Madrid’s Fallacy of Irrelevance

Patrick Madrid, in the book edited by Robert Sungenis entitled Not By Scripture Alone, makes a whopper of a fallacy on pages 9-10 in describing Cyril of Jerusalem. The quote he is dealing with is a very helpful quotation that supports the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura:

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 which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures (Catechetical Lectures 4.17).

Madrid admits right off the bat that this language is “perhaps more rigorous than modern Catholics are used to” (p. 9). And yet he still claims that this “conveys an accurate sense of Catholic teaching on the necessity and material sufficiency of Scripture.” Remember, material sufficiency is the doctrine that all the major doctrines of the church are contained in Scripture. On this principle (though not in how it works out), Protestants and Catholics agree. Where they do not agree is in the formal sufficiency principle, which states that the Scriptures are clear on the central truths of the Christian faith. Madrid goes on to say this:

If Cyril really held to the notion of sola scriptura, then it must be true that he believed he had found those Catholic doctrines in Scripture (Madrid is referring to the Mass, the efficacy of expiatory prayers for the dead, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, holy orders, baptismal regeneration, and other Catholic doctrines. Whether Cyril actually taught those things is, of course, another question, LK). Consequently, the Protestant would have to posit that Cyril was badly mistaken in his exegesis of Scripture. Of course, this tack leads nowhere for Protestants, for it would of necessity impugn Cyril’s exegetical credibility, not to mention his claim to find sola scriptura in Scripture (p. 9).

Watch the argument. It seems to go like this: A. If Cyril argues for sola scriptura, then Cyril also believes that his Roman Catholic teaching is found in the Bible. B. This constitutes a double-or-nothing problem for Protestants, since if Cyril was right about sola scriptura, then he was right about all these other doctrines as well. But if Cyril was wrong about these other doctrines, then he wasn’t teaching sola scriptura after all. The holes in this argument should be apparent by now. Why would Cyril’s views on baptismal regeneration, say, be relevant to his argument on sola scriptura? If he is right or wrong on one of those issues, why would that affect his rightness or wrongness on the other issue? Even granting that Cyril teaches what Madrid says he teaches, that does not mean that he has to be right on everything if he is right on sola scriptura. Lots of Protestants are right on sola scriptura and wrong on lots of other things. Similarly, Roman Catholics can be wrong on sola scriptura and be right on the Trinity. Furthermore, suggesting that Cyril is wrong on those doctrines (even if that is what he teaches) is hardly the same thing as impugning Cyril’s exegetical integrity. That simply does not follow.

What is noticeably lacking in Madrid’s treatment of Cyril is any actual exegesis of what Cyril said. Notice again what he says: “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.” What constitutes the basis for ready belief? It is not the church. It is not even the church’s interpretation of Scripture (Cyril expressly forbids this by saying that a person should not even give ready belief to Cyril, unless Cyril is proven by Scripture). It is Scripture. The sole basis of authority in the church is the Scripture. This is directly opposed to Roman Catholic teaching, which places the church on a par with Scripture.

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18 Comments

  1. Bryan Cross said,

    June 17, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Lane,

    One reason why you think what Madrid says regarding St. Cyril’s non-Protestant doctrines is irrelevant to what he says about the role of Scripture is because (I think) you are not using the same definition of formal sufficiency. Formal sufficiency means that all the revelation necessary for the Church is presented explicitly in Scripture (or follows by logical deduction from what is explicit in Scripture) such that neither Tradition nor the Magisterium are needed in order for anyone to understand Scripture rightly.

    That sets up the dilemma Madrid is talking about. Since, for example, as Wes White says, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system” and yet St. Cyril believed in baptismal regeneration, this is evidence that Scripture is not formally sufficient, because if Scripture were formally sufficient, either St. Cyril and “the Reformed system” would have arrived at the same doctrine of baptism from their study of Scripture, or baptismal regeneration would be considered adiaphora by both sides. But baptismal regeneration is not considered adiaphora by either side. And the same is true with all these other doctrines St. Cyril holds and Protestants reject. And this shows that Scripture is not formally sufficient. That’s one horn of the dilemma.

    Here’s the other horn of the dilemma. St. Cyril’s belief in all these non-Protestant doctrines shows what he means in his statement that you quoted, because it shows that he is making use of the Church’s Tradition in order to understand and interpret Scripture rightly. So when St. Cyril says “from the Holy Scripture” (in the quotation you cited) he means Scripture-as-informed-by-the-Tradition-located-within-the-Church-led-by-the-Magisterium.

    So in short the dilemma is this: either St. Cyril is not talking about Scripture-as-informed-by-the-Tradition-located-within-the-Church-led-by-the-Magisterium, in which case St. Cyril’s adhering to all these doctrines Protestants reject is a defeater for the formal sufficiency thesis, or St. Cyril is talking about Scripture-as-informed-by-the-Tradition-located-within-the-Church-led-by-the-Magisterium, in which case his statement is not an endorsement of formal sufficiency. On either horn of the dilemma, there is problem for the formal sufficiency thesis.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. greenbaggins said,

    June 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Bryan, first of all, your definition of formal sufficiency does not match any definition of it of which I am familiar. This is one of my pet peeves with Catholics: they think that the Protestant doctrine of formal sufficiency implies that all of Scripture is clear and easy. We say no such thing. We say rather that the main doctrines of Christianity are so clear that we need no Magisterium to interpret them for us. Whether people understand what is in this Scripture is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT question. Someone can believe that Scripture is clear, and yet have a block in their own minds such that they CANNOT see what is clear. Yours and Madrid’s argument seems to imply that if Scripture is clear, then everyone has to be able to see it. That would also be a distortion of our position.

  3. rcjr said,

    June 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Or, in the sauce for the gander arena, since Madrid wrongly teaches sola scriptura he must also be wrong on baptismal regeneration, etc. This all or nothing game is fun.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    June 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    R.C., did you mean Madrid, or did you mean me? Just asking. :-)

  5. rcjr said,

    June 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Madrid, good brother

  6. Bryan Cross said,

    June 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Lane,

    The problem with claiming that the uniquely Reformed doctrines that []for you] are not adiaphora are clear in Scripture without recourse to the Tradition or the Magisterium is that if that claim were false, and those doctrines were not clear in Scripture, you would never be able to discover that to be so. That’s because even if 95% of the world’s Christians came to a different interpretive conclusion regarding such matters, that would just mean, given your methodology, that 95% of the world’s Christians must “have a block in their own minds.” It is a convenient way of propping up a self-serving epistemology. The Lutherans and Methodists and Pentecostals etc. could all claim the same thing regarding their own respective beliefs, and thereby conclude that you are among the theologically blind, unable to see what is clear in Scripture. So the epistemology here is error-preserving, since, in your mind, if that same epistemic methodology were adopted by those other theological traditions, it would preserve them in error. And it is ad hoc to assume that such an error-preserving method does not preserve you in error, but preserves you in truth. So, if one or more of those uniquely Reformed doctrines that [for you] are not adiaphora were, in fact, not clear in Scripture, how would you know? That is, how would you come to discover that such a doctrine which you presently believe to be clear, is in fact unclear?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. greenbaggins said,

    June 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Let me turn the question around, Bryan: if the Roman Catholic Church were in error, how could there possibly be any way of correcting that error, since the self-serving epistemology of the Catholic Church ensures that it is always correct?

    As to the Protestant question which are you levelling at us, I would say this: first of all (and most importantly), Jesus has promised to be with us by His Holy Spirit, and to lead us into truth. Secondly, there just might be more unity among Protestants on certain doctrines and less unity among Catholics than Catholics will typically admit. Thirdly, you don’t escape the subjectivity of your epistemology any more than the Protestant does: how would you know whether in fact the Roman Catholic church is corrector incorrect? The church tells you so? The Bible tells you so? You seem to act as though Protestants are the only ones who have to struggle with epistemology. That is hardly the case.

  8. Bryan Cross said,

    June 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Lane,

    As for your question to me, I have answered that in comments #123 and #128 in Jeremy Tate’s “Reflections – Graduating Catholic from a Reformed Seminary” post.

    Here’s your reasoning in comment #7 above. Jesus promised to be with us by His Holy Spirit, and lead us into truth. Therefore, we have the truth.

    Surely you know that every other denomination under the Sun (and every heresy in Christian history) has thought that that promise applied to them too, including the FV fellows whose doctrine you strongly condemn and whom you strive to have removed from your denomination. You can’t have it both ways. If the Spirit is guiding them into all truth with the same reliability He is guiding you into all truth, then being guided by the Holy Spirit is no basis for confidence that your judgment concerning which uniquely Reformed and essential doctrines are clear and which aren’t, is true. Otherwise, you would think that what separates you and the FV folk is merely adiaphora. You need some other reason besides “my interpretation of Scripture is right” to appropriate “being guided by the Spirit into all truth” to yourself, while withholding it from the FV folks and all Christians from whom you think it is right and necessary to be separated.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. greenbaggins said,

    June 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Firstly, to answer the links: Your argument is based on a negative argument from the history of the early church: if the Roman Catholic church were ever wrong, then we should expect to find the early church not agreeing with the later church. Authors like David King have argued that this is exactly the case, that the early church does not agree with the later Romanist church. Furthermore, your argument cannot possibly answer the question about Catholic dogma that has arisen since the early church. The early church never claimed any sort of infallibility for the Roman bishop. The early church did not claim the perpetual virginity of Mary. Transubstantiation didn’t come into the church until later, either. And, given the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, which certainly do argue that the church can err, the early church never claimed infallibility. So your argument won’t hold up on doctrines of the RCC that have arisen since the early church. Furthermore, what I have been seeking to prove here is that the Protestant church has ALWAYS claimed to be in continuity with the early church. Can one find Romanist positions in the early church? Possibly. Maybe even probably. But you can also find the Protestant positions in the early church. The early church proves nothing, then. If it proves nothing, then it certainly cannot prove that the Roman Catholic church is infallible. And if the early church can be interpreted legitimately to foreshadow Protestant positions, that undermines your entire epistemological certainty. Personally, I wouldn’t want my epistemology of certainty to rest on a historical argument. I would rather it depend on the Holy Spirit working in the Word of God. That is bedrock.

    As to your second query, it is absurd. Let’s demonstrate the absurdity by substituting a single term: truth in place of “Spirit guidance.” Every religion in the world claims to be true. Does that mean that every claim of any world religion should be greeted with skepticism? After all, every religion claims to be true. So someone could come to us and say “Christianity cannot possibly be true because every world religion also claims to be true.” You are using the same argument that post-modernists use today to undermine any claim to truth. It is the exact same form. The same is true for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Doesn’t every denomination (including Roman Catholicism!) claim to have the Holy Spirit’s guidance? Does that mean that every denomination that disagrees, yet claims to have the Holy Spirit, is wrong in its claim to have the Holy Spirit? It doesn’t matter how many people claim to have the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t make anyone’s claim to have the Holy Spirit true or false. That’s a logical fallacy, and really ought not to be used by Roman Catholics ever again against the Protestant position. If you use it against us, we can use it against you, since you claim to have the Holy Spirit’s guidance, too.

    A further point: Romanists always underestimate the unity of Protestants because they define unity ahead of time as being an organizational unity. But since we don’t define unity that way, according to our definitions, we have lots more unity than you think we have. Even Federal Visionists, against whom I argue so vehemently, can agree with us on many things. In fact, if they would just worship apart *for the sake of* unity, we would get along with them a lot better than we currently do. It’s their claim to be confessional that’s the problem. But let me demonstrate this unity a bit more clearly: on the Puritan Board, there are *many* Baptists on the board. Many of them are very dear friends of mine. I would attend one of their worship services in a heartbeat, and gain much from it. We wouldn’t get along so well if we were in the same denomination, because we’d always be bickering and fighting over baptism. The fact is, we have GREATER unity by being in a distinct denomination than if we were in the same denomination. Even Roman Catholics now admit that some people outside the RCC can be Christians. If that is so, then the true unity of the body of Christ CANNOT be exclusively organizational. There has to be a spiritual component to the unity of the church. Karl Rahner even claims that everyone on earth is an anonymous Christian if they don’t actually believe Christianity yet. What kind of unity of the body of Christ does that imply?

  10. dozie said,

    June 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    “We say rather that the main doctrines of Christianity are so clear that we need no Magisterium to interpret them for us.”

    How does one get to the “main doctrines of Christianity”? Do the scriptures list the main doctrines somewhere; what are they? Who came up with the idea of “main doctrines” and what did he/she have in mind? Christ instructed: “do all I have commanded”.

  11. greenbaggins said,

    June 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Dozie, the RCC has the exact same problem with “central” truths. So why is that an objection against Protestantism? Which doctrines of the RCC can one reject and still be orthodox? Is there a listing?

  12. Bryan Cross said,

    June 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Lane,

    On the Fathers, let’s just stick with the example of baptismal regeneration. Since, as Wes White says, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system,” and since the Fathers unanimously taught baptismal regeneration [see "The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration"], it necessarily follows either that with respect to the doctrine of baptism, not only did the Spirit not guide the Church Fathers into all truth but Christ (according to ecclesial deism) allowed all the Fathers spread throughout the entire Christian world to fall into error regarding baptism, or “the Reformed system of doctrine” is not what the Apostles passed down to the Fathers. Which is it?

    Of course the fact that all religions claim to be true does not mean we must conclude that all religions are false. That’s not what I claimed. But, it does mean that any religion’s claim to be true is not sufficient evidence that it is true. Likewise, your claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth is not evidence that you, in fact, are being guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit. Many people who are not being led by the Spirit into all truth also claim that they are being led by the Spirit into all truth. So “Jesus promised to be with us by His Holy Spirit, and lead us into truth; therefore, Reformed folks have the truth” is not a good argument, because it presupposes that the persons whom Jesus promised that His Spirit would lead into all truth were “Reformed folks.” So the argument begs the question. Your appeal to being guided by the Holy Spirit gives us no reason to believe that Scripture is clear that baptismal regeneration is false, and that all the Church Fathers had a “block in their own minds,” rather than believe that Scripture is not formally perspicuous regarding the nature of baptism, and that on this subject (among others) Scripture must be interpreted according to the Church’s Tradition that had been received by the Church Fathers, and was handed down by them.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. Bryan Cross said,

    June 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Lane,

    You wrote:

    Personally, I wouldn’t want my epistemology of certainty to rest on a historical argument. I would rather it depend on the Holy Spirit working in the Word of God. That is bedrock.

    I agree that being led by the Holy Spirit is bedrock. But, in order to be led by the Spirit, it is not enough merely to claim to be led by the Spirit, as a quick glance around shows (or as a glance through the history of heresies shows). PCA pastor Rick Phillips tried to make this same claim, back in 2007. He claimed that he didn’t need the Tradition and the Magisterium, because he followed the Spirit working the Scriptures. You can read my reply in “Play church.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  14. greenbaggins said,

    June 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Bryan, leaving aside for a moment the question of whether the ECF taught baptismal regeneration as universally as you claim (which I would not grant, but that’s another discussion), Even if they did, that wouldn’t mean that Jesus has ceased to guide them by His Holy Spirit. One can be wrong on baptismal regeneration while getting lots of other things right. One of the things that the Westminster Confession claims about church history is that the purity of the church is sometimes more and sometimes less visible. This would also be true of the church on individual doctrines. Furthermore, your position assumes that in order for Christ to guide His church into all truth by the Spirit, then that has to happen all at once about a particular doctrine. What I mean is this: if the ECF were all incorrect on baptism, does that mean that Jesus was not guiding His church by His Spirit? Doesn’t He know that we are weak, and prone to all error? I’d say you have a pretty wooden understanding of “guiding into all truth.” Why couldn’t God be patient with His church, allowing them to fall into error, but eventually correcting it? Why would guiding into all truth always have to be progressing? Doesn’t God allow heresy to plague the church in order for the church to defend the truth better?

    You haven’t answered my refutation of your historical claim as to why your epistemology is shaky (see middle paragraph of comment 9).

    I would argue that everyone has a circularity of sorts when it comes to foundational certainty underlying their beliefs. This is inevitable, because we are finite, and we have to assume things in order to know anything at all. Protestants have a circularity regarding the Scripture. We assume it to be bedrock because we assume God to have written it through His inspired messengers. Roman Catholics have a circularity regarding the church. Incidentally, you have not answered why the church is infallible. Don’t the letters to the seven churches in Revelation prove that the church can and does err? Those were historical letters written to actual churches. Yes, those were individual churches. But the Old Testament proves that the entire people of God can become apostate (as the prophetic writings prove over and over again). Otherwise, why the Babylonian Captivity? And why would the New Testament church be invulnerable to this apostasy? Is there some guarantee in the NT that the church will never fall into error? The question is this: which circularity is better? I’ll put my faith in the circularity of believing the Bible, not the church. I’ll trust God’s Words over man’s words any time.

  15. Bryan Cross said,

    June 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Lane,

    I addressed your second paragraph in #9 in my second paragraph in #12.

    From a fideist’s point of view, everyone else is a fideist. But, I’m not a fideist. You can’t get from mere assumptions to knowledge; if all you have to start with are assumptions, then all you have at the end are assumptions. Circular reasoning is fallacious reasoning. Reasoning in a circle is just what it means to beg the question. It is essentially a denial of reason, and therefore anti-intellectual. I have explained this in the “Wilson vs. Hitchens” article, and in the comments that follow it. Back in the early 1990s, John Gerstner used to explain the problem with circular reasoning — he would lighted-heartedly tease the presups, saying with his arms spread up in the air, “But oh, what a glorious circle.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. TurretinFan said,

    June 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Lane:

    Let me tweak your #2 a little in answering Bryan’s #1. Bryan is doing several things, three of which I think are worth noting:

    1) He’s setting up a false dichotomy. There is a third class of doctrines between those that are essential to the faith, such that denial of them amounts to heresy, and doctrines that are adiaphora – things indifferent. Something like “baptismal regeneration” can fall in that middle ground. Assuming ECF “Mr. X” taught baptismal regeneration, we don’t treat him the same way would treat ECF “Mr. Y” who denied Jesus’ divinity. Jesus’ divinity is an essential doctrine. Baptismal regeneration is an important doctrine, but not in itself an essential one.

    2) He’s not presenting a real dichotomy. His “Scripture-as-informed-by-the-Tradition-located-within-the-Church-led-by-the-Magisterium” is not necessarily opposed to Sola Scriptura. That’s because “informed” is wishy-washy. One is not to ignore what those who have gone before us in the faith have to say, and the church is lead by its leaders. Information, however, is not the same as imposed meaning. Rome’s alternative to Sola Scriptura is the magisterium dictating the meaning of Scripture in a way that does not permit questioning.

    3) Bryan does not deal with the quotation itself. Cyril proposes informing the catechumen of the doctrines to be believed, as instruction in the church with him as a representative of the magisterium, and yet he leaves his teaching open to question and correction from the Scriptures. That is not the Roman alternative to Sola Scriptura, whether or not Cyril wants the traditional interpretations of Scripture to inform his listeners.

    -TurretinFan

  17. Bryan Cross said,

    June 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Lane,

    My understanding is that by ‘formal sufficiency’ you mean that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” (WCF I.7) So, let’s say you’re in your house and you hear a loud crash outside. You look at our your window, and you see a terrible car accident. A man is lying on the street. You run out to him, and you see that has been impaled, and is bleeding badly. He says to you, “I’m dying, but I am not right with God; what should I do?” I’m guessing that you wouldn’t pull out your pocket WCF and start going through it chapter by chapter and have him affirm each chapter, nor would you go through the Nicene Creed, and have him affirm each line. I’m guessing that you would say something like “Friend, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, receive Him and rest upon Him alone for your salvation, and you will be saved.” And if he replied, “I believe in Jesus Christ, I receive Him and rest upon Him alone for my salvation,” I imagine that you would say something in reply like, “Be assured by the promise of Christ that your sins are forgiven, that you stand before God the Father clothed in the righteousness of Christ, that nothing can separate you from Him, and that you will live forever in heaven sharing eternal life with Him.”

    If that’s the case, then what is “necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation” is nothing more than something conceptually equivalent to believing in Jesus Christ, receiving Him and resting upon Him alone for salvation. Otherwise, if more were necessary for salvation, the man in our example would have to believe more than what he professed, in order to be assured by you of his salvation.

    But I think that’s not the sense of ‘necessary … for salvation’ the divines had in mind when they wrote WCF I.7. They weren’t talking about the minimal propositional content necessary for a man to be saved. I think they were talking about what is necessary for the Church to believe and teach, i.e. the essential doctrines of the faith. So in WCF I.7 they are saying that all the essential doctrines of the faith are so clearly propounded in Scripture, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, through a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. They are not saying that only some of the essential doctrines of the faith are so clearly propounded in Scripture that not only the learned but the unlearned, through a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. That would still require a Magisterium to explicate the other essential doctrines of the faith. So WCF I.7 must be saying that all the essential doctrines are clearly propounded in Scripture, that not only the learned … understanding of them.”

    This raises the question: does the “due use of ordinary means” necessarily include subordinating one’s interpretation to the Tradition as contained in the Church Fathers? And the answer it seems, is clearly no. The Protestant approach to Scripture is not to treat the Fathers as providing an authoritative Tradition in which to interpret Scripture rightly. We can see that even in your own willingness to believe that all the Church Fathers were wrong about baptismal regeneration. In other words, in the Protestant approach to Scripture, the meaning of Scripture is determined by exegesis, literary and historical context, and principles of hermeneutics applied to Scripture as a whole, based on the meaning of the terms as they were used at the time the texts were written, and the meaning they would have had to their contemporary recipients. This interpretation is then used to evaluate for each doctrine in question whether or not the Church Fathers ‘got it right.’ That the Westminster divines took this approach to the interpretation of Scripture can be seen even in the WCF proof texts, which are always passages of Scripture, and never appeals to the Fathers as providing an authoritative Tradition to which our interpretation of Scripture must conform. This is an implication of the Protestant principle that Scripture interprets Scripture; it is not Tradition interprets Scripture, but critically evaluates Tradition against “Scripture’s interpretation of Scripture.”

    From this it follows that the formal sufficiency taught in WCF I.7 is equivalent to the claim that all the divine revelation necessary for the Church is presented explicitly in Scripture (or follows by logical deduction from what is explicit in Scripture) such that neither Tradition nor the Magisterium are needed in order for anyone to understand Scripture rightly, so long as they make due use of the “ordinary means” (i.e. exegetical tools, grammatico-historical exegesis, lexicons, hermeneutical principles, etc.).

    And given this sense of ‘formal sufficiency,’ then since all the Fathers believed and taught baptismal regeneration, and since the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system” in which the due use of the ordinary means has allegedly been attained and preserved, it follows either that all the Church Fathers did not make due use of the ordinary means when interpreting Scripture regarding the doctrine of baptism or they were making use of Tradition as authoritative in their interpretation and understanding of Scripture. But the former thesis is highly implausible, and epistemically dangerous, because it simply posits that when all the Church Fathers disagree with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, it must be the case that they weren’t making due use of the ordinary means. It is much more plausible that in such a case the Church Fathers were guided by authoritative Tradition, rather than that they simply failed to make due use of the ordinary means. But if Tradition functioned for them as an authoritative light by which and in which Scripture is to be interpreted, then they did not hold to ‘formal sufficiency’ in the sense taught in WCF I.7. And that’s what I mean in saying that St. Cyril is talking about Scripture-as-informed-by-the-Tradition-located-within-the-Church-led-by-the-Magisterium.

    We can see that in the very next Catechetical Lecture, where St. Cyril writes:

    But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it , and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart, taking care while you rehearse it that no Catechumen chance to overhear the things which have been delivered to you. I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no other, neither if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching, nor if an adverse angel, transformed into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) should wish to lead you astray. For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that you have received, let him be to you anathema. (Galatians 1:8-9) So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments. Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which you now receive, and write them on the table of your heart. Catechetical Lecture 5

    We can see here that the Catechumens are not given the right to place their own interpretation of Scripture above that of the Church if they happen to disagree with that of the Church. Rather, they are first to receive the faith of the Church in humility and trust, and only later in time, after they have been received into the Church and as they live within and practice the Tradition of the Church, come to see in the Scriptures the proofs of the articles of the Creed. Not only that, but for the rest of their lives, according to St. Cyril’s exhortation, they are not to receive any other teaching than what the Church has given them, but instead they are to hold fast to the traditions they have received from the Church, writing them on the table of their hearts.

    What St. Cyril is saying in the quotation you cited is inoculating the Catechumens against later [after having been received into the Church] deviating from the Tradition handed down by the Church in the Creed and supported by Scripture as interpreted according to that Tradition. Thus even if St. Cyril were later to go against the faith of the Church, they shouldn’t be persuaded by his clever arguments or clever reasoning. They must follow Scripture. But, again, this does not mean Scripture-interpreted-apart-from-Tradition or Scripture-apart-from-the-teaching-of-the-Church, but rather Scripture as interpreted within and according to the authoritative Tradition of the Church. (See, for example, St. Vincent’s teaching regarding the insufficiency of Scripture alone, apart from the Tradition.) That is why the quotation you cited is not evidence that St. Cyril endorsed the notion that the individual’s interpretation of Scripture is greater in authority than that of the Church, or that all the divine revelation necessary for the Church is presented explicitly in Scripture (or follows by logical deduction from what is explicit in Scripture) such that neither Tradition nor the Magisterium are needed in order for anyone to understand Scripture rightly, so long as he sufficiently uses exegetical tools and standard hermeneutical principles. To take St. Cyril’s statement that way is therefore to misunderstand and distort what he is saying, reading back into it a notion foreign to what he is saying.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  18. TurretinFan said,

    June 18, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Bryan wrote:

    From this it follows that the formal sufficiency taught in WCF I.7 is equivalent to the claim that all the divine revelation necessary for the Church is presented explicitly in Scripture (or follows by logical deduction from what is explicit in Scripture) such that neither Tradition nor the Magisterium are needed in order for anyone to understand Scripture rightly, so long as they make due use of the “ordinary means” (i.e. exegetical tools, grammatico-historical exegesis, lexicons, hermeneutical principles, etc.).

    But Bryan is mistaken. The ordinary means also includes the teaching of the church. Due use of the ordinary means doesn’t mean completely ignoring what the teachers in the church have said – but it doesn’t mean imbuing them with infallibility either. Bryan’s false dichotomizing is springing up again.

    Bryan continued:

    And given this sense of ‘formal sufficiency,’ then since all the Fathers believed and taught baptismal regeneration, and since the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system” in which the due use of the ordinary means has allegedly been attained and preserved, it follows either that all the Church Fathers did not make due use of the ordinary means when interpreting Scripture regarding the doctrine of baptism or they were making use of Tradition as authoritative in their interpretation and understanding of Scripture.

    a) Bryan hasn’t and cannot establish that all the Fathers believed and taught baptismal regeneration.
    b) Baptismal regeneration being “impossible in the Reformed system” does not mean that holding to baptismal regeneration is rejecting an essential doctrine of the faith. The Reformed system is not like the Roman system, where every doctrine of the system becomes an infallible dogma that can’t be rejected. There is something between “adiaphora” and “essential doctrines” as noted in #16 above.
    c) Let’s assume some group of church fathers taught baptismal regeneration. If rejecting baptismal regeneration is an essential doctrine, then they were heretics. If rejecting baptismal regeneration is not an essential doctrine, then they simply erred. We cannot necessarily reach any conclusion about whether they made diligent use of the outward and ordinary means.
    d) Of course, making use of tradition is part of making use of the ordinary means. Even making use of authoritative tradition can be part of making use of the ordinary means in a church that has authoritative tradition. What is problematic is alleging that tradition is infallible. But, of course, neither Cyril nor any other father that Bryan might cite regarding baptismal regeneration will be found to say that baptismal regeneration must be accepted based on the infallibility of tradition.

    Bryan goes on to place bold on part of a sentence: “But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.” He bolded the part about the church, but not the part about the Scriptures. Strange, don’t you think?

    He wrote: “We can see here that the Catechumens are not given the right to place their own interpretation of Scripture above that of the Church if they happen to disagree with that of the Church.” But Bryan’s conclusion isn’t implied in Cyril’s words. Cyril is emphasizing to the catechumen’s that the church (He himself, to be precise) is delivering Scriptural doctrine, something that has been “built up strongly out of all the Scriptures” and which were “collected out of all the Scripture.”

    Bryan goes on to provide the straw man: “That is why the quotation you cited is not evidence that St. Cyril endorsed the notion that the individual’s interpretation of Scripture is greater in authority than that of the Church … ” But, of course, we didn’t claim that an individual’s interpretation of Scripture is greater in authority than that of the Church.

    What we alleged, and what Cyril said, and what hasn’t be directly addressed by Bryan, is that it is the duty and responsibility of the individual to compare the teachings of the church to the teachings of Scripture and to adhere to the teachings of Scripture when the two part company.

    Worse still for Bryan, this new quotation he has provided makes matters worse for himself. You see, now the individual is being charged not simply with interpreting Scripture in general, but also with interpreting a short summary of Scriptural doctrines – doctrines that have been “built up strongly out of all the Scriptures” and “collected out of all the Scripture.”

    And if he or any teacher in the church comes and teaches something contrary to the creed, these individuals are supposed to reject it. So, now, the individuals are not just the interpreters of Scripture, but the interpreters of the creed as well!

    The purpose of the creed is not primarily to provide a hermeneutic grid through which the rest of Scriptures become decipherable. Instead, it is to “embrace[] in [a] few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments.”

    Cyril repeatedly disclaims any independent authority for this summary, but constantly and continually insists that it is legitimate because it is drawn from Scripture.

    Notice as well that within that description of the creed there is another fatal blow to Bryan’s side. Cyril does not call it “all the knowledge of godliness in Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium,” but “all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments.” That’s because, for Cyril, Scripture alone was the source of all the knowledge of godliness.

    -TurretinFan


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