'Unanimous consent of the Fathers.'


#1

Is it true to say that Rome claims that she does not interpret scripture other than that which has the ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers.’?
This statement has been levelled at me in an argument where I have stated that the doctrines of the church, the “deposit of faith,” were never based on the unanimity of the early church fathers. They were “once for all delivered to the saints” by the Apostles through the Holy Spirit, and they are preserved in the church by the Holy Spirit with the Bishop of Rome, the successor to the see of Peter as final authority. My adversary has quoted some “contradictions” (which I figure someone might be able to illustrate to me are not “contradictions” as I have found tends to be the case in these arguments) as follows: -

Rome’s Declarations on ‘the Fathers’
"I also admit the holy Scriptures, according to that sense which our holy mother Church has held and does hold, to which it belongs to judge the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures: neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of The Fathers."
Pope Pius IV, Profession of the Tridentine Faith, Article 3

“Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, it (the Council of Trent) decrees that no one, relying on his own skill, shall, in matters of faith and of morals. . . . presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy Mother church, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers. . .” (Dogmatic Cannons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, TAN Books and Publishers, Page 11

Here we have an infallible Pope, making an infallible declaration on a matter of faith. Note that Rome says the Popes claim infallibility only when speaking ‘from the chair’, or in their official capacity, on matters of faith and morals.

If we are to take Rome’s word for it that all of her interpretations of Scriptures that underpin Rome’s official dogmas, doctrines and Traditions have the ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers,’ we are bound in conscience to examine the writings of those ‘Fathers.’

Look for the posts starting on Augustine, Jerome, John Chrysostom, St Basil, Cyril of Alexandria, Socrates Scholasticus, Vincent of Lerins, St. Cyprian, Clement of Rome, Theodoret, Bishop of Cyprus, St. Hilary, St. Gregory the Great, Iraeneus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Origen, John Cassian, Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa.

What must you conclude if you discover many of Rome’s practices are not just contradicted, but condemned by many of those ‘Fathers?’

Rome claims that she does not interpret scripture other than that which has the ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers.’ is a reference to the church leaders during the first few centuries after the time of Christ. The expression, ‘unanimous consent’ means, in plain English, that all early Fathers of the church, without exception, agree fully on a particular topic, or interpretation of Scripture.

Evidence has been cited thus: “Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, it (the Council of Trent) decrees that no one, relying on his own skill, shall, in matters of faith and of morals. . . . presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy Mother church, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers. . .” (Dogmatic Cannons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, TAN Books and Publishers, Page 11).

So does the Church rely on the concensus of the ECF or not??


#2

i’m not sure where that quote is from, Fat, but this:

If we are to take Rome’s word for it that all of her interpretations of Scriptures that underpin Rome’s official dogmas, doctrines and Traditions have the ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers,’ we are bound in conscience to examine the writings of those ‘Fathers.’

is false: the passages from Trent and Providentissimus Dei do not say that all of the scriptural support for rome’s traditions and doctrines have the unanimous consent of the fathers - those passages simply say that if a scriptural passage has been unanimously interpreted by the church fathers, and that interpretation concerns a matter of faith and morals, then that interpretation cannot be doubted.

those texts say nothing about whether or not the church has based its doctrines and practices only on scriptural passages meeting such interpretive criteria (and it hasn’t).

in matters of scriptural interpretation that do not involve unanimous patristic consent, the church is free to do what it always does: make definitive proclamations of its own.


#3

[quote=john doran]i’m not sure where that quote is from, Fat, but this:

is false: the passages from Trent and Providentissimus Dei do not say that all of the scriptural support for rome’s traditions and doctrines have the unanimous consent of the fathers - those passages simply say that if a scriptural passage has been unanimously interpreted by the church fathers, and that interpretation concerns a matter of faith and morals, then that interpretation cannot be doubted.

those texts say nothing about whether or not the church has based its doctrines and practices only on scriptural passages meeting such interpretive criteria (and it hasn’t).

in matters of scriptural interpretation that do not involve unanimous patristic consent, the church is free to do what it always does: make definitive proclamations of its own.
[/quote]

This is a great answer, especially in light of the fact that at least the first qoutation (from Providentissimus Dei) is speaking specifically on the interpretation of Sacred Scripture, not all of “Rome’s official dogmas, doctrines and Traditions.” Don’t forget that the Church also relies upon the entire deposit of Faith as a whole (which includes Scripture) along with other sources (such as the Liturgy and the ECFs themselves) which comprise Sacred Tradition.


#4

The orthodox Fathers of the Church are to be regarded as infallible in matters of Faith and Morals in which they unanimously agree - insofar as such unanimous agreement is evidence of Apostolic Tradition…

The challenge is, finding exactly those things in which the Fathers unanimously agree.


#5

We are having an interesting discussion on the unanomous consent of the fathers here.

Some relevant passages:

Trent:

“Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,–in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, --wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,–whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,–hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published…”

Similarly, Vatican I states (Session 2, Profession of Faith):

“…Likewise I accept sacred scripture according to that sense which holy mother church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy scriptures; nor will I ever receive and interpret them except according to the unanimous consent of the fathers…”

And again (Session 3, Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith, Chapter 2- On Revelation):

“…In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret holy scripture…against the unanimous consent of the fathers.”

Mark
www.veritas-catholic.blogspot.com


#6

The expression, ‘unanimous consent’ means, in plain English, that all early Fathers of the church, without exception, agree fully on a particular topic, or interpretation of Scripture.

According to St. Vincent de Lerins (d. c. 450)
Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith

… in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses [note: as opposed to that which is merely regional]; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers [note: as opposed to something novel]; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.


#7

Here we have an infallible Pope, making an infallible declaration on a matter of faith. Note that Rome says the Popes claim infallibility only when speaking ‘from the chair’, or in their official capacity, on matters of faith and morals.

If we are to take Rome’s word for it that all of her interpretations of Scriptures that underpin Rome’s official dogmas, doctrines and Traditions have the ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers,’ we are bound in conscience to examine the writings of those ‘Fathers.’

The above is a strawman.

Firstly, who says this was an infallible declaration? It is a simple-minded postulate to presume just because a council decreed it, it must have decreed it infallibly as an article of faith. The above postulate tells us more about the antagonist then it does about Catholic doctrine.

Secondly, ‘unanimous consent of the fathers’ is presented as one measure of orthodoxy, not the measure of orthodoxy. There are many things which are understood to be de fide infallible dogmas of Catholicism which have been believed implicitly without refutation and as such, have very little discussion among the early Church fathers.

For example, it is a de fide teaching of Catholicism that Scritpure is without error. However, we have a relatively small amount of patristic discussion on the matter. This could be that nobody needed to write about something that was so obviously accepted as absolutely true. Nonetheless, we do have early writings that teach the inerrancy of Scripture and nobody bothered to refute it, even though we don’t base our dogmas on merely a “head count” of extant patristics.

Instead, we have a living magisterium, which is guided by the Holy Spirit to judge the documents of the past for the truth which is perennially held within the Catholic Church. What is believed often only implicitly by the early Church, is understood more deeply and expressed more explicitly by the living magisterium.


#8

Instead of the above simple-minded view of how the living magisterium recognized revealed truth, I recommend the following…

Here are some relevent excerpts from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1909), written under the papacy of Pope St. Pius X, under the heading [font=Arial]“The proper mode of existence of revealed truth in the mind of the Church and the way to recognize this truth,”:[/font]

CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Tradition and Living Magisterium

… this idea of a deposit [of faith] should not make us lose sight of the true manner in which traditional truth lives and is transmitted in the Church. This deposit in fact is not an inanimate thing passed from hand to hand; it is not, properly speaking, an assemblage of doctrines and institutions consigned to books or other monuments. Books and monuments of every kind are a means, an organ of transmission, they are not, properly speaking, the tradition itself. …

… We are all conscious of an assemblage of ideas or opinions living in our mind and forming part of the very life of our mind, sometimes they find their clear expression, again we find ourselves without the exact formula wherewith to express them to ourselves or to others an idea is in search as it were of its expression, sometimes it even acts in us and leads us to actions without our having as yet the reflective consciousness of it. Something similar may be said of the ideas or opinions which live, as it were, and stir the … spirit of the people.

This common sentiment is in a sense nothing else than the sum of individual sentiments, and yet we feel clearly that it is quite another thing than the individual taken individually. It is a fact of experience that there is a common sentiment, as if there were such a thing as a common spirit, and as if this common spirit were the abode of certain ideas and opinions which are doubtless the ideas and opinions of each man, but which take on a peculiar aspect in each man inasmuch as they are the ideas and opinions of all. The existence of tradition in the Church must be regarded as living in the spirit and the heart, thence translating itself into acts, and expressing itself in words or writings; but here we must not have in mind individual sentiment, but the common sentiment of the Church, [emphasis added] the sense or sentiment of the faithful, that is, of all who live by its life and are in communion of thought among themselves and with her …

Documents of all kinds (writings, monuments, etc.) are in the hands of masters, as of the faithful, a means of finding or recognizing the revealed truth confided to the Church under the direction of her pastors. There is between written documents and the living magisterium of the Church a relation similar, proportionately speaking, to that already outlined between Scripture and the living magisterium. In them is found the traditional thought expressed according to varieties of environments and circumstances, no longer in an inspired language, as is the case with Scripture, but in a purely human language, consequently subject to the imperfections and shortcomings of human thought. Nevertheless the more the documents are the exact expression of the living thought of the Church the more they thereby possess the value and authority which belong to that thought because they are so much the better expression of tradition. Often formulas of the past have themselves entered the traditional current and become the official formulas of the Church. Hence it will be understood that the living magisterium searches in the past, now for authorities in favour of its present thought in order to defend it against attacks or dangers of mutilation, now for light to walk the right road without straying. The thought of the Church is essentially a traditional thought and the living magisterium by taking cognizance of ancient formulas of this thought thereby recruits its strength and ***prepares to give to immutable truth a new expression ***which shall be in harmony with the circumstances of the day and within reach of contemporary minds.

continued…


#9

Catholicism rejects sola Traditio just as certainly as she rejects sola Scritpura. It is the competence of the living magisterium, which is vested in the current pope and the college of bishops in communion with him to determine what is truly traditional versus what has an admixture of error.

The article continues…

Revealed truth has sometimes found definitive formulas from the earliest times; then the living magisterium has only had to preserve and explain them and put them in circulation. Sometimes attempts have been made to express this truth, without success. It even happens that, in attempting to express revealed truth in the terms of some philosophy or to fuse it with some current of human thought, it has been distorted so as to be scarcely recognizable, so closely mingled with error that it becomes difficult to separate them. When the Church studies the ancient monuments of her faith she casts over the past the reflection of her living and present thought and by some sympathy of the truth of to-day with that of yesterday she succeeds in recognizing through the obscurities and inaccuracies of ancient formulas the portions of traditional truth, even when they are mixed with error. The Church is also (as regards religious and moral doctrines) the best interpreter of truly traditional documents; she recognizes as by instinct what belongs to the current of her living thought and distinguishes it from the foreign elements which may have become mixed with it in the course of centuries.

The living magisterium, therefore, makes extensive use of documents of the past, but it does so while judging and interpreting, gladly finding in them its present thought, but likewise, when needful, distinguishing its present thought from what is traditional only in appearance. It is revealed truth always living in the mind of the Church, or, if it is preferred, the present thought of the Church in continuity with her traditional thought, which is for it*** the final criterion***, according to which the living magisterium adopts as true or rejects as false the often obscure and confused formulas which occur in the monuments of the past. Thus are explained both her respect for the writings of the Fathers of the Church and her supreme independence towards those writings–she judges them more than she is judged by them. … [The Church] is then linked with her past because in this past her entire self is concerned and not any fallible organ of her thought. Hence she still finds her doctrine and rule of faith in these venerable [infallible] monuments; the formulas may have grown old, but the truth which they express is always her present thought.


#10

Fighting Fat,

One operative quote from text that you cited is …

Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, it (the Council of Trent) decrees that no one, relying on his own skill, shall, in matters of faith and of morals. . . . presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy Mother church, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

This puts the interpretation of “holy Mother church” as something separate from “the unanimous consent of the Fathers.” The Catholic faithful are not allowed to interpret Scripture in a way that is contradictory to the interpretation given by holy Mother church or to the unanimous interpretation of the Church Fathers. This does not in any way mean that the Church’s interpretation is guided ONLY by the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

  • Liberian

#11

What I’d like to know from the antagonist is, which dogma of Catholicism is not characterized by universality, antiquity, and consent in the sense that the Church herself understands these terms?


#12

[quote=itsjustdave1988]What I’d like to know from the antagonist is, which dogma of Catholicism is not characterized by universality, antiquity, and consent in the sense that the Church herself understands these terms?
[/quote]

Dave,

Not to be antagonistic, but I don’t think Thomas Aquinas believed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

  • Liberian

#13

[quote=Liberian]Dave,

Not to be antagonistic, but I don’t think Thomas Aquinas believed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

  • Liberian
    [/quote]

St. Thomas’ views on the immaculate conception is at best ambiguous. In his Summa he seems to deny it, but in his Commentary on the Sentences, he seems to affirm it. Thus, I think any conclusions about what he believed is merely speculative.

St. Thomas Aquinas asserted in his Commentary on the Book of Sentences:

“Purity is constituted by a recession from impurity, and therefore it is possible to find some creature purer than all the rest, namely one not contaminated by any taint of sin; such was the purity of the Blessed Virgin, who was immune from original and actual sin, yet under God, inasmuch as there was in her the potentiality of sin.”

Nonetheless, St. Thomas was not considered an “early Church father.” “The patristic age, by common agreement, ends in the West with the death of St. Isidore of Seville in the year 636 AD, and in the East with the death of St. John Damascene in 749 AD.” (William Jurgens, *Faith of the Early Fathers, *Introduction to his three volume work).

That Mary was conceived immaculate, that is, without original sin finds support in patristic texts, and there seems less disagreement about it among the fathers than the teachings regarding the divinity of Jesus.

For example, St. Ephraim, ca. 370 AD wrote:

“***You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others; ******For there is no blemish in you, nor any stains upon your Mothe***r.” (Jurgens, 719)

To put things in perspective, the above pre-dated the canonization of Sacred Scripture. Interestingly enough, the canon of Scripture had more disagreement in patristic evidence than the doctrine that Mary was free from the stain of any sin.

St. Ambrose, ca. AD 386, wrote:

***Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sara but from Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom gace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin. ***(Jurgens, 1314)

**St. Hippolytus, ca. AD 235, **speaks of Mary, the tabernacle of Christ as being exempt from impurities:

***His tabernacle was exempt from putridity and corruption.***"
(Orat. Inillud, Dominus pascit me)

St. Proclus of Constantinople, ca. AD 446, wrote:

As he formed her without my stain of her own, so He proceeded from her contracting no stain. (Homly 1)

St. Peter Chrysologus, ca. AD 449, wrote:

“***The angel took not the Virgin from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to whom she was pledged from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to whom she was pledged in the womb, when she was made.***” (Sermon 140)

Additionally, Mary is compared by the early Church Fathers to that other woman who was created free from original sin, Eve. (cf. St. Justin Martyr, ca. AD 150, *Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, *100, St. Irenaeus, ca. AD 189, *Against Heresies, *3, 22, 4).

See more here: cin.org/users/jgallegos/immac.htm


#14

While a Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas is not considered a Father of the Church.

His opinions are moot re: patristic unanimity.


#15

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