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Author Topic: Protestants and the Fathers  (Read 2463 times) Average Rating: 0
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Br. Max, OFC
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« on: January 17, 2004, 01:01:30 PM »

"The Bible Alone"? Not for John Calvin!
When we seek answers to churchly and societal issues in the Bible alone, citing the Reformation principle of sola scriptura, we are actually contradicting the Reformers.
Chris Armstrong | posted 01/09/2004

 
There's no question that the Bible is at the very center of conservative Christianity in America. When tough legislation limited access to the Bible in our public schools, Christians sought creative ways around the wall, legal prosecution notwithstanding. When translators set out to "modernize" the Bible's gender language, conservatives kicked up a storm. When lawmakers removed a Ten Commandments monument from a courthouse, Christian protesters mobbed the scene.

All of this activity hearkens back to the Reformation tradition of Sola Scriptura—the belief that the Bible should be the ultimate authority for the church, trumping all human traditions. For many conservatives, this authority is not only unquestioned within the church, but extended beyond the church to society at large. The dream of some evangelicals is a country—perhaps some day even a world—where every moral and political question is submitted to the Bible, which will provide answers both obvious and immediately applicable.

Worth asking, however, is whether we really understand what Sola Scriptura means within the church itself. Does this Reformation principle mean that the Bible yields up obvious answers to all our questions? That we need not turn to any interpretation of Scripture other than the conclusions each of us draws from our own common-sense interaction with Scripture? That the great teachers in the church's earlier eras—the "church fathers"—should have nothing to say to us today, for they represent nothing but "human traditions"?

Clearly even the most conservative believers have never been able to live as if they are not influenced by the teachings of other people—past and present—on how to interpret their Bibles. Everybody reads through a set of lenses created by the church, the family, and the schools that have shaped them.

Of course, evangelicals have expended tremendous resources of scholarship on trying to determine the most basic, literal meanings of any given Bible passage. They have rejected outright the fanciful, allegorical interpretations of many medieval exegetes.

But there come issues—more numerous than some are willing to admit—where the Bible yields its direction more reluctantly. For faithfully Biblical answers to these questions, we are thrown back on the resources of church tradition.

And here's the shocker (maybe): the very Reformation teachers who created the principle of the supreme authority of Scripture—sola scriptura—not only recognized this need for a strong, churchly tradition of Biblical interpretation, they embraced it. They were just as convinced as we are that the Bible ought to speak to every aspect of life (heavens, they stood on the shoulders of a millennium-long Christendom tradition of church-state alliance!) But they knew that in addressing both churchly and worldly questions, if you wanted to find the "Christian Way" you had to hold a conversation with pious interpreters from past ages.

Especially, at least for Luther and Calvin, this meant attending to the early church fathers.

While preparing our Issue 80: The First Bible Teachers, we got a chance to talk with noted Reformation scholar David Steinmetz of Duke Divinity School about this. He reminded us that the Reformers worked hard to ensure their own interpretations of Scripture matched those of the Fathers:

"The Reformation is an argument not just about the Bible but about the early
Christian fathers, whom the Protestants wanted to claim. This is one of
those things that is so obvious nobody has paid much attention to it—then
you look and you see it everywhere.

"The Reformers use the Fathers all over the place. We know Calvin read
Augustine, and we discovered recently that Luther read Jerome—he had copies
annotated in his own hand. The index of Calvin's Institutes is filled with
an enormous number of quotations from the Fathers. And in the first preface
to that work, addressed to Francis I, Calvin did his best to show his
teachings were in complete harmony with the Fathers.

"The Protestants did this because they were keen to have ancestors. They
knew that innovation was another word for heresy. 'Ours is the ancient
tradition,' they said. 'The innovations were introduced in the Middle Ages!'
They issued anthologies of the Fathers to show the Fathers had taught what
the Reformers were teaching.

"But they also turned to the Fathers because they found them important
sources of insight into the text of Scripture. Calvin and Melanchthon both
believed it was a very strong argument against a given theological position
if you couldn't find authorization for it in the Fathers.

"All the Reformers loved Augustine (Luther, remember, was an Augustinian
friar). Calvin, though he loved Augustine for doctrine, preferred
Chrysostom's approach to biblical interpretation.

"Chrysostom is a verse-by-verse commentator in his sermons. Calvin doesn't
mimic Chrysostom, but he appreciates his model. Augustine flies a little too high above the text for Calvin—he is too quick to go to figures of speech, allegory, and so forth. Chrysostom flies at a lower level.

"Finally, the Reformation was not an argument about everything, but about
just some things. It was not, for example, about the Trinity or the two
natures of Christ. The Protestants had their own slant on these doctrines,
but they agreed basically with Roman Catholics. Both confessed the Trinity
and the two natures of Christ. And if we ask where these accepted doctrines
came from—they came from the Fathers' reflections on the Bible!"

Chris Armstrong is managing editor of Christian History magazine
http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/newsletter/2004/jan16.html
« Last Edit: January 18, 2004, 05:28:30 PM by prodromos » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2004, 07:00:13 PM »

Quote
"The Reformers use the Fathers all over the place."

They used them all right.

Very selectively.

But the so-called Reformers reserved the right to ignore the Fathers whenever and wherever their writings contradict the tenets of Protestantism.

The primary rule is this: My interpretation of the Bible is paramount.

Rule #1 of patristic study is this: Where the Fathers disagree with my interpretation of the Bible, they are fallible; I am right and they are wrong.

Rule #2 of patristic study is this: Where the Fathers agree with my interpretation, they are a valuable source of prooftexts to show that the "church" has always agreed with me.

« Last Edit: January 24, 2004, 07:01:12 PM by Linus7 » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2004, 07:02:18 PM »

Absoulutely correct Linus. This is one of the reasons that I was drawn to the Orthodox church. They at least had a history of godly men and (some) women that interpreted the scriptures consistently.


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« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2004, 08:01:40 PM »

Linus: Protestant application of the Church fathers maybe selective, but at least they are rediscovering them. Smiley
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« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2004, 08:07:58 PM »

Linus: Protestant application of the Church fathers maybe selective, but at least they are rediscovering them. Smiley


Well, that's true.

And if they actually read them with an open mind and an open heart they may wind up Orthodox, or at least Roman Catholic.  Grin
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« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2004, 08:16:47 PM »

Not Roman Catholic Linus. The Fathers did not support Papal Supremacy and certainly not Papal Infallability.
« Last Edit: January 24, 2004, 08:17:03 PM by Tom+ú » Logged
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« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2004, 08:59:54 PM »

Tom: that is your opinion.  The RC has read the church fathers and come to different conclusions.
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« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2004, 09:05:28 PM »

Tom: that is your opinion.  The RC has read the church fathers and come to different conclusions.

Well of course it is my opinion Max. I can see why it was important to take up space to point that out. And I also suspect that you will answer this post so that you can always get that last post in, eh?


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« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2004, 09:24:11 PM »

Quote
They at least had a history of godly men and (some) women that interpreted the scriptures consistently.

Tom, why did you word the above "(some) women"?  There has never been a time lacking in female saints and even now I believe there are many more female monastics than males in Greece.
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« Reply #9 on: January 24, 2004, 11:13:56 PM »

Reading the fathers has never led anyone into the RCC, Tom? Ever heard of Cardinal Newman?

Matt
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« Reply #10 on: January 24, 2004, 11:25:29 PM »

Not Roman Catholic Linus. The Fathers did not support Papal Supremacy and certainly not Papal Infallability.


Many people have become RCs as a result of reading the Fathers. For westerners that is the most natural choice.

For a Protestant to become RC is a big improvement, in my POV.

One step at a time, Tom.  Wink
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« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2004, 12:22:42 AM »

Yeah, there's this video from Ignatius press about a Baptist minister who read the fathers and brought his entire congregation to Catholicism. That's awesome.

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« Reply #12 on: January 25, 2004, 12:24:17 AM »

Tom, why did you word the above "(some) women"?  There has never been a time lacking in female saints and even now I believe there are many more female monastics than males in Greece.  

I am not saying that there are not many women saints, but we were talking about writings of the Holy Fathers. And there are not many writings by women included in the Philokalia (at least not the parts that I have)
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« Reply #13 on: January 25, 2004, 12:29:24 AM »

Reading the fathers has never led anyone into the RCC, Tom? Ever heard of Cardinal Newman?

You are right Matt. I don't dispute that it does occur. My point was that based simply upon the writings of the Holy Fathers in the Philokalia, that I am not aware of (and I could of course be mistaken because I have not read them all) positions put forward that support the Papal claims that I spoke of.
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