Monday, February 15, 2010

Athanasian Denial of Scripture's Formal Sufficiency?

Sean Patrick of the Called to Communion blog has been providing some responses in the comment box in an earlier post (SP was primarily using the nick "Blogahon").

SP has suggested that the following quotation from Athanasius negates the idea that Athanasius held to the formal sufficiency of Scripture. SP provides the quotation in this form:
'For, what our fathers have delivered, this is trully doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers...Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the same doctrines, but quarreling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable heralds of truth agree together, and do not differ..preaching the same Word harmoniously'
- De Decretis 4
This seems to be a hasty edit of the version found at EWTN's website:
'For, what OUR FATHERS have delivered, THIS IS TRULY DOCTRINE; and this is truly the TOKEN of doctors, to CONFESS THE SAME THING with each other, and to vary NEITHER from themselves nor from their FATHERS...Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the SAME doctrines, but quarreling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable HERALDS of TRUTH AGREE TOGETHER, and do not differ..preaching the same Word harmoniously'
De Decretis 4
Both of these quotations have essentially the same content, and it is not as though SP has gone back to the source material to check what the context was and what has been omitted by the elipses. The entire section states:
Are they not then committing a crime, in their very thought to gainsay so great and ecumenical a Council? are they not in transgression, when they dare to confront that good definition against Arianism, acknowledged, as it is, by those who had in the first instance taught them irreligion? And supposing, even after subscription, Eusebius and his fellows did change again, and return like dogs to their own vomit of irreligion, do not the present gain-sayers deserve still greater detestation, because they thus sacrifice their souls’ liberty to others; and are willing to take these persons as masters of their heresy, who are, as James [James i. 8.] has said, double-minded men, and unstable in all their ways, not having one opinion, but changing to and fro, and now recommending certain statements, but soon dishonouring them, and in turn recommending what just now they were blaming? But this, as the Shepherd has said, is “the child of the devil [Hermas, Mand. ix.]” and the note of hucksters rather than of doctors. For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers; whereas they who have not this character are to be called not true doctors but evil. Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the same doctrines, but quarrelling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable heralds of the truth agree together, and do not differ. For though they lived in different times, yet they one and all tend the same way, being prophets of the one God, and preaching the same Word harmoniously.
- Athanasius, De Decretis, Chapter 2, Section 4.

Athanasius' point here is actually that the heretics or those from whom the heretics were taught had previously affirmed Nicaea and were now (in essence) backing out of it. Thus, using Jacobian terminology he calls them "double-minded men, and unstable in all their ways, not having one opinion, but changing to and fro, and now recommending certain statements, but soon dishonouring them, and in turn recommending what just now they were blaming."

Athanasius also alludes to "the Shepherd" (though we learn from his 39th festal letter that he did not regard that writing as Scripture) to characterize such vacillating men as children of the devil.

It is the vacillation, not opposition to the council itself, that Athanasius regards as the great crime. And we also note that the comment about living in different times, yet all preaching the Word harmoniously is explained not as a reference to Nicaea, but instead to the prophets (and others who spoke directly) of Scripture:
And thus what Moses taught, that Abraham observed; and what Abraham observed, that Noah and Enoch acknowledged, discriminating pure from impure, and becoming acceptable to God. For Abel too in this way witnessed, knowing what he had learned from Adam, who himself had learned from that Lord, who said, when He came at the end of the ages for the abolishment of sin, “I give no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment, which ye have heard from the beginning [1 John ii. 7.].” Wherefore also the blessed Apostle Paul, who had learned it from Him, when describing ecclesiastical functions, forbade that deacons, not to say bishops, should be double-tongued [1 Tim. iii. 8.]; and in his rebuke of the Galatians, he made a broad declaration, “If anyone preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be anathema, as I have said, so say I again. If even we, or an Angel from heaven should preach unto you any other Gospel than that ye have received, let him be anathema [Gal. i. 8, 9.].” Since then the Apostle thus speaks, let these men either anathematise Eusebius and his fellows, at least as changing round and professing what is contrary to their subscriptions; or, if they acknowledge that their subscriptions were good, let them not utter complaints against so great a Council. But if they do neither the one nor the other, they are themselves too plainly the sport of every wind and surge, and are influenced by opinions, not their own, but of others, and being such, are as little worthy of deference now as before, in what they allege. Rather let them cease to carp at what they understand not; lest so be that not knowing to discriminate, they simply call evil good and good evil, and think that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. Doubtless, they desire that doctrines which have been judged wrong and have been reprobated should gain the ascendancy, and they make violent efforts to prejudice what was rightly defined. Nor should there be any reason on our part for any further explanation, or answer to their excuses, neither on theirs for further resistance, but for an acquiescence in what the leaders of their heresy subscribed; for though the subsequent change of Eusebius and his fellows was suspicious and immoral, their subscription, when they had the opportunity of at least some little defence of themselves, is a certain proof of the irreligion of their doctrine. For they would not have subscribed previously had they not condemned the heresy, nor would they have condemned it, had they not been encompassed with difficulty and shame; so that to change back again is a proof of their contentious zeal for irreligion. These men also ought therefore, as I have said, to keep quiet; but since from an extraordinary want of modesty, they hope perhaps to be able to advocate this diabolical irreligion better than the others, therefore, though in my former letter written to thee, I have already argued at length against them, notwithstanding, come let us now also examine them, in each of their separate statements, as their predecessors; for now not less than then their heresy shall be shewn to have no soundness in it, but to be from evil spirits.
- Athanasius, De Decretis, Chapter 2, Section 4.

Notice that Athanasius makes it abundantly clear that what he is criticizing is the switching back and forth. The gospel doesn't change and hasn't changed from the beginning. Athanasius is emphatic about that. The great crime, then, is not opposition to an ecumenical council per se but vacillation regarding the gospel.

- TurretinFan

1 comment:

natamllc said...

Methinks Athanasius wasn't inclined to give himself or give anyone else any wiggle room! :)

"When in doubt" refer back to the instruction manuel; seeing the Engineer produced it too for a reason and sent it along with that that that He engineered! :)

Isn't it interesting that when you are for Him, you follow His instructions and when you are against Him, you attack His instructions?

Pro 1:1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
Pro 1:2 To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight,
Pro 1:3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity;
Pro 1:4 to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth--
Pro 1:5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance,
Pro 1:6 to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.
Pro 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

and

1Ti 6:13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,
1Ti 6:14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
1Ti 6:15 which he will display at the proper time--he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,
1Ti 6:16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.