as He has chosen to teach them." And where is the Scripture taught with the right interpretation? Only in the Holy Church, as St. Hippolytus makes clear in the remainder of this writing, closing with this doxology:
"To Him be the glory and the power, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church both now and ever, and even for evermore. Amen." - St. Hippolytus of Rome, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 18
Not only is the Sola Scripturists' proof-text out of context within that single writing of St. Hippolytus, it is also out of context within the entirety of his writings. Here's an example:
"And certain other heretics, contentious by nature, and wholly uninformed as regards knowledge, as well as in their manner more than usually quarrelsome, combine in maintaining that Pascha [Easter] should be kept on the fourteenth day of the first month, according to the commandment of the law, on whatever day of the week it should occur. But in this they only regard what has been written in the law, that he will be accursed who does not so keep the commandment as it is enjoined. They do not, however, attend to this fact, that the legal enactment was made for Jews, who in times to come should kill the real Passover [Pascha]. And this Paschal sacrifice in its efficacy, has spread unto the Gentiles, and is discerned by faith, and not now observed in letter merely. They attend to this one commandment, and do not look unto what has been spoken by the Apostle: 'For I testify to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.' In other respects, however, these consent to all the Traditions delivered to the Church by the Apostles." - St. Hippolytus of Rome, Refutation of All Heresies, 8, 11
The individuals here being referred to by St. Hippolytus are a group called the Quartodecimans; they held that Pascha (otherwise known as "Easter"), the annual celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, was to be held on the 14th day of Nisan, the first month in the Jewish calendar, no matter what day it fell on. The rest of the Church, as Hippolytus points out, observed Pascha on a Sunday, as that was the day of the week Christ Resurrected on.

There are two things are really important about this quote when it comes to determining whether Hippolytus held to Sola Scriptura:
  1. In the first sentence, Hippolytus calls the Quartodecimans "heretics," a word applied to those who have chosen to separate themselves from the Church through false belief. Sola Scripturists maintain that every essential matter of Faith is contained in the Bible; no date for Pascha is given in the New Testament, and yet Hippolytus clearly considers it an essential matter of Faith, else the Quartodecimans couldn't be called heretics.
  2. In his last sentence, Hippolytus tells us that the Quartodecimans observe all of the other Traditions established by the Apostles except the correct date of Pascha. This tells us that Hippolytus believed that the Apostles had established more in the Church that was essential to the True Faith than what is contained in Scripture alone.
That's not the only problem with trying to paint Hippolytus as a Sola Scripturist. There's also the complete and utter absurdity of that attempt in the light of the fact that one of Hippolytus' writings is a short tract called The Apostolic Tradition, in which he lays out Traditions which he attributes to the Apostles (but which are not in Scripture!) concerning ordination of Bishops, Priests and Deacons; the catechumenate; Baptism; the Eucharist; Christian fellowship and hospitality; and more. Here's his introductory remarks to that book:
"Now, driven by love towards all the saints, we have arrived at the essence of the Tradition which is proper for the Churches. This is so that those who are well informed may keep the Tradition which has lasted until now, according to the explanation we give of it, and so that others by taking note of it may be strengthened against the fall or error which has recently occurred because of ignorance and ignorant people, with the Holy Spirit conferring perfect Grace on those who have a correct Faith, and so that they will know that those who are at the head of the Church must teach and guard all these things." - St. Hippolytus of Rome, The Apostolic Tradition, 1
Let's make special note of three things in particular here:
  1. Hippolytus tells us that Christian must be informed of the Tradition in order to avoid falling into error, that is, heresy.
  2. Tradition is part of the "correct Faith" (Orthodoxy), and the Holy Spirit confers perfect Grace on those who have this correct Faith.
  3. Bishops and Priests "must teach and guard all these things" -- none are optional.
St. Hippolytus clearly regarded Apostolic Tradition as essential to the Christian Faith. For him, those who did not observe it were heretics, no longer part of the Church. To attempt to paint him as a believer in Sola Scriptura is laughable at best.

Go here to read The Apostolic Tradition for yourself. To read more of St. Hippolytus of Rome's writings, go here.

(originally posted at Pious Fabrications on 20 January 2010 [slightly edited from original])


Northwest SD Lutheran said...

I am curious what is most important believing in Christ as my Lord and Redeemer or are the traditions more important than the faith? In your understanding is it faith that saves or faith and tradition? By the way, as I am Lutheran I follow a liturgical calendar as well. Look forward to talking with you. By the way, how did you get such an awesome looking site? I would like to do much of the same with mine. Also how come you chose Luther as your icon ?

Lvka said...

There are three who write on this blog, and these three are one: the one who wrote this article (David) is not the one who wrote all those other funny little articles (myself), and neither one of these two is the one who created and designed this blog (Jnorm).

Also, how come you chose Luther as your icon?

Good question...

Ikonophile said...


We don't believe in "faith plus tradition". That's silly. We believe in Christ. That faith in Christ is a relationship in communion with Him. The issue here is how one defines that relationship. In the case of most Protestant folks, that relationship is confined to a set of word in a book. Now, don't get me wrong, I mean no disrespect to the Scriptures. We Orthodox would affirm that we live the Scriptures (or try to as best as our sinful selves can) because we are in Christ.

The problem is, a relationship cannot be systematically defined. Define the relationship with your mother or significant other or closest friend. If you tried to explain it to me, at some point words would fail you. I wouldn't be able to fully understand unless I also had a relationship with that person. But even then it it would be my relationship with that person, not yours. Yours would be utterly unique, even if it shared some qualities with mine. Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. It is important. It's the context within which the Scriptures were written.

The Scriptures are written for the Church, by the Church and are meant to be read and lived out within the Church. Remove them and you've taken the entire Bible out of its original context. This is why Tradition is so important, and also why most Protestants don't understand anything about Tradition. It isn't merely a list of unwritten dogmas to be read side by side with the Scriptures. We aren't Roman Catholics and you shouldn't confuse their faulty understanding with our own understanding. The Scriptures themselves are Tradition, written within it, given context by it, in order that the Church may be edified by them.

If you want to know more about Orthodoxy, forget everything you know about Catholicism. Not literally, of course. Just don't look at argument A, B and C against some Catholic practice or dogma, remove the words "Roman Catholic" and insert "Eastern Orthodox". More often than not, though our practices look the same or similar, the reason for said practice or dogma is actually very much different. We aren't Eastern Catholics. We are very much set apart from the RC West. The underlying presuppositions within RC are much closer to Protestantism than us, or so it looks to me.


Northwest SD Lutheran said...

I know that you are not Roman Catholic and I would not accuse you of that and that is not a distinction I want as a Lutheran either.Last I checked the Patriach in Constantinople was talking with the Pope;I however, do not know if this is your Patriarch, so I won't go leveling those types of allegations. In my opinion the Roman Catholic Church added a lot of things they should not have. They have also withheld the knowledge of the Grace of God from many people by the insistence of meritorious good works outside of salvation. Last I looked Orthodoxy was on it's own and not in communion with Rome. It is my hope that we can in the future broaden our discussions as dialog is good.

Please forgive my ignorance about tradition we Lutherans who don't consider ourselves Protestants but Lutheran have our traditions also. My church has not thrown out the historic liturgy and nor do we plan to do so, just one example. Let me see if I understand what you are saying. The traditions are within the Scriptures and therefore it is what Sola Scriptura really is. For example, infant baptism is not only doctrinally correct and commanded, it is also tradition. Am I correct?

I also agree that my relationship with God is personal. I certainly do believe how to have that relationship is only with the Christ we both know and adore. I must also ask you though to not paint Lutherans with such a broad brush either as our views are different from the Baptists or other Protestant sects. I believe that we are the only ones who believe that the Word of God is the Means of Grace to bring one to faith ( How does Orthodoxy think about this). In otherwords, true Lutherans do not believe in decision theology that has so tainted the pool of Christianity.

Also the Fathers of the Church East and West do have many good things to say and errors also. What does Orthodoxy do when you have two conflicting opinions from different fathers of the Church? I think it would be unfair to say that you consider the writngs of the Fathers to be divine or on equal footing with Scripture.

I believe that the Scriptures are also meant to be lived out in the Church( Churches often don't live them out and trade for the man centered contemporary doctrines and other Codswallop) However, I think you would agree they are also meant to be lived out in the life of the Christian. This is regardless of the stripe of his faith and I like you will admit I am poor, wretched, miserable, sinner in need of Christ's daily mercies and always want to try and make it a point to meditate on the mercy I have obtained through the Cross. However, if you are saying that Scripture and tradition are as plain as the nose on my face where so you get them? Since there are traditions where are they specifically outlined in Scripture and if they are there? Then they should be believed in.

Northwest SD Lutheran said...

Ikonophile, why is it important to read the Desert Fathers because St. Anthony said so. Are the commands of those beatified greater than those of the Bible itself? I believe Christ told us to love our neigbors as ourselves and surely St. Anthony did not think of this himself but rather from Christ's Words in the Holy Scriptures. Why is the writings of these men considered so important? With all of the internalizations apart from the Word how can you be sure of reliability apart from the Word of God?

Lvka said...

Why is it important to read the Desert Fathers?

To teach yourself true kindness, humility, patience, long-suffering, forgiveness, and total obedience in a Christ-like submission to God.

Ikonophile said...

The sum total of Tradition is not enclosed within the Scriptures. Various Scriptural references affirm this. The end of the gospel of St. John affirms that not everything Jesus said and did could even be recorded, St. Paul in one of his letters to the Corinthians references a quote of Jesus "it is better to give than to receive" which there is no reference to in the gospels. Also, in 2 Thessalonians, Paul exhorts the Church to continue to adhere to the traditions that were passed on to them by word of mouth or epistle. Not only this, but the fact that a way of life cannot be contained in a text.

We would espouse something akin to Prima Scriptura, not Sola Scriptura. Jnorm can correct me here, he knows more about the specifics of this than I do, or so I gather from his own responses around the blogosphere.

What the apostles did is just as important as what they said. I know that you are a Lutheran, so I do not charge you with this, but some would say that because the Scriptures are silent on the subject of worship that there is no Biblical command against any particular form. Of course, you would say that the Lutherans have kept the historic liturgy, but considering the multitude of changes from around the year 1200 to the 1500's to the present that the Catholics have made to their own liturgy (I believe there were at least four or five major changes in the last 800 years, specifically made in councils or from the Pope himself) I wonder how the Lutherans were aware of what exactly the ancient liturgy consisted of during Luther's day and after him.

A short response to how we view contradictory views within the Fathers: it's called Patristic consensus. This is best expressed in council, specifically the seven ecumenical councils. If someone disagrees with Nicea, Nicea II or whatever other council, of course such teachings should be rejected. There are other times when there isn't a dogmatic statement made on a particular theological view. In these cases, any person can hold to their own theolegumena or pious opinion. But that pious opinion can never be elevated to dogma. Toll houses are a good example of this. If you don't know what they are, orthowiki it. Some Fathers think they are literal, other think they are metaphorical. But it is not dogmatized so it is perfectly acceptable for one Father to have one opinion on this subject and another to have another opinion. Many people mistake these theolegumena of the Fathers as a disagreement on dogma and therefore see these differences as schisms or disunity. The problem is, these people (not saying that you are guilty of this, mind you) fail to understand the difference between the dogma of the Church, what is necessary for salvation, and what is not dogma. If you disbelieve in toll houses altogether, your salvation is not in jeopardy.

Ikonophile said...

The problem with living out the Scriptures outside of the Orthodox Church is that the Scriptures lack proper context. This is a hard saying, I know.

But the fact is, the Orthodox Church wrote the Scriptures, compiled them, and it is within that Church, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that the Scriptures can be properly read and lived out in.

You say "this is regardless of the stripe of his faith". The stripe of his faith is not something that can waiver here. It is precisely the faith that was "once delivered to all the saints (cf. Jude 3) that is context for living out the Scriptures because it is this Church that is Christ's body. We live out the Scriptures because we are in Christ. We are in Christ because we have been joined to His Body, the Church. This Church is a living organism that is not divided because Christ's body is not divided (1 Cor. 1:13). There are not "churches" in the sense of the Lutheran church, Baptist church and Methodist church. There are only churches in the sense of local churches that are united in faith in Christ (gathered around the Eucharist in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch 30-107 A.D.). This faith is the same the world over. Baptists, Methodists and Lutherans do not share a common faith. Even asking them all "Who is Jesus" and when pressed for details, we find that this "Jesus" is different for each, even if he happens to share some similarities with the others. For many Baptists, Jesus is the God who unconditionally elects and reprobates those who are to be saved and damned. For Methodists, Jesus is the God who wills that all men are saved but more than that, gives all men the opportunity for salvation (in opposition to five point Calvinism). These are "definitions" of Jesus that are in stark contrast with each other. Hardly similar.

I agree with Lvka. The Bible tells us what to do (i.e. to pray without ceasing, to put off the old man, to strive for holiness etc.) but often only gives hints as to how to do that. How does the Bible say we should pray without ceasing? Because the Scriptures don't specifically address this command of St. Paul in any practical way, this does not mean the Scriptures lack anything. They are comprehensive, not exhaustive.

The Jesus Prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner" is a prayer given to us by the Desert Fathers in order to live out Paul's command to pray without ceasing. But note here that the prayer itself comes from two passages in the gospel of St. Luke (the prayer of the blind man and the publican). The Fathers evidence this life lived in Christ and they are excellent examples of the importance of obeying and fulfilling the commands of the gospels. Again, in general, the gospels tell us what to do, the Fathers show us how. Everyone is on a different level, spiritually, and each person's situation is different so the Bible cannot address every person's situation for all times and in all places. It can (and does) give us practices that transcend time and place and spiritual maturity. And the Fathers of every age (they are not reduced to a bunch of old guys in the past, for to admit that would be tantamount to admitting that the Holy Spirit is not alive within the Church in all times and in all places) are our guides in fulfilling the commandments of Christ. Yes, the Desert Fathers are important, but without the commands of the Gospel, what life would they have to live in order to be an example to us? They are for our edification.

I believe I've typed enough, sorry for the length and two postings.


Ikonophile said...

Let me complete my thoughts on the Liturgy from above. Forgive me, I forgot something. Just as it is important to have Apostolic Succession, it is equally important to have the same Faith. Roman Catholics have Apostolic Succession. But they do not have the same faith. Likewise, having the same ancient Liturgy is only part of the total. One must also have the same faith as those who molded and shaped the ancient liturgy. They necessarily go hand in hand. Just like the RC church and apostolic succession, ultimately it is meaningless without the expression of faith originally given to the bishops by the apostles. RC can harp about having AS and you can say that your church has no wish to change the ancient liturgy, but where is that ancient faith that formed the liturgy itself? It's absence is detrimental to the whole.


Lvka said...

What does Orthodoxy do when you have two conflicting opinions from different fathers of the Church?

If two Fathers collide... ask a third. :-)

As John pointed out, there's usually a consensus opinion. [I said consensus, not unanimity]. But when no consensus emerges [actually, make that: ONLY when no consensus emerges], you're free to hold to whichever of the two (or more) opinions [on that specific subject] you choose.

Northwest SD Lutheran said...

On the conflicting Father's opinion. Then you can't really trust in who is right. I say this because sometimes the consensus opinion is not the right opinion we know this as human beings.
I certainly do not think you would disagree with that. This is why I trust what Scripture says and I think that you would agree that it is reliable , true? Also holding two opinions on the same subject gives no certainty at all. The Scriptures do. I know that you believe the Scriptures are reliable as well but it seems that you are holding what could be considered the Fathers commentary as equal to Scripture. yet the Fathers and the councils at times disagreed. So why can you not trust the readings of the Scriptures themselves if they are reliable and the source of all Godliness and Goodness God provides.2 Peter 1:3 this as you would acknowledge is God's Word. How else would we know if we were to not hear and learn it? Is man's opinion of what is said more valuable than the Word itself?

In regards to the liturgy which is historic in my Christian faith also. I would like to ask again is it the agreement between church bodies and how they practice the liturgy or a belief in Christ as the Savior of the world, that is most important? Perhaps though I am asking the wrong question as you do not hold to the substitutionary atonement of Christ for your sins. Please note I am not saying that you are sinless because we all have daily sins. The liturgy that we practice is historic with our faith as the Roman Catholic liturgy is specific to their faith. It is true we don't have agreement nor would I ever say that we do .But to say that someone is outside of Christ because of there liturgy practices or worship rites is rather presumptious and works based righteousness. I am not saying that good works are not necessary they are the signs of a living, dependent, and vibrant faith in Christ.

The discussion has been great look forward to talking with you both again.

Lvka said...

The Seven Ecumenical Councils don't contradict each other. (Seriously).

And Christ promised that the Gates of Hell itself will not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). God Himself is a Council of Persons, with Jesus Christ Himself being the Angel of Great Council (Isaiah 9:6 LXX), with Whom the Father counciled to make man in His own Image (Genesis 1:26), and to descend and confuse the languages at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:7). The Church itself meets in Council in Acts 15, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; Saint Paul held converse with Cephas and Saint James, the Brother of the Lord, to check if the message of the Gospel that he received directly from Jesus Christ Himself was the same as theirs (Galatians 1:18-19); and Christ Himself understood the Church as being a conciliar body, as can be seen in Matthew 18:15-20; and His fore-father after the flesh, King David, says in the Psalms: Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Psalm 133) -- That Biblical enough for you? :-)





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