Thursday, July 23, 2009
The Real Flimsy Flam.
I ran across another post by one of the "Reformed" apologists who once again has taken many early Church Father writings out of context to try and bolster his case for Sola Scriptura. Of course we all know who these guys are that twist the Scriptures and the Fathers to their own destruction. I wanted to peruse through a post by Turretin Fan and show you just how bad his arguments are pertaining to understanding the Scriptures and Sola Scriptura. He calls one of his latest posts,"Flattening Flimsy Flam", where he insults the Catholic apologist Mark Shea. What is amusing is that his own post is what is really the flimsy flam because his arguments are really bad. Lets look at some of the quotes this guy cuts and pastes for his arguments to defend his position of Sola Scriptura as well as the ease of understanding the Scriptures without the help of apostolic Tradition.
Turretin Fan uses this quote from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem,
As Cyril of Jerusalem (about A.D. 315 – 386) put it:
Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.
- Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture IV, Section 17
Turretin Fan takes the Father out of context. What Turretin Fan fails to tell you is that Saint Cyril's work that he quotes from is a catechetical lecture based on the Scriptures, which is why this particular text is focused on the Scriptures. Saint Cyril however never tells us that Scripture alone is how the Church receives its only Divine Revelation and where it gets its only authority from. Cyril is telling his catechumens that the Gospel was not based on clever human reasoning, but that he had based his lectures on Holy Writ. Turretin has reached far beyond the context of the text. No Catholic would disagree that salvation is demonstrated from the Holy Scriptures or that the Gospel is not based on human ingenious reasoning. Next.
Then Turretin Fan quotes Saint Justin Martyr in an attempt to bolster his position that the Scriptures are easy to understand.
Pay attention, therefore, to what I shall record out of the holy Scriptures, which do not need to be expounded, but only listened to.
- Justin Martyr, Dialog With Trypho, Chapter 55
First of all Saint Justin Martyr lived in the middle of the second century. There was not a New Testament canon yet, nor would there be for the next 150 years or more. So the Saint was not even referring to the New Testament as we know it. Secondly the great Saint is only talking about an isolated case here where he is quoting the Scriptures for a specific purpose. Anyone knows that Justin was not making a blanket statement on Scripture as not needing any exposition on them. This is once again a pitiful stretch of the text. If this is so then why does the "Reformer" read the writings of John Calvin in which he expounds upon the Scriptures giving his own interpretation? As many times as I have heard the Reformed apologist tell us that the Scriptures need no aid to their understanding, I am baffled by the pages of Scripture commentaries they refer to. If you have to write anything other than what is in the text itself (in this case the Scriptures), then by definition you are expounding upon the text.
Then Turretin Fan turns to butcher the words of Saint Irenaeus. One has to wonder when this guy will stop. So he writes,
We have many arguments at our disposal, we might, as Irenaeus (about A.D. 130 - 200) did and take the position that the perspicuity of Scripture is self-evident, hidden only from the blind:
Since, therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets, and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them; and since they proclaim that one only God, to the exclusion of all others, formed all things by His word, whether visible or invisible, heavenly or earthly, in the water or under the earth, as I have shown from the very words of Scripture; and since the very system of creation to which we belong testifies, by what falls under our notice, that one Being made and governs it,—those persons will seem truly foolish who blind their eyes to such a clear demonstration, and will not behold the light of the announcement [made to them]; but they put fetters upon themselves, and every one of them imagines, by means of their obscure interpretations of the parables, that he has found out a God of his own.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 27, Section 2
Many arguments at his disposal? Many weak arguments. What does this prove? We all have to ask ourselves who the blind one is? The one who reads the Scriptures from within the Church or outside of it. Also once again Saint Irenaeus lived in the middle of the second century, which did not possess a universal New Testament text. So it is obvious that this Saint was not referring to the method of Scripture Alone as Turretin Fan understands it to be. It is impossible. Most likely the Saint was referring to the Gospels and the Old Testament, making light of the parables of Jesus, which are only revealed to those whom Christ had removed the blinders from so they could understand them. If anything this defeats Turretin Fan's own argument. One has to wonder if Turretin Fan has really read this Father at any length because the Saint tells us how we are to understand the Scriptures in the very same letter just a couple of books later. He tells us that they must be understood in harmony with the Church's Tradition and from within the apostolic succession of the bishops, which Turretin rejects. Turretin Fan conveniently forgot that part. A flimsy flam for sure. Lets read it shall we?
"True knowledge is the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved, without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither addition nor curtailment [in the truth which she believes]; and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and 'above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts of God." -- Irenaeus, Against Heresies (Bk. 4, Chap. 33)
Turretin Fan then quotes Tertullian who was a heretic himself who also lived in an age where he did not have access to the New Testament as we know it. Be that as it may maybe Turretin forgot about this text that he wrote,
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" (Prescription against the Heretics,28).
Turretin moves on to St Athanasius where he pulls one sentence out of context,
I wonder if this is where Mr. Shea hopes to gain an edge on folks with less experience in the laboratory than he. I refer to folks like Athanasius (about A.D. 297 - 373) who wrote:
And this is usual with Scriptures, to express itself in inartificial and simple phrases.
- Athanasius, Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 3
OK so is St Athanasius in complete rebellion to the Biblical text of Acts 8:30-31 which reads, "30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. 31"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Is he assuming that all Biblical texts are simple phrases? Does the great Saint believe that the Scriptures Alone are his only authority? I think not. During the Arian crisis Saint Athanasius on several occasions told us how the Church defended itself during the Arian crisis. He states that it is not Scripture Alone but that understanding which has been passed down in the Church. For he readily admits that even the Arians referred to Scripture, but not in compliance with that which was handed down within the Church by apostolic Tradition which Turretin Fan rejects.
Accordingly we too, according to your confession of faith, desire to hold the Apostolic tradition , and to live according to the commands of the divine law, that we may be found along with you in that band in which now Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs are rejoicing. So then, though the Arian madness, aided by external power, was so active that our brethren on account of their fury could not even see the open air with freedom, yet by God's favour, according to your prayers, I have been able, though with trouble and danger, to see the brother who is wont to bring me necessaries and the letters of your holiness, along with those of others. And so we have received the books of your most wise and religious soul, in which we have seen the image of an Apostle, the confidence of a Prophet, the teaching of truth, the doctrine of true faith, the way of heaven, the glory of martyrdom, the triumphs against the Arian heresy, the unimpaired tradition of our Fathers, the right rule of the Church's order.
Athanasius. Letter 51 Second Letter to Lucifer.
We can also see this understanding here when he refers to the Arian heresy again,
"But after him (the devil) and with him are all 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, because they do not rightly know them nor their power" Athanasius Festal Letter 2
We then move on to Turretin's abuse of Saint Hilary of Poitiers.
Perhaps, as I say, Mr. Shea believes himself a better Christian scientist or laboratory technician in the laboratory of life than Athanasius. If so, then no doubt he will not be shy to proclaim his experimental superiority over Hilary of Poitiers (about A.D. 315 - 367) who declared:
The Lord enunciated the faith of the Gospel in the simplest words that could be found, and fitted His discourses to our understanding, so far as the weakness of our nature allowed Him, without saying anything unworthy of the majesty of His own nature.
- Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book 9, Section 40
Ok one has to ask what this proves? Does this anywhere speak of using Scripture Alone as a sole rule of faith? Is Saint Hilary saying that all the Scripture are easy to understand for anyone who reads them? No he does not. He is merely speaking of Jesus and the Gospel which he preached, which from within the Church is easily understood. But as we can see, those who remain outsiders, they have a real hard time with it because they have to spend hours figuring out how to twist these early Fathers into saying something that they never really said.
Turretin continues to rail against Mark Shea by next quoting St. Augustine on understanding the word of God. Somehow Turretin Fan comes to the conclusion that not all things in Scripture are easy to understand, but only the "necessary" things. For someone who hails himself as loving Scripture, and someone who claims it as his only authority, I find his position quite flimsy. So where does the Scriptures tell us what things in it are essential? Is it just the things that Turretin finds essential? Because God gave us the entire Biblical Canon for a reason. It is all essential. But not for the Sola Scripturist. It is only convenient to say that the essential texts are easy. This is the flimsiest yet of his arguments.
TF then moves on to Saint John Chrysostom to try and prove that the Scriptures are easy to understand. He writes,
One wonders whether Mr. Shea is even aware of what John Chrysostom (A.D. 347 - 407) spoke about the perspicuity of Scripture:
What do I come in for, you say, if I do not hear some one discoursing? This is the ruin and destruction of all. For what need of a person to discourse? This necessity arises from our sloth. Wherefore any necessity for a homily? All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain. But because ye are hearers for pleasure’s sake, for that reason also you seek these things. For tell me, with what pomp of words did Paul speak? and yet he converted the world. Or with what the unlettered Peter? But I know not, you say, the things that are contained in the Scriptures. Why? For are they spoken in Hebrew? Are they in Latin, or in foreign tongues? Are they not in Greek? But they are expressed obscurely, you say: What is it that is obscure? Tell me. Are there not histories? For (of course) you know the plain parts, in that you enquire about the obscure. There are numberless histories in the Scriptures. Tell me one of these. But you cannot. These things are an excuse, and mere words. Every day, you say, one hears the same things. Tell me, then, do you not hear the same things in the theaters? Do you not see the same things in the race-course? Are not all things the same? Is it not always the same sun that rises? Is it not the same food that we use? I should like to ask you, since you say that you every day hear the same things; tell me, from what Prophet was the passage that was read? from what Apostle, or what Epistle? But you cannot tell me—you seem to hear strange things. When therefore you wish to be slothful, you say that they are the same things. But when you are questioned, you are in the case of one who never heard them. If they are the same, you ought to know them. But you are ignorant of them.
- John Chrysostom, Homily 3 on 2 Thessalonians
Did TF learn why the great Saint was writing this or in what context? I think we have a case of cut and paste here. Lets look at what the great Saint is talking about here. First of all this is a homily on 2 Thessalonians 9, 10 “Who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of His might, when He shall come to be glorified in His Saints, and to be marveled at in all them that believed.” In it the Saint is disappointed by those coming to Church who think that the Gospel is only something that is coming from him. He is upset that they are not taking the reading of the Scriptures in the Liturgy to heart as the word of God, so he scolds them for it telling them to study the Scriptures because that is where he is getting his information from that he preaches on. This of course is the custom of the Church, to preach on the Scripture of the liturgical day. He is upset that they are not paying attention to the readings, rather they pay more attention to the writings of secular rulers. This understanding from the perspective of Saint John comes with faith within the Church. In reading the text before and after the cut and paste that Turretin Fan used, we can see that he understands the Scriptures to be plainly understood in the context of laboring to understand them in faith and in the Liturgy. Lets look at some of the text before the text quoted, leading into part of it.
They think when they enter in here, that they enter into our presence, they think that what they hear they hear from us. They do not lay to heart, they do not consider, that they are entering into the presence of God, that it is He who addresses them. For when the Reader standing up says, “Thus saith the Lord,” and the Deacon stands and imposes silence on all, he does not say this as doing honor to the Reader, but to Him who speaks to all through him. If they knew that it was God who through His prophet speaks these things, they would cast away all their pride. For if when rulers are addressing them, they do not allow their minds to wander, much less would they, when God is speaking. We are ministers, beloved. We speak not our own things, but the things of God, letters coming from heaven are every day read.
Tell me then, I beseech you, if now, when we are all present some one entered, having a golden girdle, and drawing himself up, and with an air of consequence said that he was sent by the king that is on the earth, and that he brought letters to the whole city concerning matters of importance; would you not then be all turned towards him? Would you not, without any command from a deacon, observe a profound silence? Truly I think so. For I have often heard letters from kings read here. Then if any one comes from a king, you all attend; and does a Prophet come from God, and speak from heaven, and 388no one attend? Or do you not believe that these things are messages from God? These are letters sent from God; therefore let us enter with becoming reverence into the Churches, and let us hearken with fear to the things here said.
What do I come in for, you say, if I do not hear some one discoursing? This is the ruin and destruction of all. For what need of a person to discourse? This necessity arises from our sloth. Wherefore any necessity for a homily? All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain.
Here Saint John is clearly upset that those who are attending are not paying attention and are living in sloth. They are not listening to the Scriptures in a state of grace, but of contempt. Saint John is merely pointing out that for those who are attentive, and those who believe, they will understand the Scriptures. In fact just after this passage he closes by urging these people to labor at understanding the Scriptures because they are guilty of being lazy and not applying themselves to the Scriptures. It is clear that Saint John believes that the Scriptures are only easy to understand to those that really believe and have faith, not just anyone who decides to read them.
"This state of things is worthy of lamentation—of lamentation and complaint: for the coiner coineth but in vain. For this you ought more especially to attend, because they are the same things, because we give you no labor, nor speak things that are strange or variable. What then, since you say, that those are the same things, but our discourses are not the same things, but we always speak things that are new to you, do you pay heed to these? By no means. But if we say, Why do you not retain even these? “We hear them but once,” you say, “and how can we retain them?” If we say, Why do ye not attend to those other things? “The same things,” you say, “are always said”—and every way these are words of sloth and excuse. But they will not always serve, but there will be a time when we shall lament in vain and without effect. Which may God forbid, and grant that having repented here, and attending with understanding and godly fear to the things spoken, we may both be urged on to the due performance of good works, and may amend our own lives with all diligence, that we may be able to obtain the blessings promised to those who love Him, by the grace and lovingkindness, &c."
This is not the ace in the hole Turretin thought he had found. This is an exposition on the problems that Saint John had with people being lazy not paying attention or taking the Scriptures seriously. Saint John is not saying that the essentials are in the Scriptures alone, nor that they never need to be explained. We can see this in his continued homily on 2nd Thess 2:15 where he clearly appeals to the Church and Tradition as well as Sacred Scripture.
“So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours.”
Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.
Turretin then again cuts and pastes a quote by Athanasius,
"But," says the Arian, "is it not written?" Yes, it is written! And it is necessary that it should be said. But what is well written is ill understood by heretics. If they had understood and grasped the terms in which Christianity is expressed, they would not have called the Lord of glory [1 Corinthians 2:8; cf. James 2:1] a creature nor stumbled over what is well written.
- Athanasius, Epistle to Serapion
If Turretin had done any real research he would know that the proper understanding that Athanasius was referring to is that of Tradition within the Church. The heresy he was addressing was Arianism and he was using Sacred Scripture within the Church Tradition to combat it. I already proved that from the quotes I gave above. Another flimsy flam.
Continuing on through this mess is now proving to be a boring task as we can see that the quotes he uses are taken out of their proper context. What I find to be amusing is that Turretin uses a quote that defeats his own argument. I don't have to say much here, I will just quote exactly what he wrote and see if the text he quotes supports his argument, or defeats it. Does Turretin think that no one will read the text he quoted? Does he expect us to all ignore the parts where Irenaeus is clearly telling us that it is Scripture and Tradition that he appeals to? Does TF know that Irenaeus is referring to the gnostic heresy which proposed that there was a secret oral tradition which interpreted them with this esoteric philosophical understanding?
In fact Irenaeus tells us that there is an authentic Tradition and not a gnostic or secret one known only to this sect. In fact he tells us that the Gnostics are not going by apostolic Tradition, but one of their own making which denied Scripture as being a part of. It is this esoteric knowledge which Irenaeus rebels against. Also once again I point out that there was no New Testament at the time as a canon. The Scriptures Irenaeus is referring to here is most probable the Old Testament to which the gnostics were famous for butchering with their supposed esoteric knowledge which they presumed surpassed that of the Old Testament Scriptures. Let the text speak for itself.
But what about those folks who claim that Scripture is ambiguous and cannot be understood without tradition? We give them the following answer from tradition:
When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, “But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world” [1 Cor. ii. 6]. And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth; so that, according to their idea, the truth properly resides at one time in Valentinus, at another in Marcion, at another in Cerinthus, then afterwards in Basilides, or has even been indifferently in any other opponent, who could speak nothing pertaining to salvation. For every one of these men, being altogether of a perverse disposition, depraving the system of truth, is not ashamed to preach himself.
2. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsulliedly, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.
3. Such are the adversaries with whom we have to deal, my very dear friend, endeavouring like slippery serpents to escape at all points. Where-fore they must be opposed at all points, if per-chance, by cutting off their retreat, we may succeed in turning them back to the truth. For, though it is not an easy thing for a soul under the influence of error to repent, yet, on the other hand, it is not altogether impossible to escape from error when the truth is brought alongside it.
This whole post by TF as far as I am concerned was the real flimsy flam. Cutting and pasting quotes out of their historical context, as well as their original intent, seems to be the only play these guys can come up with. All it takes is a bit of looking into whom the writer was addressing, and for what reason he was addressing them, to see that all of these quotes support the Catholic position, not the "Reformed" apologist. It is quite amusing to see Turretin Fan's pals going over and congratulating him on this post, all highfiving each other as if he had just defended their position successfully. In every one of these quotes that refers to the ease of understanding the Scriptures it is understood by the author to be within the Church, with valid apostolic succession. Somehow Turretin Fan thinks he is reading them from within that context that these Fathers all attest to. I beg to differ.