Friday, August 31, 2007

Review of The One-Minute Apologist by Carl E. Olson, in National Catholic Register


Got a Minute?
BY CARL E. OLSON
THE ONE-MINUTE APOLOGIST Essential Catholic Replies to Over Sixty Common
Protestant Claims
by Dave Armstrong
Sophia Institute Press, 2007
145 pages, $12.95
To order: 1-800-888-9344
sophiainstitute.com
I first heard of Dave Armstrong 12 years ago when I read Surprised By Truth, a compilation of testimonies by 11 converts to Catholicism, most of them from Protestant backgrounds.
Armstrong had spent time in a number of Protestant denominations — Methodist, Lutheran, Pentecostal and evangelical — before entering the Catholic Church in 1991.

I soon came across Armstrong again, this time on the Internet, where he was busy building one of the first Catholic apologetic websites, then called Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, and now titled Cor ad Cor Loquitur (Heart Speaks to Heart), a phrase taken from one of Armstrong’s heroes, Cardinal John Henry Newman.

Armstrong’s site and writings have grown steadily ever since; he has engaged in numerous written debates with non-Catholics on just about every topic imaginable, often at great length and in substantial detail.

As he notes in the introduction to The One-Minute Apologist, “I’ve been known, in some Internet circles, for writing lengthy tomes on my website and blog.” But, he adds, writing this new book has helped him to “more fully appreciate the importance and utility of short treatments as well.”

In fact, this book is commendable for being pithy and precise while never being either simplistic or dense, an indication of how well Armstrong knows his subject matter and his audience. In fact, this is the sort of book that could only be written by someone who has spent countless hours studying, articulating and discussing the Catholic faith, to the point that he knows how to accurately answer questions and clearly correct misunderstandings.

Two previous books by Armstrong, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism and The Catholic Verses (both published by Sophia), were lengthier and more theologically involved works. This new book is meant for those who are looking to get their feet wet (and set) in responding to what Armstrong calls “garden-variety” objections to Catholicism.”

Sixty-one such objections are addressed in two pages each, with topics including Scripture, the Church, the papacy, the priesthood, the sacraments, salvation, God, Mary, and the Saints.
Most of the objections are the sort often voiced by fundamentalists or conservative Evangelicals: the Catholic Church added illegitimate books to the Bible, Jesus did not make Peter the leader of the apostles, baptism is merely a symbolic rite, and so forth.

Others come from the other end of the theological spectrum, and some are from pseudo-Christian groups such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Unitarians. These include objections made against the dogma of the Trinity, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation and the existence of hell.

Each topic is addressed in a four-part format: objection, reply, follow-up objection, and counter-reply, followed by a citation on the topic, often from a Protestant source.

My only criticism of the book is the absence of citations for these excellent concluding quotes. [I didn't like that, either, and wrote a post to provide this information that was in my manuscript], Most of the replies contain appropriate quotes from Scripture, in addition to numerous other citations that readers can explore further on their own.

When necessary, the content of authoritative Church teaching is explained by referring to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Church councils and papal documents. There are also quotes from Protestant leaders and theologians, indicating the range of disagreements within Protestantism as well as how far many contemporary Protestants have moved from the beliefs of Martin Luther, John Calvin and other Protestant fathers.

The writing is punchy but never pugnacious. For example, responding to the objection that “formal ritual is opposed to vibrant spiritual life,” Armstrong begins by stating: “If formal worship or religious ritual were always opposed to a sincere, heartfelt adoration and praise of God, then certainly God wouldn’t have commanded it in the Bible.”

He then shows where, when, and why God did indeed command formal worship and ritual.
Accessible and substantial, The One-Minute Apologist will help readers in need of timely answers. And, just as important, it should serve as an inviting introduction to the richness and fullness of the Catholic Faith.
Carl E. Olson writes from
Eugene, Oregon.

Carl Olson is the editor of the online magazine IgnatiusInsight.com and moderator of the Ignatius Press web log, the Insight Scoop blog. He is the author of Will Catholics Be “Left Behind? A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today's Prophecy Preachers (Ignatius Press, 2003) and co-author (with Sandra Miesel) of the best-selling The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (Ignatius Press, 2004). He has also written a number of book reviews, mostly for This Rock and National Catholic Register, does a monthly column on apologetics for National Catholic Register, and regular feature pieces for Our Sunday Visitor.

Critique of Martin Chemnitz' Examination of Trent: Bible, Tradition, and the Church Fathers, Part II (Various Fathers and Arguments)

Image:Council of Trent.JPG

Painter unknown, Council of Trent in Santa Maria Maggiore church, c. 1600

This is the fourth installment of what is to be a lengthy series of replies to the prominent 16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz' Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1971; translated by Fred Kramer) -- and probably volumes 2-4 also, as time permits. Here are the previous three:

Martin Chemnitz is "The Man" for Lutherans; It's Time to Address His Arguments Directly

Critique of Martin Chemnitz' Examination of Trent: Scripture I (Poisoning the Well as to the Catholic Rule of Faith and Veneration of Holy Scripture)

Critique of Martin Chemnitz' Examination of Trent: Bible, Tradition, and the Church Fathers, Part I (Preliminaries, St. Irenaeus, & Tertullian)
Before proceeding, I need to make a very important clarification that always comes up in these debates with Protestants over sola Scriptura and the Fathers allegedly espousing same (or, at any rate, some position on authority closer to Protestantism than Catholicism). This comes from a tongue-in-cheek paper of mine where I turned the tables on the usual logically-challenged tactics that Protestants apply to the Fathers in this regard, and "proved" that I, too, believed in sola Scriptura, because (after all) one can easily cite tons of positive statements I have made about Holy Scripture (with original bolding removed and italics added presently):
It's easy to pretend that these Fathers believed as Protestants do when you only cite one aspect of their beliefs and writings and omit equally important portions about Tradition and the authority of the Church and apostolic succession.

. . . a half-truth is as bad as an untruth. Like I said, if you only cite them talking about Scripture, with carefully selected tidbits, chosen for the Protestant "ear", then they will sound like Protestants, especially if someone is predisposed to anachronistically read Protestantism into their views in the first place.

. . . This is why you must also see what these same Fathers think about Tradition, the Church, Councils, bishops, and apostolic succession, and then consider their entire view, not portions of it removed from immediate context and their overall thought.
This must always be kept in mind in these types of debates, as it is supremely relevant. Chemnitz, not surprisingly, falls prey to the same basic logical fallacy. We see it repeatedly throughout his treatment of the subject of Scripture and Tradition; particularly in his Section V, pp. 150-167, where he compiles statements by the Fathers on the Scripture and its place in the Rule of Faith and only infallible norm of doctrine (as virtually all Protestants believe), etc.

He cites St. Augustine (many times), St. Irenaeus, St. John Chrysostom (eight times), St. Athanasius, St. Jerome (four times), St. Basil (three times), Origen (four times), Epiphanius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (twice), St. Ambrose, Lactantius, St. Cyprian, and Tertullian (thirteen in all).

I've dealt with the views on Bible and Tradition of most of these Fathers, in considerable depth, and with much documentation, in the past: for example, St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Irenaeus, and St. Basil the Great, in my in-depth public debate with anti-Catholic apologist Jason Engwer (he departed, by the way, in the middle of the debate, after counter-replying about only four of the Fathers I researched). None of them, of course, believed in sola Scriptura, or anything like it, and all held views virtually identical to Catholic beliefs, then and now.

I showed in my last installment of this series how shabbily and fallaciously Chemnitz treated St. Irenaeus' views, and also Tertullian's. I treated the subject of St. Athanasius' views on Bible and Tradition in a separate paper (also, St. Gregory of Nyssa), and Chrysostom and Irenaeus again, in a reply to David T. King (who believes -- quite ridiculously -- that all the Fathers believed in sola Scriptura).

That leaves (from Chemnitz' list), six Fathers out of thirteen: Jerome, Origen, Epiphanius, Ambrose, Lactantius, and Cyprian. Let us briefly examine each and see if the same dynamic applies to them that we have seen in the case of the other Fathers. I am quite confident (from universal past experience in studying this) that it will. But let us see with our own eyes. You, the reader, and I will be examining this together.

Let's begin with St. Jerome. He's a great favorite of Protestant polemicists, especially on the issue of the canon of Scripture. Does he believe in sola Scriptura or anything akin to it? Hardly. Jerome thinks the Church was founded upon Peter himself, and acknowledges the primacy and headship of the Church of Rome, headed by the pope:
. . . the apostle Peter, upon whom the Lord has founded the Church . . .

(Letter XLI. To Marcella)
1. Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord, “woven from the top throughout,” since the foxes are destroying the vineyard of Christ, and since among the broken cisterns that hold no water it is hard to discover “the sealed fountain” and “the garden inclosed,” I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul. I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ. The wide space of sea and land that lies between us cannot deter me from searching for “the pearl of great price.” “Wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact. The fruitful soil of Rome, when it receives the pure seed of the Lord, bears fruit an hundredfold; but here the seed corn is choked in the furrows and nothing grows but darnel or oats. In the West the Sun of righteousness is even now rising; in the East, Lucifer, who fell from heaven, has once more set his throne above the stars. . . .

2. Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. . . . He that gathers not with you scatters; he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist.

(Letter XV. To Pope Damasus)
Jerome thought that even priests were the successors to the apostles:
Driven from this line of defence you will appeal to the example of the clergy. These, you will say, remain in their cities, and yet they are surely above criticism. Far be it from me to censure the successors of the apostles, who with holy words consecrate the body of Christ, and who make us Christians. Having the keys of the kingdom of heaven, they judge men to some extent before the day of judgment, and guard the chastity of the bride of Christ.

(Letter XIV. To Heliodorus, Monk)
In fact as if to tell us that the traditions handed down by the apostles were taken by them from the old testament, bishops, presbyters and deacons occupy in the church the same positions as those which were occupied by Aaron, his sons, and the Levites in the temple.

[Letter CXLVI. To Evangelus]
In the (mildly anti-Catholic) introduction to Jerome's writings in this volume of the Schaff edition of the Fathers, note how it is casually assumed that St. Jerome accepted the binding authority of the Church (utterly contrary to sola Scriptura):
His writings contain the whole spirit of the Church of the Middle Ages, its monasticism, its contrast of sacred things with profane, its credulity and superstition, its value for relics, its subjection to hierarchical authority, its dread of heresy, its passion for pilgrimages. To the society which was thus in a great measure formed by him, his Bible was the greatest boon which could have been given. But he founded no school and had no inspiring power; there was no courage or width of view in his spiritual legacy such as could break through the fatal circle of bondage to received authority which was closing round mankind. [my emphases]
Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, Vol. III (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974, from the fifth edition of 1910, 987) describes St. Jerome thusly:
. . . Semi-Pelagian in anthropology, Romanizing in the doctrine of the church and tradition . . . a fanatical apologist of all monkish extravagancies . . .
That is clearly not a sola Scriptura view . . . it's another case of someone who has an "enthusiastic love for the Holy Scriptures" and "manifold exegetical merits" (Schaff, ibid., 987-988, describing / praising Jerome), yet who, at the same time, rejects sola Scriptura, or the notion that Scripture holds the sole binding infallible authority in the Christian Church.

How about St. Ambrose? He refers to the authority of the See of Rome, and both apostolic and papal succession:
And this confession is indeed rightly made by them, for they have not the succession of Peter, who hold not the chair of Peter, which they rend by wicked schism; and this, too, they do, wickedly denying that sins can be forgiven even in the Church, whereas it was said to Peter: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.”

(Concerning Repentance, Chapter VII)

It was always believed in the Church that the power of binding and loosing had been entrusted by our Lord to His apostles, and by them handed on to their successors in the ministry.

(Ibid., Note on the Penitential Discipline of the Early Church)
As to St. Cyprian, the abundance of proofs for his allegiance to binding Church authority and apostolic succession have already been provided, courtesy of Catholic apologist Phil Porvaznik, and Dom John Chapman. See the copiously-documented paper: St. Cyprian on the Church and the Papacy. This more than adequately shows that Cyprian, too, was no "primitive Protestant" or adherent of sola Scriptura. Protestant historian Philip Schaff also bears witness to this and renders it beyond any doubt:

Finally, Cyprian, in his Epistles, and most of all in his classical tract: De Unitate Eccelesiae, written in the year 251, amidst the distractions of the Novatian schism, and not without an intermixture of hierarchical pride and party spirit, has most distinctly and most forcibly developed the old catholic doctrine of the church, her unity, universality, and exclusiveness. He is the typical champion of visible, tangible church unity, and would have made a better pope than any pope before Leo I.; yet after all he was anti-papal and anti-Roman when he differed from the pope. Augustin felt this inconsistency, and thought that he had wiped it out by the blood of his martyrdom. But he never gave any sign of repentance. His views are briefly as follows:
The Catholic church was founded from the first by Christ on St. Peter alone, that, with all the equality of power among the apostles, unity might still be kept prominent as essential to her being. She has ever since remained one, in unbroken episcopal succession; as there is only one sun, though his rays are everywhere diffused. Try once to separate the ray from the sun; the unity of the light allows no division. Break the branch from the tree; it can produce no fruit. Cut off the brook from the fountain; it dries up. Out of this empirical orthodox church, episcopally organized and centralized in Rome, Cyprian can imagine no Christianity at all; not only among the Gnostics and other radical heretics, but even among the Novatians, who varied from the Catholics in no essential point of doctrine, and only elected an opposition bishop in the interest of their rigorous penitential discipline. Whoever separates himself from the catholic church is a foreigner, a profane person, an enemy, condemns himself, and must be shunned. No one can have God for his father, who has not the church for his mother. As well might one out of the ark of Noah have escaped the flood, as one out of the church be saved; because she alone is the bearer of the Holy Spirit and of all grace.
(History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970, from the fifth edition of 1910, section 53, 172-173)
Protestants and Catholics wrangle over Cyprian's views of the papacy, yet even aside from that vexed issue, there is more than enough in this evidence to show that he clearly rejected sola Scriptura and any diminution of the binding authority of the Church catholic.

Protestant historian J.N.D. Kelly describes Origen's view of the relationship of the Bible and Tradition:
Early third-century writers, like Clement of Alexandria and Origen, continued to use language about it [tradition, in context] closely akin to that of Irenaeus and Tertullian, and spoke of 'the ecclesiastical canon' or 'the canon of faith' . . . in addition to the Church's public tradition, they believed they had access to a secret tradition of doctrine . . . for Origen it seems to have consisted of an esoteric theology based on the Bible . . . According to Origen, the rule of faith, or canon, was the body of beliefs currently accepted by ordinary Christians; or again it could stand for the whole content of the faith. In his usage it was equivalent to what he called 'the ecclesiastical preaching' . . . and he meant by it the Christian faith as taught in the Church of his day and handed down from the apostles. Though its contents coincided with those of the Bible, it was formally independent of the Bible, and also included the principles of Biblical interpretation.

(Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 5th edition of 1978, 43)
Kelly's last sentence describes almost exactly the Catholic distinction between material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. We agree with Protestants that Scripture is materially sufficient, but not formally sufficient as a Rule of Faith independently of Church and Tradition. Origen sets out his views very concisely in his Preface to his work De Principiis:
Since many, however, of those who profess to believe in Christ differ from each other, not only in small and trifling matters, but also on subjects of the highest importance, as, e.g., regarding God, or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit; and not only regarding these, but also regarding others which are created existences, viz., the powers and the holy virtues; it seems on that account necessary first of all to fix a definite limit and to lay down an unmistakable rule regarding each one of these, and then to pass to the investigation of other points. For as we ceased to seek for truth (notwithstanding the professions of many among Greeks and Barbarians to make it known) among all who claimed it for erroneous opinions, after we had come to believe that Christ was the Son of God, and were persuaded that we must learn it from Himself; so, seeing there are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolical tradition.

(complete section 2)
Therefore, again (contra Chemnitz and confessional Lutheranism and the "Lutheran Myth of Origins"), yet another Father is seen to be far closer (if not virtually identical) in belief (concerning Tradition, etc.) to Catholicism than to Lutheranism.

How about St. Epiphanius? J.N.D. Kelly concluded:
Epiphanius, it is noteworthy, evidently regarded the Roman church (his attitude was not singular) as having preserved the apostolic rule of faith uniquely intact; but the supreme expression of it, he thought, was the creed sealed by the fathers gathered in session at Nicaea.

(Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 5th edition of 1978, 45-46)
And, lastly, does Lactantius provide patristic support for anything remotely approaching sola Scriptura? Nope. He wrote:
[T]hey were perverted from the right path, and corrupted the sacred writings, so that they composed for themselves a new doctrine without any root and stability. But some, enticed by the prediction of false prophets, concerning whom both the true prophets and he himself had foretold, fell away from the knowledge of God, and left the true tradition. But all of these, ensnared by frauds of demons, which they ought to have foreseen and guarded against, by their carelessness lost the name and worship of God. For when they are called Phrygians, or Novatians, or Valentinians, or Marcionites, or Anthropians, or Arians, or by any other name, they have ceased to be Christians, who have lost the name of Christ, and assumed human and external names. Therefore it is the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship. This is the fountain of truth, this is the abode of the faith, this is the temple of God; into which if any one shall not enter, or from which if any shall go out, he is estranged from the hope of life and eternal salvation. No one ought to flatter himself with persevering strife. For the contest is respecting life and salvation, which, unless it is carefully and diligently kept in view, will be lost and extinguished. But, however, because all the separate assemblies of heretics call themselves Christians in preference to others, and think that theirs is the Catholic Church, it must be known that the true Catholic Church is that in which there is confession and repentance, which treats in a wholesome manner the sins and wounds to which the weakness of the flesh is liable. I have related these things in the meanwhile for the sake of admonition, that no one who desires to avoid error may be entangled in a greater error, while he is ignorant of the secret of the truth.

(The Divine Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 30)
We see, then, that there is strong counter-evidence for each and every Church Father that Chemnitz cites as supposed witnesses for the Lutheran rule of faith, sola Scriptura.

Picking up Chemnitz's Examen from where I left off, I am encouraged to see that he makes a defense of implicit testimonies of Scripture (precisely the sort of argumentation that Catholics often make with regard to many Catholic distinctives, and which I myself use in my books and articles all the time. This has the effect (unbeknownst to him, of course) of undercutting his own rhetoric of Catholic doctrines being so devoid of biblical support. He writes (his words in blue henceforth):

We shall make this the fifth kind of traditions, that he fathers sometimes call those dogmas traditions which are not set forth in so many letters and syllables in Scripture but are brought together from clear testimonies of Scripture by way of good, certain, firm, and clear reasoning. Gregory Nazianzen says correctly and beautifully that some things are in the Scriptures and are also stated in them, but that some things are in the Scriptures, although they are not stated . . .

Therefore, Origen and Augustine affirm that infant baptism is an apostolic tradition. This we accept . . . These letters and syllables are indeed not found in the Scripture: "infants are to be baptized; the apostles baptized infants." But when the fathers say that infant baptism is a tradition, they prove and confirm this with certain and clear testimonies of Scripture. (pp. 249-250)

Augustine, who concedes that no actual example is found in the Scripture, nevertheless shows that the law itself (if I may express it this way) has many sure proofs in the Scriptures. We do not quarrel about letters and syllables, so long as the matter itself has a sure foundation in the Scripture . . . But this is the point of the controversy between us and the papalists, whether in dogmas of the church a custom or tradition which cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture is to be accepted. (p. 254)

So far so good. But soon Chemnitz is back to error:

[I]t is the opinion of the men on our side that in religious controversies the word of God itself is the judge and that the confession of the true church is added later. (p. 256)

We have seen from the many Fathers examined that they did not hold to this view, which is a watering-down of Church authority and the binding nature of received apostolic Tradition. Chemnitz then provides a valuable aid, for he refutes himself:

We confess also that we disagree with those who invent opinions whjich have no testimony from any period in the church, as Servetus, Campanus, the Anabaptists, and others have done in our time. We also hold that no dogma that is new in the churches and in conflict with all antiquity should be accepted. What could be more honorably said and thought concerning the consensus and the testimonies of antiquity? . . . we search out and quote the testimonies of the fathers . . . (p. 258)

[T]he papalists, devoid of and convicted by the testimonies of Scripture, seek protection from the fathers. (p. 263)
Since sola Scriptura is devoid of any unquestionable patristic support (as I and many other Catholics have shown, I think), then it must be ditched, according to this true and wise maxim of Martin Chemnitz. I continue to await modern-day adherents of Chemnitz' position (Lutherans) to come and defend both him and his argument.

Usually, at this point of the argument (i.e., after patristic demonstration), the argument from my esteemed Lutheran brothers in Christ ceases, or (as in cases such as the extreme polemicist Josh Strodtbeck, descends into the merely personal and ad hominem and is entirely devoid of rational substance). But where are the modern defenders of Lutheran orthodoxy, who will be willing to amiably engage a Catholic critic? Few and far between, they are . . .

[T]he papalists . . . bring forth certain statements from the fathers for the protection of their superstitions and somehow throw them together contrary to those things which are shown from the Scriptures . . . (p. 265)

Staphylus and Lindanus are not ashamed to make Athanasius the author of this opinion [the previous citation]. For they cite his statement to Epictetus in mutilated form and torn out of context: "It suffices to reply and say only this to the heretics, that this is not the way of the catholic church and that the fathers did not hold this." . . . But they do Athanasius a great wrong . . . I ask you, dear reader, to compare this whole statement of Athanasius with the mutilated quotation of the papalists, and you may establish from this with what sincerity the papalists treat the testimonies of the fathers. (pp. 265-266)

Chemnitz contends that because Athanasius used a number of biblical arguments in the letter, that therefore, his statement about authority really didn't mean what it manifestly means, and he must somehow believe in something resembling sola Scriptura. But this is simply untrue, both logically and contextually. Of course Athanasius will argue from Scripture, as everyone does who is serious about Christianity (and about heresy). But it is not inevitable or necessary from that fact alone, that such a person thinks that only Scripture has authority to rebuke error and bind people to the contrary.

Anyone can read St. Athanasius' Letter LIX to Epictetus online, in the Schaff (Protestant-edited) collection of the Fathers. Note how he grants the Council of Nicaea binding authority in and of itself:

I thought that all vain talk of all heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the Synod which was held at Nicæa. For the Faith there confessed by the Fathers according to the divine Scriptures is enough by itself at once to overthrow all impiety, and to establish the religious belief in Christ. . . . How then, after all this, are some attempting to raise doubts or questions? . . . But if those who desire to reopen everything by raising questions belong to those who think they believe aright, and love what the fathers have declared, they are simply doing what the prophet describes, giving their neighbour turbid confusion to drink , and fighting about words to no good purpose, save to the subversion of the simple. (1)
Athanasius is arguing that such a council is authoritative by its very nature, and sufficient to shut the mouth of a heretic (just as the scriptural council of Jerusalem was). He mentions only a few Bible passages indirectly, in passing. The disputed section brought up by Chemnitz is in section 3. I cite the entire section (with the portion in particular dispute bolded):
Such were the contents of the memoranda; diverse statements, but one in their sense and in their meaning; tending to impiety. It was for these things that men who make their boast in the confession of the fathers drawn up at Nicæa were disputing and quarrelling with one another. But I marvel that your piety suffered it, and that you did not stop those who said such things, and propound to them the right faith, so that upon hearing it they might hold their peace, or if they opposed it might be counted as heretics. For the statements are not fit for Christians to make or to hear, on the contrary they are in every way alien from the Apostolic teaching. For this reason, as I said above, I have caused what they say to be baldly inserted in my letter, so that one who merely hears may perceive the shame and impiety therein contained. And although it would be right to denounce and expose in full the folly of those who have had such ideas, yet it would be a good thing to close my letter here and write no more. For what is so manifestly shewn to be evil, it is not necessary to waste time in exposing further, lest contentious persons think the matter doubtful. It is enough merely to answer such things as follows: we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this. But lest the ‘inventors of evil things' make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture, in case they may even thus be put to shame, and cease from these foul devices.
Chemnitz, in effect, argues that this statement cannot stand alone, and carry a meaning of Church and Tradition being themselves sufficient to refute error, with great and binding authority, and that to cite it in isolation violates the context of Athanasius making biblical arguments, too. He is wrong. The statement does stand alone. That is seen by the word "enough". In fact, Chemnitz's own fuller citation, as translated by the Lutheran Fred Kramer, bears this out (I shall cite also the important sentence before the one in question):
For what is clearly bad and perverse, that ought not to be treated more inquisitively, lest it seem ambiguous to contentious men; but it suffices to make only this reply to such things and to say that this is not held by the catholic church and that the fathers did not think thus. (p. 266)
Words mean things. "Enough" and "suffice" (and its cognate, "suffieicnt") have definitions that can be ascertained. I think they are so obvious in the present instance that I won't even bother to cite dictionaries. Citing the Tradition was sufficient or "enough", but (as Athanasius goes on to say) "lest the ‘inventors of evil things' make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture."

In other words, the proclamation was sufficient itself, but because of obstinacy and "shamelessness" of the heretics, scriptural arguments will bolster the arguments and make it better and stronger. But they are not absolutely necessary to ascertain the truth of the matter. Note how in the next section (4), the great St. Athanasius makes reference to Scripture, but also to the authoritative decrees of Nicaea which expand upon what is not explicit in Scripture:
Whence did it occur to you, sirs, to say that the Body is of one Essence with the Godhead of the Word? For it is well to begin at this point, in order that by shewing this opinion to be unsound, all the others too may be proved to be the same. Now from the divine Scriptures we discover nothing of the kind. For they say that God came in a human body. But the fathers who also assembled at Nicæa say that, not the body, but the Son Himself is coessential with the Father, and that while He is of the Essence of the Father, the body, as they admitted according to the Scriptures, is of Mary. Either then deny the Synod of Nicæa, and as heretics bring in your doctrine from the side; or, if you wish to be children of the fathers, do not hold the contrary of what they wrote.
Context of this letter itself is "sufficient" (no pun intended) to overthrow Chemnitz's contentions. But we also have several other statements of Athanasius that support my interpretation. He (like all the fathers) believed in apostolic succession and an authoritative Church and Tradition:

However here too they introduce their private fictions, and contend that the Son and the Father are not in such wise `one,' or `like,' as the Church preaches, but, as they themselves would have it.

(Discourse Against the Arians, 3:10)

. . . inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, . . .

(Festal Letter 2:6)

See, we are proving that this view has been transmitted from father to father; but ye, O modern Jews and disciples of Caiaphas, how many fathers can ye assign to your phrases?

(Defense of the Nicene Definition, 27)

For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; . . .

(De Decretis 4)

Remaining on the foundation of the Apostles, and holding fast the traditions of the Fathers, pray that now at length all strife and rivalry may cease, and the futile questions of the heretics may be condemned, . . .

(De Synodis 54)
Hence, patristics scholar J.N.D. Kelly writes of Athanasius:
So Athanasius, disputing with the Arians, claimed that his own doctrine had been handed down from father to father, whereas they could not produce a single respectable witness to theirs . . .

. . . the ancient idea that the Church alone, in virtue of being the home of the Spirit and having preserved the authentic apostolic testimony in her rule of faith, liturgical action and general witness, possesses the indispensable key to Scripture, continued to operate as powerfully as in the days of Irenaeus and Tertullian . . . Athanasius himself, after dwelling on the entire adequacy of Scripture, went on to emphasize the desirability of having sound teachers to expound it. Against the Arians he flung the charge that they would never have made shipwreck of the faith had they held fast as a sheet-anchor to the . . . Church's peculiar and traditionally handed down grasp of the purport of revelation.

(
Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 5th edition of 1978, 45, 47)
Philip Schaff describes the general view of the Fathers on Bible and Tradition, in the period of 311-590 (including Athanasius):
The church view respecting the sources of Christian theology and the rule of faith and practice remains as it was in the previous period, except that it is further developed in particulars. The divine Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as opposed to human writings; and the oral tradition or living faith of the catholic church from the apostles down, as opposed to the varying opinions of heretical sects together form the one infallible source and rule of faith. Both are vehicles of the same substance: the saving revelation of God in Christ; with this difference in form and office, that the church tradition determines the canon, furnishes the key to the true interpretation of the Scriptures, and guards them against heretical abuse. The relation of the two in the mind of the ancient church may be illustrated by the relation between the supreme law of a country (such as the Roman law, the Code Napoleon, the common law of England, the Constitution of the United States) and the courts which expound the law, and decide between conflicting interpretations. Athanasius, for example, "the father of orthodoxy," always bases his conclusions upon Scripture, and appeals to the authority of tradition only in proof that he rightly understands and expounds the sacred books. The catholic faith, says he, is that which the Lord gave, the apostles preached, and the fathers have preserved; upon this the church is founded, and he who departs from this faith can no longer be called a Christian.

(History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974, from the fifth edition of 1910, § 118. Sources of Theology. Scripture and Tradition, 606; my emphasis)
The always partisan yet thoroughly fair-minded Schaff takes the position himself that Athanasius ' position is neither the present-day Catholic or Protestant one:
Voigt (Die Lehre des Athanasius, &c. p. 13 ff.) makes Athanasius even the representative of the formal principle of Protestantism, the supreme authority, sufficiency, and self-interpreting character of the Scriptures; while Möhler endeavors to place him on the Roman side. Both are biassed, and violate history by their preconceptions.

(Ibid., 607, footnote 1 / footnote 1290 in the online version)
I think it is seen that a doctrinally Catholic interpretation of such utterances by Athanasius is not dishonest or implausible at all. Granted, reasonable men of good faith and will can disagree. But Chemnitz must make out that Catholics are dishonest and insincere connivers. He picks up this theme in his Section VIII, his eighth category of traditions:

[B]y heaping up many dissimilar statements from the most ancient writings the papalists gain for their disputation a certain appearance and cloak, or rather a deceitful disguise. But it is sophistical that they whitewash all traditions, which are not of one kind, as the proverb has it, out of the same pot, in order that the simpler people may not notice the fraud. (p. 272)

Chemnitz lists those traditions that he claims cannot be supported in the least from Scripture:

. . . the mutilation of the Lord's Supper [presumably the sacrifice of the mass], the celibacy of priests, the choice of foods, purgatory, the traffic in indulgences, the cult of images, the legends of the saints, and, to sum it up: whatever the Roman Church believes, holds, and observes, which cannot be proved by any testimony of the Scripture . . . corruptions, abuses, and superstitions . . . (p. 274)

Earlier, he cited an opponent, Peter a Soto, claiming that he argued that the following things have no biblical warrant whatsoever:

"The offering of the sacrifice of the altar, the anointing with chrism, the invocation of the saints, the merits of works, the primacy of the Roman pontiff, the consecration of the water in Baptism, the whole sacrament of confirmation, the elements, words, and effects of the sacraments of ordination, of matrimony, and of extreme unction, prayers for the dead, the enumeration of sins to be made to the priest, the necessity of satisfaction." These are the words of a Soto . . . matters of the greatest importance. (pp. 273-274)

This creates a host of difficulties, as a Catholic need only show how numerous Fathers believe in several of these "corruptions." One could particularly cite those whom Chemnitz enlisted as supposed advocates of Scripture as the only norm of faith. How could they believe these things if they supposedly accepted only biblical proofs and evidences? I give patristic support for Catholic distinctives in many papers, notably in a lengthy overview. Of course, I also specialize also in biblical arguments for Catholic distinctives. I could cite literally dozens of my papers and book passages to confute all of these claims.

Let us look to St. Augustine, as one prime example, since he is the Lutherans' (and Calvinists) favorite Father, and was cited so many times by Chemnitz as a proponent of Bible-Only binding authority and the norm of faith. Augustine believed in merit:


The Lord made Himself a debtor not by receiving something, but by promising something. One does not say to Him "Pay for what You received," but, "Pay what You promised."
(Commentary on Psalms 83:16. From Jurgens, William A., ed. and tr., The Faith of the Early Fathers, 3 volumes, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1970, vol. 3, p.19)
You are glorified in the assembly of your Holy Ones, for in crowning their merits you are crowning your own gifts. (En. in Ps. 102:7; cf. Ep. 194, 5, 19)

He believed in penance and venial sins (as opposed to mortal):

When you shall have been baptized, keep to a good life in the commandments of God so that you may preserve your baptism to the very end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin, but they are venial sins which this life is never without. Baptism was instituted for all sins. For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted. . . . But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out. . . . In the Church, therefore, there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance.
(Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15, 8:16).

He believed in infused justification and denied the central "Reformation pillar" of sola fide ("faith alone"):
Now, if the wicked man were to be saved by fire on account of his faith only, and if this is the way the statement of the blessed Paul should be understood--"But he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire"--then faith without works would be sufficient to salvation. But then what the apostle James said would be false. And also false would be another statement of the same Paul himself: "Do not err," he says; "neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the unmanly, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of God."

(Enchiridion, Chapter XVIII, paragraph 3)
Augustine denied predestination to hell, or reprobation by divine decree, apart from human free will. He does not deny human free will, as Luther did in his famous Bondage of the Will. (Lutherans later softened their position on this, and departed from Luther's stricter position). St. Augustine believed in prayers for the dead, intercession of the saints, and purgatory:
Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended.

[Sermons: 159,1]

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 . . . For the whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers . . . 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.

[Sermons: 172,2]

The man who perhaps has not cultivated the land and has allowed it to be overrun with brambles has in this life the curse of his land on all his works, and after this life he will have either purgatorial fire or eternal punishment.

[Genesis Defended Against the Manicheans, 2,20,30]

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]

The prayer . . . is heard on behalf of certain of the dead; but it is heard for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not for the rest of their life in the body do such wickedness that they might be judged unworthy of such mercy, nor who yet lived so well that it might be supposed they have no need of such mercy.

[The City of God, 21,24,2]

That there should be some such 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.

[Enchiridion of Faith, Hope & Love, 18,69]

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 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 is offered for them, or when alms are given in the church.

[Enchiridion of Faith, Hope & Love, 29,109-110]

We read in the books of the Maccabees [2 Macc 12:43] that sacrifice was offered for the dead. But even if it were found nowhere in the Old Testament writings [Augustine regarded 1st and 2nd Maccabees as Scripture], the authority of the universal Church which is clear on this point is of no small weight, where in the prayers of the priest poured forth to the Lord God at His altar the commendation of the dead has its place.

[The Care That Should be Taken of the Dead, 1,3]
Augustine accepted the Sacrifice of the Mass (see my paper St. Augustine's Belief in the Real Presence). He also believed in papal supremacy and the jurisdiction and the primacy of Rome, Mary's sinlessness, and the so-called "Apocryphal" books of the Old Testament. Some "proto-Lutheran" huh? For further reading, see my papers:
St. Augustine: Are Reformed Protestants or Catholics Closer Theologically to His Teaching?

The Ambiguous Relationship of Luther and the Early Protestants to St. Augustine (Dave Armstrong and Dr. Edwin Tait)

Answers For An Inquiring "Bible Christian" on Bible and Tradition Issues (Particularly St. Augustine's Position)

Clarifications (Under Fire), of St. Augustine's Eucharistic Doctrine, and a Counter-Challenge to Protestants Who Try to "Co-Opt" Him

Refutation of James White on 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and Purgatory [includes lengthy citations from St. Augustine]

Lutheran Pastor Paul T. McCain's Extreme Insults of Pope Benedict XVI & Catholics & Concealment of What St. Augustine Actually Taught About Salvation (+ Discussion)

Is Sola Fide (Faith Alone) a Legitimate Development of Patristic & Augustinian Soteriology?
I've also engaged in a lengthy debate with a Lutheran friend (Parts one / two / three) about the sacrifice of the mass, which many fathers explicitly teach, and which Lutherans reject. I could go on and on with this patristic evidence that does not accord with Chemnitz' claims of a patristic-Lutheran affinity; there is so much overwhelming evidence.

Chemnitz repeatedly condemns innovation and corrupstion. Hence, again on p. 274, referring to doctrines which Catholics "foist on the churches under the name of traditions and for which they invent originators for themselves." Yet he fails to see (and detest with equal vigor) that Martin Luther departed in at least fifty ways (!!!) from received doctrinal precedent. Somehow he gets it exactly backwards and makes out that Catholics are the innovators (as well as reprobates):

[I]t must be a reprobate mind which can be persuaded in these dangerous times to forsake the clear light of the Scripture and to entrust his faith to the darkness of uncertain traditions. (p. 277)

On a humorous note, Chemnitz does detail a number of Fathers who went astray in various ways, according to a Lutheran orthodox understanding. He cites errors of St. Clement of Alexandria (pp. 279-283) and concludes:

I could quote very many similar things from the books of Clement about original sin, about free will, about freedom from passion, about perfection, about faith, about salvation, etc., which depart from the rule of the Scripture.

He goes on to chronicle errors of Origen, ending up with the lament:

But if in the best times of the primitive church the pretense and reputation of unwritten traditions was able to lead very outstanding men away from the sane and simple rule of faith to strange opinions, we certainly are warned by these examples to beware of the leaven of the Tridentine decree concerning the unwritten traditions, that they are to be received with the same devotion as the Holy Scripture itself . . . through the name, pretense, and reputation of the traditions outside of and contrary to Scripture both heretics and also great and rather good men in the church have been deceived and in turn have deceived others. (pp. 283-284)

That's all well and good. Why, however, if Chemnitz is so concerned about false teaching among "good men", does he not also chronicle (oh, to just pick a name out of a hat) Augustine's many "errors", according to Lutheran orthodoxy? The answer to my rhetorical question is obvious: that would go counter to the game plan of how Chemnitz wants to portray the Fathers. It wouldn't fit. It would be an anomaly and an embarrassment. So he simply omits any mention of such things. Clement of Alexandria and Origen are sufficient to make his point. Surely he couldn't have been so ignorant as to not know that Augustine believed many errors that he decried as wicked and evil and false. A half-truth is little better than a lie.

Chemnitz could have done that. He cited also errors of Basil and Tertullian (p. 285), Basil alone (pp. 292-293), Epiphanius (pp. 286-287, 290), Ambrose and Jerome (pp. 288-289), etc. But he won't mention anything where the beloved Augustine clearly comes down on the Catholic side. The one exception is when he mentions an error (from his perspective) of St. John Chrysostom (another great favorite of Protestants):

Epiphanius, in Contra Aerium, calls prayers for the dead a tradition of the church received from the fathers. others, indeed, adorn this tradition of the fathers with the title of apostolic tradition. So Chrysostom says in Homily 69: "Not rashly were these things sanctioned by the apostles, that at the awe-inspiring mysteries commemoration of the dead should be made." (p. 291)

Catholics are so pathetic, though, according to Chemnitz, that they go beyond even what he regards as false teachings in the Fathers:

[T]he papalists have and fight for so many such traditions for which they cannot even bring forth any testimonies from approved writings of the ancients, but are compelled either to invent or to use apocryphal, corrupted, or spurious writings falsely ascribed to ancient men. This observation, rightly considered, will show how much faith should be given to most papoalist traditions. (p. 299)

Chemnitz also goes after the (very early) letters of st. Ignatius:

[T]hey have many statements which are not to be despised, especially as they are read in the Greek. But there are also not a few other things mixed in which certainly do not represent apostolic dignity . . . those epistles are now adulterated . . . (p. 302)

What is therefore to be held of the things which lack the witness of Scripture, and which are quoted from these epistles of Ignatius as traditions of the apostles, is not obscure . . . In the same way certain spurious additions have been interpolated in the writings of almost all the fathers under their names. And of all the writings it is from these that the papalists most willingly take their proofs. (p. 303)

It so happens that there was a lively dispute in the 16th century over the authenticity of the letters of St. Ignatius. What has more modern scholarship determined about this controversy?
Chemnitz would not be pleased (assuming he wished to keep up his argument against the facts):
For a long time, however, many Protestant scholars continued to reject all the letters owing to their strong emphasis on episcopacy. The controversy was virtually settled in favour of the authenticity of the seven letters by J. Pearson's Vindiciae Epistolarum S. Ignatii (1672).

In the 19th cent. the dispute arose afresh . . . Lightfoot's learned defence of the authenticity of the seven letters in his monumental edition of the Apostolic Fathers (1885) has, however, won general acceptance.

(The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, second edition, edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstine, Oxford University Press, 1983, "St. Ignatius", 689)
Both Pearson and Lightfoot were Anglicans, by the way, so it is heartening to see that the truth won out by virtue of objective scholarship and research, rather than partisan, polemical considerations such as
confessional bias "owing to" the Ignatian letters' "strong emphasis on episcopacy".

I think the same dynamic could and should apply in the present examination of Chemnitz. Scholarship (often agreed-upon by the majority of Protestant historians of doctrine) and documentation is able to overcome the selective partisanship (where truly present) of a Lutheran selectively picking through the Fathers for passages that appear to support Lutheran distinctives (and omitting those that clearly do not).

We Catholics assuredly have our doctrinal and dogmatic biases, too (everyone does); yet I submit that there is a great abundance of patristic facts that can be strongly set forth as in accordance with Catholic positions. Hopefully, I have shown the proper respect for factuality and the actual reality of things, as best can be ascertained, and have not distorted the record or misrepresented anyone. I freely grant Martin Chemnitz his good faith and sincerity. I ask for the same consideration from Lutheran and other Protestants who care to take up the debate.

"Let the reader decide" -- having at least fairly observed decently respectable and adequate presentations of both sides of a debate, is always my motto . . .

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Critique of Martin Chemnitz' Examination of Trent: Bible, Tradition, and the Church Fathers, Part I (Preliminaries, St. Irenaeus, & Tertullian)


This is the third installment of what is to be a lengthy series of replies to the prominent 16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz' Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1971; translated by Fred Kramer) -- and probably volumes 2-4 also, as time permits. Here are the first two:

Martin Chemnitz is "The Man" for Lutherans; It's Time to Address His Arguments Directly

Critique of Martin Chemnitz' Examination of Trent: Scripture I (Poisoning the Well as to the Catholic Rule of Faith and Veneration of Holy Scripture)
When we left off, I had read the first hundred pages of Chemnitz' Examen, Volume I. Now I've read the entire section on Bible and Tradition (minus the sections on canonicity and vernacular, because those are important but distinctly separate issues, and I have more than enough on my plate at the moment): up to page 315.

I do give the man a great deal of credit indeed for offering a substantive, clearly presented, articulate, well-formulated and thought-through argument, presented with a relative minimum of unhelpful polemics, which is highly unusual for that time (I did note unpleasant examples of those things last time, yet he is among the least polemical of Protestant writers of that period that I have seen). Of course, I continue to strongly disagree on the presuppositional level. Chemnitz (as I discussed last time) takes the view that the Church Fathers are far more like Lutherans than Catholics. I take the opposite view (big surprise).

The big dispute, then, between the two parties, is over the correct identity of the true legatees of the patristic, early Church heritage of theology. That battle must be fought by means of competing historical facts. One has to examine the relevant writings (for any given issue) of the Fathers and can make judgments of factuality and truth and falsity. It's not a subjective enterprise but very much an objective one. One cannot pick and choose and select what they like and simply ignore or omit or deny the existence of what doesn't fit into their own theological schema or worldview or set of dogmas. Both sides must take the greatest pains not to do this.

Chemnitz, for many pages, presents scriptural testimony that Scripture is central and primary in Christianity. Since we Catholics do not in the slightest disagree with that, I have no beef, and so need not critique those lengthy sections. He then proceeds (pp. 150-168) to show that the Fathers held to the same view. Of course they did, and again, we agree., and so again, there is no need to offer any critique. He next takes up the matters of canonicity (pp. 168-196) and vernacular translations (pp. 196-207). I have chosen to pass over those sections for the time being. Perhaps at a later date I will look at them. Presently, I am interested in the important question of the Rule of Faith.

Starting on page 207, Chemnitz writes about "the Interpretation of Scripture." That takes us more directly into the territory of authority, sola Scriptura, and so forth, then from pages 223 to 315 he examines in the greatest (and most impressive) detail, what he classifies as eight kinds of tradition. Here we will get to the substance of the deepest disagreements between Catholics and Lutherans, on the Bible and (or "vs.") Tradition issue. I am delighted to have this opportunity to offer a Catholic critique of his overall arguments.

Without further ado, I shall now proceed, with his words in blue. When he directly cites a Church Father, the words will be in purple (and the Father's name often bolded: all bolding will be my own). When I do the same, using another source, the words will be in green (I'll follow this color scheme throughout these papers).

Chemnitz in this latter section (pp. 207-315) expresses what he sees as the Fathers' relationship to the Lutheran understanding of Christian authority and the Rule of Faith:

General Lutheran Perspective on the Fathers

. . . the saying of Jerome remains in force: "Whatever does not have authority in Holy Scripture can be rejected as easily as it can be approved."

This is the chief point of the controversy between us and the papalists. (p. 101)

Because it was not a contrary, nor a different, nor another, but one and the same doctrine which Paul delivered either by word of mouth or by epistle. (p. 109)

[to which Catholics say, "of course!" and "Amen!" -- "twin fonts of the same divine wellspring . . ."]

We have therefore the testimony of the ancient church concerning the perfection and sufficiency of the Scripture, namely, that it contains all things which are necessary for faith and morals for living, so that it is the rule, canon, and norm by which all things which are to be received as the Word of God in matters of religion must be proved and confirmed, (p. 161)

And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church in the true and sound understanding of the Scripture. Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church. (pp. 208-209)

[W]e love and value greatly the true and sound interpretations which agree with the rules which we have quoted from the fathers. (p. 211)

[W]hen the papalists have transformed any statement of Scripture so that it agrees with their own corruptions, they search diligently in the writings of the fathers that they may scrape together from them a few statements which will in some way defend their purpose. (p. 212)

Jerome writes to Minerius and Alexander: "My intention is to read the ancients, to test everything, to retain what is good, and not to depart from the faith of the catholic church." (p. 212)

[B]ecause the word "traditions" was not used by the ancients in one and the same way, and because the traditions of which mention is made in the writings of the ancients are not all of the same kind, the papalists sophistically mix together such testimonies without discrimination and, as the saying goes, whitewash all traditions from one pot in order that they may disguise them under the pretext and appearance of antiquity." (p. 220)

It is undeniably the truest of axioms that that alone is the true doctrine which the apostles transmitted and which the primitive church professed as received from the apostles. (p. 225)

Irenaeus says that all these things were "in agreement with the Scriptures." . . . The papalists, however, contend for such traditions as cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture . . . the papalists expressly affirm that their traditions cannot be proved by any testimony of the Scripture. (p. 226)

Therefore the first kind of traditions is this, that the apostles delivered the doctrine orally, but this was afterwards set down in writing in the Scripture. Apostolic men also proclaimed many things received from the apostles, but "all these agreed with the Holy Scriptures." And certainly these considerations give no protection to the traditions of the papalists, which cannot be proved by any testimony of Scripture, as they themselves confess. It must, however, be observed in connection with this first kind of traditions how fraudulently the papalists quote and treat the testimonies of Scripture and of antiquity in order to establish and confirm their spurious traditions. (p. 226)

[E]lsewhere he [St. Augustine] pronounces the anathema on those who preach anything outside of the things which we have received in the Scriptures of the Law and of the Gospel . . . this second kind of traditions leads us to the Scripture and binds us to the voice of doctrine that sounds forth in it . . . (p. 228)

There is a very great difference between the primitive church, which was at the time of the apostles and of apostolic men testifying with regard to the books of Holy Scripture, and the papal church, which is foisting its fictions as apostolic traditions on us without proof.

Where the fathers describe this tradition concerning the books of Scripture, they prove it from the testimonies of the primitive church . . . they affirm that the things which were handed down by the apostles were all in harmony with the Holy Scriptures . . . Therefore we have it from the tradition of the fathers itself how one must judge what are true apostolic traditions, as Jerome says commenting on the first chapter of Haggai: "The sword of God, which is the living Word of God, strikes through the things which men of their own accord, without the authority and testimonies of Scripture, invent and think up, pretending that it is apostolic tradition." Therefore the tradition of the church commends the books of Holy Scripture to us in such a way that it reminds us that all other things must be examined according to it . . . [ellipses in the original] and that the things which are in agreement with it must be accepted but what does not agree, even if it is put forth as apostolic tradition, must be struck down by the sword of the Word of God. (pp. 228-229)

Chemnitz's Appeal to St. Irenaeus as a Supposed Proto-Lutheran Falls Flat

Chemnitz cites St. Irenaeus as a supposed witness to the Lutheran Rule of Faith, and brings as evidence his famous work, Against Heresies, Book III, chapters 3 and 4; mentioning the first sentence of the former and a paragraph or so of the latter (on p. 231). He summarizes thusly:

[B]oth Irenaeus and Tertullian [De praescriptione] expressly tell us concerning which dogmas of the faith this dispute was undertaken; for they recite almost word for word those articles of faith which today make up the symbol called the Apostles' Creed. Can these articles of faith not be proved, demonstrated, and established from Scripture? . . . And Irenaeus does nothing else in Books 3, 4, and 5 than to prove and confirm those articles at length from Scripture, and to take from the testimonies of Scripture refutation of the perversions that conflict with these articles. . . . Let this be observed, for then the reader will know with what cunning the papalists twist these arguments of Irenaeus and Tertullian to their traditions, concerning which they themselves confess that they cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture. (pp. 232-233)

I find this fascinating and more than a little ironic, since Against Heresies, Book III, chapter 3, is perhaps the most famous of all of Irenaeus' arguments in favor of apostolic succession, episcopacy (bishops), the primacy of Rome, and indeed, even the papacy: all of which Chemnitz would reject as unbiblical. So we see here a situation where Chemnitz tries mightily hard to "spin" Irenaeus in a Lutheran direction, but the facts of the matter simply do not support his interpretation (and rather strikingly so at that).

He claims that Irenaeus is doing "nothing else" in three entire books of this treatise than proving everything right from Scripture. And of course, the sinister Catholics are the ones who twist his words for their own nefarious (and invariably anti-biblical) ends. Well,
you be the judge, by reading for yourself. Here is the entirety of Book III, chapter 3, from the standard Schaff (Protestant-edited and translated) collection of the Fathers, available online (bolded emphases my own):

Chapter III.—A refutation of the heretics, from the fact that, in the various Churches, a perpetual succession of bishops was kept up.

1. It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to “the perfect” apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity.

2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.

3. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome despatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the tradition which it had lately received from the apostles, proclaiming the one God, omnipotent, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator of man, who brought on the deluge, and called Abraham, who led the people from the land of Egypt, spake with Moses, set forth the law, sent the prophets, and who has prepared fire for the devil and his angels. From this document, whosoever chooses to do so, may learn that He, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, was preached by the Churches, and may also understand the apostolical tradition of the Church, since this Epistle is of older date than these men who are now propagating falsehood, and who conjure into existence another god beyond the Creator and the Maker of all existing things. To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.

4. But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,—a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,—that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me?” “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” [Tit. iii. 10]. There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.
"Nothing else" but confirming and proving articles for Scripture?!?! This entire chapter has exactly one biblical reference, about rebuking heretics. But the father discusses many quite "Catholic" and distinctly non-Lutheran things: none with direct biblical proofs in the immediate context. Yet, if Chemnitz is right about Irenaeus, the latter must himself believe that biblical proofs can be adduced for them; otherwise, St. Irenaeus is guilty of the same heinous error that Chemnitz often accuses "papalists" of committing: coming up with doctrines without biblical support). In any event, here are the "Catholic" notions that St. Irenaeus discusses with the most serene confidence that they are true (almost assuming that demonstration need not be given; they are so obviously true):
1) Perpetual succession of bishops (this the Lutherans rejected and put in their place the rule of secular bishops, which even Melanchthon and to a lesser extent Luther, lamented in later years).

2) The apostles instituted bishops (this also the Lutherans reject, or else (quite obviously) they would have retained bishops and apostolic succession as patristically understood, since this was (in Irenaeus' understanding) clearly an apostolic practice, having been literally instituted by the apostles.

3) Peter and Paul founded the preeminent Church of Rome (many Protestants -- I don't know about Chemnitz or confessional Lutheranism offhand -- reject this and even deny that Peter was ever in Rome, or was bishop of Rome, etc.). But Chemnitz, of course, thinks that the Church of Rome had forsaken the true apostolic faith at some point, so that schism was necessary. That is not what Irenaeus would have held at all. He would have stated -- like Catholics -- that the one true Church (a real, historical institution, headed by the pope in Rome) cannot, could not possibly defect from the true faith. Rejection of the Catholic Church and rejection of apostolic succession thus necessarily go hand in hand.

4) Every Church should agree with the Church of Rome (the Catholic Church). This was obviously rejected by Lutherans and all Protestants. Yet they continue to claim St. Irenaeus as one of their own in this respect of authority and Scripture.

5) Early papal succession is given.

6)
"things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true." No mention of Scripture here (note the key word "alone"). Nor is it logically required to deduce from this that absolutely everything that the Church declares has express, explicit sanction in Scripture. For Irenaeus and Catholics, such things need only be harmonious and consistent with Scripture.

7) The Church of Rome was already acting with authority over other churches (letter of First Clement: a sort of primitive papal encyclical).
Sorry, this is simply not the Lutheran Rule of Faith, or sola Scriptura. It is episcopal, papal, Catholicism, pure and simple. And I think Chemnitz certainly knew enough to know better than to deny it. It's simply a case of reading the Fathers through the lens of Lutheran tradition. In a word, Chemnitz was blinded by his confessional bias and couldn't accurately report the true nature of St. Irenaeus' opinions on the matters at hand. And Irenaeus is one of his favorite Fathers to cite (St. Augustine being the only other one to rival him). If he argues this badly in this case, do we not have a clear indication of how biased the rest of his presentation is likely to be? I'm sure many similar examples will be highlighted as we pursue our critique.

Chemnitz and Lutherans, in light of all this, are burdened with a huge logical dilemma. It can be concisely expressed in the following fashion:

1) Martin Chemnitz claims that St. Irenaeus, in his famous work Against Heresies, only taught that which is expressly taught in Holy Scripture (a position agreeable to Lutheran and general Protestant adherence to sola Scriptura).

2) But Irenaeus taught in this treatise things rejected by Lutherans, such as episcopacy, apostolic succession, apostles' choosing of bishops to succeed them, Roman primacy, the papacy, Roman authority over other local churches, as a universal doctrinal standard, and truth as determined solely by apostolic succession [yet without pitting this manifest authority against Scripture]. That is no less than seven things which are not agreeable to Lutheranism [and in just one chapter!].

3) The above two propositions admit of only so many explanations; primarily (if not only) two:

A) The notions of episcopacy, apostolic succession, apostles' choosing of bishops to succeed them, Roman primacy, the papacy, Roman authority over other local churches, as a universal doctrinal standard, and truth as determined solely by apostolic succession are all doctrines expressly taught in Holy Scripture.

or:

B) St. Irenaeus in fact, did not hold only to doctrines expressly taught in Scripture and accepted some notion that is contrary to sola Scriptura.
4) If A is true, then Lutheranism has departed from biblical teaching in at least these seven ways.

5) If B is true, on the other hand, then Chemnitz has wrongly characterized Irenaeus' views and must revise and retract his presentation. St. Irenaeus would be seen to have rejected sola Scriptura or, at any rate, some primitive version of it, allegedly more "[proto-] Lutheran" than Catholic.

6) Ergo: either way, Chemnitz is overthrown by demonstrable fact and logic (which has to do with the relationship of facts and truths one to another). And St. Irenaeus is seen to be far closer to Catholic teaching in this regard than Lutheran.
The Church preserves the truth. This truth will always assuredly be in line with Scripture, and never contrary to it, but it remains true that it is proper to write as Irenaeus does, without mentioning Scripture, and to be perfectly accurate doing so, just as one can say either "Jesus is God" and "Jesus is Man" without being guilty of an inaccuracy. Lutherans and other Protestants, however, always want to de-emphasize the role of the authoritative Church, because sola Scriptura requires them to (unbiblically) deny that anything but Scripture can ever be infallible.

Chemnitz was wise to not attempt a citation of St. Irenaeus with regard to interpretation of Scripture, for this eminent Father says some exceedingly un-Lutheran things about that, too, in the same work:

CHAP. XXVI. - THE TREASURE HID IN THE SCRIPTURES IS CHRIST; THE TRUE EXPOSITION OF THE SCRIPTURES IS TO BE FOUND IN THE CHURCH ALONE.

2. Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church, - those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismaries puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth . . .

4. From all such persons, therefore, it be-bores us to keep aloof, but to adhere to those who, as I have already observed, do hold the doctrine of the apostles, and who, together with the order of priesthood (presbyterii ordine), display sound speech and blameless conduct for the confirmation and correction of others . . .

5. Such presbyters does the Church nourish . . . Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behoves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles? and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love [which we have] for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.

(Against Heresies, 4, 26, 2,4-5; chapter 26 is entitled, "THE TREASURE HID IN THE SCRIPTURES IS CHRIST; THE TRUE EXPOSITION OF THE SCRIPTURES IS TO BE FOUND IN THE CHURCH ALONE")
St. Irenaeus very clearly expresses the dogmatic authority of the Church, bound up with apostolic succession. No one can deny this authority. But sure enough, Luther and the Lutherans (and all Protestants following them) did. Thus Chemnitz expressly contradicts St. Irenaeus' teaching above, with the following words:

[T]hey contend that the gift of interpretation is so bound to the regular succession of the bishops . . . they imagine that the gift of interpretation is inseparately
[translator typo?: seemingly should be "inseparably"?] bound to the throne of the bishops. But this is false . . .(p. 209)

There is therefore no dictatorial or pontifical authority of interpretation in the church . . . (p. 211)

Yet that is exactly what St. Irenaeus taught above. So that Father must go "down" with the Catholic Church, to the extent that Chemnitz condemns the latter on this issue. It's a matter of rudimentary consistency and historical fact. If the Catholic apologist like myself (or patristics scholar, or biographer, etc., etc.) can demonstrate that on such-and-such a point some Father agreed far more with Catholicism, then Chemnitz ought to have conceded that point and to have condemned the Father along with his condemnations of Catholic teaching and authority. They are one and the same.

This is a classic instance, and I will demonstrate dozens of similar ones as I proceed. The Catholic case gets inevitably stronger as the accumulation of patristic evidence piles up. But Chemnitz (with some few exceptions) does not want to present this sort of anomalous evidence because it doesn't support his case that Lutheranism is the true inheritor and preserver of the patristic theological legacy. I've always contended that Catholics need not fear patristic evidence anymore than they need fear the Bible, as both are firmly on our side, over against any form of Protestantism, where the latter depart from our doctrines.

For much more documentation about St. Irenaeus' view of the Bible and Tradition issue, see section IX of Part II of my paper: Reply to Jason Engwer's "Catholic But Not Roman Catholic" Series on the Church Fathers: Sola Scriptura: An In-Depth Analysis of Ten Church Fathers' Views Pertaining to the Rule of Faith.

I cited several Protestant scholars' appraisal of Irenaeus' views. Here are some highlights:
Besides appealing to the Scriptures, the fathers, particularly Irenaeus and Tertullian, refer with equal confidence to the "rule of faith;" that is, the common faith of the church, as orally handed down in the unbroken succession of bishops from Christ and his apostles to their day, and above all as still living in the original apostolic churches, like those of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome. Tradition is thus intimately connected with the primitive episcopate. The latter was the vehicle of the former, and both were looked upon as bulwarks against heresy.

Irenaeus confronts the secret tradition of the Gnostics with the open and unadulterated tradition of the catholic church, and points to all churches, but particularly to Rome, as the visible centre of the unity of doctrine. All who would know the truth, says he, can see in the whole church the tradition of the apostles; and we can count the bishops ordained by the apostles, and their successors down to our time, who neither taught nor knew any such heresies. Then, by way of example, he cites the first twelve bishops of the Roman church from Linus to Eleutherus, as witnesses of the pure apostolic doctrine. He might conceive of a Christianity without scripture, but he could not imagine a Christianity without living tradition; and for this opinion he refers to barbarian tribes, who have the gospel, "sine charta et atramento," written in their hearts.

(Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970; reproduction of 5th revised edition of 1910, Chapter XII, section 139, "Catholic Tradition," 525-526)

His most characteristic thought, however, is that the Church is the sole repository of the truth, and is such because it has a monopoly of the apostolic writings, the apostolic oral tradition and the apostolic faith. Because of its proclamation of this one faith inherited from the apostles, the Church, scattered as it is throughout the entire world, can claim to be one [haer. 1,10,2]. Hence his emphasis [E.g., ib. 1,9,4; 1,10,1 f; 1,22,1] on 'the canon of the truth', i.e. the framework of doctrine which is handed down in the Church and which, in contrast to the variegated teachings of the Gnostics, is identical and self-consistent everywhere. In a previous chapter we noted his theory that the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back to the apostles themselves provides a guarantee that this faith is identical with the message which they originally proclaimed.

(J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, HarperSanFrancisco, revised 1978 edition, 192)

But where in practice was this apostolic testimony or tradition to be found? . . . The most obvious answer was that the apostles had committed it orally to the Church, where it had been handed down from generation to generation. Irenaeus believed that this was the case, stating [Haer. 5, praef] that the Church preserved the tradition inherited from the Apostles and passed it on to her children. It was, he thought, a living tradition which was, in principle, independent of written documents; and he pointed [Ib. 3,4,1 f.] to barbarian tribes which 'received this faith without letters'. Unlike the alleged secret tradition of the Gnostics, it was entirely public and open, having been entrusted by the apostles to their successors, and by these in turn to those who followed them, and was visible in the Church for all who cared to look for it [Ib. 3,2-5]. It was his argument with the Gnostics which led him to apply [Ib. 3,2-5 (16 times)]the word 'tradition', in a novel and restricted sense, specifically to the Church's oral teaching as distinct from that contained in Scripture. For practical purposes this tradition could be regarded as finding expression in what he called 'the canon of the truth'. By this he meant, as his frequent allusions [E.g. ib. 1,10,1 f; 1,22,1; 5,20,1; dem. 6] to and citations from it prove, a condensed summary, fluid in its wording but fixed in content, setting out the key-points of the Christian revelation in the form of a rule. Irenaeus makes two further points. First, the identity of oral tradition with the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back lineally to the apostles [Cf. haer. 3,2,2; 3,3,3; 3,4,1]. Secondly, an additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message was committed to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit [E.g. ib. 3,24,1]. Indeed, the Church's bishops are on his view Spirit-endowed men who have been vouchsafed 'an infalible charism of truth' (charisma veritatis certum [Ib. 4,26,2; cf. 4,26,5] ).
On the other hand, Irenaeus took it for granted that the apostolic tradition had also been deposited in written documents. As he says, [Haer. 3,1,1] what the apostles at first proclaimed by word of mouth, they afterwards by God's will conveyed to us in Scriptures . . . the New [Testament] was in his eyes the written formulation of the apostolic tradition . . . [Ib. 3,1,1; cf. 3,1,2; 3,10,6; 3,14,2] . . . Irenaeus was satisfied [Ib. 2,27,2] that, provided the Bible was taken as a whole, its teaching was self-evident. The heretics who misinterpreted it only did so because, disregarding its underlying unity, they seized upon isolated passages and rearranged them to suit their own ideas. [Ib. 1,8,1; 1,9,1-4] Scripture must be interpreted in the light of its fundamental ground-plan, viz. the original revelation itself. For that reason correct exegesis was the prerogative of the Church, where the apostolic doctrine which was the key to Scripture had been kept intact. [Ib. 4,26,5; 4,32,1; 5,20,2]
Did Irenaeus subordinate Scripture to unwritten tradition? This inference has been commonly drawn, but it issues from a somewhat misleading antithesis. its plausibility depends on such considerations as (a) that, in controversy with the Gnostics, tradition rather than Scripture seemed to be his final court of appeal, and (b) thathe apparently relied upon tradition to establish the true exegesis of Scripture. But a careful analysis of his Adversus haereses reveals that, while the Gnostics' appeal to their supposed secret tradition forced him to stress the superiority of the Church's public tradition, his real defence of orthodoxy was founded on Scripture. [Cf. ib. 2,35,4; 3, praef.; 3,2,1; 3,5,1; 4, praef., 5, praef.] Indeed, tradition itself, on his view, was confirmed by Scripture, which was 'the foundation and pillar of our faith'. [Ib. 3, praef.; 3,1,1] Secondly, Irenaeus admittedly suggested [Ib. 1,9,4] that a firm grasp of 'the canon of the truth' received at baptism would prevent a man from distorting the sense of Scripture. But this 'canon', so far from being something distinct from scripture, was simply a condensation of the message contained in it. Being by its very nature normative in form, it provided a man with a handy clue to Scripture, whose very ramifications played into the hands of heretics. The whole point of his teaching wa, in fact, that Scripture and the Church's unwritten tradition are identical in content, both being vehicles of the revelation. If tradition as conveyed in the 'canon' is a more trustworthy guide, this is not because it comprises truths other than those revealed in Scripture, but because the true tenor of the apostolic message is there unambiguously set out.
(Early Christian Doctrines, HarperSanFrancisco, revised 1978 edition, 37-39; cf. similar statements from Kelly on pages 44 and 47)
See also another lengthy citation from Lutheran historian Jaroslav Pelikan in my above-mentioned paper, along with several comparisons to Vatican II teaching which are virtually identical to what St. Irenaeus was expressing, seen above, and commented upon by Schaff, Kelly, and Pelikan.

St. Irenaeus, in effect, rejects the path taken by the Lutherans, in going their own way, rejecting Catholic Church authority, in this passage:


1. Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches; which fact I have in the third book taken all pains to demonstrate. It follows, then, as a matter of course, that these heretics aforementioned, since they are blind to the truth, and deviate from the [right] way, will walk in various roads; and therefore the footsteps of their doctrine are scattered here and there without agreement or connection. But the path of those belonging to the Church circumscribes the whole world, as possessing the sure tradition from the apostles, and gives unto us to see that the faith of all is one and the same, since all receive one and the same God the Father, and believe in the same dispensation regarding the incarnation of the Son of God, and are cognizant of the same gift of the Spirit, and are conversant with the same commandments, and preserve the same form of ecclesiastical constitution, and expect the same advent of the Lord, and await the same salvation of the complete man, that is, of the soul and body. And undoubtedly the preaching of the Church is true and stedfast, in which one and the same way of salvation is shown throughout the whole world. For to her is entrusted the light of God; and therefore the "wisdom" of God, by means of which she saves all men, "is declared in [its] going forth; it uttereth [its voice] faithfully in the streets, is preached on the tops of the walls, and speaks continually in the gates of the city." For the Church preaches the truth everywhere, and she is the seven-branched candlestick which bears the light of Christ.
2. Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters, not taking into consideration of how much greater consequence is a religious man, even in a private station, than a blasphemous and impudent sophist. Now, such are all the heretics, and those who imagine that they have hit upon something more beyond the truth, so that by following those things already mentioned, proceeding on their way variously, in harmoniously, and foolishly, not keeping always to the same opinions with regard to the same things, as blind men are led by the blind, they shall deservedly fall into the ditch of ignorance lying in their path, ever seeking and never finding out the truth. It behoves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and to take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord's Scriptures . . .
(Against Heresies, 5, 20, 1-2)

Chemnitz's Appeal to Tertullian as a Supposed Proto-Lutheran Falls Flat

Note again what Chemnitz wrote about Tertullian regarding the rule of faith:
[B]oth Irenaeus and Tertullian [De praescriptione] expressly tell us concerning which dogmas of the faith this dispute was undertaken; for they recite almost word for word those articles of faith which today make up the symbol called the Apostles' Creed. Can these articles of faith not be proved, demonstrated, and established from Scripture? . . . Let this be observed, for then the reader will know with what cunning the papalists twist these arguments of Irenaeus and Tertullian to their traditions, concerning which they themselves confess that they cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture. (pp. 232-233)

As to Tertullian seeking to ground all doctrine in Scripture, or harmonious with Scripture (meaning that there may not always be explicit proofs, as Chemnitz himself later concedes with regard to, e.g., infant baptism) we have no disagreement. Catholics believe the same. Yet in this same work, Tertullian clearly opts for the binding authority of apostolic succession and the Church: exactly what Chemnitz and Lutherans deny:

Chapter 19. Appeal, in Discussion of Heresy, Lies Not to the Scriptures. The Scriptures Belong Only to Those Who Have the Rule of Faith.

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. But even if a discussion from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss:"With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?" For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.

[ . . . ]

Chapter 21. All Doctrine True Which Comes Through the Church from the Apostles, Who Were Taught by God Through Christ. All Opinion Which Has No Such Divine Origin and Apostolic Tradition to Show, is Ipso Facto False.


From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for "no man knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." Matthew 11:27 Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles, whom He sent forth to preach—that, of course, which He revealed to them. Now, what that was which they preached—in other words, what it was which Christ revealed to them—can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves, both vivâ voce, as the phrase is, and subsequently by their epistles. If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches—those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth.

[ . . . ]

Chapter 28. The One Tradition of the Faith, Which is Substantially Alike in the Churches Everywhere, a Good Proof that the Transmission Has Been True and Honest in the Main.

Grant, then, that all have erred; that the apostle was mistaken in giving his testimony; that the Holy Ghost had no such respect to any one (church) as to lead it into truth, although sent with this view by Christ, John 14:26 and for this asked of the Father that He might be the teacher of truth; John 15:26 grant, also, that He, the Steward of God, the Vicar of Christ, neglected His office, permitting the churches for a time to understand differently, (and) to believe differently, what He Himself was preaching by the apostles,—is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith? No casualty distributed among many men issues in one and the same result. Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues. When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition. Can any one, then, be reckless enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition?

[ . . . ]

Chapter 32. None of the Heretics Claim Succession from the Apostles. New Churches Still Apostolic, Because Their Faith is that Which the Apostles Taught and Handed Down. The Heretics Challenged to Show Any Apostolic Credentials.

But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind. For after their blasphemy, what is there that is unlawful for them (to attempt)? But should they even effect the contrivance, they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner. To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine. Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith.


(The Prescription Against Heretics, chapters 19, 21, 28, 32)
Chemnitz doesn't write like this; most Protestants do not. This is (again) Catholicism. It is perfectly permissible to say that truth is grounded in apostolic succession and the Church grounded therein. It is also true to say that truth is grounded in Holy Scripture, The two do not contradict. But they need not always be stated together. Chemnitz will only state them together while stressing over and over again that Scripture is over Tradition and the Church.

But Tertullian, Irenaeus, and other Fathers saw no need to dichotomize and categorize like that. They simply didn't think in those terms (as historians of doctrine have stressed). It requires revisionism and historical anachronism to make out that they thought like 16th century Lutherans on these issues. Chemnitz has the same exact problem, then, with Tertullian here, that he had with Irenaeus (since he made the same exact argument for both, and both are seen to not conform to his characterization). Hence, Anglican historian J.N.D. Kelly summarizes Tertullian's view (over against Chemnitz' interpretation):
[F]for Tertullain what was believed and preached in the churches was absolutely authoritative [Kelly cited the passage above as proof] . . . on occasion [he] described this original message as tradition, using the word to denote the teaching delivered by the apostles, without any implied contrast between tradition and Scripture . . . Tertullian can refer [Ib. 21; c. Marc. I, 21;4 5] to the whole body of apostolic doctrine, whether delivered orally or in epistles, as apostolorum traditio or apostolica traditio . . .

Tertullian's attitude does not differ from Irenaeus's in any important respect . . . In its primary sense, however, the apostolic, evangelical or Catholic tradition [C. Marc. 4, 5; 5, 19; de monog. 2] stood for the faith delivered by the apostles, and he never contrasted tradition so understood with Scripture . . .

But Tertullian did not confine the apostolic tradition to the New Testament; even if Scripture were to be set on one side, it would still be found in the doctrine publicly proclaimed by the churches. Like Irenaeus, he found [E.g., de praescr. 21; 32; c. Marc. 4, 5] the surest test of the authenticity of this doctrine in the fact that the churches had been founded by, and were continuously linked with, the apostles; and as a further guarantee he added [De praescr. 28] their otherwise inexplicable unanimity . . .

This unwritten tradition he considered to be virtually identical with the 'rule of faith' (regula fidei), which he preferred to Scripture as a standard when disputing with Gnostics . . . where controversy with heretics breaks out, the right interpretation can be found only where the true Christian faith and discipline have been maintained, i.e., in the Church [De praescr. 19] . . .

He was also satisfied, and made the point even more forcibly than Irenaeus, that the indispensable key to Scripture belonged exclusively to the Church, which in the regula had preserved the apostles' testimony in its original shape. . . . the one divine revelation was contained in its fulness both in the Bible and in the Church's continuous public witness.

(Early Christian Doctrines, ibid., 36, 39-41)
This is absolutely contrary and antithetical to Chemnitz' interpretation of what Tertullian taught about the Rule of Faith. And it is, I think, sufficiently documented from the relevant primary sources (whereas Chemnitz blithely ignores the massive counter-evidence so that his readers remain utterly ignorant of it).

The above two instances are just two of many , many of the same ahistorical dilemma faced by Lutherans, who claim to be in line with patristic teaching. Chemnitz' claims for these two great figures were examined and found to be desperately wanting. He failed. I won't maintain that he was deliberately lying or twisting or being a sophist (i.e., all the things he accuses Catholics of). But he is simply flat-wrong, incorrect, in error, mistaken. If someone disagrees, they are more than welcome (in fact, highly encouraged!) to overthrow my arguments and documentation in support of them.

Now, bearing in mind what we have already seen, of the surprising weakness and groundlessness of Chemnitz' argument, observe the absurdity and untruth of what he writes after he makes it:

[W]e say, and the obviousness of the matter confirms it, that there is a greater difference between the primitive apostolic church and the papal kingdom than there is between heaven and earth. Therefore they must prove that their church is apostolic before they can arrogate this privilege to themselves . . . (pp. 235-236)

[T]his will be the question, whether Irenaeus and Tertullian were setting forth and proving another and different doctrine than the one handed down in the Scripture, that is, whether they argued and showed that the church at that time had many teachings and mysteries of the faith from traditions which could not be proved from any testimony of Scripture. That this is the point of controversy between us and the papalists we have already said repeatedly. (p. 236)

The reason, however, why they appealed to tradition. although they had many and very firm testimonies in Scripture, we have set forth above, namely, that they might show the agreement between the true apostolic tradition and the Scripture. (p. 236)

For not even one iota can be shown in the whole disputation of
Irenaeus and Tertullian about any dogma which they put forth from tradition alone in such a way that it cannot be proved by any testimony of Scripture. (p. 236)

Irenaeus afterward proves at length from the Scripture the same thing that he had first shown from tradition. (p. 237)

He [Irenaeus] does not speak of dogmas of faith which cannot be proved by any testimony of Scripture. (p. 238)

For we have shown that
Irenaeus and Tertullian prove the agreement of the apostolic tradition with the Scripture, so that tradition may not be set in opposition to the Scripture. . . . (p. 239)

When, therefore, traditions are set forth which do not agree with the Scripture and which cannot be shown and proved from the Scripture, it is quite certain that they are not apostolic . . . For this reason I diligently commend to the reader this disputation of Irenaeus and of Tertullian. (p. 239)

If therefore someone asks with true and pious zeal what is the truly ancient and apostolic tradition, it is not necessary to invent fables about purgatory, holy water, and the like. For
Irenaeus and Tertullian, in that disputation about which we have already said so much, do not speak only in general, but they show, describe, and tell clearly in express words what the apostolic tradition is. (p. 240)

These genuine, ancient, and true traditions of the apostles we embrace with deepest reverence. (p. 246)

Alright; if Chemnitz is so reverential towards "true traditions" taught by the likes of Tertullian, then I wonder what he would have thought about the following beliefs ("fables"?), espoused by Tertullian? Did he get these from the Bible, too, just as he supposedly always does (according to Chemnitz)?:

And how long shall we draw the saw to and fro through this line, when we have an ancient practice, which by anticipation has made for us the state, i.e., of the question? If no passage of Scripture has prescribed it, assuredly custom, which without doubt flowed from tradition, has confirmed it. For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down? Even in pleading tradition, written authority, you say, must be demanded. Let us inquire, therefore, whether tradition, unless it be written, should not be admitted. Certainly we shall say that it ought not to be admitted, if no cases of other practices which, without any written instrument, we maintain on the ground of tradition alone, and the countenance thereafter of custom, affords us any precedent . . . As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honours.

(The Crown [De Corona], 3, 3, my emphasis; The birthday "anniversary" is a commemoration of the date of death: i.e., a saved person's birthday into eternal life)

Indeed, she prays for his soul, and requests refreshment for him meanwhile, and fellowship (with him) in the first resurrection; and she offers (her sacrifice) on the anniversaries of his falling asleep.

(Monogamy, 10; my emphasis)
I shall conclude with a marvelous contra-Protestant argument made by Cardinal Newman, regarding this very belief of Tertullian's, comparing its authority to that of his espousal of the canonicity of Philemon (it has much relevance to Chemnitz's own incoherence and inconsistency with regard to patristic beliefs, compared to Lutheran and Catholic)


For instance; the first Father who expressly mentions Commemorations for the Dead in Christ (such as we still have in substance at the end of the prayer for the Church Militant, where it was happily restored in 1662, having been omitted a century earlier), is Tertullian, about a hundred years after St. John's death. This, it is said, is not authority early enough to prove that that Ordinance is Apostolical, though succeeding Fathers, Origen, St. Cyprian, Eusebius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, etc., bear witness to it ever so strongly. "Errors might have crept in by that time; mistakes might have been made; Tertullian is but one man, and confessedly not sound in many of his opinions; we ought to have clearer and more decisive evidence." Well, supposing it: suppose Tertullian, a hundred years after St. John, is the first that mentions it, yet Tertullian is also the first who refers to St. Paul's Epistle to Philemon, and even he without quoting or naming it. He is followed by two writers; one of Rome, Caius, whose work is not extant, but is referred to by Eusebius, who, speaking of thirteen Epistles of St. Paul, and as excluding the Hebrews, by implication includes that to Philemon; and the other, Origen, who quotes the fourteenth verse of the Epistle, and elsewhere speaks of fourteen Epistles of St. Paul. Next, at the end of the third century, follows Eusebius. Further, St. Jerome observes, that in his time some persons doubted whether it was St. Paul's (just as Aerius about that time questioned the Commemorations for the Dead), or at least whether it was canonical, and that from internal evidence; to which he opposes the general consent of external testimony as a sufficient answer. Now, I ask, why do we receive the Epistle to Philemon as St. Paul's, and not the Commemorations for the faithful departed as Apostolical also? Ever after indeed the date of St. Jerome, the Epistle to Philemon was accounted St. Paul's, and so too ever after the same date the Commemorations which I have spoken of are acknowledged on all hands to have been observed as a religious duty, down to three hundred years ago. If it be said that from historical records we have good reasons for thinking that the Epistle of St. Paul to Philemon, with his other Epistles, was read from time immemorial in Church, which is a witness independent of particular testimonies in the Fathers, I answer, no evidence can be more satisfactory and conclusive to a well-judging mind; but then it is a moral evidence, resting on very little formal and producible proof; and quite as much evidence can be given for the solemn Commemorations of the Dead in the Holy Eucharist which I speak of. They too were in use in the Church from time immemorial. Persons, then, who have the heart to give up and annul the Ordinance, will not, if they are consistent, scruple much at the Epistle. If in the sixteenth century the innovators on religion had struck the Epistle to Philemon out of Scripture, they would have had just as much right to do it as to abolish these Commemorations; and those who wished to defend such innovation as regards the Epistle to Philemon, would have had just as much to say in its behalf as those had who put an end to the Commemorations.
If it be said they found nothing on the subject of such Commemorations in Scripture, even granting this for argument's sake, yet I wonder where they found in Scripture that the Epistle to Philemon was written by St. Paul, except indeed in the Epistle itself. Nowhere; yet they kept the one, they abolished the other - as far, that is, as human tyranny could abolish it. Let us be thankful that they did not also say, "The Epistle to Philemon is of a private nature, and has no marks of inspiration about it. It is not mentioned by name or quoted by any writer till Origen, who flourished at a time when mistakes had begun, in the third century, and who actually thinks St. Barnabas wrote the Epistle which goes under his name; and he too, after all, just mentions it once, but not as inspired or canonical, and also just happens to speak elsewhere of St. Paul's fourteen Epistles. In the beginning of the fourth century, Eusebius, without anywhere naming this Epistle," (as far as I can discover,) "also speaks of fourteen Epistles, and speaks of a writer one hundred years earlier, who in like manner enumerated thirteen besides the Hebrews. All this is very unsatisfactory. We will have nothing but the pure word of God; we will only admit what has the clearest proof. It is impossible that God should require us to believe a book to come from Him without authenticating it with the highest and most cogent evidence."
(Discussions and Arguments on Various Subjects, "Lecture 6. External Difficulties of the Canon and the Catholic Creed, compared," London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1872, 201, 203-209; bolded emphases added, italics are Newman's own)