While on his way from Antioch to be martyred in Rome (where he was eventually, in about AD 107, martyred by being eaten by lions in the Colosseum), he wrote a series of seven letters, six to various churches and a final one to his friend St. Polycarp of Smyrna, a fellow-Bishop and fellow-disciple of St. John the Apostle. His letters are important because of their forcefulness (he was a Bishop and, if his letters are any indication, expected his wishes to be fulfilled on this authority alone) and because of the details they contain about early Christian belief and practice, especially concerning the role of clergy, the Sacraments, and ecclesiology.
His writings are important to the debate about whether the Church Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura for a couple of reasons:
- Perhaps the most important reason is that he argues specifically against Sola Scriptura as it was being adopted by certain Jews in his time. Remember, he's writing at a time before the New Testament books were even widely recognized as Scriptural individually much less as a 27-book whole like we have today; for him and his contemporaries, the Gospel was almost completely oral Tradition. Here's what he says about those Jews who objected to the Gospel because they couldn't find it in Scripture:
"I heard some [Jews] saying, 'If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel;' on my saying to them, 'It is written,' they answered me, 'That remains to be proved.' But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity." - Epistle to the Philadelphians, 8
- The second reason St. Ignatius' letters are important to this debate is that he is unequivocal about where authority is located in the Church, namely, in the Bishops who bear Apostolic Succession -- and what the state is of those who choose to break with or deny this authority. Here's a few relevant quotes:
"See that ye all follow the Bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the Priests as ye would the Apostles; and reverence the Deacons, as being the command of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the Bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the Bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the Bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic Church. It is not lawful without the Bishop either to Baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid." - Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8
"... Continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the Bishop, and the enactments of the Apostles. He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the Bishop, and Priests, and Deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience." - Epistle to the Trallians, 7
"It is well to reverence both God and the Bishop. He who honours the Bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the Bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil." - Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 9
"Give ye heed to the Bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the Bishop, to the Priests, and to the Deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God!" - Epistle to Polycarp, 6
"As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the Bishop and Priests." - Epistle to the Magnesians, 7
(originally published 11 December 2009 at Pious Fabrications)
St. Clement's letter, written in approximately AD 95, is addressed to the Corinthian church, where it was long considered to be Scriptural. In his letter, Clement addresses a dispute in the church of Corinth in which several Priests had been deposed by their flock. Clement responds to this dispute by explaining the concept which would later be called "Apostolic Succession;" he commands that the deposed Priests be immediately restored on the grounds that these Priests possessed authority due to their line of succession from the Apostles.
And why is all of this important in a post that's supposed to be about Sola Scriptura? Because it demonstrates where early Christians believed that authority laid in Christianity -- and it was not in "Scripture alone." Authority resided in the hands of the men who had been appointed by the Apostles to receive this authority and stood in a direct line of succession via ordination by laying-on-of-hands from the Apostles. Here are a couple of quotes from 1 Clement:
"The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by God’s will. Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the Bishops and Deacons of future believers." - 1 Clement 42:1-4
"Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of Bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry." - 1 Clement 44:1-2 [emphasis mine in both quotes]
Read the Epistle of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians for yourself here.
(originally posted on 4 December 2009 at Pious Fabrications)
Okay, so the Didache's not technically one of the Fathers. But I've decided to cover it in this series anyway for a few reasons:
- It's the earliest Orthodox Christian writing we have that is not contained in the New Testament. It was written around AD 60 (though, admittedly, this date is debated by some scholars), which means it actually predates much, if not most, of the writings contained in the New Testament.
- Because it predates so much of the New Testament, what we have here is a writing produced by a community by whom Sola Scriptura was not only not believed in, but for whom Sola Scriptura would have been impossible! (no Scriptura = no Sola Scriptura)
- Also because of its very early date, the Didache is a powerful witness to the early Church -- the earliest Church in fact; the Church of the Apostolic Age -- and is a powerful piece of evidence that the Faith of the Orthodox Church today is the exact same as that of Christians of those times.
The Didache (Greek, meaning "teaching") is a church order manual. Some of the early Fathers considered it Scriptural, but it was eventually excluded from the New Testament largely because it was unnecessary to include a manual of church order in Sacred Writ.
So let's look at the Faith as it was believed and lived by the early Christians who lived even before Scripture, and compare it on a few points with the Faith of the Orthodox Church today.
"But concerning baptism, thus shall ye baptize. Having first recited all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living [running] water. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, then pour water on the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let him that baptizeth and him that is baptized fast, and any others also who are able; and thou shalt order him that is baptized to fast a day or two before." - Didache, 7:1-7The early Christian practices of Baptism via triple immersion and fasting before Baptism are still preserved in the Orthodox Church today.
"And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites [Jews], for they fast on the second [Monday] and the fifth [Thursday] day of the week; but do ye keep your fast on the fourth [Wednesday] and on the preparation [the sixth -- Friday] day." - Didache, 8:1-2The early Christian practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays is still preserved in the Orthodox Church today.
On the Eucharist:
"But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord hath said:Give not that which is holy to the dogs." - Didache, 9:10-12The early Christian practice of closed Communion (that is, Communion only for Baptized members of the Church) is still preserved in the Orthodox Church today.
As you can see, the Didache preserves for us a record of how the earliest Christians lived, Christians who lived even before the writings of the New Testament were put to pen and paper. Sola Scriptura would have been completely impossible for them -- and yet they were a thriving Christian community and one whose Faith is still preserved and observed in the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church today, even in small details like triple immersion Baptism and fasting on Fridays. The community which produced the Didache was Apostolic in the most literal sense of the word and this document is a demonstration of the Apostolic nature of the Orthodox Church's Holy Traditions -- Traditions which may not be explicitly laid out in Scripture, in some cases, but which in many instances pre-date Scripture!
If you'd like to read the Didache for yourself and make your own comparisons with the various Christian groups today, you can check it out here.
(originally published 29 November 2009 at Pious Fabrications)
Protestant apologists have been claiming for a long time that the Church Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura. They often present very persuasive evidence in this regard, including some rather strongly-worded quotes from the Fathers which seem to support this perspective. This seems like a death-stroke for the claims of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox claim to maintain the ancient Apostolic Faith -- if we don't, then there's a serious problem.
So, the question I'm going to examine in this series of posts is did the Fathers really believe in Sola Scriptura? I will be going more or less chronologically, from earliest to latest, through the Fathers of the early Church. I will examine one Father at a time, presenting quotes relevant to that Father's position on Tradition, Scripture, and where authority lies in the Christian Church. I will also present the proof-texts from the writings of the Fathers most commonly used by Protestant apologists like James White and William Webster in their attempts to show that the Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura, looking at each in its historical and textual context.
What I'm not going to do is just do the inverse of what Protestants do; I'm not going to simply proof-text and quote mine for sentences which support Tradition, although we will look at those in the process. What I'm going to do here is to actually look at that individual, their life and writings as a whole, and really, finally answer the question: did he believe in the authority of Scripture alone?
The usual followup claim of a Protestant who presents these proof-texts and then is shown that this same Father elsewhere writes of the authority of the Church's Traditions and Councils is that this Father was inconsistent in what he taught. So, we'll also examine that question as we look at the context of the Protestant proof-texts: is this Father being inconsistent or is the Protestant simply misunderstanding (or intentionally twisting!) the Father's words to make him sound inconsistent.
This will be a lot of work for me, but I think it's worth it for finally putting this myth to rest, and it will be very interesting. My hypothesis: we won't find a single one of the Fathers who held to Sola Scriptura or anything even remotely resembling it.
(slightly edited from original posting at Pious Fabrications on November 27, 2009)
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