Monday, May 24, 2004



I’ve been reading Keith Mathison’s book The Shape of Sola Scriptura and I’ve so far found it very interesting and compelling. After reading a little over 100 pages into this work I took a detour. In the body of this book Mathison quotes Vincent of Lérins. St. Vincent is a contemporary of St. Augustine. Vincent joined the monestary in Lérins in 425 and died in 450 AD.

St. Vincent wrote an important epistle titled The Commonitory: For the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies. The title is a mouth full, but it is a delightful read.

I set Mathison’s book aside because I believed a quote that he used from The Commonitory to be so important that I wanted to be sure that Mathison was dealing accurately with what St. Vincent actually wrote. After reading the whole of Vincent’s epistle, I am sure that Mathison uses him correctly, and he could have quoted him a good bit more.

It becomes clear that Vincent holds to a very different understanding of the relationship between Scripture and tradition than that of the Modern Roman Catholic Church. It is all clear that he believes that one should not lightly dismiss the historic teachings of the faith, which I believe is an all too common problem among modern Evangelicals who have little knowledge of, or interest in, the history of doctrine or the church itself.

Mathison’s quote that caused me to set his book down and read The Commonitory is taken from Chapter II. St. Vincent wrote “That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.”

That sounds like the conventional Roman Catholic position, but Vincent is not finished. He then defines what he means by this statement. He says “But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation?

It is important to notice two things here. First, St Vincent clearly believes that “the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient.” This is a very high view of the Bible and one that every Evangelical would heartily agree with, but look at what he adds. He asks “what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation.”

St. Vincent, in this passage, equates tradition with the historic interpretation of the Scriptures. This is not what the modern Roman Catholic (RC) means by tradition. The Modern RC, when he speaks of tradition, is referring to a body of beliefs that exist extra-biblically.

St Vincent’s position on tradition would match perfectly with the classical Protestant position on the matter, and is in stark conflict with the modern RC view and from another angle it is at odds with most (baptistic) Evangelicals as well.

We see Vincent’s position reiterated a number of times in the thirty three chapters of this work. In referring to the errors of Origen he writes “Hence it came to pass, that this Origen, such and so great as he was, wantonly abusing the grace of God, rashly following the bent of his own genius, and placing overmuch confidence in himself, making light account of the ancient simplicity of the Christian religion, presuming that he knew more than all the world besides, despising the traditions of the Church and the determinations of the ancients, and interpreting certain passages of Scripture in a novel way, deserved for himself the warning given to the Church of God, as applicable in his case as in that of others.

In the body of the epistle it’s clear that St. Vincent believes Origen erred when he abandoned the traditional interpretation of Scripture and followed his own ideas. Origen’s errors, according to St Vincent, were that he thought too much like a modern Evangelical.

In chapter XXVII St. Vincent reinforces what he said in chapter II. He writes “in the beginning of this Commonitory, we said that holy and learned men had commended to us, that is to say, they must interpret the sacred Canon according to the traditions of the Universal Church and in keeping with the rules of Catholic doctrine, in which Catholic and Universal Church, moreover, they must follow universality, antiquity, consent.” He even goes so far as to say that “as to the more ancient schisms or heresies, we ought either to confute them, if need be, by the sole authority of the Scriptures, or at any rate, to shun them…”

In chapter XXIX St. Vincent affirms that Scripture alone is, in and of itself sufficient, but then reaffirms the importance of looking at Scripture in the light shed on it by the historic teachings of the Church. Here are his own words “it has always been the custom of Catholics, and still is, to prove the true faith in these two ways; first by the authority of the Divine Canon, and next by the tradition of the Catholic Church. Not that the Canon alone does not of itself suffice for every question, but seeing that the more part, interpreting the divine words according to their own persuasion, take up various erroneous opinions, it is therefore necessary that the interpretation of divine Scripture should be ruled according to the one standard of the Church's belief,

Notice that St. Vincent here admits that the canon (i.e. the Holy Bible) will, on its own “suffice for every question.” That is not the modern RC position, but it is something that Evangelicals would readily agree with. We flip flop this situation when we look at what he next says. He writes “it is therefore necessary that the interpretation of divine Scripture should be ruled according to the one standard of the Church's belief.” This is where the modern RC and the Evangelical will switch places. The Evangelical will disagree and the RC will agree. But the classical Protestant would agree with both statements.

The Commonitory of St. Vincent is a wonderful work and sheds light on a number of important items that are not addressed here. After reading it I am now ready to return to Mathison’s book. It is proving to be a very good and very important book indeed.

Coram Deo,
Kenith

2 comments:

Catholic Dude said...

I dont think your citations of St Vincent are as you say. I have not gotten the chance to read his whole work but I have looked into those quotes and I see you jumping to conclusions which St Vincent never intended.

You start off on that Ch2 quote concerning Scripture and Tradition, you go on to cite the passage which says that Scripture is complete and sufficient and end with the quote:
"what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation?"
To this question you left off the very next line:
"For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters."
Your whole blog centers around the talk of SS being complete and sufficient, but you leave out the context of those quotes in which it is to be properly INTERPRETED by valid authorities. St Vincent is never talking about private interpretation.

You go on to say:
"St. Vincent, in this passage, equates tradition with the historic interpretation of the Scriptures. This is not what the modern Roman Catholic (RC) means by tradition. The Modern RC, when he speaks of tradition, is referring to a body of beliefs that exist extra-biblically.
St Vincent’s position on tradition would match perfectly with the classical Protestant position on the matter, and is in stark conflict with the modern RC view"
Totally unfounded from the quotes you cited previous. There is no basis for which you make this claim using those quotes of St Vincent. Instead you jump around the work and look for select things.
In the very next page Chapter3 the topic is concerning those who disagree with a teaching. St Vincent appeals to councils and fathers.

In Chapter 5 he summarizes that people should adhere to "the decrees and definitions of the universal priesthood of Holy Church, the heirs of Apostolic and Catholic truth" In otherwords these leaders held authority which was passed on from the Apostles themselves.

In Ch6 St Vincent mentions "Pope Stephen of blessed memory, Prelate of the Apostolic See". Right here he uses the term "Pope" and "Apostolic See", both authorities the protestants reject.
I could go on and on, but I dont have time to read the whole thing.

Next you bolden the passage:
"by the sole authority of the Scriptures"
but you dont finish the sentence which really ends like this:
"to shun them as having been already of old convicted and condemned by universal councils of the Catholic Priesthood."
He never intended to mean the SS definition we see nowdays. The Church held the power to condemn people and did.

Next you mention "the canon (i.e. the Holy Bible)", are you aware that people like Augustine held all 73 books as part of the Canon, and since Vincent was a studed of Augustine I would expect him to hold to the same 73 book canon. Right here is a huge problem with the protestant 66 book canon. Then you go on to the "suffice for every question" which you misunderstand it is in the context of authoritative interpretation. He specifically goes on to say that the key is interpretation which one should look to the fathers and councils.

All through those passages I read I saw him appealing to the authority of the Church and fathers. My challenge for you is to show me using quotes from Church fathers that "Faith Alone" is clearly attested to historically.

At the end your quote about "one standard of the Church's belief" really drives home the authority of the Church. Classical protestantism does not adhere to this on clear grounds. The so called "reformers" were not authorized Church leaders to any sufficient degree. They took the Church where they wanted it to go aside what the authorized Bishops said.

-Catholic Dude

Cajun Huguenot said...

Dear Catholic Dude,

Thanks for the letter. I read St Vincent very carefully and found his work fascinating. I have been reading the Fathers (Apostolic, Nicene, post-Nicene). Vincent is quite clear about what he says. His position is very different than modern Roman Catholicism and modern Protestantism.

He rightly has great respect for the traditions of the fathers and for their interpretation of Scripture. I think this should be the position of all of us. (BTW Vincent disagreed with Augustine on predestination so he is not clone of Augustine. I happen to agree with Augustine on this matter and differ with St. Vincent.)

As to the Canon, I am in a St Jerome (St. Vincent and St. Augustine’s Contemporary. His position was the same as the Protestants. He held that only the books recognised as the Hebrew Canon were the true canonical books of the O.T. though he did have value for the books found in the Septuagint that we refer to as Apocrypha and you call Deutero-canonical.

In Eusebius’ Church history. He quotes a letter written byMelito, bishop of Sardis, in 170 AD. Melito wrote, “Melito to his brother Onesimus, greeting: Since thou hast often, in thy zeal for the word, expressed a wish to have extracts made from the Law and the Prophets concerning the Saviour and concerning our entire faith, and hast also desired to have an accurate statement of the ancient book, as regards their number and their order…”

Rufinus (345-410) a contemporary of St. Jerome gives us a list of Old Testament books in his commentary on the Creed. He writes “…it seems proper in this place to enumerate, as we have learnt from the tradition of the Fathers, the books of the New and of the Old Testament, which, according to the tradition of our forefathers, are believed to have been inspired by the Holy Ghost, and have been handed down to the Churches of Christ.”

Rufinus then gives us a list of The Old Testament books. Here is his list “Of the Old Testament, therefore, first of all there have been handed down five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Then Jesus Nave, (Joshua the son of Nun), The Book of Judges together with Ruth; then four books of Kings (Reigns), which the Hebrews reckon two; the Book of Omissions, which is entitled the Book of Days (Chronicles), and two books of Ezra (Ezra and Nehemiah), which the Hebrews reckon one, and Esther; of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; moreover of the twelve (minor) Prophets, one hook; Job also and the Psalms of David, each one book. Solomon gave three books to the Churches, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles. These comprise the books of the Old Testament.”

Rufinus’ list of the Old Testament is that which is found in the Protestant Bible, but he is not finished. He nexts list the books of the new Testament and then says “But it should be known that there are also other books which our fathers call not 'Canonical' but 'Ecclesiastical:' that is to say, Wisdom, called the Wisdom of Solomon, and another Wisdom, called the Wisdom of the Son of Syrach, which last-mentioned the Latins called by the general title Ecclesiasticus, designating not the author of the book, but the character of the writing. To the same class belong the Book of Tobit, and the Book of Judith, and the Books of the Maccabees. In the New Testament the little book which is called the Book of the Pastor of Hermas, [and that] which is called The Two Ways,150 or the Judgment of Peter; all of which they would have read in the Churches, but not appealed to for the confirmation of doctrine.”

Rufinus admits that the church has inherited other books that he says are not part of the canon, and therefore not to be used for determining matters of doctrine. These books, our Apocrypha/deuterocanonical books, he says are useful for edifying believers, but they were not to be used to determine doctrinal disputes.

St. Jerome was a great linguist of his day. He knew Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He is also the man who gave us the Vulgate (Latin) translation of the Bible, which was the Bible of the Western Church for over a thousand years. Jerome agreed with Rufinus.

In his Preface to the books of Samuel and Kings, Jerome lists the books of the Old Testament, after which he says “This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a 'helmeted' introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed amongst the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which finally bears the name of Solomon, and the book of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepherd are not in the canon. The first book of Maccabees I have found to be Hebrew, the second is Greek, as can be proved from the very style. Seeing that all this is so…”

St Augustine was the younger contemporary of Rufinus and Jerome, but on this question he took the opposite position of Rufinus and Jerome. Augustine led two local church councils in North Africa where the Apocryphal books were affirmed as canon.

There were great Christian men on both sides of this issue as the Roman World collapsed in the West. As the ancient church moved into the medieval world, Jerome’s position and Augustine’s, was the view held by some of the church.

It is interesting that even after the Reformation began a number of important, scholarly Roman Catholics maintained the position of men like Melito, Rufinus and Jerome. One such man isCardinal Ximenes (1436–1517), bishop of Toledo, Spain. He agreed with Jerome on the Apocrypha.

The same is true of Cardinal Cajetan. Cajetan is famous for his opposition to Martin Luther at Augsburg, but on this issue Luther and Cajetan both followed Jerome’s lead. The Cardinal wrote the following words to his commentary on the Old Testament, which was published in 1532. He said “Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St. Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecciesiasticus, as is plain from the Protogus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the Bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorised in the canon of the Bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clearly through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.”

It is clear the Cardinal agrees with Jerome and he is also trying to erase the differences that exist on this issue between Jerome and Augustine. But the point I want to make is that this leader of the Roman Catholic response to the Lutheran movement did not believe that the writings which we, along with Jerome, refer to as apocrypha were not to be used to decide matters of doctrine.

It is at the Council of Trent that the Roman Catholic Church breaks with her 1500 year position and officially adopts these extra books, and declares them to be canon or deutro-canonical (a second canon). This was, I believe, an over reaction by Rome to the Reformation.

It will surprise many Protestants to learn that the early Protestant translations of the Bible included the Apocrypha. They were in the Lutheran Bible, as well as the Reformed/Puritan Geneva Bible (English) and even the early King James Bibles. The Apocrypha has been removed from Protestant Bibles because of the Protestant over reaction to the Catholic position at the Council of Trent.

I believe that both groups (protestants and Catholics) have fallen into ditches on opposite sides of the road because to of their over reactions to one another on this issue.

These books remained in dispute throughout the medieval period and into the Reformation. It is only at Trent That the Roman Catholic Church finally made a definitive pronouncement on this matter (BTW: Trent rejected some of the Apocryphal books accepted by St. Augustine and the North African councils convened while he held his See at Hippo. The Eastern Churches are in line with Augustine’s view of the Canon, while the Church since Trent is not.)

Dominus vobiscum,
Kenith