It seems to me that "what gave the written scriptures their authority" happened at the time of their writing, not in the late 4th century when they were finally gathered into a complete and agreed canon. What imparted that authority was the fact that they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit at the time, by the Lord's apostles and their associates. In other words, the scriptures got their authority between, shall we say, ca 40 and 90 AD, and always had them.
I'm not speaking of when the Scriptures were canonized, though. I am speaking of the fact that they were accepted by the people, the Body of Christ, and later formally canonized. The Holy Spirit acted through
that is, through the people, in preserving the Scriptures. Further, I would say that it did not just happen at the time of their writing, because there were a host of other "gospels" written as well that circulated for some time among some of the people (the Gnostic gospels). But these "gospels" were known to be false by the people,
the Body of Christ, the Church. If you look at it as an equation, the work of the Holy Spirit being "A," the people He acted through being "B," and the resulting acceptance and understanding of canonized Scripture being "C," then A+B=C. If you remove "B" from the equation, you are missing something, lacking something. The Holy Spirit can blow where It will, and I feel sure can act in any way He deems necessary. But in this particular case, the Holy Spirit acted through
the people, that is, the Church. To remove the people from the "equation" is nothing less than heresy.
The Holy Spirit, by working through the people, gave us the Scriptures. The people, in turn, received and defended them (as was stated earlier in the thread). There are two different actions taking place here. It almost seems to me as though the argument you are presenting here denies the action of the people in the matter. So... if the people received and defended the Scriptures (defending implies interpretation and understanding, by the way, would you agree?), why turn around and deny it and remove the Church (the people) from the equation? It makes no sense to me. This is what I find illogical.
There does also seem to me to be, in a lot of Orthodox writings, a misunderstanding of the 'right of private interpretation' which you (rightly in my view) attack so often. I take it to mean something like this:
- A man comes to Wrexham selling bits of paper which guarantee release from time in Purgatory, and I say to myself, "Hang on a minute! That's not according to scripture"
- A prominent Baptist minister denies the deity of Christ (1970s), and I say the same
- A prominent Anglican bishop denies the resurrection of Christ (1990s? - Durham, before Tom Wright), and I say the same
That's how it works in practice: but the normal Protestant is not, as has been said, 'his own pope'. Of course, you get oddballs and cranks on the fringes who promote their own weird ideas and interpretations of verses of scripture, but that (I suspect) has happened all through church history including in NT times. For a pre-1054 example, read the Blickling Homilies and the Vercelli Book, and then read Ælfric's Catholic Homilies as a corrective. Some even start little churches - or even bigger ones - on the basis of their notions.
This, again, seems illogical to me. If the right of private interpretation has NOT been abused and misused by Protestantism (and by such, I am referring not only to the normal Protestant, but to the Protestant thinkers like Luther, Wesley, Calvin, etc.- those whose theology is the foundation of Protestantism), then explain to me how and why there are so many various understandings of the same Scriptures?! Even the great Protestant thinkers can't agree with each other! Luther believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but that did not remain part of the Protestant doctrine. Even in the Lutheran church, it's left up to private interpretation as to whether the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ! It defies logic to think that there can possibly be SO MANY meanings of the same Scripture! They can't all be right! So who is right, then? The ones who changed the meaning after using that "right of private interpretation," or the one (and notice I say "one" because the Orthodox Church interprets and believes as one cohesive body, not as individuals as in Protestantism) who preserved what was handed down from the Apostles themselves and still now interprets and believes as they did?
Furthermore, I would say that your criterion for accepting doctrine of "that's not according to Scripture" is rather weak, as so many things can appear to be "according to Scripture" that aren't. Again, I use the example of the Protestant thinkers. They all seemingly wrote "according to Scripture," but all wrote something different! How can they all, then, be correct?
You mentioned in another thread that in the Sermon on the Mount, if one takes it literally, one would have to lop off a bunch of body parts. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but what's to stop some "privately interpreting" Protestant from doing that? It is, after all, "according to Scripture." What keeps us from doing it is the interpretation of that passage that has been handed down to us. Where do you think the cult of Jehovah's Witnesses came from? Private interpretation run amuck... and while we might say that they are occult and have gone off the deep end, they would not say that. They came to our door the day after Christmas proclaiming the "truth." They are now a recognized legitimate religion! Can you imagine?! And how did that happen? The Tradition of the Church was dismissed...
All this, of course, is different from your much more cogent arguments about the claimed additional authority of Tradition handed down from Clement, Ignatius, Justin and so on. In other words, when you (I don't mean only GreekChef) are arguing positively for what you believe, you are much more persuasive and unsettling than poor old Dawkins with his "God Delusion"; but when Orthodox are arguing against what we believe, you often seem to be striving against something which isn't really there, a 'man of straw' I believe is the phrase.[/list]
I'm not familiar with Dawkins "God Delusion," I have to admit...
I'm not sure where you are seeing the straw man, as it seems perfectly obvious to me (and I think many others who have participated in this particular discussion) that the thousands of varied Protestant groups and the thousands of different interpretations of Scripture by Protestants is proof in and of itself of the "right of private interpretation" run amuck, and that Sola Scriptura
obviously doesn't work and is a heresy.
You never really did answer my question in the other thread about why Wesley and not someone closer to the source (the example I gave was Ignatius), when it is clear that Wesley did not believe the same thing. I know you said you are still reading all those pages that ialmisry and I wrote (apologies for the length!), but I think that question is actually more suitable for this discussion, anyway.
Here's my last couple thoughts for now (for what they're worth)...
Again in another thread, you mentioned that much of what Protestants do and believe is reactionary. I would say that this is absolutely, unequivocally the case with Sola Scriptura.
It was invented (and yes, I do mean "invented," as it was clearly not
the belief of the Apostles and their disciples) as a reaction to Catholic errors like indulgences which were clearly not biblically based. But instead of just correcting the issues that existed in the Catholic Church at the time, it went off the deep end, threw out the baby with the bathwater, and ran totally amuck. It also continued to be reactionary and, in fact, encourages reactionary theology- you said yourself that there is a great deal of picking and choosing based on what the Catholic Church is doing and believing. This picking and choosing is exactly why we say that each man is his own pope in Protestantism. It is the using the "right of private interpretation" which results in the "I don't feel it's necessary to do or believe X". We Orthodox don't have that "luxury" (and I put that in quotations because I think that being one's own pope is not a luxury, but rather a curse).
The very existence of Sola Scriptura
is also hypocritical, I would say, in that the idea behind it is a rejection of Tradition. But a rejection of Tradition over the course of generations and as the foundation of faith IS
a tradition. I use a small "t" here because it is not Holy Tradition to us Orthodox and thus it is not to me. But to those who hold this doctrine, it IS
holy tradition! It impacts and shapes faith, dictates beliefs, etc. as our Holy Tradition does for us! The problem is, it is NOT the Holy Tradition of the Apostles. It does not proclaim the same Truth that the Apostles claimed and I would say, in fact, has resulted in terrible falsehoods by which people now live their lives! This is the worst tragedy to me. Not that they are outside the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church, but that they are living under the delusion that they believe what the Apostles did.
I know I write here with a clear line and with what may seem like harsh words. Please understand that this is a topic about which I am very passionate, and I really don't believe in sugar coating it. I know that we disagree on the topic of Sola Scriptura,
I just pray that you realize that what I say, I do so with love, and not with offense intended. I am SOOOO glad you resurrected this thread, as it was definitely the logical next discussion after the one on the Eucharist. I look forward to discussing with you, as, while I may not agree with your stance, I really admire the passion with which you write and I have learned a good deal from you already. I am fully expecting you to correct any misunderstandings I may have and in fact look forward to it, because, living in the Bible Belt, it is always a good thing to be able to respond to those of different faiths with understanding, that we may find some common ground in our love for Christ. It is also helpful to me in teaching my Sunday School kids, as I think the same goes for them. Informed faith is the most important kind, I think...
Please forgive me for, once again, writing such a long post. I'm not very good at the one liners.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!