Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Lesson on Authority From Tertullian: Not Scripture Alone

Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood.


As you probably know, there are millions of people out there who quote Scripture as being their only authority and rule of faith. This is the primary heresy of Protestantism and the character of this heresy is division. Hence the hundreds of major splits in their doctrinal beliefs. There are many methods they use to justify their heresy which include not only misinterpreting Scripture passages, but also misinterpreting and taking the Church Fathers and early Church writers out of context. The "Reformed" flavor of Protestantism are famous for doing this. John Calvin did it, and his followers now like James White and his henchmen like Turretin Fan do the same today. They will go and look for any reference to Scriptural authority they can find in an early Church writing and then claim they believed in Scripture alone. For example, look at this blog post put up by the "Reformed" apologist who calls himself Turretin Fan. He cuts and pastes a few lines from some Church Fathers out of context, gives his own commentary on them on why he thinks it aligns them with his belief in the sufficiency of the Scriptures. I will look at just one early Church writer that he uses, Tertullian, to show you how malicious these people are in their efforts to deceive people into following their heresies.



Turretin Fan cuts and pastes a couple of lines from Tertullian then claims the following; "Notice Tertullian's confidence in the Scriptures. Although he obviously is explaining the Scriptures, he is bold to state that the Scriptures are sufficient to themselves - they don't require someone's supporting argument. As excellent as those comments are, Tertullian's next comments are even more appropriate in dealing with modern Rome...Notice that Tertullian seems to suggest "scriptures alone" as the solution to heresies."

Yet it is very easy to see that this is not at all what Tertullian was implying when referring to the Scriptures "alone." As I have explained before, the Church Fathers and early Church writers like Tertullian saw no dividing line between the authority of the Scriptures and the authority of the Church. They were one in the same authority. The Scriptures, the Oral Kerygma or living Tradition and the Church were all authoritative in Tertullian's eyes. Although later in his life he was condemned in heresy by the Pope, to which he then revolted against, he once stood firm in the Catholic faith. One of his writings worth reading is titled, 'De Praescriptione Haereticorum', or 'Prescription Against Heretics' where he goes into detail in explaining how the Scriptures can only be understood within the one Church given to us by the apostles. This explicitly supports the Catholic view of apostolic succession as well as the need for Oral Kerygma, or the living guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Church. I will start with chapter 18 and it seems as if Tertullian was battling the same type of Scripture hijacking that we have today in Protestantism.


But with respect to the man for whose sake you enter on the discussion of the Scriptures, with the view of strengthening him when afflicted with doubts, (let me ask) will it be to the truth, or rather to heretical opinions that he will lean? Influenced by the very fact that he sees you have made no progress, while the other side is on an equal footing (with yourself) in denying and in defence, or at any rate on a like standing he will go away confirmed in his uncertainty by the discussion, not knowing which side to adjudge heretical. For, no doubt, they too are able to retort these things on us. It is indeed a necessary consequence that they should go so far as to say that adulterations of the Scriptures, and false expositions thereof, are rather introduced by ourselves, inasmuch as they, no less than we maintain that truth is on their side.
So we see Tertullian here telling us that the heretics of his day were resorting to Scripture as their authority accusing them as being the false teachers. So what was Tertullian's solution to this? If in fact each party could resort to the Scriptures and their only authority and then fight over their interpretation, who is right? This predicament is of course the Achilles Heel of the heresy of Scripture Alone. Tertullian gives us the answer. We move on to Chapter 19.

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. But even if a discussion from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians? For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.
Contrary to the impression that Turretin Fan gave us we see now the more detailed thoughts of this writer. It comes down to the authority of who actually passed on the rule of faith by which men become Christians. The same rule of faith which produced the Scriptures. You see Tertullian and those of his time understood the apostolic authority given by Christ to the apostles which was handed down to their successors. It is only there that the true expositions of the Scriptures can be found. Chapter 20 goes into more detail.

Christ Jesus our Lord (may He bear with me a moment in thus expressing myself!), whosoever He is, of what God soever He is the Son, of what substance soever He is man and God, of what faith soever He is the teacher, of what reward soever He is the Promiser, did, while He lived on earth, Himself declare what He was, what He had been, what the Father's will was which He was administering, what the duty of man was which He was prescribing; (and this declaration He made,) either openly to the people, or privately to His disciples, of whom He had chosen the twelve chief ones to be at His side, Mark 4:34 and whom He destined to be the teachers of the nations. Accordingly, after one of these had been struck off, He commanded the eleven others, on His departure to the Father, to go and teach all nations, who were to be baptized into the Father, and into the Son, and into the Holy Ghost. Matthew 28:19 Immediately, therefore, so did the apostles, whom this designation indicates as the sent. Having, on the authority of a prophecy, which occurs in a psalm of David, chosen Matthias by lot as the twelfth, into the place of Judas, they obtained the promised power of the Holy Ghost for the gift of miracles and of utterance; and after first bearing witness to the faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judæa, and founding churches (there), they next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality—privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery. 
It is quite clear here that this is Catholic doctrine to the core. There is nothing here that supports the heresies of Calvinism or Lutheranism. Finally in chapter 21 we have Tertullian's rule of faith, and it resides not in Scripture Alone, but in the authority given to the apostolic Churches. So much for Turretin Fan's hatchet job of poor Tertullian. When we actually read Tertullian at length and in context we see he is no proponent of the Protestant heresy.


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

I could on further quoting this manuscript, but I would suggest that you read it all for yourself. You can find the entire letter here.

2 comments:

scotju said...

Great expository teaching from a church father! I wonder if the side monkey will respond?

VeritasBible said...

A personal fav about scripture from Tertullian:

"Heretics have tampered with the Scriptures and mutilated and altered them. Catholics never change the Scriptures, which always testify for them."
-- Tertullian, from his On Prescription Against Heretics 1:38 [A.D.200]