Infallibility of Tradition in the ante-Nicene Church

What evidence could one bring from the ante-Nicene fathers to show that they held Tradition as a distinct infallible source of revelation from God, on equal terms with Scripture?

We have Irenaeus calling Scripture the “foundation of our faith”, but never Tradition. (“We have known the method of our salvation by no other means than those by whom the gospel came to us; which gospel they truly preached; but afterward, by the will of God, they delivered to us in the Scriptures, to be for the future the foundation and pillar of our faith,” - Against Heresies)

Tradition is no doubt very important, sure, it gave us our canon after all and should be used to help us interpret and understand Scriptural truth, but what evidence is there from the ante-Nicene fathers to suggest that the Catholic/Orthodox understanding of Tradition is correct as opposed to, say, the Anglican understanding? Many Anglicans would propose a “three-legged stool” of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, however Scripture being the sole infallible source from God and by which Tradition is verified. For example Cyril of Jerusalem says,

“For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual 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 you 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.” (Catechetical Lecture 4)

What proof from the ante-Nicene church could be brought to show that Tradition is just as important and is an infallible source in itself?

If the infallibility of Tradition cannot be established from the ante-Nicene church, then how can we determine if it is not some later elaboration, rather than sound Apostolic teaching?

The best source is St. Paul 2 Thessalonians 2:14: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word (oral traditions), or by our epistle (written tradition)."

Also St. Paul also states in (2 Thess. 3:6) “…that you withdraw yourselves from every brother walking disorderly, and not according to the tradition which they have received from us.” If this “tradition” was not infallible, than how could St. Paul use such strong language in telling people to avoid them, after all maybe that tradition was incorrect and therefore they were not bound to follow those traditions.

The Bible is the written tradition and the (big T) Traditions are the oral tradition. They go hand in hand. Without either one, the other is meaningless and they act as a check and balance to each other. Without the written letters, any teaching could be made up or ignored without anyone knowing the difference. But without the oral tradition, the written letter can be used to pretty much teach whatever an individual wants it to teach. Also the Church received it’s authority given to them orally by Jesus. This was first an oral Tradition before it was ever written down in any gospel. By this authority the Church then gives the written tradition, which in turn supports the oral tradition.

The New Testament wasn’t completely written until approximately 20-40 years after Jesus death. Until that time, they relied upon the Tradition to teach the faith. If that Tradition is fallible, than there is no real reason to even believe that the written letters, which came later are infallible.

I think you may be missing the point in the quotes. Both require that you be taught by the living teachers (neither quote allows you to take scripture and go off to your own reasoning of meaning). Scripture is there as the evidence that what is delivered to you in person via tradition is not invented.

Tradition gives a doctrine which is delivered by your priest or Bishop to you - these are required to proclaim what tradition delivered to today’s Church. Scripture is examined to see that it is a valid interpretation (among other non-traditional interpretations that are possible to a translator)

Since tradition requires a specific interpretation, and that interpretation is supported within Scripture, then tradition is verified with Scripture, and was not “invented” apart from Scripture.

And about the other translations, not supported by the deposit of faith, yet possible grammatically correct translations - they are ignored because their translators are not in union with the magisterium.

It is Tradition that delivered the Scriptures to witness that the Tradition can be supported from them. And actually, the scriptures support the reliance on tradition as the place where we are taught from (teach them all that I commanded you, not just the few words they read in the Bible, which were put their to give a groundwork for them to trust that I sent you to them as my Apostolic witness so they would trust you teaching them all that I commanded you).

John Martin

Tradition and scripture are bound together. They are the one source of faith. It isn’t about either one alone. We need not “prove” the unerring nature of tradition.

Tradition, as the Church teaches, is not every historical fact.

New Advent:
Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, disciplinary, liturgical or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time.…**these traditions can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s Magisterium.**On a practical level the earliest ante-Nicene Fathers had no reason to define tradition. They were living in the period itself. They would reference the teachings of Christ, the evangelization of the Apostles, and the Scriptures. CCC: 83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. **The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.**CCC: 76 In keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:

  • orally "by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit";33

- in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing”.34

77…the apostles…They gave them their own position of teaching authority."35 Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time."36

**78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes."37

80 "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal."

81 "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."42

"And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God**** which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."43

82 As a result the Church,… "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."44

New Advent: Proof from Tradition

If, during the early centuries, there was no explicit and formal discussion regarding ecclesiastical infallibility as such, yet the Church, in her corporate capacity, after the example of the Apostles at Jerusalem, always acted on the assumption that she was infallible in doctrinal matters and all the great orthodox teachers believed that she was so. Those who presumed…to contradict the Church’s teaching…were excommunicated and anathematized.

[LIST]
*]It is clear from the letters of **St. Ignatius of Antioch **how intolerant he was of error, and how firmly convinced that the episcopal body was the Divinely ordained and Divinely guided organ of truth; nor can any student of early Christian literature deny that, where Divine guidance is claimed in doctrinal matters, infallibility is implied.
*]So intolerant of error was St. Polycarp that, as the story goes, when he met Marcion on the street in Rome, he did not hesitate to denounce the heretic to his face as “the firstborn of Satan”. This incident, whether it be true or not, is at any rate thoroughly in keeping with the spirit of the age and such a spirit is incompatible with belief in a fallible Church.
*]St. Irenaeus, who in the disciplinary Paschal question favoured compromise for the sake of peace, took an altogether different attitude in the doctrinal controversy with the Gnostics; and the great principle on which he mainly relies in refuting the heretics is the principle of a living ecclesiastical authority for which he virtually claims infallibility. For example he says: “Where the Church is, there also is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is there is the Church, and every grace: for the Spirit is truth” (Adv. Haer. III, xxiv, 1); and again, Where the charismata of the Lord are given, there must **we seek the truth, i.e. with those to whom belongs the ecclesiastical succession from the Apostles, and the unadulterated and incorruptible word. *It is they who . . . are the guardians of our faith . . . and securely [sine periculo] expound the Scriptures to us" (op. cit., IV xxvi, 5).
]Tertullian, writing from the Catholic standpoint, ridicules the suggestion that the universal teaching of the Church can be wrong: “Suppose now that all [the Churches] have erred . . . [This would mean that] the Holy Spirit has not watched over any of them so as to guide it into the truth, although He was sent by Christ, and asked from the Father for this very purpose — that He might be the teacher of truth” (doctor veritatis — “De Praescript”, xxxvi, in P.L., II, 49).
[/LIST]

Logic alone gives evidence enough. Based strictly on scripture, well-meaning interpreters deny the deity of Jesus, baptismal regeneration, the efficacy of infant baptism, and the Real Presence, to name a few. Anglicans more or less agree with the Catholic Church on these matters while disagreeing on others, again, based on scripture. The only way to sort out these beliefs is for the interpreter to have a continuous historical legacy dating back to the beginnings of Christianity. Anything else is, unavoidably, not much more than guess-work since scripture is often vague on such issues.

Ah, yes, take a couple of sentences out of a document, out of context, and interpret them in a manner not intended by the author. After all, St. Cyril wrote, in the very same Catechetical Lectures:

But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church. [5:12]

hold fast these traditions undefiled [and] sever not yourselves from the communion. [23:23]

[The Church] teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge. [18:23]

This Lecture is also the source of some very familiar quotes used here frequntly, such as when Cyril says that the Church is

the pillar and ground of the truth… When one is traveling, he must ask “Where is the Catholic Church?”—in order that the true Church may be distinguished from the dens that others call the House of the Lord [18:26-26]

I’m sure many people are quite happy to consider Cyril a good resource when he seems to agree with them, but would contest these other statements.

So, why does he seem to contradict himself on Church authority with sola-Scriptura talk?

From Gary Matatics:

The answer to that problem is in the distinction between the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture

The material sufficiency of Scripture means that all true doctrines are present in Scripture, even if only implicit or embryonic. Catholics can safely affirm the material sufficiency of Scripture.

The formal sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible also contains what the Westminster Confession of Faith calls “perspicacity.” That is to say, “Scripture interprets Scripture”; it is its own key to its own meaning. The Bible is sufficiently clear that anyone may pick it up and know what it says and means.

Even St. Peter himself, in 2 Peter 3:16, denies formal sufficiency. In the epistles of St. Paul alone, he says, “are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”

(Gary Matatics has a good list of 18 quotes from Catechetical Lectures which affirm distinctly Catholic positions.)

These verses no doubt highlight the great importance of Tradition. Infallibility though? I don’t see that. The traditions were the teachings directly from the Apostles, which would have been divinely ordained, and were no doubt reliable. Whether these traditions would be infallibly preserved for centuries is a different matter however, and seeing as the Apostolic Churches have now splintered (Catholic, Chalcedonian Orthodox, Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox to name a few) it seems it has not been.

The Bible is the written tradition and the (big T) Traditions are the oral tradition. They go hand in hand. Without either one, the other is meaningless and they act as a check and balance to each other. Without the written letters, any teaching could be made up or ignored without anyone knowing the difference. But without the oral tradition, the written letter can be used to pretty much teach whatever an individual wants it to teach. Also the Church received it’s authority given to them orally by Jesus. This was first an oral Tradition before it was ever written down in any gospel. By this authority the Church then gives the written tradition, which in turn supports the oral tradition.

The New Testament wasn’t completely written until approximately 20-40 years after Jesus death. Until that time, they relied upon the Tradition to teach the faith. If that Tradition is fallible, than there is no real reason to even believe that the written letters, which came later are infallible.

If you are going to trust a source, do you always require it to be infallible? A source doesn’t need to be infallible to be reliable. If it did, one could not even get to the truth of Christianity in the first place without making a lot of ungrounded assumptions.

The New Testament was completed in the Apostolic age. At this time, the traditions and teachings being passed down were very reliable indeed, and anyone who was to try and alter anything would have been caught out by the other bishops/Apostles who had the teachings themselves. I would say this also carried through into the second and possibly third centuries before traditions began to “develop” somewhat.

Agreed! Tradition, despite its immense importance, must indeed be verified by Scripture. My question would be, does this not suggest a subordination of Tradition to Scripture, if Scripture is the final measure by which we verify everything else?

And about the other translations, not supported by the deposit of faith, yet possible grammatically correct translations - they are ignored because their translators are not in union with the magisterium.

It is Tradition that delivered the Scriptures to witness that the Tradition can be supported from them. And actually, the scriptures support the reliance on tradition as the place where we are taught from (teach them all that I commanded you, not just the few words they read in the Bible, which were put their to give a groundwork for them to trust that I sent you to them as my Apostolic witness so they would trust you teaching them all that I commanded you).

John Martin

I do not doubt the importance of Tradition. My query relates to its infallibility. The teachings and traditions of the Apostles were no doubt authoritative and inspired, but the transmission of these traditions over the centuries being infallible is a different matter altogether. The writings of the church fathers are no doubt helpful and important in how we interpret Scriptures, we shouldn’t go off by ourselves and try to interpret it, but this doesn’t mean Tradition itself is this infallible source that is preserved over the ages. I would point to the various Apostolic Churches that now disagree with each other to show this.

Thank you, that was very informative!

New Advent: Proof from Tradition

If, during the early centuries, there was no explicit and formal discussion regarding ecclesiastical infallibility as such, yet the Church, in her corporate capacity, after the example of the Apostles at Jerusalem, always acted on the assumption that she was infallible in doctrinal matters and all the great orthodox teachers believed that she was so. Those who presumed…to contradict the Church’s teaching…were excommunicated and anathematized.

[LIST]
*]It is clear from the letters of **St. Ignatius of Antioch **how intolerant he was of error, and how firmly convinced that the episcopal body was the Divinely ordained and Divinely guided organ of truth; nor can any student of early Christian literature deny that, where Divine guidance is claimed in doctrinal matters, infallibility is implied.
*]So intolerant of error was St. Polycarp that, as the story goes, when he met Marcion on the street in Rome, he did not hesitate to denounce the heretic to his face as “the firstborn of Satan”. This incident, whether it be true or not, is at any rate thoroughly in keeping with the spirit of the age and such a spirit is incompatible with belief in a fallible Church.
*]St. Irenaeus, who in the disciplinary Paschal question favoured compromise for the sake of peace, took an altogether different attitude in the doctrinal controversy with the Gnostics; and the great principle on which he mainly relies in refuting the heretics is the principle of a living ecclesiastical authority for which he virtually claims infallibility. For example he says: “Where the Church is, there also is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is there is the Church, and every grace: for the Spirit is truth” (Adv. Haer. III, xxiv, 1); and again, Where the charismata of the Lord are given, there must **we seek the truth, i.e. with those to whom belongs the ecclesiastical succession from the Apostles, and the unadulterated and incorruptible word. **It is they who . . . are the guardians of our faith . . . and securely [sine periculo] expound the Scriptures to us" (op. cit., IV xxvi, 5).

I do not doubt the immense authority of the Church in this era, and we should all certainly be intolerant of heresy and error. Believers did not have Bibles and it was necessary to rely on the bishops and priests which held the true Apostolic teaching passed down over the generations. The Church was one, and if one wanted the true orthodox doctrine then one would go to the Church which had the apostolic succession, which was so close to the Apostles that it was reliable and could be verified by the other Apostolic Churches.

*]Tertullian, writing from the Catholic standpoint, ridicules the suggestion that the universal teaching of the Church can be wrong: “Suppose now that all [the Churches] have erred . . . [This would mean that] the Holy Spirit has not watched over any of them so as to guide it into the truth, although He was sent by Christ, and asked from the Father for this very purpose — that He might be the teacher of truth” (doctor veritatis — “De Praescript”, xxxvi, in P.L., II, 49).
[/LIST]

While at the time of Tertullian such a notion may be ridiculous, he lived before the Arian controversy which so plagued the Church and Her bishops. From a Catholic perspective, Tertullian must be wrong here, because four of the five great Sees of the Church all erred (Alexandria, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Antioch) in the Great Schism on papal supremacy.

This would work if only one Church had a historical legacy. When it comes to apostolic succession, we have many claimants, the Catholics, the Chalcedonian Orthodox, the non-Chalcedonian Orthodox, the Anglicans and even Lutherans. Thus it seems that any historical legacy is quite shaky, it does not assure one that the Church has the Truth or that it has all been transmitted faithfully. In the early church it was very important, as the Apostolic Churches all agreed and in a time where you couldn’t go and buy yourself a Bible, we needed to rely on the bishops who had the faith handed down from the Apostles, not to mention that we could rely on Tradition then as it was so close to the time of the Apostles and was not so prone to alteration or elaboration.

Tradition is no doubt important, I’m not saying we should base ourselves strictly on scripture, that was never my query. The query relates to the infallibility of Tradition itself, not it simply having authority.

If one is going to address this question a few things need to be cleared up.

(1) One cannot read into Catholicism (or the EOC) the split in Scripture, Tradition, in the Church that was introduced by the Reformation. The Reformers separated Scripture from its native environment of Tradition and Church and set the individual interpretation of it over against other two. That was neither taught nor portrayed by the NT authors, nor by the CFs, nor by the Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church.

(2) In Catholicism and the EOC from Pentecost on God’s word is handed on by the united and interrelated process of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition in the Apostolic Church (STC). They are never separated or set over against each other. What infallibly hands on God’s word is STC, not any one of them separately or alone.

(3) In the CC and EOC no doctrine nor moral teaching is understood to be infallibly derived from Scripture alone in complete isolation from T and C; and none from T alone in isolation from S and C; and none from C alone in isolation from S and T.

(4) Your query appears to be an artifact of Reformation theology: it would not occur to a Catholic or EO.

(5) Which method God chose to hand on His word is a factual question the answer to which itself has always been found in STC. Where else would it be found? Any method that God chooses can be obscured, misdirected, or tarnished by human weakness and sinfulness.

(6) Certainly one can marshal arguments from S or T or C (and even reason) methodologically separated, but they are always synthesized within the whole.

I wasn’t intending to take anything out of context, I apologise if I came across that way. Rather than a support for sola scriptura per se, the point is that there was a reliance on Scripture as the rod by which we measure teachers and tradition.

The Church was no doubt immensely authoritative at the time, having the Apostolic teaching passed down and so close to the time of the Apostles. What guarantee do we have though that this Tradition has been infallibly preserved throughout the centuries, seeing as some Apostolic Churches now disagree with each other?

I’m sure many people are quite happy to consider Cyril a good resource when he seems to agree with them, but would contest these other statements.

So, why does he seem to contradict himself on Church authority with sola-Scriptura talk?

He doesn’t. The Church was certainly authoritative, while the Scriptures still seemed to have been the final measure by which doctrines were verified.

From Gary Matatics:

The answer to that problem is in the distinction between the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture

The material sufficiency of Scripture means that all true doctrines are present in Scripture, even if only implicit or embryonic. Catholics can safely affirm the material sufficiency of Scripture.

The formal sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible also contains what the Westminster Confession of Faith calls “perspicacity.” That is to say, “Scripture interprets Scripture”; it is its own key to its own meaning. The Bible is sufficiently clear that anyone may pick it up and know what it says and means.

I am well aware of the distinction, and I believe we need resources like Tradition to help us interpret Scripture. My real problem comes with the infallibility of Tradition itself and why we should think it has been faithfully preserved throughout the ages when we have multiple Apostolic Churches which disagree today. If the first record of any doctrine found in Tradition is more than 300 years after Christ’s death, can we trust it? What evidence can be brought from the ante-Nicene Church to support the infallibility of Tradition throughout the ages, how can we determine this elevation of Tradition wasn’t some seventh century elaboration?

Even St. Peter himself, in 2 Peter 3:16, denies formal sufficiency. In the epistles of St. Paul alone, he says, “are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”

That’s not really a denial of formal sufficiency by Peter at all, you’re just asserting that. It doesn’t matter anyway, I don’t really agree with formal sufficiency in the first place.

And yet the Scriptures were still used as a bedrock of sorts to verify and uphold doctrine, was it not? We like to group the “Reformers” all into one big happy group but there were a number who felt strongly about the importance of Tradition, the difference was the final authority of Scripture as the measuring rod, which does seem to be supported by the church fathers.

(2) In Catholicism and the EOC from Pentecost on God’s word is handed on by the united and interrelated process of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition in the Apostolic Church (STC). They are never separated or set over against each other. What infallibly hands on God’s word is STC, not any one of them separately or alone.

This idea would make sense if it were not for the splintering of the Apostolic Church. One would think that the Alexandrian bishops who would go on to reject Chalcedon would have had their own Apostolic teachings passed down and preserved, and what was put forward in Chalcedon seemed too much of an elaboration to them if not downright false. Why wasn’t Tradition preserved properly by those bishops? Unless the Church is just the Pope, and the guarantee of preservation is only for him?

(3) In the CC and EOC no doctrine nor moral teaching is understood to be infallibly derived from Scripture alone in complete isolation from T and C; and none from T alone in isolation from S and C; and none from C alone in isolation from S and T.

I would agree with that, my point is the final authority of Scripture however over these two things.

(4) Your query appears to be an artifact of Reformation theology: it would not occur to a Catholic or EO.

If Tradition was elaborated upon over the centuries and developed, then no it would not occur to Catholics or Eastern Orthodox today, who would think the Tradition is one and the same when in fact it could have been expanded upon over time.

(5) Which method God chose to hand on His word is a factual question the answer to which itself has always been found in STC. Where else would it be found? Any method that God chooses can be obscured, misdirected, or tarnished by human weakness and sinfulness.

It can be obscured and tarnished by human weakness and sinfulness? So what trust can we put in Tradition as preserved today?

(6) Certainly one can marshal arguments from S or T or C (and even reason) methodologically separated, but they are always synthesized within the whole.

I would agree, but I would say the “C” part has become less effective as more and more splinters have appeared within the Apostolic Church.

But the Reformers didn’t feel strongly enough about T (and C for that matter) to preserve the unity of them (STC) portrayed and taught by the NT authors, the CFs, and the Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church up to the Reformation.

Scripture certainly is probative for revealed truth in the CFs, as it is for Catholics and EOs today, but so is apostolic tradition and the authority of the church (e.g., an Ecumenical Council), because it is STC together, not S alone that is the final authority.

But think further. Take the proposition: “ Scripture is the final authority in matters of doctrine and morals.”

(1) A text is actualized only in reading; and until scripture is read and interpreted it is functionally speaking just ink stains on a page.

(2) Therefore, to say “Scripture is the final authority” is necessarily to say “my interpretation of Scripture alone here in (whatever year) is the final authority.

(3) In using that principle the Reformers in arguing against STC set the results of their interpretation of Scripture alone over against that of Scripture within the authority of existing Church and Apostolic Tradition and the faith thus transmitted, that is, over against the content transmitted by STC including STC itself.

(4) No CF nor Ecumenical Council of the undivided Church does what the Reformers did in (3). So, unless you can show how a CF teaches and portrays sola scriptura (SS) as practiced by the Reformers by a survey of their writings as a whole, your statement that some practiced SS does not hold. The burden is on the newer Reformation claim that the CFs or even any one CF viewed S as the final authority over against T and C as in (3).

Further, when Reformation claims about the transmission of God’s word reached the EOC about 100 years later they were uniformly and resolutely rejected.

This idea would make sense if it were not for the splintering of the Apostolic Church. One would think that the Alexandrian bishops who would go on to reject Chalcedon would have had their own Apostolic teachings passed down and preserved, and what was put forward in Chalcedon seemed too much of an elaboration to them if not downright false. Why wasn’t Tradition preserved properly by those bishops? Unless the Church is just the Pope, and the guarantee of preservation is only for him?

Again we are talking about the factual question: what do the only available sources we have (i.e., S, T, and C) teach and portray from the beginning about the transmission of God’s word? And that is STC, not SS.

As far as preserving apostolic tradition re Christ you’re forgetting about the Councils of Nicea through Chalcedon. Athanasius came back to Alexandria after Nicea. The Church of Alexandria in reality split in two. Not all of Alexandria separated from communion with the Eastern Churches and Rome accepting the Councils: there was and still is the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

The question “Why wasn’t Tradition preserved properly by those bishops?” is no different than the age old question “Why is there heresy?”

(3) In the CC and EOC no doctrine nor moral teaching is understood to be infallibly derived from Scripture alone in complete isolation from T and C; and none from T alone in isolation from S and C; and none from C alone in isolation from S and T.

[quote]I would agree with that, my point is the final authority of Scripture however over these two things.

[/quote]

Understood, but where do biblical authors, the CFs, and the Councils of the undivided Church teach and portray this? Nowhere as far as I can see.

If Tradition was elaborated upon over the centuries and developed, then no it would not occur to Catholics or Eastern Orthodox today, who would think the Tradition is one and the same when in fact it could have been expanded upon over time.

It is the conviction of the CC east and West and the EOC from the beginning that:
(a) the deposit of faith was given completely and once and for all to the church and ended with the death of the last apostle (or at least their direct influence); and
(b) the Church has the “Spirit of Truth” (Jn 16:13; cf. 1 Cor 2:12; 2 Tim 1:14 also v 12) and the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). She is well-equipped to preserve whole and unadulterated the deposit of faith transmitted by STC.

So, right, the CC and EOC are convinced that T was elaborated upon over the centuries and developed and is one and the same from the beginning at Pentecost.

It is certainly a theoretical possibility that a tradition could be “expanded upon” (i.e., added to) over time. But then how would you gauge that for our question? By whether or not it agrees with the results of your interpretation of the Bible alone here in 2014?

But in the case of a revealed religion it all comes down to authoritative witness. And what we see taught and portrayed from the NT authors, CFs, and Ecumenical Councils of the undivided church is STC.

So if one is going to choose to be Christian (an act of faith in the Word authoritatively transmitted), I don’t see how they can justify choosing the innovation of SS over the uniformly taught and practiced method from the beginning, STC.

The only way would be to just start with SS and go from there. But that’s arguing in a circle: start with SS; whatever doesn’t agree with the results of it is wrong; the teachings of CC don’t agree with the results of SS; therefore the CC has deviated from the truth by STC; and so SS is correct as is the doctrine derived by it.

It can be obscured and tarnished by human weakness and sinfulness? So what trust can we put in Tradition as preserved today?

The same question applies to Scripture alone–how many hundreds of denominations. But the effect of human weakness and sinfulness is irrelevant to the factual question: What method did God choose? what do the only available sources (i.e., S, T, and C) teach from the beginning about the transmission of God’s word? And that is STC.

  1. Certainly one can marshal arguments from S or T or C (and even reason) methodologically separated, but they are always synthesized within the whole.

[quote]I would agree, but I would say the “C” part has become less effective as more and more splinters have appeared within the Apostolic Church.

[/quote]

But if you agree, isn’t that STC? As far as splinters go, there have always been heresies. I’m not sure I see your point here. Further, as I said above, we are looking at the factual question by the only available means.

I disagree. When the Anglicans and Lutherans left the Church they abandoned their historical legacy in favor of their personal interpretations of Scripture. Some of their doctrines were different enough to be considered heretical, whereas the eastern churches were merely considered to be schismatic.

Well, wider circulation of the bible did absolutely nothing to ensure unity of doctrine. And a study of the ancient churches demonstrates that far more agreement than disagreement exists between east and west in comparison to Protestantism, in spite of what, mainly, some anti-Catholic detractors prefer to believe.

Why should Scripture, which itself is a Tradition of the church, penned by her members as it were under the inspiration oif God, be any more authoritative than Tradition? Scripture is just written Tradition. And Scripture, itself, tells us that we must hold to the traditions the church passed down and that only a small portion of Jesus words and deeds were recorded.

I’d submit that, unless the church Christ established is still visible and identifiable, then there is no Christian faith, we can have no certainty about what Christ taught.

There is no legitimate participation in the message of the Bible that can be had by simply reading the Bible. It was not written to us, but was written to the Israelites, then to the various churches established by the apostles. Jews had legitimate participation through their ancestry and circumcision plus their tradition. They had to believe their teachers, that the Hebrew Scriptures were legitimately their heritage. And foreigners, even if reading these Scriptures, could not claim to be Jews simply by believing what they read. Instead they had to appeal to the traditional leadership to be admitted to the people as proselytes.

In the New Testament writings, we do not read any words addressed to us. We only read about peoples 2000 years ago and about their participation by coming to the apostles and asking to be baptized into participation in this new People, such as is found with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts. The most we can legitimately say in our time, without apostolic succession and infallibility is, “I wish I could have lived then or that an apostle did not die and that I could go to see him and be included in the People.”

The Bible is not the source of Faith, but is the tool of tradition and our apostolic teacher (the living Church of today). The Bible is used by our infallible teacher for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. The Bible is not our source of Faith, but Faith comes by hearing our infallible teacher, who knows the Word of God and speaks it to us. And we have participation because we have a living apostolic person to whom we can appeal, “Here is water, what is to prevent you from including me in the Church, baptizing me?” You cannot say “baptize me please” to the Bible. You can say it to a Priest, to a Bishop, to the Pope. They will baptize you, confirm you, and you will know that you are one of the People, praising God as you go, just as the Ethiopian did. He was then included; you are now included in the People of God. He was not included because he was reading the Bible (which he was doing), but because a living authority baptized him. And the same with you.

John Martin

Once again I would bring up the Cyril of Jerusalem quote. Cyril tells the believers to not believe anything he teaches them unless they can find proof for it from Scriptures. He actually gives the believer the onus to read the Scriptures themselves and see for themselves if what he is teaching can be proved, it wasn’t merely for the “infallible teacher” to use but also for the believer to see if his teacher was truthful and to measure him by it. Scripture seems to play a much larger role than you are giving it.

From Gregory of Nyssa:
“But while the latter proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such licence, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.” (On the Soul and the Resurrection)

The Holy Scriptures are the rule and measure of every tenet, would you agree with this?

“There comes a heathen and says, I wish to become a Christian, but I know not whom to join: there is much fighting and faction among you, much confusion: which doctrine am I to choose? How shall we answer him? Each of you (says he) asserts, ’ I speak the truth.’ (b) No doubt: this is in our favor. For if we told you to be persuaded by arguments, you might well be perplexed: but if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule. (a) But which am I to believe, knowing as I do nothing at all of the Scriptures? The others also allege the same thing for themselves. What then ©if the other come, and say that the Scripture has this, and you that it has something different, and you interpret the Scriptures diversely, dragging their sense (each his own way)? And you then, I ask, have you no understanding, no judgment? And how should I be able (to decide), says he, I who do not even know how to judge of your doctrines? I wish to become a learner, and you are making me immediately a teacher. If he say this, what, say you, are we to answer him? How shall we persuade him? Let us ask whether all this be not mere pretence and subterfuge.” - St John Chrysostom Homily 33 on the Acts of the Apostles

  • "And you then, I ask, have you no understanding, no judgment?", St John Chrysostom seems to think the reader is more than capable of judging for himself the truth found within Scripture. Would you agree with Chrysostom’s response to a heathen here? He doesn’t say to ask the Church, but tells him to examine Scripture.

David Filmer provided a link clearly showing the problems with claiming Cyril teaches SS. I can provide additional arguments if you like.

From Gregory of Nyssa:
“But while the latter proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such licence, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.” (On the Soul and the Resurrection)

The Holy Scriptures are the rule and measure of every tenet, would you agree with this?

Alright, Sultan, think with me carefully here.

(1) For you to use the quote above from Gregory you have to be maintaining that he held and taught SS.

(2) Yet he also say in the same work before passage you cite: “As for ourselves, we take our stand upon the tenets of the Church, and assert that it will be well to accept only so much of these speculations [of pagan philosophers, “pagan nonsense”] as is sufficient to show that those who indulge in them are to a certain extent in accord with the doctrine of the Resurrection.”

The context is important because he is juxtaposing Christian literature to pagan literature in a work modeled on Plato’s Phaedo. Gregory stresses the authority of his Christian literature to judge it. In all, Scripture alone is used over against “pagan,” “heathen” philosophies to judge them. Nothing is said about it being so used vis-à-vis Tradition and Church, as SS does. Again he does say “we take our stand upon the tenets of the Church.”

(3) The language is inclusive, “every,” not exclusive, “only.” And the language refers to tenets not to Scripture. Think. To say “we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet” is in no way the same as saying “we make the Holy Scriptures only the rule and the measure of every tenet.” And the former proposition certainly does not entail the latter either.

If a doctor ordered “X-rays should be performed on every patient”, that statement in no way means or entails “X-rays only should be performed on every patient.” And if in another setting he ordered “Drug tests should be performed on every patient” that statement in no way means or entails “Drug tests only should be performed on every patient.” Nor are the two medical orders mutually exclusive.

The text itself doesn’t add up to what you want it to mean. Think, please.

(4) Numerous texts from his writing considered as a whole lead to the conclusion that he teaches STC, and nothing like SS.

Take his lengthy treatise against Eunomius on a subject as fundamental as the Trinity, a topic on which the Cappadocian fathers are prolific.

And let no one interrupt me, by saying that what we confess should also be confirmed by constructive reasoning: for it is enough for proof of our statement, that the tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handled on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them. They, on the other hand, who change their doctrines to this novelty, would need the support of arguments in abundance, if they were about to bring over to their views, not men light as dust, and unstable, but men of weight and steadiness: but so long as their statement is advanced without being established, and without being proved, who is so foolish and so brutish as to account the teaching of the evangelists and apostles, and of those who have successively shone like lights in the churches, of less force than this undemonstrated nonsense?
[St. Gregory of Nyssa, *Against Eunomius, IV, 6]

While the Church teaches that we must not divide our faith among a plurality of beings, but must recognize no difference of being in three Subjects or Persons, whereas our opponents posit a variety and unlikeness among them as Beings,
[St. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, I, 19]

In a famous letter on the Trinity he writes:

The question [regarding the Holy Trinity] is, as I said, very difficult to deal with: yet, if we should be able to find anything that may give support to the uncertainty of our mind, so that it may no longer totter and waver in this monstrous dilemma, it would be well: on the other hand, even if our reasoning be found unequal to the problem, we must keep forever, firm and unmoved, the tradition which we received by succession from the fathers, and seek from the Lord the reason which is the advocate of our faith: and if this be found by any of those endowed with grace, we must give thanks to Him who bestowed the grace; but if not, we shall none the less, on those points which have been determined, hold our faith unchangeably.
[St. Gregory of Nyssa, *To Ablabius: On Not Three Gods]

But since such cases have been passed over by our Fathers, we deem it sufficient on the principle of public teaching, that in purifying the infirmities of avarice through the word we treat them, as far as possible, as a kind of compound condition, and consider only theft, grave-robbing and sacrilege as morbid conditions, for such is the tradition that has come down to us from the succession of the Fathers.
[St. Gregory of Nyssa, Letter 31, Canonical Letter of the holy Gregory to Letoius among the saints, bishop of Melitene, 6]

In another letter to a church disturbed by heresy:

Therefore, that falsehood may not overpower the truth, in another letter we made a sufficient defence against the charges levelled at us, and before the Lord we protested that we had neither departed from the faith of the Holy Fathers, nor had we done anything without due discrimination and inquiry in the case of those who came over from the communion of Marcellus to that of the Church: but all that we did we did only after the orthodox in the East, and our brethren in the ministry had entrusted to us the consideration of the case of these persons, and had approved our action. But inasmuch as, since we composed that written defence of our conduct, again some of the brethren who are of one mind with us begged us to make separately with our own lips a profession of our faith, which we entertain with full conviction, following as we do the utterances of inspiration and the tradition of the Fathers, we deemed it necessary to discourse briefly of these heads as well. We confess that the doctrine of the Lord, which He taught His disciples, when He delivered to them the mystery of godliness, is the foundation and root of right and sound faith, nor do we believe that there is anything else loftier or safer than that tradition.
[St. Gregory of Nyssa, *Letter 2, To the City of Sebasteia]

So can you really say with a straight face that Gregory of Nyssa held and taught SS? Hardly. It is STC, all three, that he taught . . . like the other CFs.

Just a friendly piece of advise in all sincerity: if you try to make the claim that the CFs taught SS in educated Catholic or Orthodox circles, you’ll make a first rate fool of yourself. You don’t want to do that.

Further, to show you what I mean, apply what we just explored with Gregory to St. John Chrysostom.

“Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions you were taught, whether by an oral statement or by a letter”(2 Thess 2:15). Hence it is manifest that they did not deliver all things by epistle, but many things unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore, let us regard the tradition of the church also worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no farther.
[St. John Chrysostom, *Homilies on 2nd Thessalonians 4, 2]

We may answer, that what is here written, was sufficient for those who would attend, and that the sacred writers ever addressed themselves to the matter of immediate importance, whatever it might be at that time: it was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which have been delivered by unwritten tradition.
[St. John Chrysostom, *Homilies on Acts 1, 1]

“That ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor 11:2) It appears then that he used at that time to deliver many things also not in writing, which he shows too in many other places. But at that time he only delivered them, whereas now he adds an explanation of their reason: thus both rendering the one sort, the obedient, more steadfast, and pulling down the others’ pride, who oppose themselves.
[St. John Chrysostom, *Homily XXVI on 1 Corinthians, 2]

Not by letters alone did Paul instruct his disciple in his duty, but before by words also which he shows, both in many other passages, as where he says, “whether by word or our Epistle” (2 Thess 2:15), and especially here. Let us not therefore suppose that anything relating to doctrine was spoken imperfectly. For many things he delivered to him without writing. Of these therefore he reminds him, when he says, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me.”
[St. John Chrysostom, *Homily III on 2 Timothy]

Again Chrysostom taught and held STC, all three. Neither he nor Gregory of Nyssa nor any CF does what the Reformers did: take their interpretation of Scripture alone as the final authority over against C and T.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.