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Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Volume III: The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura. Paperback – October, 2001
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This volume is simply a "quote book". In chapter 1, King and Webster list the quotes from the church fathers that explicitly state that all doctrines of faith and morals have their basis in Scripture. As one of the more hostile reviewers (but more thoughtful than the one-star review types) noted, some of the quotes don't actually state material sufficiency; rather, they show that the church fathers derived doctrine from Scripture. Perhaps one could say that the cumulative weight of the quotations, from say Justin Martyr, deriving every major doctrine of Christianity from Scripture would show that he believed in material sufficiency. This is probably what the authors had in mind. Secondly, it must be noted (contrary to a previous reviewer) that, although most Roman Catholic (R.C. from now on) apologists believe in material sufficiency (but deny perspicuity), a denial of material sufficiency was the *most* widely held opinion in the R.C. Church in ages past (including the majority of bishops at the Council of Trent), and it is still denied by some today. Thus, this 128 page section is very much needed simply to establish the historicity of sola Scriptura completely.
Chapter 2 is a 13 page section that lists the quotes from fathers such as Cyril of Jerusalem and (mostly) Augustine that explicitly state that the Scriptures have ultimate authority and *judge* the doctrines of men, even bishops. In other words, these church fathers expected their hearers and readers to search the Scriptures to see if the bishops' doctrines were true. This clearly presupposes that the laity could understand Scripture apart from the bishop telling them its meaning. For example, I'll quote Cyril of Jerusalem: "For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a causal statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures."
Chapter 3 is about an 80 page section that lists the quotes from the fathers that show that they believed that Scripture was, for the most part, clear and easily discernable, especially those doctrines that are necessary for salvation and morals as well. Unlike some of the reviewers below, these quotes are not at all irrelevant since material sufficiency combined with perspicuity is the very substance of sola Scriptura! What need have we of an infallible interpreter or oral "Traditions" (which supposedly also "properly" interpret Scripture) if everything we need is found in Scripture and is sufficiently clear to be discerned?!? Material Sufficiency + Perspicuity = Formal Sufficiency (i.e. sola Scriptura).
The next chapter, ch.4, is a list of church father quotes that teach the principle that clearer Scriptures interpret less clear/difficult ones. This section is very necessary since R.C. apologists frequently mock this foundational belief of the Protestant doctrine of Scripture.
Chapter 5 lists those quotes which teach "The Holy Spirit Makes Scripture Understandable for Those who Pray and Walk in Obedience" (chapter title).
Chapter 6 and 7 is on the necessity of diligent study and private reading of Scripture for an understanding of Scripture. This shows that the policy toward the laity reading the Scriptures differed greatly than that of the Medieval Roman Church and (for the most part) the Roman Church of today.
Now, I would like to respond to a few of the criticisms below. In one review (P.J. Porvaznik), it is claimed that Webster and King are trying to establish that the church fathers believed in sola Scriptura in the full, modern, Protestant sense. On the contrary, they make it clear throughout their work that the fathers sometimes used "tradition" as a guide. However, they also make it clear that the fathers never believed that "tradition" was an *infallible* source of authority. In Vol. II of this series, Webster quotes a Roman Catholic historian that sums up the argument the two authors are trying to make quite well:
"The Fathers of the Church, St. Augustine above all, themselves practiced that devotion derived from Scripture, whose ideal the Protestants steadily upheld; they hardly knew any other. No doubt they were much more careful than many Protestants not to isolate the Word of God in its settled form of Scripture from its living form in the Church, particularly in the liturgy. But, this reserve apart...they were no less enthusiastic, or insistent, or formal, in recommending this use of Scripture and in actually promoting it. Particularly from St. John Chrysostom, one might assemble exhortations and injunctions couched in the most forcible terms; they have often been recalled by those Protestants, from the sixteenth century onwards, the best grounded in Christian antiquity. It would be impossible to find, even among Protestants, statements more sweeping than those in which St. Jerome abounds: Ignoratio scripturarum, ignoratio Christi is doubtless the most lapidary, but not necessarily the most explicit. What is more, in this case just as when the authority of Scripture is viewed as the foundation of theology, the constant practice of the Church, in the Middle Ages as well as in the patristic times, is a more eloquent witness than all the doctors...For them, it was not simply one source among others, but the source par excellence, in a sense the only one."
-Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1964), pp.132-133. Translated by A.V. Littledale. First published by Les Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1954.
Another criticism made by Porvaznik is his appeal to Joe Gallegos' section on patristics as found in "Not by Scripture Alone" as the definitive answer to people like Webster and King. However, Webster, in Vol. II of the series, addresses Gallegos' man-handling of the church fathers extensively. One wonders if Porvaznik actually read the entire work or just read little snippets about it from internet discussion boards.
The next criticism I would like to address comes from A. Renault. His first criticism is the typical "we need the Church Magesterium to determine the books of the canon" argument. Though I don't remember whether this series addresses this argument directly (see especially Chapter 6 of Volume I and Part II of Volume II of this series), it is addressed in just about every standard work on the canon. In my review of Volume II of this work, I suggested Michael Green's "The Books the Church Suppressed". For a popular level work, it goes through how the canon was formed. The canon wasn't done by some Church Magesterium, but rather, it was discovered through historical analysis and debate.
The next few criticisms by A. Renault are all addressed quite thoroughly in Volumes I and II.
Everyone in this debate needs to own this work.
Phils criticisms are dealt with directly in the books and supported by a great deal of documentation. An example of where his review is misleading is when he claims Webster and King say that the early church contrast scripture and tradition. In fact, not only do Webster and King NOT do this, one of their points is that the modern Catholic church DOES. Tradition, as understood by the patristics, is completely circumscribed BY Scripture and that is one of the MAJOR POINTS. Therefore, the supposed 'contrast' or 'dual authority' of Scripture and Tradition is a result of modern Catholicisms redifintion of the early church's understanding of 'Tradition' (pradosis). Why Phil would seem to suggest otherwise could only be to keep naive Catholics from reading the criticism.
Many things struck me as I read this book. First of all, 95% of the quotes are irrelevant to proving the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura, but are still wonderful quotes, and help to show us what a reverent and high view of Scripture the Fathers had. This is something that Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics can all rejoice in.
The second thing that struck me is that even the term "scripture" is misleading. The implication is that it means the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New. But the New Testament canon wasn't even universally agreed upon until the late 300's AD. And what about the deutero-canonical books? The quote from St. Cyril on pages 59-60 tells us not to read the apocrypha (except for Baruch), nor should we read the book of Revelation! For many years, and by many churches, other early Christian writings were thought canonical, such as the Shepherd of Hermas, or the epistles of Clement and Barnabas. Most Early Fathers considered the Old Testament apocrypha to be canonical. So if Scripture is all we need, one must ask "Which Scripture?"
A third thought is that if the Scriptures are as perspicuous as Protestants claim, then why do Protestants all differ with the almost universally held Patristic beliefs of baptismal regeneration, venerating the ever-virgin Mary, free will, the ability to fall from grace, the real presence of Christ in the eucharist, etc? If Scripture is so perspicuous, and if the Early Church fathers truly believed in the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura, then why didn't they understand that all these things are supposedly wrong?
Fourthly, it must be admitted that these quotes can be a bit misleading. Many of the opponents and heretics that these Fathers were fighting against believed solely in the authority of Scripture. (See, for example, Gregory of Nyssa's comments on pg. 75, paragraphs 1 and 4, and Augustine's comments on pg. 105, paragraph 3.) Thus, when arguing against them, the Fathers are OBVIOUSLY going to use scripture alone. They won't use Holy Tradition to counter a heretic if the heretic doesn't believe in Tradition to begin with. (Interestingly, on pg. 79, Gregory argues against someone "who interprets scripture at his own sweet will." In other words, "Sola Scriptura"!) Likewise, the opening pages of the book show us Justin Martyr arguing against Trypho using scripture alone, and Trypho commending Justin for doing so. But does the casual reader realize that Trypho is a JEW? Obviously Justin can't appeal to Church tradition or even to the New Testament to prove Christianity. Again, when countering the Gnostic emphasis on mystery and secret knowledge, the Fathers are obviously going to emphasize scripture's perspicuity. This in no way proves they believed the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura, but will lead the uninformed reader to think they did.
Finally, though the casual reader wouldn't know this from these quotes alone, the Early Church Fathers generally did and taught things that aren't found anywhere in Scripture. Augustine, Basil, Hippolytus, and Tertullian (just for starters) all repeatedly taught the importance of making the sign of the cross on one's forehead, both for protection from the enemy as well as the right sign to accompany baptisms. Jerome (on pg. 81, paragraph 4) suggests a spiritual act found nowhere in scripture, involving a girl going to the temple with her parents. And of course "temple" is not a New Testament term to describe any building. These are all things that the Fathers could never arrive at if they truly believed in Sola Scriptura.
In conclusion, this is a book filled with wonderful quotes that reveal the Early Fathers' beautifully high view of scripture, but it fails to accomplish its purpose. Unfortunately, without understanding the deeper context, the average Protestant is likely to read this book and say, "Aha! The Early Church Fathers REALLY WERE proto-Protestants. This proves it!"
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