Saturday, November 03, 2012


by Fr. Laurence Wells

Not many years ago the ineffable Bishop Bennison of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania caused great consternation by telling a conservative congregation, when someone quoted a Biblical text to him, “Well, the Church made up the Bible and therefore the Church can change the Bible.”  His blunt statement was widely quoted, and rightly so, as a prize exhibit of where revisionist theology inevitable leads.  If his premise is granted, his conclusion is hard to resist. 

But honestly requires us to face up to the fact that Bishop Bennison’s assumption (“the Church made up the Bible”) is widely shared by many who would be surprised to learn that their view of Sacred Scripture is not very different from that of a radically modernist bishop.  For example, we find Bp. Kallistos Ware writing (The Orthodox Church, New Edition, page 199), “It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority.”  Whereas Bishop Bennison was blunt, Bishop Ware was genteel.  But their assumptions are identical and their conclusions are not so far apart.

In the more nuanced form, the Bennison-Ware logic is not infrequently encountered even within the Continuing Church.  I recall being told by one of our most learned and astute clergymen that the Protestant concept of Scriptura Sola collapses because “we must always remember that the Church proclaimed the Canon.”  (He did not seem to know the difference between Scriptura sola and Scriptura nuda, but that is another discussion.)

This is written to counter some facile conclusions from faulty data, namely, that (1) the documents which make up our Bible circulated for a time in some pre-Canonical status, which therefore (2) had no inherent authority until the Church bestowed that authority, and (3) the Church still retains a high degree of control in what Scriptural teaching it obeys, what it disregards, and what it adds.

There are many who suppose that this great act of proclamation occurred (like the Constitution which emerged from the 1787 Philadelphia Convention) at one of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.  But as far as the records show, this was not the case.  When Arian and Athanasian parties faced each other at Nicaea in AD 325, they were bitterly divided over the Person of Jesus Christ.  Yet both sides appealed to the same Holy Scripture and even if there were a few fuzzy areas in the Canon (along with some very solid areas), neither side tried to score points by arguing about the Canon of either Testament or the Bible of the opposite party.  In contrast to all the theological controversies which wracked the Christian community in those early centuries, disagreements over the Biblical Canon were few, local and minor.  Of course it is tempting to project later 16th century disputes into Patristic times.  But the records do not bear this out.  The differences, such as they were, related exclusively to the third and last part of the New Testament, in which a number of writings, the so-called Antilegomena, were not so much controverted as simply neglected.

For those who wish to delve into the minutiae of how an official list of authoritative writings emerged in the Christian community, I would recommend F. F. Bruce’s The Canon of Scripture (IVP, 1988) and also Lee Martin McDonald’s The Biblical Canon (Hendrickson, 2007), a much bigger book which acknowledges its
debt to Bruce but does not always agree with him on details.  The history is too complicated to be summed up in the simplisms of Bennison and Ware.

Very briefly, we can say that in AD 367 St Athanasius, in his capacity as Bishop of Alexandria, issued his usual Easter Letter announcing the date of the Paschal feast.  (The Council of Nicaea had tasked him with this annual chore.)  In that year, he found it necessary to lay down lists of the books of both Testaments.  His list of the New Testament writings is the earliest document we possess which gives the New Testament exactly as we have it in our Bibles (and notably, this is one of very few things on which all of Christendom agrees).  These lists of both Testaments were almost identical to the lists prepared by a local Council held at Laodicea around AD 363.  The records of that Council, however, are less than clear:  it may have overlooked the Book of Revelation, but that is not certain.

Two points must be made concerning these “proclamations” of the Canon.  First of all, neither Athanasius nor the bishops convened at Laodicea were putting books into the Bible.  The purpose of the lists, as Athanasius made very clear, was not to include anything but to exclude false writings.  His first concern was liturgical reading.   He found it necessary to counteract a tendency to read from documents not considered inspired or authoritative.  (The Congregation on Divine Worship had to deal with a similar fad in the Roman Catholic Church in the heady days immediately after Vatican II.)  Athanasius wrote, after listing the 27 books of the New Testament:

“These are the ‘springs of salvation,’ [Isaiah 12. 3] so that one who is thirsty may be satisfied with the oracles which are in them.  In these alone [!] is the teaching of true religion proclaimed as good news.  Let no one add to these or take anything from them.”  The allusion here to Rev.22. 18 surely seems to indicate a closed Canon, already in place when Athanasius wrote.  Had he undertaken to compile something new, his adversaries would not have allowed that to pass.  If the Arian party could raise an objection to homoousion as a new word, they would surely not have tolerated a new Canon to the New Testament.

Secondly, we find a wealth of evidence that an official list of writings was pretty much in place from a much earlier time.  The so-called Muratorian Fragment (named for its 18th century discoverer, Lodovico Antonio Muratori) probably goes back to the end of the second century.  It listed 21 of our 27 books, omitting Hebrews, James, I and II Peter, and II and III John.  Oddly, it listed also the Wisdom of Solomon as a New Testament book.  Not too much can be concluded from these anomalies, since the document is fragmentary and exists only in a late copy.  But what is important to us here is that the Shepherd of Hermas was specifically excluded on the grounds that it was recently written.  Certain Gnostic writers were also excluded as well. 

In both the Easter Letter and the Muratorian fragment, the Canon was not something proclaimed but rather something defined, delimited, and safeguarded.

The concept of Canonicity must be carefully distinguished from the concept of Authority.  The New Testament writings did not gain authority because they were canonized; instead, they were set apart and protected as “Canon” because they had inherent authority.  Asking how this exclusive list had emerged by the time of Athanasius is somewhat like asking how the original ministry of “the Twelve” had quickly blossomed into the monarchical episcopate and threefold ministry of bishop, priest and deacon.  The details are murky, but we can be sure that in neither case, ministry or canon, was this suddenly “proclaimed” by the Church.

St Irenaeus, who became bishop of Lyon, in Gaul, in AD 177, is one of our last traceable links to the Apostolic  Church.  He was a pupil of St Polycarp of Smyrna (AD 69—155), who wrote of his personal contacts with St John, the Beloved Disciple, “and with others who had seen the Lord.”  It was the burden of Irenaeus to combat the serious threat of Gnosticism.  As is well known, he emphasized The Apostolic foundation of the Church.  But he also emphasized the importance of Christian Scripture in safeguarding the Faith.  F. F. Bruce writes, in Canon of Scripture, p. 175,

“In all of Irenaeus’s argument, moreover, scripture plays a dominant part.  It is the abiding  witness to the one living and true God, ‘whom the law announces, whom the prophets proclaim, whom Christ reveals, whom the apostles teach, whom the Church believes.’  Irenaeus is well able to distinguish ‘the writings of truth’ from ‘the multitude of apocryphal and spurious writings.’   …. Irenaeus nowhere in his extant writings sets down a list of New Testament books, but it is evident that he had a clear notion of their identity.” 

But the NT Canon of St Irenaeus is not a complete mystery.  We know that he quoted from Acts and the Pauline letters.  More importantly, we know that he employed the concept of a “Fourfold Gospel,” listing Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, comparing them to the four quarters of the world, and condemning any who would add to this number.  (Remember, the Canon was exclusive, not inclusive.)

We seem to have a tantalizing clue to the formation of the New Testament Canon in the very arrangement of Paul’s Epistles.  It should be observed, by the way, that the Apostle to the Gentiles assumes in every extant letter that his writing will be received and read as authoritative Scripture.  There is no diffident tone of  “perhaps the Church will add this to her official list sometime in the future.”  In the arrangement of Paul’s Epistles, the first, Romans, is the longest, and the last, the brief letter to Philemon, is the shortest.  In between they come in order of descending length.  This may well tell us that they were gathered not in some random fashion but by a careful editor who arranged them according to a literary convention of the ancient world, into a unified Corpus Paulinum.  Why?  Because this editor recognized the inherent authority of Apostolic writing.  Bruce indulges himself in a delightful speculation that this careful editor was none other than Onesimus, the slave mentioned in Philemon, who could be the Onesimus who was recorded by Bishop of Ephesus by St Ignatius of Antioch.

Frequently we encounter an argument that the Church is “older” than the Bible and therefore has some greater authority.  This argument does not have all the facts on its side, as we find St Peter on the Day of Pentecost (commonly called the “Birthday of the Church”) citing the Book of Joel.  Similarly, when Our Lord began His public preaching in the Nazareth Synagogue, we find Him taking a text from Isaiah.  From its earliest inception, the Church had not only the concept of an authoritative Scripture, but a solid foundation in “the Law, the Prophets and the Writings” which we call the Old Testament (Luke 24:44).   It is striking to find the Second Epistle of Peter, perhaps the latest document of the New Testament, referring to the Pauline writings:

“And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unsteadfast wrest, as they do also  the other scriptures, unto their own destruction (II Peter 3:15-16).”

Three things are notable here.  II Peter was not written to any particular Church, but is a “Catholic Epistle” addressed to the Christian community at large.  So the writer (I take him to be St Peter himself, but will not insist on it right now) applies Paul’s Epistles to the universal Church, not merely the seven local churches to which Paul wrote.  Second, II Peter surely seems to think of the Pauline Epistles as a definite collection, not just a bunch of old letters floating around.  But third, and unarguably so, he places them on a level with the “other scriptures,” that is to say, the sacred writings of Israel.  The New Testament Canon was asserting itself before the New Testament was even complete!

Another example of this phenomenon is found in II Timothy 5:18-19,  “For the scripture saith, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn”,  And, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”  The first of these two citations (which Paul also introduced in 1 Cor. 9:9) comes from Deuteronomy 25:4.  The second, however, is found in no Old Testament passage whatever, but comes from Matt. 10:10 (from a long discourse relating to the mission of the Twelve).  This could be a bit of evidence for the writing of Matthew somewhat earlier than is commonly supposed.  But even if Paul is quoting an earlier form of Matthew no longer available to us, we cannot escape the fact that Paul quoted Matthew as authoritative Scripture. 

Modern writers have many good things to say on the “criteria of canonicity,” listing apostolicity, orthodoxy, antiquity, liturgical usefulness, inspiration.  But it is striking that the ancient writers have so little to say on the topic.  When they spoke of this or that New Testament book under the rubric gegraptai (“it is written’), the Canon is simply assumed as a Datum.  The Canon emerged, it surely seems,  naturally, spontaneously and fairly quickly, as something the entire Christian community, orthodox and heretical alike, quietly accepted with no great fuss or ado.  So the claim that “the Church proclaimed the canon” turns out to be a historical mirage and a triumphalist myth.

Just as the episcopate and priesthood emerged without any particular difficulty, and probably somewhat earlier, so the Canon appeared.  In both these early developments we may see the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, leading the people of God into all truth.  In the compiled New Testament, fenced in and set apart from all other writings, we have no human authority’s “proclamation.” But instead we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling to His sheep, and see the sheep following Him for they know His voice.


Canon Tallis said...

I don't have the slightest how others may react to this, but my take is very simple. This is what I was given to understand about the relationship between the Scriptures and the Church as a teenager and i have never read anything, any argument which would come close to convincing me otherwise. What delights me is the excellence and simplicity with which Father Wells sets it forth. The whole point of the prayer book tradition as far as I am concerned is that the whole Church from the oldest bishop to the most recently baptized can hear the Scriptures in a language they understand and respond as individuals and a community to all of the Lord's commandments found therein.

Anonymous said...

Great post and very timely for someone like me who is trying to discern Anglicanism or Orthodoxy.

- Discerning

J.L. said...

Phenomenal post, Fr. Wells! I feel like you have summed up much of what one of my seminary professor's have said about the "origin" of the canon. A book that might also interest you on canon would be one by that same seminary prof. His name is Michael Kruger and his book is Canon Revisited. I highly recommend it as one to add to your list of books to consider. He most certainly argues most of what you have said here. I hope that you might find it useful!

Diane said...

well, I think you are diminishing the issues that surrounded books like John 3, Hebrews, Rev, etc. Plus, let's say we all have this totally spontaneous canon now...we are all still divided. Scripture does not unite us. There most be something else (authoritative!) a final arbiter....gosh, what mechanism would Jesus have given us to keep us all as one given that we all have the same canon??!

Anonymous said...

Would it be accurate to say that the Church 'affirmed' the Canon of Scripture, vice 'proclaimed' it?

Anonymous said...

Superb essay, Fr. Wells. I echo the sentiments of Canon Tallis.

I can't remember where I first encountered the term "the Word Inscripturate", but the Protestant author who used it was trying to highlight the christological dimension of Holy Scripture. As the Word was made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, so the divine "speech" of God is enfleshed in the revealed word of Holy Scripture. This is precisely why both Catholics and Protestants have held canonical Scriptures to be the "Word of God", and thus stands as an authority above the Church, as Christ stands in such a place of authority. It is the Word - Incarnate and Inscripturate - that gave birth to the Church, not the other way around. Hence, for classical Anglicans, Articles VI and XX.

Without the Word -- Incarnate and Inscripturate -- there is neither church nor sacrament. The Word gives birth and efficacy to both. A simple biblical word study of "word" leads to no other coinclusion, which is why the Reformers all wrote extensively on the relationship of word and sacrament, it is always in that order: word, then sacrament.

The Embryo Parson

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Diane wrote:

"...gosh, what mechanism would Jesus have given us to keep us all as one given that we all have the same canon??!"

Certainly not the same office that taught the crusades as a means of salvation for anyone who dies killing infidels. Certainly not the same office once claimed by three different men and settled by combat. Certainly not the same office against whose errors 95 excellent theses had to be composed and nailed to the door. Certainly not the same office that has caused all the major divisions of the Church by its excessive and bold claims.

But, what Christ did give us causes the same division He Himself caused in His earthly life among us: The truth.

Diane said...

you still have not given me the mechanism by which disputes would be handled.

Councils you might say? Why has your church not convened one?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

We hold to the Seven Ecumenical Councils, as the Affirmation of St. Louis says clearly. Any new heresy would be a variation on one of the old ones, and the theological substance was all defended so well in the first four Councils that the remaining three needed only to repeat and defend the same positions, applying them to such things as, e.g. Iconoclasm. What was the substance of Nicea II, if not a reiteration of the Council of Chalcedon?

So, the answers are all there.

Fr. Wells said...

Diane wrote:
"well, I think you are diminishing the issues that surrounded books like John 3, Hebrews, Rev, etc. Plus, let's say we all have this totally spontaneous canon now...we are all still divided. Scripture does not unite us. There most be something else (authoritative!) a final arbiter....gosh, what mechanism would Jesus have given us to keep us all as one given that we all have the same canon??!"

I do not recall writing about any "totally spontaneous canon," or diminishing issues relating to Hebrews, James, II Peter, II & III John, Judge and Revelation. I simply point out that there are no such issues relating to the 4 Gospels, Acts or the 13 Pauline Epistles. Also, the "issues" never burst into any serious controversies or led to any schisms.

In response to the second part of your comment ("Scripture does not unite us"), this seems like saying that the building of a Golden Calf proves something defective in the Ten Commandments, or the sins in the early Church in Acts (remember Ananias and Sapphira?) shows something wrong with the Holy Spirit. But thanks for reading and commenting.

Fr. Wells said...

Embryo Parson wrote,
" can't remember where I first encountered the term "the Word Inscripturate", but the Protestant author who used it was trying to highlight the christological dimension of Holy Scripture."

I am familiar with the term and the analogy, but this is an area where we need to be careful. Personally, I do not think it is helpful to over-work or over-load the comparison between the eternal Logos, the second person of the Godhead, and the prophetic-evangelical utterance of God written in the Scriptures. For starters, the Logos is eternal, but Scripture is not. We cannot say what Nicaea I said concerning the Logos, There was never a time when the Logos did not exist. The Biblical Word came into existence at a point in time (actually many points in time, spreading over several centuries). This analogy opens us to the accusation of Bible-worship. Conversely, some such as Peter Enns (if I understand him) reason in the opposite manner, arguing that if our Lord in His incarnate state held a limited world view, so the Bible is historically conditioned and may not even be inerrant in the ordinary sense of the term. Thin end of a wedge.

I agree that all Scripture witnesses to the Saviour, and that He unifies Scripture and makes Scripture intelligible. Once that is grasped, the question about a "mechanism for handling disputes" is brought into focus and reduced to size.

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure that Bishop Ware's perspective is the same as Mr. Bennison’s. But I may be wrong, so I propose a test . . . Go to a Orthodox discussion board and see how Mr. Bennison’s pronouncement is received. If it is recognized as a valid expression of the Orthodox understanding of the nature of Scripture, you may be right in your assessment. But if it is repudiated then you might want to consider that you may not be really listening to what Bishop Ware is saying. Personally I don’t think Bishop Ware would recognize his understanding of these things in Mr. Bennison’s words.

Fr. Wells said...

If there is a significant difference (apart from tone and style) in the words of Bennison and Ware, you are welcome to unpack it for us. We must allow that Bennison was away from his teleprompter, whereas Ware statement was carefully crafted. If Ware gave an accurate presentation of the EO view, I wonder how EO would refute Bennison.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Wells,

It is not clear that Metropolitan Kallistos (to use his current title) is saying anything different from what you are saying. You note, "The purpose of the lists, as Athanasius made very clear, was not to include anything but to exclude false writings." And, "In both the Easter Letter and the Muratorian fragment, the Canon was not something proclaimed but rather something defined, delimited, and safeguarded."

These are particular examples of "it was the Church which decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture" - i.e., there is a clear decision that certain "false writings" do not. "Decided" is "defined, delimited, and safeguarded" in another word.

As you add (and I slightly rearrange), "The Biblical Word" - "the prophetic-evangelical utterance of God written in the Scriptures" - "came into existence at a point in time". And surely also 'within the Ekklesia' in whatever explicit or implicit LXX or NT sense of "Ekklesia". That which was later safeguarded first 'came to be' (as written record) within "the Church".

Where Mr. Bennison says, "therefore the Church can change the Bible", Metropolitan Kallistos (at least in ed. 1 (1963), which I happen to have to hand), quotes (p. 204) both John of Damascus, "We do not change the everlasting boundaries which our fathers have set, but we keep the Tradition, just as we received it", and "the Eastern Patriarchs [...] to the Non-Jurors [in 1718], "We preserve the Doctrine of the Lord uncorrupted, [...] and keep it free from blemish [...] neither adding any thing, nor taking any thing from it." This, in the context of saying "Tradition [...] means the books of the Bible"(among other things).


Anonymous said...

Fr. Wells, agreed. The term "Word Inscripturate" was never meant to imply some sort of divinization of Holy Writ, but merely to highlight the fact that God reveals Himself through it, *epistemologically* as it were, as He reveals Himself *ontologically* in the person of Christ. And so, just as the church is not permitted to relativize Christ, her head, so she is not permitted to relativize the prophetic and apostolic words through which God has revealed Himself to his people. By the way, there may be an pneumatological aspect to the written Word as well, by virute of those places in the Bible where the Scriptures are said to be the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Embryo Parson

Fr. Wells said...

Ware wrote:

" It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority."

If there is any difference in Bennison's raw statement and Ware's more nuanced (which I am not ready to grant), it is hard to say which is worse. In fact, I am inclined to suspect that Bennison was actually quoting what he remembered Ware had written.

The error of Ware, which I find frightening, is that the authority of Holy Scripture is only a "derived" authority and therefore subordinate to a higher authority, that of the Church. Even Rome is not guilty of such hubris. The CCC states in very clear language that "God is the author of Sacred Scripture" and develops that at length in Article 3.II.105--108 (although there is some language there reminiscent of Swiss neo-orthodoxy.) The CCC maintains a pretty good balance between Scripture's inherent authority and the Church's magisterium. To its credit, the CCC states "It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned [note, DISCERNED] which writings are to be included in the list of sacred books." (Art 3.IV.120). The distinction between "proclaiming" and "discerning" should be obvious.

Ware errs fatally when he states that the Bible's authority is "derived ultimately" from the Church. If that were the case, then the Bible could not meaningfully be called the Word of God. He opens the door to Bennison's notion (and the notion of some within our own ranks) that the Biblical canon is a collection made willy-nilly, which might be revised at the pleasure of some meeting or other.

Anonymous said...

Here is the issue as I see it: the New Testament does not describe the formation of an authoritative text, but of an authoritative body. In I Tim 3:15 Paul refers to the Church as the "pillar and foundation of truth." In Matthew 18:17 Jesus refers to a church that is the highest authority on earth.

Diane is right - Scripture does not unite us. Divine inspiration is not a case of personal interpretation (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The earliest known canon of old testament books is known as the Septuagint. It was translated from Hebrew to Greek by 70 scholars for Alexander's library in Egypt around the year 300 BC. The New Testament books were agreed upon at the Council of Carthage in 395 AD.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27)."

If I were asked how the Scriptures were recognized, it would not have been at a Council. That is a myth. The Scriptures were recognized and affirmed vox populi in the Church.

Heard, recognized, received, and passed down to us. All of the authority is in His voice, and none of it is from the sheep. The Church heard the Master's voice and knew it, and saw itself as under the authority of God's word in Scripture. Bennison's paradigm reverses that order, and gives authority to the sheep so that they cease to follow the Good Shepherd.

Anonymous said...

From Codex Canonum Ecclesiæ Africanæ:

It was also determined that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in the Church under the title of divine Scriptures. The Canonical Scriptures are these: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, 3 two books of Paraleipomena, 4 Job, the Psalter, five books of Solomon, 5 the books of the twelve prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, Daniel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, 6 two books of the Maccabees. Of the New Testament: four books of the Gospels, one book of the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, one epistle of the same [writer] to the Hebrews, two Epistles of the Apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, one book of the Apocalypse of John. Let this be made known also to our brother and fellow-priest Boniface, or to other bishops of those parts, for the purpose of confirming that Canon. because we have received from our fathers that those books must be read in the Church. Let it also be allowed that the Passions of Martyrs be read when their festivals are kept.

Hefele maintains that this canon derives from an earlier council, convened in 393 at Hippo Regius, 7 and that the third council of Carthage simply incorporated it, along with many other statutes of the earlier council.


Fr. Robert Hart said...


The canon about the Canon that you quoted is simply a good and sound bit of ecclesiastical legislation no different from what we see today in our ACC Canon Law (and very much in accord with the Anglican Lectionary and Article VI). Notice the phrase "received from our fathers." This Tradition recognizing the 27 books of the New Testament that we have today as part of the Canon of Scripture, was not something that any Council determined. They "received" it.

The big fiction story, believed by many, is that at the Council of Nicea I (325 AD), the bishops debated and finally selected the books they favored. Some people actually think they cut books out of the Bible. It has become in recent years a very popular bit of entertainment value to sell TV shows and books to maintain this myth (e.g. "Banned from the Bible" and other rubbish). But, it never happened. They went into that first Ecumenical Council already united in their belief that those 27 books of the New Testament are scripture, the word of God. They had already "received" it.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart,

Fr. Wells will presumably be unable to answer for a while due to ill health (from which may the Lord deliver him!): that need not prevent a response to his further remarks about Metropolitan Kallistos, which in turn need not compel you to put his (or your, if different) case, at once.

The obvious difference between Metropolitan Kallistos and Mr. Bennison, is that Metropolitan Kallistos nowhere says, "the Church can change the Bible".

Should Mr. Bennison indeed have misunderstood or misremembered what Metropolitan Kallistos said, that is surely not simply or primarily the fault of the latter. It is in any case not at all clear he "opens the door to Bennison's notion".

He does say, for example, "The Bible is the supreme expression of God's revelation to man, [...] something that lives and is understood within the Church" (p. 207), and, "Orthodox believe that the changes in the Septuagint were made under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit" (p. 208).

When he says, "It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority", then, he clearly does not suggest that "the Bible could not meaningfully be called the Word of God."


Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart,

Except in the case of the dissenting sheep who did not accept, say, Revelation or 2 Peter: it is not a "Vox Populi" plain and simply (though it may include that). The argument is circular if you do not appeal to an authority beyond simply an argument that goes like this: "All the inner-circle knows. If you don't recognize it you're just not the inner-circle, because you just ain't listening."

As you well-know there were criteria for what is received and read. Some believers did not feel this criteria was met (Hebrews was rejected by some, as you know, precisely because it was not proven to be apostolic in origin; while others accepted it on the basis that it was Paul's work).

My question is how do we get beyond the Mormon apologetic which says, "Pray [about the book of Mormon] and ask for the burning in your bosom?" The Mormon heretics could, on this basis, very well just say the Vox Populi has spoken, and we benighted Catholics just haven't been listening.

There is an authoritative voice for what has been received, otherwise it may be forever debated which of the 27 books are really settled -- there will always be dissenters. For my part, no matter how wonderful the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians is to me, it's not canonical; and conversely, no matter how much I might find distaste in the book of Revelation, it's canonical and my predilections are not considered in the matter. And finally, it's no commentary on whether someone is of the sheep if there is doubt.

At the end of the day, our Lord says to the Apostles, "Those who hear you hear Me." The sheep will hear our Lord through the apostolic institution, hence the councils and affirmations, and not *simply* on popular vote. There are also controls through Tradition and the Bishops who represent apostolic tradition. The "Vox Populi" is a little harder to rely on when the entire world has turned their back on Scripture and Tradition: Just ask Athanasius.

Steven Augustine Badal

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

Yes, it is true that they "received" the Old and New Testament books. Because it was a regional rather than a ecumenical council, it did not have the authority of the church. The synods in North Africa sent their proceedings to Pope Siricius for confirmation of the canon.

Of course lists of writings were tossed around for the first 400 years of the church's existence. Of the 27 books in the New Testament, seven were not universally accepted as inspired in the early centuries of the church (Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John) and in the East (Revelation). And 4 books not accepted today were held by some to be inspired, including the Shepherd of Hermas, the first Epistle of Clement, The Epistle of Barnabas, and the Apocalypse of Peter.

Anyway, the 73-book canon confirmed by the Pope was considered to be the true one, for about 1,000 years. Then along came the Protestants who decided upon a 66-book canon. Now, one might wonder the following: if Luther could declare by personal divine inspiration that certain books were not actually divinely inspired, could we not also do the same? In fact, today many churches are rewriting Scripture by redefining marriage putting women in the pulpit.

Does Luther's opinion mean that the first 1500 years of the priesthood (and laity) were allowed by God to be deceived? During the early centuries, church Fathers wrote about Christ's Presence in the Eucharist, Purgatory, prayers for the dead, etc. None of it is taught in Protestant churches today, so I guess, as one man has suggested, the church went off the rails right out of the station.


Anonymous said...

Fr Wells could easily write Archbp. Kallistos Ware regarding his quandary, and I'm sure he would get a prompt response. I wrote him once and got a prompt handwritten answer!

I think underlying the question of the canon here is "When did the Church get started?" some would say 'At Pentecost', others, 'At Calvary', and yet others: 'At Sinai' etc etc. Perhaps it is a mystery....

Rdr. James Morgan

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Actually, Susan, Luther was far more consistent with the ancient Fathers than was the Church of Rome. So were the English reformers, whose Patristic scholarship put that of Rome to shame.

The fact is, the New Testament Canon was pretty much agreed on by more than the majority of Christians. It was not decided upon in a Council that debated and selected.

Also, the Church never universally attributed the Epistle to the Hebrews to St. Paul, and there is no way that he could have written it. Most likely, it was written by St. Clement of Rome. The whole point of "My sheep hear My voice" carries a lot of weight. He never said that everyone in the institutional earthly manifestation of the Church hears it.

But, neither did he say every individual will recognize the Canon. The issue is that most of the Church heard His voice in those books.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

BTW, I've been reading the Fathers for decades. I can't find Purgatory in the ancient writings. Can you quote something?

Also, I suggest going back and reading our chapter on the Article VI.

And, I am satisfied that Kallistos Ware and Benninson are not saying the exact same thing. Fr. Wells has pointed the danger, however, in treating the Scriptures as under the Church instead of as directed to her by her Lord.

Anonymous said...


"There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. It is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended" (Sermons 159:1 [A.D. 411]).

"But by the prayers of the holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. The whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death" (ibid., 172:2).

"Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment" (The City of God 21:13 [A.D. 419]).

"That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, through a certain purgatorial fire" (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Charity 18:69 [A.D. 421]).

"The time which interposes between the death of a man and the final resurrection holds souls in hidden retreats, accordingly as each is deserving of rest or of hardship, in view of what it merited when it was living in the flesh. Nor can it be denied that the souls of the dead find relief through the piety of their friends and relatives who are still alive, when the Sacrifice of the Mediator [Mass] is offered for them, or when alms are given in the Church. But these things are of profit to those who, when they were alive, merited that they might afterward be able to be helped by these things. There is a certain manner of living, neither so good that there is no need of these helps after death, nor yet so wicked that these helps are of no avail after death" (ibid., 29:109).

Anonymous said...

Purgatory in the ancient writings:

Augustine said, in The City of God, that "temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment" (21:13). It is between the particular and general judgments, then, that the soul is purified of the remaining consequences of sin: "I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper" (Luke 12:59).


Anonymous said...

The ancient fathers, according to Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History in Book 3 Chapter 3, did not accept all of Peter's epistles. Eusebius states, "...I have understood only one epistle to be genuine and admitted by the ancient fathers."

Eusebius continues, in Book 3, Chapter 25, as follows: "Among the disputed books, although they are known and approved by many, is reputed, that called the Epistle of James and Jude. Also the Second Epistle of Peter and those called the Second and Third of John, whether they are of the evangelist or of some other of the same name. Among the spurious must be numbered both the books called the Acts of Paul and that called Pastor, and the Revelation of Peter. Besides these, the books called the Epistle of Barnabas and what are called the Institutions of the Apostles. Moreover, as I said before, if it should appear right, the Revelation of John, which some, as before said, reject but others rank among the genuine. There are also some who number among these the gospel according to the Hebrews, with which those of the Hebrews who have received Christ are particularly delighted."

If Luther was "far more consistent with the ancient fathers than was the church of Rome," as Fr Hart has stated, then why not follow Luther's dictates?

The fact is, Luther appealed to no authority but his own. In his intro to James he said this: "I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle; and my reasons follow. In the first place it is flatly against Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works... This fault, therefore, proves that this epistle is not the work of the apostle... But this James does nothing more than drive to the law and to its works... He mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture... Therefore, I will not have him in my Bible be numbered among the true chief books." Sounds like Luther had a doctrinal agenda of his own, and what had been acceptable for hundreds of years as "inspired" canon by the church did not fit into it.

Apparently the Holy Spirit did not inspire the church correctly for nearly 1500 years, if you accept Luther's reasoning. Nor did the Holy Spirit inspire the ancient fathers consistently, or there would have been no dissent for the first few hundred years.

The problem is, no where in Scripture does it say... "these are the books that belong in the canon." Whose authority will one align with? Jesus did give authority to the church.

Canon was disputed and wrangled for the first few centuries. The undivided church was actually rather divided from the get-go. But ultimately the church was the agent who defined the canon.


Fr. Wells said...

In the 16th century some wag remarked that "Erasmus laid the egg and Luther hatched it." So would say, concerning their comparative views of Scripture. Ware laid the egg and Bennison hatched it. Ideas do have consequences, many of which are unanticipated. I do not doubt that Ware would be horrified by my comparison. But DNA tests do not lie.

Ware is protected, somewhat, from Bennison's conclusion ("the Church can change it") by his own dubious belief in the Church's immutability. (That, of course, is an error intself--immutability being one of the uniquely Divine attributes.) But he makes matters almost worse, not better, when he writes "The Bible is the supreme expression of God's revelation to man, [...] something that lives and is understood within the Church" The first part of the quotation is acceptable, but I wish he had written The Bible is God's unique Utterance which confronts His rebellious creature with judgment and pardon. The second part, "lives and is understood within the Church" tells me Ware needs to read the Bible more. For example, Jeremiah's prophecy was initially rejected and rebuffed by Israel, the Church of the Old Covenant. Again, Paul's Epistle to the Galatians came as a stern rebuke to the Church, as did much of the Corinthian correspondence. So there was from the beginning a certain tension between Scripture and the community to which it is addressed. Had the Church "proclaimed" the canon, we probably would have a much less painful book to read!

The Biblical message has been misunderstood and rejected by the Church many times in many ways, as Athanasius, Augustine, Luther and Calvin can attest. And if the Bible were consistently understood within the Church, those precious Seven Councils would not have been necessary, right?

Fr. Wells said...

And Semi-Hookerian, I will stand by my observation that under Ware's view, the Bible cannot be called the Word of God in any meaningful sense. It is only the word of the Church, which becomes God's word by a feat of ventriloquism.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


I am well aware of Luther's problem with James, and of how the English Reformers were much better, showing the correct path to reconcile the apparent difference by way of Eph. 2:8-10. Nonetheless, in the overall scheme, Luther was far more consistent with the Fathers than was the Church of Rome.

Your quotation from St. Augustine in no way whatsoever even begin to touch on the elaborate doctrine of Purgatory. He was referring to Scripture (Luke 12:48, I Cor. 3:15) that seems to have everything to do with the Last day and the final judgment, in this case of those who are saved.

In no way does it even resemble the absurd and heretical doctrine promoted then by Rome, and believed by the ignorant masses as a substitute for the true Gospel. So, on that subject, with its indulgences and saintly merits, I stand with Luther.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart,

Augustine's quotes (provided above by Anonymous) are quite definitely referencing a purgation that is prior to the last Judgment. Agree with him or not, his opinion is simply the basic trajectory of Christian eschatology in light of the common practice of prayer for the dead.

Also, the Medievals did not teach nor believe Purgatory was referencing anyone but the saved -- a cursory reading of Dante's "Purgatorio" reveals this in spades.

Neither is it any secret Luther's opinion about the corruption of Indulgences would have found many sympathizers within Rome (Contarini, Erasmus, etc). Trent's reforms was a reflection of this.

Steven Augustine Badal

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Steven Augustine Badal:

My reference to the final judgment on the Last Day comes from the context of the only Scriptures that can be used for defense of a purgatorial purification after this life. The real bottom line is that Augustine himself would not have recognized the full blown doctrine of Purgatory, with its concepts of serving time, receiving pardons through dubious means, etc., as Luther and all the various Reformers encountered it centuries after his death. Augustine would, no doubt, have regarded it as nothing to do with Christianity. The Reformers based their doctrines more on Augustine than any other Father, being very typically western in most every way.

Fr. Wells said...

St Augustine's view of the intermediate state is important only to the degree that it is faithful to Scripture. He would say so himself. The above quotes (which I have not checked) could hardly be supported by careful exegesis. (Luke 12:59 does not by any stretch of the imagination refer to the afterlife.)

Having scolded Timothy Ware for holding a modernist view of Biblical authority, I would have to commend him for an excellent view of the Intermediate State. He writes (The Orthodox Church, 1997, p. 255), describing the majority position in EO, "when a person dies in the grace of God, then God freely forgives him all his sins and demands no expiatory penalties: Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, is our ONLY (emphasis his) atonement and satisfaction." So Steven Badal, a Romish or quasi-Romish notion of suffering in the afterlife cannot be gratuitously inferred from the traditional practice of prayers for the dead.

For the life of me, I do not grasp why some people will jump through hoops to hang on to a concept which the CCC finds embarrassing, reducing it to less than a page which one hardly ever hears preached anymore in RC churches, and which was frequently a sticking-point between RC's and EO's from the Middle Ages to the present.

Anonymous said...

The original challenge by Fr Hart was to produce a patristic witness to purgatory -- my personal opinions about the matter notwithstanding.

Steven Badal
-PS, I hope you are feeling better!

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Wells,

Good that you are well enough to comment!

To continue your imagery, if DNA does not lie, malignant mutations are always possible, not least if there may be a genetic manipulator involved!

Or one could think in terms of "abusus usum non tollit". It is still not clear that Metropolitan Kallistos conduces to Mr. Bennison's abuses.

As to "lives and is understood within the Church", it is not clear that Metropolitan Kallistos is here saying anything different (or, so very different)from you in your examples or Hooker in LEP III.i 8-13. For surely the Bible is not a 'dead letter' within, or characteristically (best) understood outside, the Church.

That is, Jeremiah and his utterances, spoken and subsequently recorded, are all as much within the Church, as those addressed, as can also be said of St. Paul and his Epistles and the Galatians and Corinthians (cf. Hooker in 10 re. Abia, Hosea, Joshua, and St. Paul in whose time was "Corinth many ways reproved; they of Galatia much more out of square").

But these Scriptural rebukes, reproofs, calls, come within the Church in the hope they will there be lively, well understood and heeded.

Analogously to your observation about "a certain tension", Metropolitan Kallistos writes (explicitly, approvingly echoing Dom Gregory Dix), "The Church on earth exists in a state of tension: it is already the Body of Christ, and thus perfect and sinless, and yet, since its members are imperfect and sinful, it must continually become what it is" (p. 248).

I could nowhere find him expressing a "belief in the Church's immutability"in so many words, but I suppose anything seeming to tend that way must be seen in the context of this quotation. He also says (p. 256), "councils of bishops can err and be deceived."

So, I do not see that you have convincingly made a case "that under Ware's view, the Bible cannot be called the Word of God in any meaningful sense."

A detailed comparison of Metropolitan Kallistos's presentation of 'Orthodox' ecclesiology and Hooker's of "Anglican', would be rewarding, but I will no more attempt it here than obliquely urge anyone else to!


Fr. Robert Hart said...

For purposes of discussing Purgatory in the context of the Reformers, and their rejection of it, I was speaking of the full blown "Romish doctrine of Purgatory..." The quotation by St. Augustine simply doesn't apply to that doctrine.

About the Ware quotation; I think the problem of controlling a premise applies. It is more philosophical than theological. The problem is that one cannot control the course of logic that takes a premise to its ultimate conclusion. I have used before this illustration: If I stand at the top of a thirty foot hill, I cannot roll a ball down ten feet of it. Once I let go, the ball will roll as far as gravity, followed by momentum, take it.

I don't believe Met. Kallistos Ware would take his premise to the same point Bennison does. He would be horrified. So, the question is if the premise Ware puts forth is of the same nature as the first link in the chain of thought that leads to Bennison's conclusion. Ware would not intend to get to the same conclusion, but he appears to be dropping the ball, so to speak; it has to roll beyond his control.

* * *
Yes, it was the Church that discerned and recognized the Canon of Scripture. But as what? Is it not as God's own word? Once discerned and recognized, that word is from the Highest Authority, and so we must "hear under" or obey (sh'mai). So, once it was known to have come from God, the Church had (and has) no authority over the Bible, over its content, or even over its interpretation. Rather, we are obligated to hear, believe and obey.

Interpretation of the major themes of Scripture, concerning salvation, morality, etc. is, of course, the Church's work. It is her responsibility. To believe and obey we must also understand. To understand the instruction of our Father (God) we give heed to the law of our Mother (the Church), to put it in Hooker's terms. If my interpretation is essentially at odds with, for example, the Nicene/ Constantinopolitan Creed, than I must be mistaken. So, error about essential doctrine is quickly identifiable as error with the help of the Church. That is not because the Church says so, ultimately; but, because the Universal Church has already heard and understood.

That is, by the way, exactly what the Reformers tried to live up to.

Fr. Wells said...

Semi-Hookerian: We need to look carefully at the actual quotation from Ware. Here is what he wrote:

"It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority.”

I take that adverb "ultimately" seriously, since Ware is a precise writer. Herein lies his and your error. The "ultimate" authority of Scripture lies not in any canonization process, formal or informal. The "ultimate" authority of Scripture lies in its inspiration, as 2 Timothy 3:16 ("All Scripture is breathed out by God" --ESV) and 2 Peter 1:21 ("men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit").

Do you and I have the same thing in mind when we use the stock phrase "Word of God"? I wonder. (Before somebody beats me to the draw, I will grant that nowhere in the Canon do we find a flat-footed statement "the Bible is the Word of God." Like the terms Trinity and Sacrament, that is the Church's insight, handed on through tradition. But it is a statement every Anglican priest has subscribed to at his Ordination.)

The me, "Word of God" means God's own sovereign utterance, the truth which He has given TO His people. So to describe Scripture as "ultimately" derived from the Church itself is simple hubris. H reduces the Bible to a collection of documents enshrined in Tradition and courteously styled "the Word of God."

In the second part of his statement, Ware confuses the inherent authority of the written Word with the process of receiving, discerning, submitting. And the third part leaves me wondering just how "the Church" goes about exercising this unique authority of interpretation.

But I am getting tired and need to go back to bed.

Anonymous said...

Dear Fathers Hart and Wells,

Thank you for the latest (4:06 and 6:04 PM) substantial comments! (I assume, but also hope, Fr. Wells is judiciously stewarding his energy to the good of his recuperation.)

I am not convinced it is clear that Met. Kallistos is proposing a premise that logically leads to the Bennisonian "ultimate conclusion".

I think he "is a precise writer" but also a sequacious one, whose nugatory sentences are also parts of an elaborate reflection and exposition - which (to apply Lewis of Hooker: OHEL, p. 459) "though excellent strategy, never strikes us as merely strategical" - but can be difficult to summarize adequately. Perhaps even to the extent that we can also apply, in their degree, Lewis's words on LEP: "Though Hooker hardly ever wrote an obscure sentence, it would seem that he has left us a very diffidcult book"(p. 453).

Thus, the present quotation is immediately preceded by the clauses that the Bible "must not be regarded as something set up over the Church, but as something that lives and is understood within the Church (that is why one should not separate Scripture and Tradition)."

But this "Tradition" as explicitly distinguished from "traditions" has been considered in the preceding pages (pp. 204-07 in ed. 1) - which include )p. 206) that "Tradition" "is a life, a personal encounter with Christ in the Holy Spirit", and "the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church", and "a living experience of the Holy Spirit in the Church."

The last quotation is followed by, "Tradition, while inwardly changeless (for God does not change), is constantly assuming new forms, which supplement the old without superseding them."

All this follows his assertion that "It is necessary to avoid [...] the error of the 'Living Church'" as a party which fell "into a Modernism or theological liberalism which undermined Tradition."

But no less relevant is what follows two chapters later (p, 244): "Orthodox theology never treats the earthly aspect of the Church in isolation, but thinks always of the Church in Christ and the Holy Spirit" - which is immediately followed by five pages of exposition about "the special relationship which exists between the Church and God."

Thus "from the Church" cannot be simply seen as an alternative to "inspiration" or "God's own sovereign utterance".

Here, a detailed comparison of Met. Kallistos's presentation of 'Orthodox' thinking "of the Church in Christ and the Holy Spirit" with respect to the process of receiving, discerning, submitting and interpreting where Scripture is concerned and, say, Calvin's in Institutes I.vii.5. and/or what William Whitaker (whom I have yet to read!) makes of 'autopistos', would be rewarding. But I will not begin to attempt anything of the sort in this long comment!


Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

Please explain to me why one should pray for the dead, if indeed one is either consigned to heaven or hell upon death.



Anonymous said...

The Church exercises its authority of interpreting Scripture through Apostolic Succession. Luther rejected the distinction between clergy and laity by promoting "the priesthood of all believers" and therefore he also rejected the sacrament of holy orders.

The Apostles were ordained by Jesus Christ. He gave them divine authority to lead the Church! This authority was transferred to the successors of the Apostles (Timothy was ordained by Paul). It is a direct line, and a line that Luther had to reject in order to establish another church under his own private authority.

So what is right: Apostolic Succession transmitting Christ's authority, or private revelation detached from that succession?


Fr. Wells said...

"I think he "is a precise writer" but also a sequacious one, whose nugatory sentences are also parts of an elaborate reflection and exposition ...."

What a delightful sentence! I cannot recall encountering words like "sequacious" and "nugatory" since many years ago I prepared high school students for standardized college entrance exams. If my Merriam-Webster can be trusted, you are saying that Ware is an intellectually servile writer who writes inconseqential sentences.

I believe that you and I are talking past each other, since we have different concerns. You failed to respond to my question, What do you mean when you say the Bible is the Word of God, and that was a strong clue. Your concern is to defend the reputation of Kallistos Ware. Mine is to defend the authority of Holy Scripture. Ware's exact meaning is less interesting to me than what influence he is having. If Bennison misunderstood Ware (through direct or indirect reading), can we blame Bennison?

I could give you a pile of anecdotal evidence that the authority of Scripture is already being undermined in "traditional" circles by sloppy notions of this authority being somehow derived from the authority of the Church or by submerging it into a poorly defined notion of tradition. For example, the Holyrood graduate who told me in unctuous tones, "Oh, I hear the Word of God speaking to my heart in many books besides the Bible," or the very bright young ordinand (now an effective priest, btw) who told me "the Bible is a subset of the Word of God."

The context you quote makes things worse, not better, when you quote,"the Bible 'must not be regarded as something set up over the Church'." Of course the Bible is set up over the Church! Calvin was never more right than when he wrote that Scripture is the scepter by which Christ rules in His kingdom. If the Bible is not set up over the Church, pray tell what is? I tremble in horror at this statement: "Orthodox theology never treats the earthly aspect of the Church in isolation, but thinks always of the Church in Christ and the Holy Spirit." If Orthodox theology can only conceive of the Church is such triumphalistic and grandiose terms, then it is far removed from
Scripture itself. I would ask Ware how he squares this statement with the messages given to the seven churches in the Apocalypse?
"O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me!" (Micah 6:3, echoed in the Good Friday liturgy). The theology of Kallistos Ware seems far removed from the theology of the Bible itself.

Finally, thank you for bringing up the excellent term "autopistos." It denotes the self-authenticating character of Scriptural authority. When the young Augustine heard "Tolle, lege" and picked up the Epistle to the Romans, he did not ask "Who canonized this?" He heard the Word of God speaking in the written text.

Anonymous said...

My blushes! There once was a fellow who not only thought he knew what ‘nugatory’ meant, but was so confident that it was just the word he wanted he did not bother to double-check!

My apologies all round, and in the first place to Met. Kallistos! My subsequent searching of Roget’s does not suggest that it was a Malapropistic error: there seems to be no similar correct word.

Maybe it is my own folk- etymological foul-up, as I took it to have something to do with ‘nux’ and mean something like ‘very rich and concise, as a nut full of meat’.


Anonymous said...

Fr. Wells,

The final punch a couple of posts ago re: St. Augustine, you wrote:

"[H]e did not ask "Who canonized this?" He heard the Word of God speaking in the written text."

I'm afraid we cannot gain much from that sort of reasoning because St. Augustine wasn't just then exposed to Catholic teaching. He grew up in a Catholic home (at least raised so by his pious mother St. Monnica). What would be more historically accurate is that he heard the Word of God, knew the Authority in which it is couched, and proceeded to become a Catholic. The existential restlessness over whether the Church canonizes Scripture, or Scripture finds authentication in the Church, would have no doubt been puzzling if not foreign to him (we cannot simply to retro-ject our problems onto the Fathers as if they had such issues on their radar).

Saying, "The Church canonizes" is not the same thing as "The Church is the principle source of" or "The Church has superiority over" Sacred Scripture. All parties agree it is indispensable, irreplaceable, irrevocable, irrepeatable (sorry if this is not a real word) and uniquely breathed for the very life of the Church, even if it was through the Church such a thing came to exist. The Word in some vital since transcends time and space, quill and papyri (most likely what your priest friend was trying to get at), with Scripture being the very substance of Apostolic teaching.

Whatever version of Sola Scriptura you happen to believe in, at the end of the day we are captives to the Tradition outside of the pages of Sacred Scripture that hands on the Scripture to us. Not a one of us here could honestly say his (or her) decision to accept 2 Peter had anything to do with deciding its canon-worthiness only AFTER it was read and experienced to be the Word (i.e., hearing His voice in it). No, no -- you accepted a tradition from some other Christian who said: "Here, read this, it is God's Word," your experience quite unrelated.

Perhaps a review of Pieper's "Tradition: Its Claim and Content" along with Jaroslov Pelikan's "Vindication of Tradition" would drive home these points much better than the armchair theologians, but it seems inescapable to me, and finally not really all that troubling to talk about an organic priority of the Church to Scripture so long as we maintain its revelatory and infallible priority.

A parallel restlessness seems to be akin to the Nestorian anxiety about Mary being the Mother of God. No Catholic ever assumed Mary's priority over Jesus, organically, somehow compromised the Divine origins of our Lord. But the Word was made Flesh, and that Flesh came from Mary our Lady, not pulled from the sky. So while Scripture has the Church's DNA all throughout, its Eternal/Divine priority remains unshaken, even if we do Canonize it authoritatively in some form or fashion.

Blessings (and it's good to see you posting again, Fr. Wells!),

Steven Augustine Badal

Anonymous said...

Fr Wells,

On whose authority is the Bible elevated above the Church? And if the Bible is the determining authority, through what biblical passage do you defend your premise?


Anonymous said...

I applaud you, Steven Augustine Badal, for your latest and most lofty posting! To draw a parallel between Mary's role in bringing Christ into the world and the Church's role in canonizing Scripture is truly sublime.


Fr. Wells said...

Steven: After reading your post three times, I am still wondering what point you are trying to make.
But I do note your salvo, "I'm afraid we cannot gain much from that sort of reasoning because St. Augustine wasn't just then exposed to Catholic teaching."

While Augustine's conversion took place in the year AD 386, his account of it in the Confessions was written in 397/398, about six years after his consecration as bishop of Hippo in 391. So he must have had some exposure to authentic Catholicism by the time he wrote the famous account of the child's song "Tolle, lege."

You write with some confidence, "Saying, "The Church canonizes" is not the same thing as "The Church is the principle source of" or "The Church has superiority over" Sacred Scripture." If not, why not? I am glad you are aware of the distinction, but are you sure everyone who believes "the Church proclaimed the Canon" knows about it?

If anyone still believes that the Church is the source of canonicity, I would simply ask for the date(s), place(s), and minutes of the meeting(s) when this stupendous event took place.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Wells,

(Part I)

When you said, "Do you and I have the same thing in mind when we use the stock phrase 'Word of God'? I wonder" it was not clear to me you were looking forward to my attempting some sort of direct answer! My apologies! (Whether I attempt a direct answer in this comment, time will tell!)

I certainly did not mean to say - or suggest - "that Ware is an intellectually servile writer who writes inconsequential sentences."

Having already, as it were taken the 'nougat' out of 'nugatory' (or is it, replaced erroneous 'nugatory' with something akin to an image of 'nougat'?) in my last comment, I will add that I adopted 'sequacious' from Lewis on Hooker (OHEL, p. 462), where he seems to describe as "thinking [...] sequaciously" Hooker's Latin syntax enabling him "to keep many ideas, as it were in the air, limiting, enriching, and guiding one another, but not fully affirmed or denied until at last, with the weight of all that thought behind him, he slowly descends to the matured conclusion."

I do not think Met. Kallistos has a Latinate prose style, I think he is more often concise as well as precise, but he is also architectonic, building a whole, where one part supports, informs, elucidates another. What Lewis attributes to Hookerian periods, I see as an sort of image of, or analogy to, the manner and effect of the whole of The Orthodox Church (1963).

I do not think he is in the first place a ‘Lockean-style’ definer of terms. Thus, I put the case that - whether one agrees or disagrees with the result - to get the full sense of "Tradition" on page 207, one needs to take the preceding pages into account, but to get the full sense of "Church" there, one does well to take the later chapter 12 into account, too.

If all this makes it in its own way “a very difficult book”, I do not think that frees us from attempting to understand it correctly, or exonerates a first- (or even second-)hand ‘misunderstander’ from (all) blame. The exact meaning is at least as important as any influence of (shall I say) ‘mischievous “creative” misunderstanding’, especially if it turns out to include correctives to the latter.

I am not sure if, or how much, we are talking past each other. I would say my concern is ‘with’ Church, authority, Scripture, Canon, and interpretation, and with trying to understand correctly what Met. Kallistos says in that context (whereupon I can try to see where I think he may or may not be mistaken).

You ask, “If the Bible is not set up over the Church, pray tell what is?” Surely, Who more than “what” - the Blessed Trinity. (And in Calvin’s image, is the scepter not swayed within the Church by its Theandric Lord?)

Nor do I see that they need be, or are here, “triumphalistic and grandiose terms”, when Met. Kallistos says, "Orthodox theology never treats the earthly aspect of the Church in isolation, but thinks always of the Church in Christ and the Holy Spirit."


Anonymous said...

(Part II)

To quote afresh, he says, for example, that “At a true Ecumenical Council the bishops recognize what the truth is and proclaim it” (p. 257) – any ‘proclaiming’ follows after – and upon – ‘recognition’ of “the truth” ‘already there’(so to put it) to be recognized.

He continues (p. 258) with a long, and so far as I can see approving, quotation from the Rev. Dr. John Meyendorff from which I will select: “It is […] the truth of the councils which makes their decisions obligatory for us.” And “the Church is the miracle of the presence of God among men, beyond all formal ‘criteria ’", and for a council to be “in the truth”, “He who said: ‘I am the Way, the Truth, the Life’" must be present in the midst of those assembled. He sees Protestants as materializing “the presence of God in the Church […] in the letter of Scripture” – “not thereby avoid[ing] the miracle, but cloth[ing] it in a concrete form. For Orthodoxy, the sole ‘criterion of truth’ remains God Himself, living mysteriously in the Church, leading it in the way of the Truth.”

I take this to mean that “the miracle of the presence of God” is indeed in the Scripture, but must not be (as it were) misconceived as being peculiarly ‘hived off’ there.

Compare Calvin in Institutes I.vii.5 (Beveridge trans. of 1559 ed.): “Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it, deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments, but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit”. It “came to us, by the instrumentality of men” – presumably within ‘the Church’ through men who were ‘members’ of it . And God is said to have “been pleased to reserve the treasure of intelligence for his children” – but not “until they are ingrafted into the body of the Church.”

How different are the two? Is either more problematical, or less unproblematical, than the other? (For instance, does Calvin guard against any danger of ‘hiving off’ by insisting on the distinct “testimony of the Spirit”? Is the ‘reservation’ respecting “the body of the Church” any different from the Orthodox emphases?)

None of this is to suggest that God does not work through Scripture ‘outside’ the Church to bring members of the first Adam to become members of the Second (in His Body the Church). (Was Augustine a catechumen at the point you note? I suppose catechumens were dismissed from the Liturgy in earnest at the time. Is it not seen as part of what is wonderful in the experience of St. Martin with the beggar that he was still a catechumen then?)


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Susan wrote:
"On whose authority is the Bible elevated above the Church?"

Is that meant to be a serious question? The Universal Church recognizes the Bible as those "books that have God as their Author" - to quote the Vatican Document Dominus Iesus. So, are you suggesting that we have it upside down? For, your question implies that we, the Church, have authority over God. He has spoken, and we get to tell Him if He's right or wrong?

Anonymous said...

No, Fr Hart, of course I did not mean to imply that the Church has authority over God! Nonsense! God gave the Church authority.

Matt 10:1-4,5,40; 16:18-19; 18:17-18; 19:27-30; 20:25-28; 28:16-20

Mark 3:13-15; 10:42-25; 16:15-18

Luke 10:16; 22:24-30; 24:44-49

John 20:21

Acts 2:42; 4:33,35; 5:12; 6:2-6

1Cor 12:28-30

2Cor 13:10

2 Thess 3:14

Eph 2:20; 4:11

Regarding Apostolic Succession:

John 20:21

Acts 1:15-26

2Tim 2:2

Tit 1:5

Authority was given to the Church, not to the Bible. That does not take away God's authority for He has authored it all.


Fr. Robert Hart said...


Why can't you see an inherent self-contradiction in what you're saying?

Fr. Wells said...

Sedmi-Hookerian: Let me bring you back to the sentence which I quoted from Timothy Ware:

""It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority.”

Perhaps I am only a country parson who naively believes that words mean what they mean, and that no high-falutin interpretations are necessary for plain language. He says in so many words that the Bible's authority (such as it is) is derived from the Church and that the Church decided (apparently arbitrarily) to select certain writings for inclusion in its approved list. These are falsehoods and must be repudiated as such. No amount of spin can improve on his plain language.

Enough already.

Anonymous said...

I admit to much ignorance, Fr Hart. Please explain what you have defined as "inherent self-contradiction" in my posts.

The Church was given authority by the Author of it Who is God. For example, in Acts 13:1-4 we read the following: "Now in the Church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus."

The Antiochene Church is here being directed by God, is it not?

In Acts 15:28 we read this: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things..." Here it appears that the Council was being guided by the Holy Spirit, does it not?

Jesus had promised to do this for the ordained leadership of the Church through the Spirit. In John 16:13-15 Jesus is recorded as saying this: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

God is the Author of it all and He is guiding His Church,not vice versa.

Again I ask with my feeble mind: where have I missed the mark?

Many thanks,


Anonymous said...


I have agreed with your comments on the whole, but this question comes to mind:

Is the Church's (apostolic) authority tied to apostolic teaching as well as the Holy Spirit? In other words, if any part of the Church abandons the Hagia Graphe, or seriously neglects it, can that part of the Church claim proper authority? Something akin to a police officer sworn to uphold the written laws, for lack of a better analogy, yet decides some parts of those laws are inconvenient or "not relevant" to the times -- what should we make of his authority? Historically the cop can be said to have received the true authority, but at present wouldn't his actions nullify the reason for his existence in the first place?

What I see in this little (albeit substantive) debate here is the struggle to maintain the priority of clear, apostolic witness (the writings, which nobody disputes as authoritative) along-side the indispensable and necessary place of the continued apostolic ministry in and for the church (which no historically-minded apostolic Christians deny). The Scriptures provide the indisputable foundation for our pedigree of apostolicity, since it clearly mandates such a thing. There are pretenders or apostates who ignore the clear apostolic witness in favor of a "fluctuating" standard (often sneaking in under the guise of "Living Tradition"), and their proper (historical) apostolic authority is now a moot point if they ignore the foundation.

This is by no stretch an argument for the Reformed or Lutheran vision of apostolicity wrapped up in merely the right checklist of doctrine -- there has to be a real sacramental (and I assert tactile) sending; but it can be no less than the foundations either. If a priest or bishop (pope or what have you) usurps Scripture, he is just as guilty of breaking Tradition, and even more perniciously so than the priest or bishop who waffles on the question of Purgatory (which I hold to, but is not as grave a question as whether Christ really rose from the dead or God is really Triune).

I think of the about-face of post-Vatican II theology, for example, in spirit if not in letter, about other religions. The over-accommodating eirenicism is actually, by my lights, a denial of the unique and saving message of the Gospel over against the darkness and deception of the rest of mankind's false gods. I remember years ago I was castigated by an arch-deacon in the Roman Church when he learned of my evil plan to reach out to our dear Jewish friends with the Gospel of Christ. His perception was that Vatican II denied the need to reach them with the saving Gospel (they are lost, right?) This is a clear example of "tradition" gone wrong - since it violates the clear precepts of Scripture and the overwhelming testimony of the Church for close to 2000 years. But from their vantage point, the true successor of Peter and his college of cardinals and bishops decided the Living Tradition wasn't meant to be so radically divisive -- after all, doesn't the Gospel bring unity and not a sword? OH! Jesus said something quite opposite.
...(to be continued)

Anonymous said...

So, as much as it seems I might be pushing back here against Fr. Wells and Fr. Hart, I think their concern is legitimate: that we don't disentangle the Church's sacramental authority from Her founding documents, even if the documents came through Her. And to answer my own question: Mary's authority over and priority to Jesus in time, must be trumped by the Word's entry into time, lest we disentangle our Lady's glory from the Word of the Lord.

I don't know the "easy" answer to this, but I do know that the sad biblical illiteracy among many of the valid apostolic bodies (Rome especially, just visit most any church) is a product of a lazy "we got authority, what else do we need?" mentality. Maybe, just maybe, the devil's best work is done when he uses authority to his advantage. Authority, you say? Yes, keep it! By all means -- but don't let anyone in on the sick joke that it's an authority with the foundations removed.

In my mind, the Grand Tradition is Sacred Scripture, and everything we believe flows from it and by it. It is the constitution of the Catholic faith and Church. This is not the same as certain silly theories about Sola Scriptura which excludes Tradition as having nothing to do with faith and practice, it's just meant to say that it is no less a guardrail against heresy -- in fact, it is, to draw from a biblical analogy, the very street lights that keeps the Church from crashing and burning.

The exchange has been enlightening and challenging, though now I think I need to go back and read Yves Congar's works on Tradition!

Steven Augustine Badal

Anonymous said...

Now here comes some commentary to ponder (excerpted from an article written by Dr Shaywitz that can be found in today's Wall Street Journal):

"Knowledge, then, is less a canon than a consensus in a state of constant disruption. Part of the disruption has to do with error and its correction, but another part with simple newness..."

Luther would concur, I dare say.


Fr. Robert Hart said...


If you accept the authority of the Church, then accept the Church's belief that the Scriptures give us our orders straight from our Lord Himself. No authority is higher.

If your later comment is to the effect that Luther had a weakness concerning the Canon, especially the Epistle of James, I have made the same point. But, in his day, the teaching of Rome was full of deadly errors, and so his Stand was more than justified.

Fr. Wells said...

Susan, in your attempt to argue that the authority of Scripture is inferior to that of the Church, you quote (twice, in fact!) from the Bible. Can you not see the inherent contradiction? If you feel that the Bible is only a second rate authority, why do you appeal to it? Your argument is self-refuting.

Your use of Acts 15:28 is interesting. The admirers of KJS frequently describe her election as PB in the same terms--an act of the Holy Spirit. What you and they fail to grasp is that the influence of the Holy Ghost in a Church Council is something which can only be perceived in long retrospect. A bunch of people getting together and deciding by majority vote to "ordain" females or bless homosexual unions can hardly be called the action of the Holy Spirit. But at this point, you and the revisionists are in strong agreement.

Fr. Wells said...

This question is addressed to all participants, myself included. When we speak of "The Church" having authority (whether over or under or co-ordinate with the Holy Scripture), what exactly do we mean by "The Church"? Using this word Church in a monolithic way demands clarification. Do we mean the ancient Councils (not much danger of one being called in our lifetime)? Do we mean the Roman magisterium (still alive and kicking)? Do we mean a congregational meeting, in the Baptistic sense? Do we mean some vaguely defined "ubique, semper, et ab omnibus" mainstream of Christian thought which conveniently excludes the Oriental Orthodox? What precisely does "The Church" mean when we speak of its "having authority"? Unless we can hang some empirical meaning onto this term, then to speak of the authority of the Church is not false but simply meaningless. Where and how is this pretended authority really in operation?

Anonymous said...

Fr Wells,

The Church (ecclesia in Greek) is the society founded by Jesus Christ, to my understanding. It is built on the rock of Peter and his successors. It is the Kingdom of God begun on earth (Matt 3:2). The authority of the Church is handed down by Apostolic Succession. Thereby the ordination of a Priest is made valid by the laying on of hands by a Bishop.

Fr Hart,

I have quoted Scripture because it is the written record of the words of God. However, it is not the Word of God... that is, it is not God. Scripture records Christ giving authority to His Church and not to Scripture. Can Scripture be authoritative unto itself for all of humanity, or should it be interpreted by the governing authority established by Christ?

2 Peter 3:15-16 states: "So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures." Here we see inspired Scripture saying that inspired Scripture can be hard to understand. AMEN! So it is, although Luther claimed that the Scriptures are clear and if people have trouble understanding them they have only themselves to blame.

God designed his Church to be the agent of safeguard of His truth. Look at the thousands of conflicting Protestant groups, each with a slightly or dramatically different interpretation of His truth. Can they all be right?


Fr. Robert Hart said...


At least you appear to have answered Fr. Wells challenge about what you mean by the Church. Since you speak of "Peter and his successors" you mean, by "the Church" merely whatever position is taken by the bishop of Rome. But, he is not the authority who makes any decisions in your own church; neither does your own church consider the Magisterium in Rome to be without error.

Furthermore, your view of the Bible is not at all in accord with the Catholic Tradition, be it RC, EO, Anglican or even Oriental. It is, instead, the worst kind of modern Protestantism. The irony is, you cited how Luther got too close to the same thing in his words about the Epistle of James.

Anonymous said...

Father Wells,

salva reverentia:

When you say (5:16 PM), "Enough already" I am reminded of Bilbo's Baggins' answer to the Troll, "Lots, none at all" - in this case lots of discussion, with no consensus yet. Perhaps in one way or another, "too much, but not yet enough."

"Let me bring you back to the sentence" - but I am not aware of having ever left it!

"No amount of spin" - but I have not, so far as I can judge, engaged in any "spin".

"Such as it is", "apparently arbitrarily", "select certain writings for inclusion" are all your words, not his ("a feat of ventriloquism", perhaps, however unconscious?)!

As far as I can see, to attribute such a meaning - whether with improper rejoicing in that meaning, or proper condemnation of it - is to misread the sentence. To read it in a way which finds no support in the immediate context, or the context of the whole book.

"The Bible is the supreme expression of God's revelation to man" - on a minutely verbal level "made under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit": his "plain language".

"To exclude false writings" is to "decide" (since there was - or seemed - some question). Is it to do so with or without any "authority"? Is it to do so within or without (or even as) "the Church"? So with respect to the so-called Gospel of the Hebrews - and what with respect to the (on some evidence not universally recognized) Epistle to the Hebrews?

And is "Holy Scripture" - "can" it be - ever "interpret[ed...] with authority"? If so, where, and how?

I think Hooker's striking marginalium is relevant: "Two things there are which trouble greatly these later times: one that the Church of Rome cannot, another that Geneva will not erre."

Perhaps it is impossible to generalize with respect to the (autocephalous) 'Orthodox Church(es)', but for all triumphalisms and (as far as I can see) 'One-True-Church' wrongheadedness, they have not (insofar as Met. Kallistos's exposition is just) boxed themselves into the 'Roman' problems of 'infallibility', but like "Geneva" (in the broadest sense) suffer from not wanting often enough to admit where they are - or might be - erring.

Further, I rejoice in your "question" (11:55 AM), and suggest that Met. Kallistos's whole book, read carefully, may be very relevant to attempting to answer it!


Anonymous said...

Is it true that Anglicans accept 1 Peter and 2 Peter as inspired and canonical letters? Do Anglicans accept Simon Peter as an Apostle of Jesus Christ? His pastoral letters were written to encourage young churches that were enduring persecution... he was answering to destructive heresies. Should his letters be excluded from the Bible? Peter was an eyewitness to the sufferings of Christ. He was a missionary and a martyr. St Irenaeus identifies Peter (along with Paul) as a co-founder of the Roman Church.

Are the Continuing Churches apostolic or are they not? What is the one, catholic and apostolic Church of the Creed? Is it the via media?

I personally do not embrace whatever position is taken by the Bishop of Rome, Fr Hart. Nor do I reject all Roman positions. I try to seek the Truth with humility and patience, knowing full well that my journey is littered with the failings of my feeble and sinful mind.

If I am guilty, as you charge, of the worst kind of modern Protestantism, God will be my Judge.

May the Lord bless you (and Fr Wells), heal each of you of your illnesses, and fill both of you with His Light and Peace.


welshmann said...

As I understand them, Catholics believe that the Lord set up the papacy as the ultimate, visible authority on earth to guide the church. They see the Scriptures as a kind of church publication, like the creeds, or the official catechism, or a statement issued by a conference of bishops. Since the pope and bishops published those documents, it is reasonable to insist that only they can say for sure what they mean. Given that view of church hierarchy and the Scriptures, the Catholic position makes perfect sense. Catholics also insist that the extremely divided state of Protestantism is proof that the Scriptures cannot be understood without an external authority to interpret them. But the Catholics are likewise divided. The Catholics are divided from the Orthodox; both are divided from the Oriental Orthodox; and all three are in turn divided from the Church of the East. All these bodies claim exclusive authority to interpret the Scriptures, they all insist that the patristic concensus supports their claim. I'll assume that the Protestants are wrong and the Catholics, Orthodox and others are right, that the Scriptures can be understood only by an authoritative heirarchy. That still leaves the individual believer with four authoritative churches to choose from, and he must choose, because their claims are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, each of these groups has internal factions: rival popes, sedevacantists, conclavists, ultra-traditionalists, modernists, Old Believers, rival hierarches, churches with disputed canonical status, and multiple, competing, overlapping jurisdictions. I've tried to make this brief and clear without being disrespectful, and certainly there is a lot of room for discussion here, but division and disputed authority is a problem in every Christian tradition. It is not unique to Protestantism.


Anonymous said...

Dear welshmann,

My understanding (under correction!) is that for 'Rome' Holy Scripture has a 'higher' place (within the Church) than (I understand) you (to) suggest, but that it can - whether by Ecumenical Council, or the Pope alone - be definitively authoritatively interpreted, and that most supposedly 'infallible' dogmatic pronouncements are intended as matters of such 'ultimately correct' Scriptural interpretation. Such 'infallible' interpretation seems to be seen as 'just as inspired' (by the same Divine source) as the Scripture interpreted.

I think your point (well developing one made more than once before by Frs. Hart and Wells) that "division and disputed authority is a problem in every Christian tradition" is true and important - and very much connected with Fr. Wells' weighty question about 'the Church'.

Might it further be fair to say there are everywhere (to varying degrees) both issues of 'the Church', 'clergy', 'the Holy Spirit, the (canon of the) Bible, and its interpretation, and also dangers of Churchism (in various senses),clericalism,'Pneumaticism, Biblicalism, 'autopistism', and sometimes even 'spiritualism' in the sense applied, for example, to Sebastian Franck (1499-1542), who came to see not only "the external Church as destroyed immediately after the Apostles" but the 'external word' of Scripture as a "paper Pope" of supposedly properly ignored pretentions - and not only potential dangers?


welshmann said...

I tried to strike a balance between brevity and accuracy; I may not have succeeded. Also, when I re-read my own post, I found that I was a little sharp in my tone, which was not my intent. My apologies.

As to the idea that the (Roman) church produced the Scriptures and therefore stands over them, if true, it does mean that Protestants cannot cite the Scriptures in support of their own position while disregarding the authority of the church that produced them. But it also means that a Catholic cannot cite Scripture to a Protestant in support of the Catholic position unless the Catholic is willing to ascribe to Scripture a kind of authority that does not derive from the Roman church. Otherwise, he is just citing a Roman publication to support a Roman position.


Anonymous said...

Good points, Welshmann.

And, I might add, it can be argued that neither Catholics nor Protestants can cite Holy Scripture to support the "traditional" date chosen by Christians to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord. So, one might ask, on whose authority was that date determined, and does it really matter?

Not to me. What matters is that we have faith, hope and love... and the greatest one of these is love.


Anonymous said...

Dear welshmann,

Your tone did not strike me (at any rate) as too sharp.

With regard to the last part of your (6:40 PM) comment, I wonder if this sentence from Lumen gentium 15 is meant to indicate something like what you suggest: "For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal."

With regard to the first part, there were and are already a variety of 'Protestant' responses as to how far the Scriptures are (still) 'also' 'Rome's' and 'Rome' still also 'part of the Church'.

My understanding of Hooker, for instance, is that 'Rome' is still 'part' of the Church ('within' and in some sense 'through' which the Scriptures were "produced" - and well understood and interpreted - historically), still sharing the Scriptures and in many respects interpreting them soundly, without, however, an acknowledgement of any unique interpretive authority.

Where, for example, the Christian Letter (1599) criticized Hooker's Laws (Preface ii.2) in these terms, "The Church of Rome favourablie admitted to be of the house of God; Calvin with the reformed churches full of faults, and most of all they which indevoured to be most removed from conformitie with the Church of Rome", he added in the margin of his copy, "True. For are not your Anabaptists, Familists, Libertines, Arrians, and other like extreme reformers of popery grown by that very meanes hatefull to the whole world? Are not their heresies a thousand times more execrable and hatefull than popery?"

But I do not think this all fully addresses your first part...


Fr. Wells said...

Officially, Rome maintains the correct and reasonable balance between Scripture as the Word of God and ultimate authority, sacred Tradition grounded and rooted in that Word, and the Church's Magisterium. Consider this passage from Cardinal Ratzinger's (now Pope Benedict XVI) Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:

"This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 25, 2)."

Naturally, I would cavil at the use of the word "infallibly" (reserving that to Scripture Alone), but otherwise the Cardinal now Pope has priorities in order.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting commentary by Scott Hahn:

"Like Jesus Christ, the Bible is unique. For it is the only book that can truly claim to have both human authors and a divine author, the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, fully divine and fully human - like all of us, except without sin. The Bible is the word of God inspired, fully divine yet fully human - like any other book, except without error. Both Christ and scripture are given, said the Second Vatican Council, "for the sake of our salvation" (Dei Verbum II).

So when we read the Bible, we need to read it on two levels at once. We read the Bible in a literal sense as we read any other human literature. But we also read it in a spiritual sense, searching out what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us through the words. We do this in imitation of Jesus, because this is the way he read scriptures... We see in Luke's gospel, as our Lord comforted the disciples on the road to Emmaus, that "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the scriptures" (Luke 24:27). After this spiritual reading of the Old Testament, we are told, the disciples' hearts burned within them."

I find it interesting that Jesus "interpreted" the scriptures and then the disciples' hearts were ignited.


Fr. Wells said...

Thank you, Susan, for a good quote from Scott Hahn, and for catching the central point: Jesus is the One who unlocks the Scriptures for us.
In Luke's Gospel, the earthly ministry of Jesus began and ended on the same note. In the Nazareth synagogue, He expounded Isaiah. At Emmaus, He concluded His exposition, covering the entire Scripture, Moses (the Penteteuch) and the Prophets (Joshua through Malachi). A similar passage in Acts adds "the Psalms" which was shorthand for the Wisdom literature. The entire Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, which Jesus called "the Scriptures" and we call the Old Testament, testifies to the Messiah, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

We must not overlook the critical point that when Jesus preached on earth, the Canon was, even if in an incomplete form, already there. As the Gospels and Epistles were written, they were immediately (with few exceptions) added to it. But even Jesus submitted His teaching to the Scriptures, saying "The Scriptures cannot be broken" and "You are wrong, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God."

Anonymous said...

There is an interesting selection from Doctrine in the Church of England, Report of the Commission, prepared for inclusion in his New Christian Year by Charles Williams:

"When the Messiah...stands alone before the high-priest, deserted even by the chosen disciples...he is the sole representative at that moment of God's holy people; he bears in his own person the whole burden of Israel's appointed destiny."

Going to look it up, I could not recall whether it included the word 'Church', or even explicitly identified Jesus "at that moment" as solely 'the Church'.

It does not. But what is the relation of "God's holy people", Israel, to 'the Church' at that moment?

And might we in any case accurately say that Jesus was - and is - ever and only, with respect to perfect holiness, "the sole representative [...] of God's holy people", the Church?