Monday, January 18, 2010

Necessity of Scripture Reading - Whitaker and the Fathers

William Whitaker:
Nay, the fathers also confess, that a knowledge of, and acquaintance with, the scriptures is necessary for all Christians. Jerome in his commentary upon the Colossians, iii. 16, says: " Hence we see that the laity ought to have not only a sufficient, but an abundant knowledge of the scriptures, and also to instruct each other [FN2]." Chrysostom, in his ninth homily upon the Colossians, writing upon the same passage, remarks that the apostle requires the people to know the word of God, not simply, but in great abundance, οὐχ απλῶς, ἀλλὰ μετὰ πολλῆς τῆς περιουσίας; and adds: "Attend, all ye that are secular (κοσμικοὶ), and have wives and families depending upon you, how he (the apostle) specially commands you to read the scripture; and not merely to read it in a perfunctory manner, but with great diligence," ἀλλὰ μετὰ πολλῆς σπουδῆς. Chrysostom observes in that same place, that the apostle does not say, let the word of God be in you; but, let it dwell in you; and that, πλουσίως, richly [FN3].

OEcumenius too observes upon the same passage, that the doctrine of Christ should dwell in us ὐν πολλῆ δαψιλεία, most abundantly. Now, how are we to obtain so full a knowledge of it as this implies? OEcumenius informs us by subjoining, διὰ τῆς τῶν γραφῶν ἐρεύνης, by searching the scriptures. So Thomas Aquinas in his third lecture upon this chapter: "Some," says he, " are satisfied with a very small portion of the word of God; but the apostle desires we should have much of it [FN1]."

[FN2 Hinc perspicimus non tantum sufficienter, sed etiam abundantur debere lacios scripturarum cognitionem habere, et se invicem docere.—T. xi. 1029. But this Commentary is not Jerome's.]

[FN3 T. xi. p. 391.]

[FN1 Quibusdam sufficit modicum quid de verbo Dei: sed apostolus vult quod habeamus multum, p. 164. 2. T. xvi. Opp. Venet. 1593.]
- William Whitaker, A disputation on Holy Scripture: against the papists, especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, First Controversy, Second Question, Chapter 15 (pp. 239-40 in the Parker 1849 edition)

William Whitaker provides this brief reference to the teachings of fathers after his main argument. I don't want anyone to get the idea that he was trying to argue for the necessity of reading Scripture simply because he thought the church fathers taught it.

As to the necessity of Scripture (not simply of reading it, but of Scripture in general) recall that Whitaker carefully qualified the kind of necessity involved:
Our opponent disputes thus: Scripture is not absolutely necessary; therefore it is not necessary at all. But here lies the Jesuit's error: for it is not every necessity that is absolute; some is only Hypothetical. God could teach us without the holy scriptures, and lead us to eternal life; but he chose to propound his teaching to us in the scriptures. This, therefore, being supposed, it is necessary that we learn and derive the will and doctrine of God from the scriptures. Thus, not even food is simply necessary, because God could easily nourish us without food; but only hypothetically. God indeed formerly shewed himself familiarly to our fathers, and, in a manner, conversed constantly with some distinguished men, to whom he immediately disclosed his will; and then I confess that the scriptures were not necessary: but afterwards he changed this method of teaching his church, and chose that his will should be committed to writing; and then scripture began to be necessary.
- William Whitaker, A disputation on Holy Scripture: against the papists, especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, First Controversy, Sixth Question, Chapter 7 (p. 517 in the Parker 1849 edition)

We see similar sentiments from Caesarius of Arles:

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):
Similarly, one who refuses to read the sacred writings which have been transmitted from the eternal country should fear that he perhaps will not receive eternal rewards and even not escape endless punishment. So dangerous is it not to read the divine precepts that the Prophet mournfully exclaims: ‘Therefore is my people led away captive, because they had not knowledge.’ ‘If anyone ignores this, he shall be ignored.’ Doubtless, if a man fails to seek God in this world through the sacred lessons, God will refuse to recognize him in eternal bliss. . . . A man should first be willing to listen to God, if he wants to be heard by Him. Indeed, with what boldness does he want God to hear him when he despises God so much that he refuses to read His precepts?
Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 7.3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), pp. 47-48.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):
I beseech you, beloved brethren, be eager to engage in divine reading whatever hours you can. Moreover, since what a man procures in this life by reading or good works will be food of his soul forever, let no one try to excuse himself by saying he has not learned letters at all. If those who are illiterate love God in truth, they look for learned people who can read the sacred Scriptures to them.
Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.1 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 49.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):
Therefore consider at once, brethren, and carefully notice that the man who frequently reads or listens to sacred Scripture speaks with God. See, then, whether the Devil can overtake him when he perceives him in constant conversation with God. However, if a man neglects to do this, with what boldness or with what feelings does he believe God will grant him an eternal reward, when he refuses to speak with Him in this world through the divine text?
Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.3 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 52.

Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):
For this reason I beseech you with fatherly solicitude, equally admonishing and exhorting you, as was already said, to endeavor continually to read the sacred lessons yourselves or willingly to listen to others read them. By thus always thinking over in the treasury of your heart what is just and holy, you may prepare for your souls an eternal spiritual food that will bring you endless bliss.
Citation: FC, Vol. 31, Saint Caesarius of Arles, Sermons (1-80), Sermon 8.4 (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1956), p. 54.

And from Chrysostom.

Chrysostom (about A.D. 349-407):
Never deem it an unnecessary thing that he should be a diligent hearer of the divine Scriptures. For there the first thing he hears will be this, “Honor thy father and thy mother”; so that this makes for thee. Never say, this is the business of monks. Am I making a monk of him? No. There is no need he should become a monk. Why be so afraid of a thing so replete with so much advantage? Make him a Christian. For it is of all things necessary for laymen to be acquainted with the lessons derived from this source; but especially for children. For theirs is an age full of folly; and to this folly are super added the bad examples derived from the heathen tales, where they are made acquainted with those heroes so admired amongst them, slaves of their passions, and cowards with regard to death; as, for example, Achilles, when he relents, when he dies for his concubine, when another gets drunk, and many other things of the sort. He requires therefore the remedies against these things. How is it not absurd to send children out to trades, and to school, and to do all you can for these objects, and yet, not to “bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord”? And for this reason truly we are the first to reap the fruits, because we bring up our children to be insolent and profligate, disobedient, and mere vulgar fellows. Let us not then do this; no, let us listen to this blessed Apostle’s admonition. “Let us bring them up in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.” Let us give them a pattern. Let us make them from the earliest age apply themselves to the reading of the Scriptures. Alas, that so constantly as I repeat this, I am looked upon as trifling! Still, I shall not cease to do my duty.
- Chrysostom, NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Homily 21.

Notice that here even young children are being commended to the reading of Scripture. Jerome also similarly exhorts a woman, Demetrias, to make reading the Scripture her first priority.

Jerome (about A.D. 347–420):
In what remains of my letter I shall direct all my words to Demetrias herself, whose holiness ennobles her as much as her rank, and of whom it may be said that the higher she climbs the more terrible will be her fall. For the rest, this one thing, child of God, I lay on thee; yea before all, and urge it many times: love to occupy your mind with the reading of scripture.
- Jerome, Letter 130 (to Demetrias), Section 7

- TurretinFan

2 comments:

Reformation said...

Excellent.

natamllc said...

Yes, EXCELLENT!!

"....Caesarius, bishop of Arles (470-543):
I beseech you, beloved brethren, be eager to engage in divine reading whatever hours you can. Moreover, since what a man procures in this life by reading or good works will be food of his soul forever, let no one try to excuse himself by saying he has not learned letters at all. If those who are illiterate love God in truth, they look for learned people who can read the sacred Scriptures to them....".

"Chrysostom (about A.D. 349-407):....:Make him a Christian. For it is of all things necessary for laymen to be acquainted with the lessons derived from this source; but especially for children. For theirs is an age full of folly; and to this folly are super added the bad examples derived from the heathen tales, where they are made acquainted with those heroes so admired amongst them, slaves of their passions, and cowards with regard to death;....".

I was visiting some brethren in Miami years ago. One of the brothers had just come up from Cuba spending a week with Fidel Castro.

During those meetings with Castro, Castro asked:

"You are a Christian, aren't you?"

My friend replied, "Yes I am".

Castro then asked if he had a Bible with him? He did so Castro requested him to read from his Bible Bible stories. He asked him to read stories about "someone being in a lions' den, about an ark, about slaying a giant and about Jesus walking on water where a disciple walks on water with Him"???

Why? Because Castro said his mother when he was but a wee child use to set him on her lap and read the Bible to him and those storiess always brought him comfort!

After reading to him those particular stories, Castro thanked him and asked him if he could do something for him for the favor?

This brother requested that he be allowed to distribute Bibles to the Cuban people, those who wanted one!

Castro agreed!

Pro 4:3 When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
Pro 4:4 he taught me and said to me, "Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live.