15. The Principle of Protestantism by Schaf
16. Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective by Letham
Archives For August 2008
15. The Principle of Protestantism by Schaf
Tertullian (c. 155-220): Arguing with Hermogenes’ teaching that matter is eternal, “But whether all things were made out of any underlying matter, I have yet failed anywhere to find. Where such a statement is written, Hermogenes’ shop must tell us. If it is nowhere written, then let it fear the woe which impends on all who add or take away from the written word.” Tertullian “condemns as madness” the notion that there was some kind of secret unwritten tradition of the Apostles. This was the doctrine of the Gnostics who believed that there was “secret knowledge” known and revealed only to a select few.
Iranaeus (c. 130-200) in his Against Heresies argues that the Scriptures where the safeguarding of the traditions of the apostles. According to Iranaeus, there are no unwritten traditions of the Apostles. Scripture is the authoritative record of the doctrines, teachings, and practices of the Apostles (cf. Against Heresies, III.1,1.)
These fathers did indeed teach that the Scriptures were to be understood and read in accordance with the regula fidei (the rule of faith) which was itself the received summary of what the Scriptures teach. But the apostolic tradition and the regula fidei both had their source in the Scriptures themselves.
The Shape of Sola Scriptura, 22-26)
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215): “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.” (Stromata, Bk. VII, ch. 16)
By the way, Matheson notes in a footnote that Clement declares the legend of Mary’s perpetual virginity as false, despite the claims of some that this was a universally accepted belief.
(The Shape of Sola Scriptura, 24)
Frankenstein opens as a series of letters from Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville. Walton has determined to find a sailing passage through the north pole, and the letters detail his travels to St. Petersburg, Russia, and then on to the coast before finding a boat and a crew. The story begins on a note of impossibility and doom. Even as the sailors set out in clear water, it’s autumn, and Walton notes that winter is coming on; he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to find a clear passage through the north pole. This sets up the setting for the whole story: a mission of doom, striving against nature, trying to accomplish the impossible. The story begins in autumn; it begins just as everything is about to freeze, as everything is about to die.
Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851) lived what appears to been be a fairly horrific life. She easily stands as a sort of icon for the romantic, feminist, intellectual and bohemian lifestyle. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, famed early feminist, died giving birth to her, her father, William Godwin, was a philosopher (enough said), her step-mother openly hated her, her step-sister was suicidal and eventually succeeded in the deed, and at the age of 19, Shelley tried to escape her familial hell by eloping with the soon-to-be literary genius of the English speaking world, (and already married) Percy Bysshe Shelly. The two of them and a sister left for the continent for a year of travels and returned with Mary pregnant with their first child that would die in infancy. Of their four children, only one survived, and Percy Shelley drowned only a few years later in a boating accident at the age of 30.
Speaking of her book Frankenstein, she writes in her Author’s Introduction: “And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words which found no true echo in my heart. Its several pages speak of many a walk, many a drive, and many a a conversation, when I was not alone; and my companion was one who, in this world, I shall never see more. But this is for myself; my readers have nothing to do with these associations.” (Frankenstein, Puffin Classics, 7-8)
“In present day usage the term commonly denotes unwritten doctrines handed down orally in the Church. It is therefore often contrasted with Scriptures. However, a remarkable scholarly consensus shows that in the early church, Scripture and Tradition were in no way exclusive concepts because they coincided with each other completely.
The concept of “tradition” when used by these [apostolic] fathers, is simply used to designate the body of doctrine which was committed to the Church by the Lord and His Apostles, whether through verbal or written communication. The body of doctrine, however, was essentially identical regardless of how it was communicated. No evidence suggests that the apostolic fathers believed they had recourse to any type of secret oral traditions. At this point in the Church’s history, Scripture and the Christian tradition were coinherent concepts…”
(The Shape of Sola Scriptura, by Mathison, 19, 21)
Gregory the Great (Pope?) writes: “Ego autem fidenter dico, quia quisquis se universalem Sacerdotem vocat, vel vocari desiderat, in elatione sue Antichristum praecurrit, quia superbiendo se caeteris praeponit. Nec dispari superbia ad errorem ducitur, quia sicut perversus ille Deus videri vult super omnes homines; ita quisquis iste est, qui solus Sacerdos appelari appetit, super reliquos Sacerdotes se extollit.”
Which roughly translates: “Therefore I fully affirm that whoever calls himself the universal Priest, or wants to be called that elevates himself to Antichrist, because he vaunts himself over all the others. Not only does this extreme arrogance lead to error, it’s also perverse since this person wants to be seen as God over all people; thus whoever he is, who wants to be called the Priest alone, he exalts himself over all the other priests.” (Cited in Principle of Protestantism, 169 — Feel free to correct my translation if it needs it.)
One postscript to this quotation: This is an example of the medieval and patristic pedigree of Protestantism. It wasn’t like Luther and Calvin came along and decided they really didn’t like the Pope, flipped through their Bibles till they came to a bad name to call him, and them slapped “Antichrist” on the Papal See. They were in good catholic company calling the office of the “universal bishop of the Church” Antichrist. It was at least part of the teaching of the fathers.
From Doug Jones’ Forward to Sola Scriptura by Keith Mathison:
“C.S. Lewis once quipped that the more medieval he became in his outlook, the farther from Roman Catholicism he seemed to grow. The history of the doctrine of sola Scriptura tends to produce the same effect in many of us. Once one gets beyond the superficial, individualistic, confused accounts of this doctrine presented in contemporary Evangelicalism, this teaching becomes very natural, organic, medieval, and apostolic.
In contrast, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox accounts fall out of rather perfectionistic and rationalistic commitments that are alien to the earthiness of biblical reality. Submitting to an infallible magisterium requires relatively little faith; everything is, in principle, neat and clean, like a doctor’s office or a robot husband. A perfect husband would make for a very easy marriage; faith wouldn’t be hard at all… Submission takes on much more fascinating dimensions when marriage involves sinners…
In this light, the various widely publicized departures of many Evangelicals to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have the distinct aroma of youthful haste and short-term zeal. The Sanhedrin was far better organized than the fishermen, and it had a grand liturgy, an authoritative line of oral tradition, and a succession of leaders. In a healthy church, those forms are good and holy. But to have turned to the Sanhedrin at that time would have been to embrace apostasy. Truth, beauty, and goodness were with the fishermen.”
Schaf insists that Protestantism earns its right to exist only for as long as we offer to the rest of the Church significant correction in areas that need it. A sect, if we are willing to admit the title, “loses its right to exist, in the same degree in which the body from which it is a secession has corrected the faults that led to it… If sects would be true to themselves, they must as soon as they have fulfilled their commission unite themselves again with the general life of the Church, that they may thus as organic members of the body acquire new vital energy; and the Church, on her side, should make special efforts to gather once more under her motherly protection and care, the children that have forsaken her and are now estranged from her bosom. To this duty the Reformed Church is specially called, as the largest part of these modern separatist movements have sprung from her communion.” (134-135)
Schaf also takes the Anglo-Catholic Oxford movement to task: He suggests that many who are in this school are attracted to it by a “feeling of poetical romance” and not a few of them have aspirations to the hierarchy inherent in an episcopal system. And for all their insistence on history, Schaf says that this is the glaring hole in their system. The “utter misapprehension of the divine significance of the Reformation, with its consequent development, that is of the entire Protestant period of the Church.” They have no conception of historical development, much less the great blessing of the Reformation to the broader Church. He calls their “external, mechanical conception of the Church and episcopacy” nothing more than the “old leaven of the Pharisees.” He bases his assertions on the fact that there is no scriptural authority for such a rigid apostolic succession as is commonly held in those communions that insist upon it. There is not high priestly caste in the Christian Church, clergy are servant-leaders of the flock, but are in an important sense still members of the priesthood of all believers. Their’s is a specific calling in the body of Christ which includes real authority, but it is not a hierarchical system of automatic authority. Finally he scoffs at those who would think that merely returning to an episcopal polity would fix all the problems of Protestantism: “Preposterous imagination! Can the Church be renovated, by putting on a new coat?” (122-126)