Sola Scriptura and Pope Gregory the Great

August 3, 2012

On occasion Protestant writers and apologists make claim for their theological distinctives as being found in the fathers. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is one such case where a good many citations are brought forward to establish that this doctrine is nothing novel. And so Protestantism is introducing nothing new in advocating for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  The two major works from which practically all contemporary Protestant cases directly or indirectly depend on are by Whitaker and Goode. If you have read them (I have) there really isn’t much else to read.

One father who is advanced for the case of Sola Scriptura is Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) Gregory is usually enlisted to support a few parts of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, scripture as the ultimate authority, its material sufficiency and perspicuity. The following citations are some of the usual suspects.

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Another Anti-Western Orthodox Bigot (Sigh)

August 29, 2011

“For the rest, Augustine’s conception of the oneness of Christ is shown, although with more or less clarity, in the various, likewise traditional ways of describing the incarnation: as an event (fieri), a taking on (susceptio) or assumption (assumptio), a drawing close (accedere), or even a mingling without confusion (mixtio sine confusione). Although in using those terms Augustine is clearly starting from the teaching of the faith according to which only the Son became a human being, he does not yet arrive at the technical formulation of the dogma. That is, he does not use the epxression ‘the one person of Christ’ in order to describe the starting point of theincarnation.  In his thinking, ‘the one person of Christ’ is rather the result of the ineffable union between the godhead and the humanity in Jesus Christ.”

 Basil Studer, The Grace of Christ and the Grace of God in Augustine of Hippo: Christocentrism or Theocentrism?, trans. Matthew J.O. Connell, Liturgical Press, 1997, p. 34.

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Life in a Windowless Monad

August 28, 2010


(Your Musical Accompaniment)

“These questions, however, have to be answered, from the point of view of systematic theology at least, by placing them within a much more radical framework, namely that of the fundamental question: Is the structure of the Christian Church in light of the gospel, monarchial or collegial? This question is undoubtably radical because it is asked, on the one hand, with the whole Christian people in mind and, on the other, from the point of view of what the Lord himself taught, that is, in the light of the gospel of Christ as a whole.

We may go further and say that, if the structure of the Church is conditioned by and subject to the norm of the gospel of Christ, we must base our argument less on the isolated descriptions or ideas of the Church which occur almost accidentally in the New Testament…and more on the general spirit of the words of the Lord as the origin of those images of the Church. That essentially new elemnt in the teaching of the Lord which distinguishes it from teaching contained in all the religions and ideaologies that have so far arisen in the history of man is the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the differentia specifica of Christianity.

In light of this faith in the Trinity, the Christian teaching about God’s being, the creation of the world and the cosmic mestaphysical order of the universe has always been different from that of other religions or ideaologies. It has, in a word, been trinitarian.  The idea of the Trinity is central, not only in the doctrine of the Christian Church, but also-and in the first place-in the teaching of the Lord himself. If this is so, then surely it is bound to inspire the whole task of the Christian Church to give a new structure to the created world. This brings us to the question of the relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology.

At the most holy moment of his life on earth and just before he left this world, Christ prayed to his Father and at the same time expressed his most fervent desire: ‘I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.’ (John 17.20f.)

It is perhaps symptomatic that, in an attempt to stress the holiness of the ecumenical intention, these words are quoted nowaday at almost every meeting between Christians of different denominations. yet we usually think very little about these important words afterwards. The phrase ‘that they may be one’ expresses the practical and immediate aims of ecumenism better than the idea which follows, namely ‘as thou Father, art in me…’. But these words become even more meaningful perhaps if we remember that this exemplary mode of unity within the Trinity is the basic presupposition for the unity of the Church which we hope will be achieved. the importance of the whole passage is even further emphasized by the fact that Christ did not have a definite gorup of people, such as the apostles in mind when he spoke these words, but rather all those who believed in him and would believe in him throughout history.  It is this universal validity of the moral principle that is expressed here which gives it its distinctive and normative character.  This is why it must constitute the basic and first ecclesiolgy premise for all theological thinking at all times.

It is clear therefore that there must be a direct relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and ecclesiology, a relationship expressed in fact in the striking parallel that exists between the fundamental theological questions of the Church’s Trinitarian and ecclesiological teaching. If the inner interrelationships that exist in the historical development of dogma in the Church have existed since the earliest times are borne in mind, it is not difficult to recognize that the main problem confronting all theological thinking throughout the history of the Church has always been the same-the fundamental question of the relationship between unity and multiplicity.

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An Equality of Honor

August 24, 2010

“One therefore is Christ both Son and Lord, not as if a man had attained only such a conjunction with God as consists in a unity of dignity alone or of authority. For it is not equality of honour which unites natures; for then Peter and John, who were of equal honour with each other, being both Apostles and holy disciples [would have been one, and], yet the two are not one.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria’s Third Letter to Nestorius

Picking Cherries

June 12, 2010

In the history of Christianity, there has never been a century or so where there has not been some kind of theological controversy. In any given controversy it is usually the case that there is a spectrum of positions that occupy some place on the argumentative field. Caution is therefore required in data selection to establish points about who taught what and how widespread a given view in fact was.

Such is the case with the Iconoclastic controversy. Iconoclasm came in a variety of forms and varied over time. Initially iconoclasm in the East identified images of persons and biblical figures as idols while preserving the use of decorative images such as the Cross. Representational (though not necessarily figurative) images of Christ and images of the saints were prohibited. Due to their material composition they could not convey the resurrected glory of the saints. Such was the position around the 750’s. 

By the early ninth century in the East iconoclasm became more moderate even under the favorable impetus of imperial backing. Gone were the arguments by and large that icons were equivalent to idols, along with the Christological arguments that to make an image of Christ implied a major Christological error.

The situation in the West was different for a variety of reasons. The West was a hodgepodge of various kingdoms, with certain parts of the old empire still under the control or influence of Constantinople. The most salient party is that of the Franks, who had forged an alliance with Rome. Politically this had its advantages but also presented problems. With an alliance with the Franks, Rome was far more free and autonomous than under imperial rule. The Franks gained the political and religious legitimacy that they so eagerly coveted.

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Like a Horse and Carriage

May 14, 2010

Please listen here while you enjoy this daily meditation.

“The error of those who say that the Vicar of Christ, the Pontiff of the Roman Church, does not have a primacy over the universal Church is similar to the error of those who say that the Holy Spirit does not proceed from the Son. For Christ himself, the Son of God, consecrates and marks her as his own with the Holy Spirit, as it were with his own character and seal, as the authorities already cited make abundantly clear. And in like manner the Vicar of Christ by his primacy and foresight as a faithful servant keeps the Church Universal subject to Christ. It must, then, be shown from texts of the aforesaid Greek Doctors that the Vicar of Christ holds the fullness of power over the whole Church of Christ.

Thomas Aquinas, Against the Errors of the Greeks, Bk 2, 32.

An Imposition

June 13, 2009

Often in discussions of the Filioque clause, it is pointed out by Catholics that Rome does not require Eastern Catholics to recite the clause. From this it is either argued directly or implied that Rome takes a more tolerant and somewhat charitable position in contradistinction to the Orthodox who do not permit its recitation at all. (Adrian Fortescue exemplifies this in his Rome and Constantinople, 23)

But this is not in fact the case. Rome has directly imposed the recitation of the Filioque on Eastern Catholics and attempted to do so with the Orthodox and the Orientals on a good number of occasions.

Pope Nicholas III for example imposed the recitation of the Filioque as did Martin IV and Nicholas IV. Eugenius IV imposed the Filioque on Armenians when they were received by Rome. When Callistus III sent Simon, O.P. to Crete as an Inquisitor he bid him to make sure that the Greeks recited the Filioque. Even Eastern churches in traditionally Latin geographical locations have been required to employ the Filioque. (See Allatae Sunt, sec. 30-31)

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Our Mother Tongue

May 13, 2009

“The Eastern Church was held by the fathers of the English Reformation in respectful veneration.  The Book of Common Prayer bears traces of the influence of Eastern liturgies.  The Thirty-Nine Articles, while unhesitatingly affirming that the Churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch and Rome have erred, expressly omitted any such allusion to the Church of Constantinople.  The Apology of the Church of England constantly refers to Eastern practice and doctrine, in refutation of the assertions of the Bishop of Rome that is the head of the Church or that he and the clergy and laity under his rule alone form the Holy Catholic Church, or that communion with the See of Rome is essential to the unity of the church.

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Anglicans In Exile

March 8, 2009

I wrote this a long time ago, before this blog existed when I was writing on Kimel’s Pontificationsblog. I get requests for it and it is easier to just post it than to send out emails over and over again. Since it was originally a blog post, I have cleaned it up a bit and made it more or less a stand alone piece.

Anglicans in Exile

As a former Anglican myself I can sympathize with the troubles of my former brethren. On the one hand they do not see any good reason to abandon the tradition as it was handed on to them. Their problem is that they seem to be forced to leave the communion, but not the tradition that they are in. It is this loyalty that keeps them in place. Certainly loyalty has its limits and there is eventually a point where someone has to jump ship. I agree with many people who have already articulated the idea that going to Rome the eternal city (because after all, there’s always Rome!) because of problems in Anglicanism seems less than justified. By the same token I would agree with them that going to Constantinople for the same reason also lacks justification on that basis alone. But still, there is the pressing reality of what is going on in ECUSA and even in England. These are something like William James’ “forced decisions.” One doesn’t have eternity (let alone the brains) to study through all of the issues completely and yet one is compelled to make some decision. You have to dosomething. If Anglicanism does recover, it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better, at least in the long run. As an Anglican I never found a move to either body justified on strictly the basis of the quackadoxy of Spong or other individuals. What one needs is a positive reason that will tip the scale in favor of one body or another. And a positive reason that also cuts against Anglicanism would be even better since it would motivate one to leave Anglicanism for some other reason other than the presence of quackadoxy. Such a reason would allay the fears that one is being disloyal.

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Some Notes on the Acacian Schism

February 16, 2009

The Acacian Schism and the Formula of Hormisdas are prime apologetic tools employed by Catholic apologists against Orthodoxy. The Formula of Hormisdas is proffered as a prime example of papal jurisdictional primacy over the East. But there are important facts often left out that show that the Formula isn’t the witness to the papal theory that apologists make it out to be.

First, I note that Patriarch of Constantinople, John affixes his signature with the designation “fellow minister” in reference to the Pope.  That by itself may seem unimportant but when John defines his see as being equal with Rome, it takes on a significant meaning.

For I hold that the most holy churches of God, that is yours of Elder Rome and this of New Rome, are one; I define the See of the Apostle Peter and this of the Imperial city to be one see…

John also notes his adherence to the decisions and decrees of all of the ecumenical councils with respect to both the “confirmation of the faith and the constitution of the church…”  This has import for canon 28 of Chalcedon. It is also noteworthy for future controversies down the road that John remarks that

I suffer no disturbance with their wise decisions, for I know that such as attempt to interfere with a single tittle of their decrees have fallen away from the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of God.

It is also noteworthy that not all of the eastern churches subscribed to the Formula. The Church of Jerussalem would not do so even under threat of imperial force. And it is important to recall that Justinian designated the church of Jerusalem as “the Mother of the Christian name, from which no one dares to separate.” (PL 63, 503) This is important to keep in mind, say during the monothelite controversy under the patriarch of Jersualem Sophronius  as opposed to Pope Honorius of Rome.

A second shorter dogmatic formula was drafted which would restore communion with Rome, but which curiously did not include any of the petrine language employed in the Formula of Hormisdas. It also did not include demands to strike various Eastern bishops from the diptychs as was demanded in the Formula of Hormisdas. This was the formula that the vast majority of Eastern bishops in fact subscribed to. And so the majority of East never signed or agreed to the Formula of Hormisdas and the majorty of the Roman conditions were never met.


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