Previous installment: Part I (Introduction)
An obvious and important question to ask when examining the validity of the presence and veneration of the Holy Icons in the churches today is whether or not the earliest Christians, roughly those of the first five hundred years of the Church, used iconography and, if so, how they used it. The faith and practice of these earliest Christians is supremely important in deciding correct faith and practice of Christians today as these early Christians lived the closest in time, place, and culture to the Apostles and other first century followers of Christ. Many of the Christians who lived during this period were members of churches which had been directly founded by Apostles and lived in cities mentioned in the Bible. In addition, very importantly, most of the Christians of this period spoke the ancient Greek of the New Testament as their own native language. Recognizing the importance and authority of the early Church, John Calvin wrote:
If the authority of the ancient church moves us in any way, we will recall that for about five hundred years, during which religion was still flourishing, and a pure doctrine thriving, Christian Churches were commonly empty of images. Thus, it was when the purity of the ministry had somewhat degenerated that they were first introduced for the adornment of churches.12
Until fairly recently, Calvin's words here were the common assumption of both Protestants and historians of early Christianity. It was widely believed and taught that the churches of the first several hundred years were largely imageless and that Christians themselves were generally hostile to figurative art, rejecting it as an idolatrous pagan practice. This assumption was largely based on a dearth of archaeological evidence and on a false assumption of Jewish iconophobia coupled with erroneous prooftexting of various early Christian writers' criticisms of the idols of the pagans.
All three bases of the theory of early Christian hostility toward images have been dismantled by the introduction of new evidence throughout the 20th century, and more evidence continues to be uncovered today through archaeological exploration.14 The hole that once existed in physical evidence of the worship of ancient Christians and Jews has now been filled with numerous discoveries throughout the Middle East, Southern and Eastern Europe, and North Africa.
Perhaps the most famous of these discoveries is the ancient city of Dura Europos.15 Dura Europos was a diverse city, home to Christians, pagans, and Jews alike, located near the western border of what is now the nation of Syria. While under Roman rule, the city was left abandoned by its inhabitants due to a Sassanian seige in AD 256-257,16 preserving for modern archaeologists, who would begin excavating the city shortly after its rediscovery in 1920, a particularly interesting look into the lives of Romans in Syria in the third century.
And of particular interest to us for the purposes of this essay is the church of the city, the oldest Christian church yet discovered, dating to about AD 233.17 Though they are in some rough condition, several examples of early Christian iconography are preserved within the church.18 On the wall near the baptismal font, there is an icon of Christ as the Good Shepherd,19 with Adam and Eve below the figure. On the south wall of the baptistry are icons of St. Photini, better known as “the woman at the well”20 and, to the left of that, an image of the Prophet-King David's fight with Goliath.21 On the north wall of the baptistry are an illustration of the healing of the paralytic22 and a depiction of Christ and St. Peter walking on water.23 A large icon below these depicts three women, probably the Virgin Mary, St. Mary Magdalene, and St. Salome, walking towards what appears to be a tomb, probably a depiction of the cave in which Christ's body was placed after the Crucifixion.24
And the Christians of the city weren't the only ones whose house of worship had lots of images. The Jewish synagogue discovered at Dura Europos, the construction of which was probably finished in about AD 245,25 is filled nearly top to bottom with ornate iconographic depictions of Old Testament events and figures.26 Throughout the dozens of icons present in the synagogue are images of Prophets, such as Moses, David, Ezekiel, Elijah, and Abraham, symbols such as the Menorah and the Torah Scroll, and depictions of events such as the near-sacrifice of Isaac27 and Moses' reception of the Ten Commandments.28 The synagogue at Dura Europos, though a very striking example because of its excellent preservation, is by no means unique in the ancient world; there are many more synagogues with much more iconographic art which archaeologists have discovered and are still in the process of discovering.29
The abundance of images in these synagogues is especially important to our current purposes as it significantly undermines one of the key pillars of the theory that early Christians were hostile to images, namely, the assumption, which passed unquestioned for quite some length of time, that the early Judaism from which Christianity emerged was aniconic and even iconophobic. Clearly, the opposite was true; Christianity emerged from and grew up alongside a Judaism with a vibrant iconographic tradition.
The statements of early Christians writing against idolatry have been interpreted in the context of this false assumption by many for some time. But, with this new archaeological evidence, including both the synagogues and the church at Dura Europos, new interpretations are necessary. The textual evidence can not continue to be interpreted in a vacuum, but must now be interpreted alongside and within the context of the archaeological evidence.
Why would the early Christians expend so much time and effort arguing so vehemently against the idolatry of the pagans while remaining silent about the idolatry, assuming they considered it to be so, rising up in their midst? Early Christian apologists simultaneously railed against the images of the pagans while attending worship services in churches with images; the only plausible explanation for how to reconcile these two facts is that they must not have considered their own images to be idolatrous.
Additionally, early Christian apologists were never shy about criticizing the Jews for any of even the slightest perceived transgressions;30 if the widespread use of images in the synagogues was viewed by them as idolatrous, why did they never take the opportunity to attack the Jews for this? Why, instead, does it seem that early Christians in fact picked up their art forms and styles from the Jews?31 Contrary to the former allegations of Calvin and his faithful disciples, the introduction of icons into the churches was not the result of later pagan influence upon a weaker Church, but was part of the early Jewish inheritance assumed by the new Christian Faith in its first centuries.
These are questions and conundrums that, because the evidence was unavailable until fairly recently, never occurred to earlier Protestant proponents of iconoclasm like John Calvin and which iconoclasm's modern proponents have yet to sufficiently answer or explain. But these are questions which demand an answer if their views are going to continue to be taken seriously in the light of modern archaeological evidence.
Next installment: Part III (Veneration of Icons in Early Christianity)
12 See Calvin, Institutes 1.11.13
15 For more information on Dura Europos, see Hopkins, C., The Discovery of Dura Europos. New Haven and London, 1979. and Rostovtzeff, M.I. Dura-Europos and Its Art. Oxford University Press, 1938.
16 Anglim, Simon, Phyllis G. Jestice, Rob S. Rice, Scott M. Rusch, and John Serrati. Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World: 3000 BC-500 AD : Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics. New York: St. Martin's, 2002. pg. 218.
17 González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. pg. 95.
18 Perkins, Ann Louise. The Art of Dura-Europos. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973. and Snyder, Graydon F. Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine. Macon, Ga.: Mercer UP, 2003. pp. 128-134
19 John 10:11. Depictions of Christ as the Good Shepherd in poetry, prayer, literature, and art were very popular amongst early Christians.
20 John 4:4-26
21 1 Samuel 17
22 Mark 2:1-12
23 Matthew 14:22-33
24 Mark 16:1
25 Goldstein, Jonathan. “The Judaism of the Synagogues (Focusing on the Synagogue of Dura-Europos” in Neusner, Jacob, Alan J. Avery-Peck, and Bruce Chilton. Judaism in Late Antiquity. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995. pg. 110.
26 Fine, Steven. Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman World: toward a New Jewish Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. ch. 11.
27 Genesis 22:1-24
28 Exodus 31:18
29 Urman, Dan, and Paul Virgil McCracken. Flesher. Ancient Synagogues Historical Analysis and Archaeological Discovery. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1998.
30 See, for instance, St. Justin the Philosopher's (also known as Justin Martyr) lengthy diatribe against the Jews for what he alleges are their alterations, most of them nearly insignificantly minor, of the Scriptural texts, in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (written ca. AD 165).
31 For a very interesting and enlightening examination specifically of the Dura Europos synagogue on this point, see Weitzmann, Kurt, and Herbert L. Kessler. The Frescoes of the Dura Synagogue and Christian Art. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1990.
One of the most common criticisms that Protestants express against Orthodox Christianity is the prominent place of iconography, a uniquely Orthodox Christian figurative art form, in the Church. That Orthodox Christians give a very special place to the Holy Icons is hard to miss. Our churches, homes, and even places of business are filled with them, often outside as well as in. Upon entering a church and before prayers at home, Orthodox Christians generally perform bows from the waist1 and kiss the icons in reverence. During the worship services in an Orthodox Church, the Priest frequently incenses the icons and the worshipers frequently bow and even prostrate toward them. On various feast days throughout the year,2 icons of Christ, of the Theotokos,3 and of various Saints and Angels are raised high and processed in and around churches and streets. And we do, after all, refer to them as the “Holy Icons.”
For Orthodox Christians, icons are an intrinsic aspect of our spirituality and of our everyday lives. We use them for prayer, as gifts, as decoration, as jewelry, and as ever-present reminders of our loved ones and the love and inspiration they offer. We even believe that God can and does work miracles through them. There are many icons referred to as “wonder-working” or “myrrh-streaming” which Orthodox believers bear a special reverence for, accepting that through these particular icons God has done a special act for man.4 Some of these icons are even on the calendar of feast days we celebrate.5
In short, for Orthodox Christians icons are central to the Christian Faith. As we will see later in this essay, there is a theology of images in Orthodox Christianity without which it could no longer call itself “orthodox.”6 Icons are not a peripheral part of Christianity, but one of its most essential features. A loss of the icons, for an Orthodox Christian, would entail the loss of a significant and irreplaceable piece of what it means to be a Christian.
In contrast to all of this, most Protestants reject the use of figurative religious art and even those who accept it generally do so in a very limited sense and inconsistently, largely only in principle and not necessarily in the fullness of practice.7
Though Martin Luther, the founding figure of the Protestant Reformation, was relatively accepting of figurative religious art,8 the tendency of most Protestants throughout their history has been toward absolute or near-absolute iconoclasm. This has been especially true amongst those Protestants who have followed in the Reformed tradition of John Calvin, probably the single individual most responsible for the negative attitude of Protestants toward iconography.
Calvin, like most iconoclasts both before and after him, based his absolute iconoclasm primarily on a strict and literal interpretation of the Second Commandment of the Decalogue,9 allowing no distinction between iconography and idolatry10 nor between worship and veneration.11 He also, though secondarily, supported his argument with his understanding, false but common even until fairly recent times, that the Christians of approximately the first 500 years of the Faith had not used images in their worship.12
Although Calvin's attacks on figurative art in religion were not waged directly upon iconography,13 but upon the statuary and paintings of medieval Roman Catholicism, his arguments have been assumed and utilized by his iconoclastic Protestant successors against Orthodox iconography as well. For this reason, it is primarily these arguments which will be examined and discussed in this short essay. Along the way, we will also look at several other relevant issues, including the Christological implications of iconography and iconoclasm, the historical development of iconography in the Orthodox Christian Church, and the reasons why the Holy Icons are so important to Orthodox Christian theology, practice, and life.
Next installment: Part II (Presence of Icons in Early Christianity)
2 Perhaps the most remarkable and obvious example of this is the procession before the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, observed on the first Sunday of Lent. In commemoration of the restoration of the Holy Icons to the churches after the end of Byzantine iconoclasm in 842, Orthodox Christians process, each holding an icon, through the streets, or at least around the outside of the church building, while singing a hymn about the veneration of icons written by one of iconography's most ardent defenders during the Byzantine controversy, St. Theodore of Studium. The procession stops only for the people to vehemently proclaim the anathemas against iconoclasts and other heretics.
3 The Greek term Theotokos (Θεοτόκος) refers to the Virgin Mary and literally means “God-bearer,” though it is often translated as “Mother of God.” The title, in use in the ancient Church, was officially approved by the Church at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus in AD 431, largely in order to counter the claims of Nestorius of Antioch and his followers, who claimed that the man Jesus and the divine Word were two different persons. The title Theotokos is the term most commonly used by Orthodox Christians to refer to the Virgin Mary. In using this term, Orthodox Christians do not mean to impart inherent divinity to the Virgin Mary, but to ensure the inherent divinity of Jesus Christ by pointing out that the man who was in her womb is indeed God Incarnate.
4 “Wonder-working” icons are those through which miracles, including the healing of sick people, victory in battle, and safety in the face of catastrophe, have been affected by God's power. Myrrh is a sweet-smelling resin collected from the dried sap of certain trees and often used in perfumes and incense. There are some Holy Icons which have begun to spontaneously and miraculously drip with this substance; it is these icons which are referred to with the title “myrrh-streaming.”
5 Some famous examples of icons celebrated on the Church's calendar include the Myrrh-streaming Icon of the Theotokos of Iveron, celebrated on February 12, with which a number of miracles are associated, including blood coming forth from the the Virgin Mary's face after it was speared by an iconoclast during the Byzantine iconoclast era; the Weeping Icon of the Theotokos of Tikhvin, celebrated February 17, located in Tikhvin Monastery on Mount Athos, from which tears began to flow in 1877; and the Wonder-working Icon of the Theotokos “Surety of Sinners” of Odrino, celebrated on March 7, which is associated with numerous healings of the sick, including the restoration of a crippled child in 1844.
6 That is, “right-believing,” from the Greek ὀρθόδοξος, literally meaning “straight opinion.”
7 For example: “Protestantism does not give painting and sculpture the same place in its Cultus that was an is accorded to these arts in the Cultus of the Roman and Greek Churches, for it knows no picture and image worship. Zwingli and others for the sake of saving the Word rejected all plastic art; Luther, with an equal concern for the Word, but far more conservative, would have all the arts to be the servants of the Gospel. … The Lutheran Cultus has therefore never excluded painting and sculpture, but it assigns these arts the last place.” Ohl, Jeremiah F. "Art in Worship." Memoirs of the Lutheran Liturgical Association. Vol. II. Pittsburgh: Lutheran Liturgical Association, 1900. pp. 88-89.
8 "I have myself heard those who oppose pictures, read from my German Bible. . . . But this contains many pictures of God, of the angels, of men, and of animals, especially in the Revelation of St. John, in the books of Moses, and in the book of Joshua. We therefore kindly beg these fanaties to permit us also to paint these pictures on the wall that they may be remembered and better understood, inasmuch as they can harm as little on the walls as in books. Would to God that I could persuade those who can afford it to paint the whole Bible on their houses, inside and outside, so that all might see ; this would indeed be a Christian work. For I am convinced that it is God's will that we should hear and learn what He has done, especially what Christ suffered. But when I hear these things and meditate upon them, I find it impossible not to picture them in my heart. Whether I want to or not, when I hear of Christ, a human form hanging upon a cross rises up in my heart: just as I see my natural face reflected when I look into water. Now if it is not sinful for me to have Christ's picture in my heart, why should it be sinful to have it before my eyes?" Martin Luther, quoted in Ohl pp. 88-89.
9 According to Exodus 20:4-6 and Deuteronomy 5:8-10, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” This Commandment is traditionally number as the Second in the Decalogue (or Ten Commandments) by Orthodox Christians, Jews, and most Protestants, while Roman Catholics and Lutherans include it as part of the First Commandment.
10 In arguing that icons fall under the purview of the Second Commandment's ban on idolatry, Calvin, as well as all who follow in his footsteps, thereby equates icons with idols, which means, of course, equating Christian images of Christian figures, including the Lord Christ, the Blessed Theotokos, and the Holy Saints and Angels, with pagan images of demons, sinful human beings of ancient times, and imaginary deities; this is dangerous ground indeed.
11 See Calvin's criticism of the medieval Roman Catholic distinction between dulia (the reverence given to Saints, Angels, holy objects such as icons, etc., meaning “veneration;” in Greek δουλεία) and latria (the reverence reserved for the Trinity alone, meaning “adoration;” in Greek λατρεία) in his Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.11.11 and 1.12.2 - 1.12.3, for instance. This distinction appeared relatively early in Latin Christianity, being cited by Blessed Augustine of Hippo in his City of God 10.1, but was made most explicit in and most firmly entered the medieval Roman Catholic consciousness through the 12th century Scholastic philosopher Thomas Aquinas, considered a saint in the Roman Catholic Church; see his Summa Theologiae II II 84, 1 and II II 103, 3. Interestingly, this distinction is not the one used by the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Second Council of Nicaea) when it issued the official Orthodox stance on iconography in 787. This Council then and the Orthodox Church today instead differentiate between προσκύνησις (literally meaning “kissing towards,” describes the act of prostrating oneself before a superior, a common act in the ancient world) and λατρεύσεις (which refers to the service to be rendered only to God), as well as other, more precise Greek Septuagint and New Testament terms. Calvin, then, never addressed the Orthodox understanding of icons and their veneration.
12 See Calvin, Institutes 1.11.13
13 “The way Calvin actually deals with the 8th-century Councils of the iconoclast controversy shows he did not really get to grips with the questions at issue in the Byzantine theology of that age. For that matter he probably never saw an icon in his life.” Kretschmar, Georg. "The Reformation and the Theology of Images." Icons: Windows On Eternity. Compiled by Gennadios Limouris. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1990. pg. 80.
So... not only did the pre-Constantinian Christians and Jews already have icons, –as the late-second to early-third century church and synagogue unearthed during the excavations at the Dura-Europos archeological site bear historical witness to this undisputable fact–, but the same also holds true for non-Constantinian and even anti-Constantinian Christian heretics... rather odd, isn't it?
Imagine Muslims going to Christians and saying, "Oh, your interpretation of the Bible is just tradition, we know what it really means."
Wait, doesn't this sound familiar? Ah yes...it's because this is what many Muslim apologists do.
It is just as dishonest and shameful when Christians do it as when Muslims do it.
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, 9What 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, 18Not 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, 11The 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:
- 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.
- 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.
"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, 1Let's make special note of three things in particular here:
- Hippolytus tells us that Christian must be informed of the Tradition in order to avoid falling into error, that is, heresy.
- Tradition is part of the "correct Faith" (Orthodoxy), and the Holy Spirit confers perfect Grace on those who have this correct Faith.
- Bishops and Priests "must teach and guard all these things" -- none are optional.
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])
Although he is not a Father, I've decided to address him here because of his importance to the history of early Christianity. He is often called "the father of Latin Christianity" for having been the first significant Christian author to write in Latin, writing as an Orthodox Christian from about AD 197 to AD 207 and after that, until AD 220, as a Montanist. In his writings he did a great deal to defend the Christians from the various accusations of immorality that had been leveled against them, including charges that Christians cannibalized infants and committed incest during their services. And not only did he defend Christianity from false accusations, he also went on the offensive against pagans and heretics.
One of his most interesting tracts against heretics, which has great bearing on the issue of whether or not he might have held to Sola Scriptura, is a relatively short writing called The Prescription Against Heretics, in which Tertullian provides "the prescription against heretics": the Church! He argues that, in a dispute between the Church and some heretical group which has broken off therefrom, the burden of proof lies strictly with the heretical group, as the Church's very existence, being the only Christian body with a direct physical link to the Apostles, verifies its Truth. I'll let Tertullian speak for himself on this point:
"Now, what that was which they [the Apostles] preached—in other words, what it was which Christ revealed to them—can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very Churches which the Apostles founded in person, by declaring the Gospel to them directly themselves, both vivâ voce, as the phrase is, and subsequently by their epistles. If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the Apostolic Churches—those moulds and original sources of the Faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) Churches received from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the Truth of the Churches and Apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the Tradition of the Apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the Apostolic Churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth." - Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 21 [emphasis mine]He also makes clear, in the chapter before the quote above, that in order for a new Church to be valid it must have a line of succession which it can trace to an Apostolic Church. No one can simply found a brand new Church all on their own -- for Tertullian, they've got to have credentials, and those credentials are found in Apostolic Succession. Let's take a look:
"They [the Apostles] then in like manner founded Churches in every city, from which all the other Churches, one after another, derived the Tradition of the Faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become Churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves Apostolic, as being the offspring of Apostolic Churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the Churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive Church, (founded) by the Apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are Apostolic, whilst they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality,—privileges which no other rule directs than the one Tradition of the selfsame mystery." - Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 20 [emphasis mine -- note that Tertullian's words here mention all four of the "marks of the Church": One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic]As we can see, Tertullian held that there was a single, visible Church which was founded by the Apostles and within this Church was uniquely preserved the Ancient Christian Faith. In fact, for Tertullian, Apostolic Succession was a necessity in determining whether one held to the Ancient Christian Faith; if you didn't have Apostolic Succession, according to Tertullian, you didn't have the Faith:
"But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the Apostolic Age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the Apostles, because they existed in the time of the Apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of their] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the Apostles or of Apostolic men,—a man, moreover, who continued stedfast with the Apostles. For this is the manner in which the Apostolic Churches transmit their registers." - Tertullian, The Prescription Against the Heretics, 32Now, let's take a look at what Tertullian has to say about Scripture's relationship to this Church:
"But even if a discussion [with the heretics] from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: “With whom lies that very Faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?” For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and Faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian Traditions." - Tertullian, The Prescription Against the Heretics, 19 [emphasis mine]In fact, according to Tertullian, not only could the heretics not rightly interpret Scripture, but they shouldn't even be allowed by members of the Church founded by the Apostles to use the Scriptures in debates at all -- in fact, according to Tertullian, if you're not in the Church you're not even a Christian! Let's read:
"Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us [the Church], 'as many as walk according to the rule,' which the Church has handed down from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, 'Who are you? When and whence did you come? As you are none of mine, what have you to do with that which is mine?'"- Tertullian, The Prescription Against the Heretics, 37According to Tertullian, the Scriptures belong to the Church which holds the True Faith, and we've seen what he says about this Church above. Without this True Church which holds the True Faith, we don't have the "true Scriptures and expositions thereof." In other words, as the Orthodox continue to say today, Scripture cannot be interpreted outside of the context of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
In fact, Tertullian, in The Prescription Against the Heretics, advises us that, when debating with heretics, we shouldn't argue with them out of Scripture at all, as they simply twist it to their own whims and refuse to understand it properly. In fact, he says, we shouldn't argue with them at all; we should admonish them and if they persist in error, rebelling against Christ and his Church, leave them in their error. And he tells us also what our admonishment should consist of, which is pointing them in the direction of the Church founded by the Apostles and uniquely preserving their Faith.
Now that we've looked at exactly what Tertullian believed about the Scriptures, the Church, and the relationship and authority of the two, let's take a look at one last quote which should leave no doubt as to where he stood on the matter of Tradition and its authority, in which he nearly seems to be arguing against the Sola Scripturists of today:
"And how long shall we draw the saw to and fro through this line, when we have an ancient practice, which by anticipation has made for us the state, i.e., of the question? If no passage of Scripture has prescribed it, assuredly custom, which without doubt flowed from Tradition, has confirmed it. For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down? Even in pleading Tradition, written authority, you say, must be demanded. Let us inquire, therefore, whether Tradition, unless it be written, should not be admitted. Certainly we shall say that it ought not to be admitted, if no cases of other practices which, without any written instrument, we maintain on the ground of Tradition alone, and the countenance thereafter of custom, affords us any precedent. To deal with this matter briefly, I shall begin with Baptism. When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel. Then when we are taken up (as new-born children), we taste first of all a mixture of milk and honey, and from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week. We take also, in congregations before daybreak, and from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord both commanded to be eaten at meal-times, and enjoined to be taken by all alike. As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honours. We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from Easter to Whitsunday. We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground. At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign. If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and Faith as their observer. That reason will support Tradition, and custom, and Faith, you will either yourself perceive, or learn from some one who has." - Tertullian, The Chaplet, 3-4 [emphasis mine -- also, compare the list of Traditions which Tertullian mentions here with those still to be found only in the Orthodox Church today]I highly recommend a reading of The Prescription Against the Heretics for yourself; Tertullian not only provides the prescription against the heretics of his own day, but ours as well. If you'd like to read it, you can do so here; you can also read The Chaplet here. And everything else Tertullian wrote, both Orthodox and Montanist, can be found here.
(originally posted at Pious Fabrications on 8 January 2010)
... or how Scripture Alone mutilates Scripture:
John 3:16 For God so hated the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Matthew 6:1 ¶Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. 2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. 5 ¶And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. 16 ¶Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
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