Continuing in the response to 21 Reasons to Reject Sola Scriptura, the attention will now be focused on the early church. The author of the article (like any good Catholic) believes Sola Scriptura to be a novel idea. He believes it’s a new thing. In one sense it is, as has been stated, the normative position of the Church today. It was not the rule of faith during times of inscripturation. However that is no “admission” nor “confession”. It has already been discussed as to why, but remember, Rome’s position (the tripartite authoritative system of Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching magesterium/Pope) would be equally “new” provided it were true.
Claims #8 and #17 are too related to deal with separately. #8 states,
“The idea of the Scripture’s Authority existing apart from the authority of the Teacher Church is utterly foreign to the Early Church.”
This claim is given almost not justification at all, and therefore can be dismissed with no justification needed. However, one reoccurring issue has reared its ugly head again:
“How much more absurd, then, is it to contend that the Bible could function on its own and apart from the Church which wrote it?”
This has been dealt with extensively, but yet again, Papist apologetics cannot exist apart from equivocating the use of the word “church”. I apologize for the constant redundancy, but the article requires it.
The claim being made is that it is silly to believe the early church imagined the Bible being effectual without its authors (those who wrote it). I completely reject that claim. I believe the churches who received Paul’s letters were able to use them during the periods of time Paul wasn’t around to explain it orally.
Even if we concede that position however, the point still remains that the current Pope and the current members of the teaching magesterium didn’t write the Bible. The “church” wrote the Bible, what does that mean? All individual believing Catholics had a hand in writing prophecy? Obviously that’s absurd. The people who actually wrote the Bible are dead. If they were around, I would agree with the author of the article, and I would sit at those men’s feet and let them teach. But they aren’t here. That is why this position, apart from the fallacy of equivocation, is untenable.
What church means in the sentence “the Church wrote the Bible” cannot possibly carry the same definition as church means in the sentence “the 21st century Roman Catholic must submit to the Church”.
Thus we move to objection #17,
“The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Did Not Exist Prior to the 14th Century.”
Yet again, no justification was given to this claim, thus I shouldn’t need justification to dismiss it. However, I will attempt to provide some although I am hesitant to.
The article did rightly recognize the presupposition of this argument: the Bible doesn’t teach it. The author says,
“Protestants will assert that the Bible itself teaches Sola Scriptura and therefore that the doctrine had its roots back with Jesus Christ. However, as we have seen above, the Bible teaches no such things.”
Whether the Bible teaches the doctrine is the crux of this debate so I am saving it for last. Our author apparently believes this to be the case as well since it is by far the longest portion of the article. However, if we assume the Bible does not teach this doctrine, then both sides can agree the history of the church doesn’t matter. I don’t care if everyone believed it, if it is anti-biblical, as the Catholic would agree, to hell with it.
However, if this is biblical, then likewise, I could care less what men prior to the 14th century taught; it is true. If it is biblical, that makes it not only authoritative because Jesus and the Apostles taught it, but it also makes it historic, since the Apostles and Jesus came prior to the 2nd century, and certainly prior to the 14th.
Thus, it seems that the early church is somewhat irrelevant to this particular question. It seems the Bible solves it in either direction. That’s the first reason I am hesitant to spend much time on this.
The other reason is that wading in the waters of church fathers/history can be a dangerous and messy activity. I don’t mean to disparage church history too much. All Christians would agree it is a valuable resource, especially on issues like Canon, the miraculous gifts, Christological heresies, and many other issues. However, it would be ignorant to assume that all church fathers had great theology that all could benefit from. That unfortunately is not the case, and the Roman Catholic would have to agree.
Some church fathers had some very bizarre beliefs. On top of that, it is very easy to proof text and abuse church fathers, as both sides are guilty of doing. Thus, I would like to be brief on this topic. I do believe the Bible teaches Sola Scriptura, but I also believe the church believed it prior to the 14th century as well, contrary to the article’s arbitrary claim (although I am sure some church fathers may not have).
A great resource for this is the book Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible. It is written by numerous authors, but Dr. James White has a chapter on Sola Scriptura in the early church, and much of his scholarship would render the idea that the early church didn’t believe in it void.
Fathers like Cyril of Jerusalem, Irenaeus, Basil of Caesera, Augustine, and especially Athanasius, were quoted as clearly believing the Holy Scriptures were their highest authority (not only authority). To conclude, here are two men the book references:
“In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures.” -Cyril of Jerusalem
“What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle? For holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought…Therefore, I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher.”
“Neither dare one agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, with the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God.”
“Whatever they may adduce, and whatever they may quote from, let us rather, if we are His sheep, hear the voice of our Shepherd. Therefore, let us search for the church in the sacred canonical Scriptures.”
The three references above that are not attributed to an author are all from Augustine, the great Bishop of Hippo.