Sunday, November 01, 2009

Perspicuity of Scripture Contra Bellisario - Part 5

I'm responding to a post from Mr. Matthew Bellisario (see my first post for the introduction). In this post, I address Mr. Bellisario's response to my quotation from Tertullian. Mr. Bellisario has put my words in italics, and I have attempted to reproduce them as he provided them, within the quotation box below. His own words are (for the most part) in the plain font:
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).
I answer:

a) Well, most obviously, Mr. Bellisario never touches the actual quotation from Tertullian provided. Instead, he tries to dodge the question by turning to some other passage of Tertullian.

b) As to the New Testament canon question, looking at ANF3 (the volume of Schaff that includes part of Tertullian's writings), we see that the following books are the only ones that Tertullian does not reference in that volume of Schaff:

Ruth, Ezra, Obediah, Zephaniah, Philemon, 2 John, and Jude. (also, for those interested in such things, he also refers to Tobit, Wisdom, Barch, Susanna, Bel, 1/2 Macabees, and 2 Esdras)

So, yes, even if it was a little fuzzy at the edges, his canon was essentially the same as ours. Besides that, I've addressed Bellisario's implicit canon argument in previous segments.

c) Calling Tertullian an "heretic" doesn't change the fact that he's viewed as the father of Latin Christianity. He eventually wandered off into heresy, but the quotation provided wasn't from an heretical work.

d) As for the additional quotation provided by Bellisario, we note initially that it does not address the same issue as the quotation that I had provided. But let's see what the quotation says in its full context:
Grant, then, that all have erred; that the apostle was mistaken in giving his testimony; that the Holy Ghost had no such respect to any one (church) as to lead it into truth, although sent with this view by Christ, [John xiv. 26.] and for this asked of the Father that He might be the teacher of truth; [John xv. 26.] grant, also, that He, the Steward of God, the Vicar of Christ, [FN: Tertullian knows no other Vicar of Christ than the Holy Spirit. They who attribute infallibility to any mortal man become Montanists; they attribute the Paraclete’s voice to their oracle.] neglected His office, permitting the churches for a time to understand differently, (and) to believe differently, what He Himself was preaching by the apostles,—is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith? No casualty distributed among many men issues in one and the same result. 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 [Audeat.] enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition?
- Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 28

1) Notice, as an interesting but largely irrelevant (to the issue of perspicuity) issue, that Tertullian is arguing that the Holy Spirit is the Vicar of Christ (not the pope or his minions). The editor's footnote is exactly right in that regard.

2) Notice that Tertullian's primary point is to consider the hypothesis (which obviously views as absurd) that the entire church fell away, and not even one church maintained the truth.

3) Tertullian uses essentially a modus tolens argument. Phrased more formally, the argument is:

Major Premise: If the churches had just simply all gone off on their own separate errors, we would expect a variety of doctrine.

Minor Premise: But we see a unity of doctrine, not a diversity of doctrine.

Conclusion: Therefore, the churches did not all go off on their own separate errors.

The major premise is stated by Tertullian as "is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith? No casualty distributed among many men issues in one and the same result. Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues."

The minor premise is stated by Tertullian as "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."

The conclusion is stated by Tertullian as "Can any one, then, be reckless enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition?"

What is the tradition that Tertullian had in mind? It is simply the gospel. We see this from Tertullian's very next section:
In whatever manner error came, it reigned of course only as long as there was an absence of heresies? Truth had to wait for certain Marcionites and Valentinians to set it free. During the interval the gospel was wrongly preached; men wrongly believed; so many thousands were wrongly baptized; so many works of faith were wrongly wrought; so many miraculous gifts, so many spiritual endowments, were wrongly set in operation; so many priestly functions, so many ministries, were wrongly executed; and, to sum up the whole, so many martyrs wrongly received their crowns! Else, if not wrongly done, and to no purpose, how comes it to pass that the things of God were on their course before it was known to what God they belonged? that there were Christians before Christ was found? that there were heresies before true doctrine? Not so; for in all cases truth precedes its copy, the likeness succeeds the reality. Absurd enough, however, is it, that heresy should be deemed to have preceded its own prior doctrine, even on this account, because it is that (doctrine) itself which foretold that there should be heresies against which men would have to guard! To a church which possessed this doctrine, it was written—yea, the doctrine itself writes to its own church—“Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than that which we have preached, let him be accursed.”
- Tertullian, Prescription Against Heresies, Chapter 29

Likewise, we find confirmation that Tertullian is speaking specifically of the gospel in the immediately preceding chapter:
Since, therefore, it is incredible that the apostles were either ignorant of the whole scope of the message which they had to declare, or failed to make known to all men the entire rule of faith, let us see whether, while the apostles proclaimed it, perhaps, simply and fully, the churches, through their own fault, set it forth otherwise than the apostles had done. All these suggestions of distrust you may find put forward by the heretics. They bear in mind how the churches were rebuked by the apostle: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” [Gal. iii. 1.] and, “Ye did run so well; who hath hindered you?” [Gal. v. 7.] and how the epistle actually begins: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him, who hath called you as His own in grace, to another gospel.” [Gal. i. 6.] That they likewise (remember), what was written to the Corinthians, that they “were yet carnal,” who “required to be fed with milk,” being as yet “unable to bear strong meat;” [1 Cor. iii. 1, and following verses.] who also “thought that they knew somewhat, whereas they knew not yet anything, as they ought to know.” [1 Cor. viii. 2.] When they raise the objection that the churches were rebuked, let them suppose that they were also corrected; let them also remember those (churches), concerning whose faith and knowledge and conversation the apostle “rejoices and gives thanks to God,” which nevertheless even at this day, unite with those which were rebuked in the privileges of one and the same institution.
And we see the same thing continuing back to the previous chapters:

Chapter XXVI.—The Apostles Did in All Cases Teach the Whole Truth to the Whole Church. No Reservation, Nor Partial Communication to Favourite Friends.

Chapter XXV.—The Apostles Did Not Keep Back Any of the Deposit of Doctrine Which Christ Had Entrusted to Them. St. Paul Openly Committed His Whole Doctrine to Timothy.

And continuing forward to the subsequent chapters:

Chapter XXX.—Comparative Lateness of Heresies. Marcion’s Heresy. Some Personal Facts About Him. The Heresy of Apelles. Character of This Man; Philumene; Valentinus; Nigidius, and Hermogenes.

Chapter XXXI.—Truth First, Falsehood Afterwards, as Its Perversion. Christ’s Parable Puts the Sowing of the Good Seed Before the Useless Tares.

So, in fact, the section provided by Mr. Bellisario is not helpful to his case at all. But there is a section that is better for him:
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.
- Tertullian, Prescription Against Heresies, Chapter 19

How might this be more helpful? Well, it has this line that might sound nice taken out of context: "Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures... ." That doesn't sound very Sola Scriptura, does it! The context, however, is simply that one cannot carry on reasonable debates about the Bible with non-Christians. What's interesting is that when one sees that context, one realizes that Tertullian is saying, in essence, if we were dealing with Christians, we'd argue from the Bible, but since we are dealing with non-Christians, what's the point?

Indeed, it is in that context that Tertullian is addressing the historical question of the possession of the gospel: he's pointing out how it is impossible that all these churches all over the world could have the same gospel if it did not come from the apostles.

So, in short, we've seen that Mr. Bellisario didn't even address the quotation provided from Tertullian and provided us with an irrelevant quotation from Tertullian.

-TurretinFan

1 comment:

natamllc said...

Amazing isn't it, that a lot can still be said after parts 1 thru 4?

Here's a question I would answer:

[Tertullian asks]

"....Else, if not wrongly done, and to no purpose, how comes it to pass that the things of God were on their course before it was known to what God they belonged?...".

A rather simple acknowledgment would or rather, should do?

God is Triune and "Eternal".

We are fixed in here, that is, we are creatures, in this temporal heavens dweilling on the temporal earth, all the while destined for an "Eternal place" when we too pass; to the one, eternal damnation and unrest of soul and to the other, "Eternal Life" as our Dear Lord has beckoned already:::>

Mat 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

What makes this severity most amazing is the fact that this is Emmanuel beckoning on behalf of "Eternity". The severity should not be lost then? If God through His beloved Eternal Son as Emmanuel beckons through Him to come and rest, what state does one find their own soul prior to "hearing the Word of God" that causes one to lie down and rest in His pastures then? I shutter! I tremble!

Gripping my lower lip as I grasp the gravity of this work being done in here cools my flesh from outbursts of anger, as though any outburst of anger established ever the Righteousness of God by the deeds and work being done in here!

Let the ox then thresh out the wheat as the servants lift up the chaff to the wind!