Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thomas Aquinas, William Webster, and Scripture against Bellisario

Over in the comment box of the Beggars All Reformation blog, Bellisario has attempted to take on William Webster (source). Pastor Webster is not there to defend himself, instead Bellisario is responding to a blogger named Rhology.

Bellisario writes: "Scared of Webster! Are you serious?"

Of course Rhology's serious that it seems that folks are afraid to deal directly with Webster/King's three-volume work.

Bellisario continues: "His comments on Aquinas and Sola Scriptura are completely asinine."

No, they're erudite. I realize that is not a rebuttal, it's just a declarative sentence with a colorful adjective. The point being made, however, is that Bellisario's own criticism is in that form. See how fun it is to use adjectives rather than arguments? In point of fact, although Aquinas is mentioned, Aquinas occupies a relatively minor position in Webster/King's work. Even if Webster's comments on Aquinas were erroneous (they're not ... but let's speak hypothetically), that would not seriously undermine that force of Webster's work.

Bellisario further claims: "He needs to get an education before he starts taking on the writings of the big boys like Aquinas."

New motto for Aquinas: "You can't possibly know what he's saying without an [unspecified - but certainly something that William Webster couldn't possibly have] education." Naturally, we should conclude that out of consistency, Bellisario has called off his own planned book on Aquinas and plans shortly to withdraw the few blog posts he's made on Aquinas. Of course, he won't - nor should he, at least not for the reason he's suggested regarding Webster. The problem is his claim that someone needs some as-yet-unspecified education.

Bellisario continues on: "I refuted him some time ago on the subject, where he took Aquinas completely out of his historical context."

No, Bellisario didn't. He has exactly two blog posts that even mention Webster. The first one simply says: "I can assure you, it is nothing close to the Protestant flavor which guys like William Webster and others claim him to be." Hopefully even Bellisario will recognize that this is not a refutation.

The second one is longer, but it simply indicates:
For instance, Protestant William Webster attempts to build a fallacious case against the Catholic Church by ignorantly attempting to frame Saint Thomas in a position contrary to current Catholic teaching, “The first was sola Scriptura in which the fathers viewed Scripture as both materially and formally sufficient. It was materially sufficient in that it was the only source of doctrine and truth and the ultimate authority in all doctrinal controversies. It was necessary that every teaching of the Church as it related to doctrine be proven from Scripture. It was necessary that every teaching of the Church as it related to doctrine be proven from Scripture. Thomas Aquinas articulated this patristic view when he stated that canonical Scripture alone is the rule of faith. Additionally, they taught that the essential truths of Scripture were perspicuous, that is, that they were clearly revealed in Scripture, so that, by the enablement of the Holy Spirit alone an individual could come to an understanding of the fundamental truths of salvation” (8.Webster) It appears that Mr. Webster does not understand the theological background to Saint Thomas’ writings, nor does it appear that he has ventured out very far in investigating the background and history surrounding Saint Thomas' writings. To interpret Saint Thomas in this manner misses the main point of his work, and ultimately it shows a grave misunderstanding of Catholic teaching regarding the Scriptures. It was Saint Thomas intention as a university scholar to exhaust Sacred Scripture for every doctrine or teaching that could be implied from the literal text. Even when Saint Thomas could not explicitly find a text in Scripture to support an argument, he used philosophical reasoning to get him to where he wanted to go with Scripture. For instance Saint Thomas argues for the two wills of Christ based on Scripture, yet he has to use logic and philosophy to arrive at his interpretation, because the Scripture passages he uses are not explicitly clear. He demonstrates that the root of Monothelism was in the error of their logic, not in the use of Scripture. For Saint Thomas, Scripture was clear in this instance, only in using his tools of philosophy, logic and Patristic interpretation within the living Church, but Scripture standing on its own does not give us the answer. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Question 26)
(source)

How that series of assertions is supposed to be refutation is baffling. But let's consider it:

Bellisario begins with his argument-by-adjective claiming that Webster's case is "fallacious" and his attempt is performed "ignorantly."

He then quotes Webster as saying: "Thomas Aquinas articulated this patristic view when he stated that canonical Scripture alone is the rule of faith." But Webster's claim is completely true (see here).

Bellisario doesn't actually address that aspect of what Thomas Aquinas taught but instead alleges that Webster must be unfamiliar with Thomas Aquinas' background and historical context. The only specific claim that Bellisario attempts to substantiate is: "He [Thomas Aquinas] demonstrates that the root of Monothelism was in the error of their logic, not in the use of Scripture. For Saint Thomas, Scripture was clear in this instance, only in using his tools of philosophy, logic and Patristic interpretation within the living Church, but Scripture standing on its own does not give us the answer. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Question 26)"

That's not what Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Question 26 says, though. Check for yourself. At any rate, the translation to which I've linked provides no discussion corresponding to Bellisario's assertion.

What does Thomas Aquinas say about Scripture? I believe the following comments should help to illustrate the fact that Thomas Aquinas believed in the perspicuity, sufficiency, and primacy of Scripture. While he may have been inconsistent in this, and while he sometimes seemed to have a very high view of church authority, nevertheless his view of Scripture is consistent with what Webster mentions briefly on one page of his book.

Notice how Thomas Aquinas affirms the sufficiency of Scripture in the following quotation:
According to Augustine in On Christian Doctrine 4:12 one skilled in speech should so speak as to teach, to delight and to change; that is, to teach the ignorant, to delight the bored and to change the lazy. The speech of Sacred Scripture does these three things in the fullest manner. For it firmly teaches with its eternal truth. Psalm 118:89: ‘Your word, O Lord, stands firm for ever as heaven.’ And it sweetly delights with its pleasantness. Psalm 118.103: ‘How sweet are your words to my mouth!’ And it efficaciously changes with its authority. Jeremiah 23:29: ‘Are my words not like fire, says the Lord?’
- Thomas Aquinas, Inaugural Lectures, Lecture titled "Hic Est Liber"

Another passage of Thomas on the sufficiency of Scripture:
He describes every abundance metaphorically through an abundance of food and drink. For if he pastures us, he is related to us as a shepherd to (his) sheep, who are nourished in two ways, namely by grass and water. With respect to the first, he says, He hath set me in a place of pasture, that is, fit for pasture where there is an abundance of grass. These abundances are the sacred writings of divine scripture and spiritual things: Ezechiel 34:14: ...on green grass, and be fed in fat pastures... With respect to the second, he states, He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment.
And he says He has set, because the divine word does two things, namely it instructs beginners, and strengthens the accomplished. With respect to the first, he says, In a place of pasture. With respect to the second, he says, He has set me there. As for the second he says, He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment. This is the water of baptism: Ezechiel 36:25: I will pour upon you clean water etc.
Or, it is the water of the wisdom of holy scripture; which is certainly food and water, because it strengthens much and refreshes respectively: Ecclesiasticus 15:3: The water of wholesome wisdom to drink.
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Psalm 22

Here is a dual affirmation of the sufficiency of Scripture and sufficiency of the Psalms (as in Athanasius' letter to Marcellinus):
The material is universal, for while the particular books of the Canon of Scripture contain special materials, this book has the general material of Theology as a whole.
This is what Dionysius says, in book 3 of the Caelestial Hierarchy, The sacred scripture of the Divine Songs (the Psalms) is intended to sing of all sacred and divine workings.
Hence the material is indicated in what he says, in all his works, because he treats of every work of God.
...
And this will be the reason why the Psalter is read more often in the Church, because it contains the whole of Scripture.
- Thomas Aquinas, Introduction to the Commentary on the Psalms

Again, more on the sufficiency of Scriptures:
Therefore, all those things the knowledge of which can be useful for salvation are the matter of prophecy, whether they are past, or future, or even eternal, or necessary, or contingent. But those things which cannot pertain to salvation are outside the matter of prophecy. Hence, Augustine says: “Although our authors knew what shape heaven is, [the spirit] wants to speak through them only that which is useful for salvation. And to the Gospel of St. John (16:13), “But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth,” the Gloss adds: “necessary for salvation.”

Moreover, I say necessary for salvation, whether they are necessary for instruction in the faith or for the formation of morals. But many things which are proved in the sciences can be useful for this, as, for instance, that our understanding is incorruptible, and also those things which when considered in creatures lead to admiration of the divine wisdom and power. Hence, we find that mention of these is made in Holy Scripture.
- Thomas Aquinas, Questions and Disputations on Truth, Question 12 (Prophecy), Article 2 (Reply)

Sufficiency again:
BEDE; Or mystically, he eats and drinks in the Lord’s presence who eagerly receives the food of the word. Hence it is added for explanation, You have taught in our streets. For Scripture in its more obscure places is food, since by being expounded it is as it were broken and swallowed. In the clearer places it is drink, where it is taken down just as it is found. But at a feast the banquet does not delight him whom the piety of faith commends not. The knowledge of the Scriptures does not make him known to God, whom the iniquity of his works proves to be unworthy; as it follows, And he will say to you, I know not whence you are; depart from me.
- Thomas Aquinas quoting the Venerable Bede in Catena Aurea at Luke 13:22-30

Notice the very high view of the authority of Scriptures here, and try to find Thomas saying anything remotely like this about anything other than Scripture:
CHRYS. But that it is true that he who hears not the Scriptures, takes no heed to the dead who rise again, the Jews have testified, who at one time indeed wished to kill Lazarus, but at another laid hands upon the Apostles, notwithstanding that some had risen from the dead at the hour of the Cross. Observe this also, that every dead man is a servant, but whatever the Scriptures say, the Lord says. Therefore let it be that dead men should rise again, and an angel descend from heaven, the Scriptures are more worthy of credit than all.
- Thomas Aquinas quoting Chrysostom in Catena Aurea at Luke 16:27-31

Notice here the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture:
CHRYS. He is speaking of spiritual drink, as His next words show: He that believes in Me, as the Scripture truth said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But where here does the Scripture say this? No where. What then? We should read, He that believes in Me, as said the Scripture, putting the stop here; and then, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water: the meaning being, that that was a right kind of belief, which was formed on the evidence of Scripture, not of miracles. Search the Scriptures, he had said before.
- Thomas Aquinas quoting Chrysostom in Catena Aurea at John 7:37-39

Treating the Scriptures as "the door" here and saying that any other way is the way of thieves comes awfully close to an explicit affirmation of sola scriptura.
CHRYS. Our Lord having reproached the Jews with blindness, they might have said, We are not blind, but we avoid you as a deceiver. Our Lord therefore gives the marks which distinguish a robber and deceiver from a true shepherd. First come those of the deceiver and robber: Verily, verily, I say to you, He that enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. There is an allusion here to Antichrist, and to certain false Christs who had been, and were to be. The Scriptures He calls the door. They admit us to the knowledge of God, they protect the sheep, they shut out the wolves, they bar the entrance to heretics. He that uses not the Scriptures, but climbs up some other way, i.e. some self-chosen, some unlawful way, is a thief. Climbs up, He says, not, enters, as if it were a thief getting over a wall, and running all risks. Some other way, may refer too to the commandments and traditions of men which the Scribes taught, to the neglect of the Law. When our Lord further on calls Himself the Door, we need not be surprised. According to the office which He bears, He is in one place the Shepherd, in another the Sheep. In that He introduces us to the Father, He is the Door, in that He takes care of us, He is the Shepherd.
- Thomas Aquinas quoting Chrysostom in Catena Aurea at John 10:1-5

Notice here that the Holy Spirit is given credit for rendering the Scriptures perspicuous, as in the Reformed position:
THEOPHYL. Or, the Holy Spirit is the porter, by whom the Scriptures are unlocked, and reveal the truth to us.
- Thomas Aquinas quoting Theophylact in Catena Aurea at John 10:1-5

Notice that here Thomas endorses Chalcedon's explanation of the fact that the great councils did not rely on their own authority but appealed instead to the authority of Scriptures.
The doctrine of the Catholic Faith was sufficiently laid down by the Council of Niceea: wherefore in the subsequent councils the fathers had no mind to make any additions. Yet on account of the heresies that arose they were at pains to declare explicitly what had already been implicitly asserted. Thus in the definition of the Council of Chalcedon it is said: “This holy, great and universal synod teaches this doctrine which has been constantly held from the beginning, the same which 318 holy fathers assembled at Nicaea defined to be the unalterable faith. On account of those who contend against the Holy Spirit, we confirm the doctrine delivered afterwards by the 150 fathers assembled at Constantinople concerning the substance of the Holy Spirit, which doctrine they made known to all, not indeed as though something were lacking in previous definitions, but by appealing to the authority of the Scriptures to explain what had already been defined against those who endeavoured to belittle the Holy Spirit.”
- Thomas Aquinas, Questions and Disputations on Power, Question 10, Article 4, Reply to 13th Objection

Notice the fact that Thomas uses "sole" here. It is not simply one way, but the only way.
The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture—an authority divinely confirmed by miracles. For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God has revealed it.
- Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 9

The following is an example of Thomas explaining that Scripture serves as the standard by which we measure the teachings of even the doctors, even when acting in their magisterial role (note the reference to the seat of Moses). One point that someone opposed to Sola Scriptura might note here is that Aquinas seems, at least superficially, to treat the official teachings of the Church as being on a par with Scripture, even while suggesting that Scripture be used to judge doctors of the church. What specifically Aquinas means he does not explain, whether merely that the church conveys the rule of faith that is taught in the clear parts of Scriptures or that the church defines the rule of faith. Notice that "rule of faith" is singular, not plural.
It should be said that if the differing opinions of the doctors of Sacred Scripture do not pertain to faith or good morals, then the listeners can follow either opinion without danger. For in that case what the Apostle says in Romans 14:5 applies: "Let each abound in his own understanding."

But in those matters that pertain to faith and good morals no one is excused if he follows the erroneous opinion of some teacher. For in such matters ignorance does not excuse; otherwise, those who followed the opinions of Arius, Nestorius and the other heresiarchs would have been immune from sin.

Nor can the naivete of the listeners be used as an excuse if they follow an erroneous opinion in such matters. For in doubtful matters assent is not to be given easily. To the contrary, as Augustine says in De Doctrina Christiana III: "Everyone should consult the rule of faith which he gets from the clearer texts in the Scriptures and from the authority of the Church."

Therefore, no one who assents to the opinion of any teacher in opposition to the manifest testimony of Scripture or in opposition to what is officially held in accordance with the authority of the Church can be excused from the vice of being in error.

As for the argument on behalf of the contrary position, then, one should respond that the reason he first said "The scribes and pharisees sit upon the chair of Moses" was so that what he then added, viz., "Do everything and observe everything they tell you," might be understood to apply to those things which pertain to that chair. However, things which are contrary to the faith or to good morals do not pertain to that chair.
- Thomas Aquinas, Questions Quodlibetales (Miscellaneous Questions), Book 3, Question 4, Article 2 (response)

The beginning portion of this quotation may sound encouraging for someone who is hoping that Thomas will deny Sola Scriptura. However, Thomas nevertheless affirms that "nothing is to be taught except what is contained, either implicitly or explicitly, in the Gospels and epistles and Sacred Scripture." In other words, his initial comment is simply that the teachings can be implicitly and not only explicitly drawn from Scripture.
A second question arises from the words, a gospel besides that which we have preached to you. Therefore no one may teach or preach anything but what is written in the epistles and Gospels. But this is false, because it is said in 1Thessalonians (3:10): “Praying that we may accomplish those things that are wanting to your faith.” I answer that nothing is to be taught except what is contained, either implicitly or explicitly, in the Gospels and epistles and Sacred Scripture. For Sacred Scripture and the Gospels announce that Christ must be believed explicitly. Hence whatever is contained therein implicitly and fosters its teaching and faith in Christ can be preached and taught. Therefore, when he says, besides that which you have received, he means by adding something completely alien: “If any, man shall add to these things, God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book” (Rev 22:18). And “Neither add anything,” i.e., contrary or alien, “nor diminish” (Deut 12:32).
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, Lecture 2 on Chapter 1, at Galatians 1:6-10

I've included the following as being of interest for a few reasons. First, it is of interest because Aquinas is judging the fathers by the Scripture. Second, it is of interest because Aquinas affirms the inerrancy of Scripture. Thirdly it is of interest because it evidences a relatively low view of Peter as compared with some of the alternatives.
Thirdly, they disagree on the sin of Peter. For Jerome says that in the dissimulation previously mentioned, Peter did not sin, because he did this from charity and, as has been said, not from mundane fear. Augustine, on the other hand, says, that he did sin—venially, however—on account of the lack of discretion he had by adhering overmuch to one side, namely, to the Jews, in order to avoid scandalizing them. But the stronger of Augustine’s arguments against Jerome is that Jerome adduces on his own behalf seven doctors, four of whom, namely, Laudicens, Alexander, Origen, and Didymus, Augustine rejects as known heretics. To the other three he opposes three of his own, who held with him and his opinion, namely, Ambrose, Cyprian, and Paul himself, who plainly teaches that Peter was deserving of rebuke. Therefore, if it is unlawful to say that anything false is contained in Sacred Scripture, it will not be lawful to say that Peter was not deserving of rebuke. For this reason the opinion and statement of Augustine is the truer, because it is more in accord with the words of the Apostle.
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, Lecture 3 on Chapter 2, at Galatians 2:11-14

The following is an interesting example of the fact that Thomas affirms that it is Scripture (not Nicaea) that forces us to deny the Arian error (contrary to the position taken by some modern Roman Catholics).
The Arians likewise attacked this truth by their errors, in confessing that the Father and the Son are not one but several gods; although the authority of Scripture forces [us? - translation reads "e" here, which is plainly wrong] to believe that the Son is true God.
- Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 42, Section 24

The primacy of Scripture can be seen shining through in many places of Jerome's writings, of which the following is but one example:
The fourth way [to overcome concupiscence] is to keep oneself busy with wholesome occupations: “Idleness hath taught much evil” [Sir 23:29]. Again: “This was the iniquity of Sodom your sister, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance, and the idleness of her” [Ez 16:49]. St. Jerome says: “Be always busy in doing something good, so that the devil may find you ever occupied.” Now, study of the Scriptures is the best of all occupations, as St. Jerome tells us: “Love to study the Scriptures and you will not love the vices of the flesh” [Ad Paulin.].
- Thomas Aquinas, The Ten Commandments, Article 12 - the Tenth (Ninth in modern Roman Catholic Counting - part of the Tenth in Jewish and Reformed Counting) Commandment

The form of "not ... anything ... unless" is just another way of wording the Sola Scriptura position that Thomas is advocating in the following quotation:
According to Dionysius, “We should not venture to say anything about God unless we can support what we are saying from Scripture.” Now, we do not find anything in Scripture that refers to a book of death as it refers to the book of life. Therefore, we should not affirm the existence of a book of death.
- Thomas Aquinas, Questions and Disputation on Truth, Question 7, Article 8 ("to the contrary" section)

The following quotation shows not only Thomas' high view of Scripture, but also his view of its perspicuity, for it is given not only to the wise but also the unwise.
582 Let us first examine what she says, You, sir, have no bucket, i.e., no pail to use to draw water from the well, and the well is deep, so you cannot reach the water by hand without a bucket.

The depth of the well signifies the depth of Sacred Scripture and of divine wisdom: “It has great depth. Who can find it out?” (Ecc 7:25). The bucket with which the water of wisdom is drawn out is prayer: “If any of you lack wisdom, ask God” (Jas 1:5).

583 The second point is given at, Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well? As if to say: Have you better water to give us than Jacob? She calls Jacob her father not because the Samaritans were descendants of the Jews, as is clear from what was said before, but because the Samaritans had the Mosaic law, and because they occupied the land promised to the descendants of Jacob.

The woman praised this well on three counts. First, on the authority of the one who gave it; so she says: our father Jacob, who gave us this well. Secondly, on account of the freshness of its water, saying: Jacob drank from it with his sons: for they would not drink it if it were not fresh, but only give it to their cattle. Thirdly, she praises its abundance, saying, and his flocks: for since the water was fresh, they would not have given it to their flocks unless it were also abundant.

So, too, Sacred Scripture has great authority: for it was given by the Holy Spirit. It is delightfully fresh: “How sweet are your words to my palate” (Ps 118:103). Finally, it is exceedingly abundant, for it is given not only to the wise, but also to the unwise.
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 2 on John 4, at John 4:11-14, Sections 582-83

In an interesting twist, Thomas appears to deny that the Old Testament Scriptures were perspicuous, but affirms that the Scriptures are now perspicuous. He also emphasizes the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture with his comment "especially the Scriptures."
So he says, Lift up your eyes, look at the fields, because they are already white for the harvest, i.e., they are such that the truth can be learned from them: for by the “fields” we specifically understand all those things from which truth can be acquired, especially the Scriptures: “Search the Scriptures ... they bear witness to me” (below 5:39). Indeed, these fields existed in the Old Testament, but they were not white for the harvest because men were not able to pick spiritual fruit from them until Christ came, who made them white by opening their understanding: “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24.45). Again, creatures are harvests from which the fruit of truth is gathered: “The invisible things of God are clearly known by the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20). Nonetheless, the Gentiles who pursued a knowledge of these things gathered the fruits of error rather than of truth from them, because as we read, “they served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25). So the harvests were not yet white; but they were made white for the harvest when Christ came.
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 4 on John 4, at John 4:11-14, Section 649

The following discussion is an interesting discourse on the primacy of Scripture. Specifically it is the authority for believers. Thomas downplays the importance of Scripture for unbelievers, but does so on the specific basis that it is not helpful to them because they do not believe it.
In the second place, it does not seem that he should have been criticized for looking for signs, for faith is proved by signs. The answer to this is that unbelievers are drawn to Christ in one way, and believers in another way. For unbelievers cannot be drawn to Christ or convinced by the authority of Sacred Scripture, because they do not believe it; neither can they be drawn by natural reason, because faith is above reason. Consequently, they must be led by miracles: “Signs are given to unbelievers, not to believers” (1 Cor 14:22). Believers, on the other hand, should be led and directed to faith by the authority of Scripture, to which they are bound to assent. This is why the official is criticized: although he had been brought up among the Jews and instructed in the law, he wanted to believe through signs, and not by the authority of the Scripture. So the Lord reproaches him, saying, Unless you see signs and wonders, i.e., miracles, which sometimes are signs insofar as they bear witness to divine truth. Or wonders (prodigia), either because they indicate with utmost certitude, so that a prodigy is taken to be a “portent” or some “sure indication”; or because they portend something in the future, as if something were called a wonder as if showing at a great distance some future effect.
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 7 on John 4, at John 4:11-14, Section 685

The following is the classic passage where Thomas explicitly affirms that only the canonical scriptures are the rule of faith. This is the one that Webster had referenced.
Now John states that his Gospel is true, and he speaks in the person of the entire Church which received it: "My mouth will utter truth" (Prv 8:7). We should note that although many have written about Catholic truth, there is a difference among them: those who wrote the canonical scriptures, such as the evangelists and apostles and the like, so constantly and firmly affirm this truth that it cannot be doubted. Thus John says, we know that his testimony is true: "If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:9). The reason for this is that only the canonical scriptures are the standard of faith. The others have set forth this truth but in such a way that they do not want to be believed except in those things in which they say what is true.
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 6 on John 21, at John 21:24, Section 2656

The efficacy (and consequently sufficiency) of Scripture is again affirmed by Thomas in the following quotation:
Now he mentions the benefits given by this gospel. It is useful for producing faith: these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Indeed, all Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, are for this purpose: "The beginning of the book writes about me" [Ps 40:7]; "Search the scriptures ... it is they that bear witness to me" (5:39). Another benefit of his gospel is that it also produces the fruit of life, and that believing you may have life: the life of righteousness, which is given by faith ‑ "The righteous shall live by his faith" (Hab 2:4) ‑ and in the future, the life of vision, which is given by glory. This life is in his name, the name of Christ: "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 6 on John 20, at John 20:26-31, Section 2568

You will recall that I mentioned earlier that treating the Scriptures as "the door" and saying that any other way is the way of thieves comes awfully close to an explicit affirmation of sola scriptura. Here he expands on and reiterates the same point, emphasizing Scripture's unique (behind Christ himself) role as door.
1366 According to Chrysostom, Christ calls Sacred Scripture the door, according to "Pray for us also that God may open to us a door for the word" (Col 4:3). Sacred Scripture is called a door, as Chrysostofm says, first of all, because through it we have access to the knowledge of God: "which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures" (Rom 1:2). Secondly, for just as the door guards the sheep, so Sacred Scripture preserves the life of the faithful: "You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life" (5:39). Thirdly, because the door keeps the wolf from entering; so Sacred Scripture keeps heretics from harming the faithful: "Every scripture inspired by God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction" (2 Tim 3:16). So, the one who does not enter by the door is the one who does not enter by Sacred Scripture to teach the people. Our Lord says of such: "In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt 15:9); "You have made void the word of God" (Matt 15:6). This, then, is the mark of the thief: he does not enter by the door, but in some other way. [1]

He adds that the thief climbs, and this is appropriate to this parable because thieves climb the walls, instead of entering by the door, and drop into the sheepfold. It also corresponds to the truth, because the reason why some teach what conflicts with Sacred Scripture is due to pride: "If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing" (1 Tim 6:3). Referring to this he says that such a person climbs, that is, through pride. The one who climbs in by another way, that man is a thief, because he snatches what is not his, and a robber, because he kills what he snatches: "If thieves came to you, if plunderers by night - how you have been destroyed" (Obad v 5).

According to this explanation, the relation with what preceded is made in this way: Since our Lord had said, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt," the Jews might have answered: "We do not believe you, but this is not due to our blindness. It is because of your own error that we have turned away from you." And so our Lord rejects this, and wishes to show that he is not in error because he enters by the door, by Sacred Scripture, that is, he teaches what is contained in Sacred Scripture.

1367 Against this interpretation is the fact that when our Lord explains this further on, he says, I am the door. So it seems that we should understand the door to be Christ. In answer to this, Chrysostom says that in this parable our Lord refers to himself both as the door and the shepherd; but this is from different points of view, because a door and a shepherd are different.[2] Now aside from Christ nothing is more fittingly called a door than Sacred Scripture, for the reasons given above. Therefore, Sacred Scripture is fittingly called a door.
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John, Lecture 1 on John 10, at John 10:1-5, Sections 1366-67

Contrary to Bellisario's position, the opening chapter to Book 4 of Contra Gentiles makes clear that Scriptures (and not natural reason) are the source for all the points to be raised against the unbelievers in that book. While perhaps Aquinas elsewhere advocated something inconsistent with this approach, we would respectfully suggest that any idea that he thought that a doctrine could be proved without Scripture should itself be established from some clear statement by Aquinas in that regard, in view of his clear statements here.
And the manner of proceeding in such matters the words set down do teach us. For, since we have hardly heard the truth of this kind in sacred Scripture as a little drop descending upon us, and since one cannot in the state of this life behold the thunder of the greatness, this will be the method to follow: What has been passed on to us in the words of sacred Scripture may be taken as principles, so to say; thus, the things in those writings passed on to us in a hidden fashion we may endeavor to grasp mentally in some way or other, defending them from the attacks of the infidels. Nonetheless, that no presumption of knowing perfectly may be present, points of this kind must be proved from sacred Scripture, but not from natural reason. For all that, one must show that such things are not opposed to natural reason, in order to defend them from infidel attack. This was also the method fixed upon in the beginning of this work.
- Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Chapter 1, Section 10

The next statement from Thomas is relatively less Reformed. You wouldn't expect, for example, to hear R. C. Sproul write it. Nevertheless, notice that the area where Thomas allows for extra-scriptural rules are under two conditions: (1) that it not violate Scripture, and (2) that it is a custom - i.e. a way acting or behaving - not a doctrine.
Then when he says, If anyone, he silences the impudent hearers, saying: If anyone is disposed to be contentious and not acquiesce in the above reason but would attack the truth with confident clamoring, which pertains to contentiousness, as Ambrose says, contrary to Jb (6:29): “Respond, I pray, without contentiousness”; (Pr 20:3): “It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife.” Let this suffice, then, to silence them that we Jews believing in Christ do not have such a practice, namely, of women praying with their heads uncovering, nor do the churches of God dispersed among the Gentiles. Hence if there were no reason, this alone should suffice, that no one should act against the common custom of the Church: “He makes those of one outlook to dwell in their house” (Ps 68:7). Hence Augustine says: “In all cases in which Sacred Scripture has defined nothing definite, the customs of the people of God and the edicts of superiors must be regarded as the law.”
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Lecture 3 on Chapter 11, at 1 Corinthians 11:8-16, Section 620

The same kind of attitude is being expressed in this similar passage of Thomas' works. Here Thomas is mentioning that there are details - matters of order - that are not necessarily expressed in Scripture. However, notice that Aquinas does not suggest that we should base our doctrines on these customs or matters of order.
Then a promise is made when he says: About other things, namely, which are not so perilous, when I come home very soon, I will give directions, namely, how to conserve them. From this it is clear that the Church has many things arranged by the Apostle that are not contained in Sacred Scripture: “The cities will be inhabited,” i.e., the churches will be set in order “by the sense of prudent men,” namely, of the apostles (Sir 10:3).
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Lecture 7 on Chapter 11, at 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, Section 708

The following passage provides a powerful testimony to the perspicuity of Scripture. Thomas explicitly affirms that there are some easy things for beginners, in addition to the more meaty portions of the Sacred Scriptures.
Then (v. 12b) he describes their situation with a simile. Therefore, it should be noted that sacred doctrine is, as it were, the food of the soul: ‘With the bread of life and understanding she shall feed him’ (Sir. 15:3) and in (24:29): ‘They that eat me shall yet hunger, and they that drink me shall yet thirst.’ Sacred doctrine, therefore, is food and drink, because it nourishes the soul. For the other sciences only enlighten the soul, but this one enlightens: ‘The commandment of the Lord is lightsome, enlightening the eyes’ (Ps. 18:9) and nourishes and strengthens the soul. But in bodily food there is a difference: for children make use of one food and the perfect of another. For children use milk as being thinner and more connatural and easily digestible; but adults use more solid food. So in Sacred Scripture, those who are beginners should listen to easy things, which are like milk; but the learned should hear more difficult things. Therefore, he says, you need milk, namely, as children: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grown unto salvation’ (1 Pt. 2:2); ‘I give you milk to drink, not meat’ (1 Cor. 3:2). And this is what follows, and not solid food, i.e., lofty doctrine, which is concerned with the mysteries and secrets of God, which strengthen and confirm.
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Hebrews, Lecture 2 on Chapter 5, at Hebrews 5:8-14, Section 267

Notice that the source of wisdom according to Thomas is Christ and specifically the word of Christ, Scripture. This again goes to the issue of sufficiency. It also supports the idea of Sola Scriptura indirectly. Consider whether you can find anywhere in all of Thomas' writings him discussing the extra-scriptural teachings of the church or oral traditions as the source of wisdom. If you could, that would mean that we might have to reevaluate whether Thomas was being inconsistent or simply speaking hyperbolically here.
165. – Next (v. 16), he urges them to acquire wisdom, first, he teaches them about the source of wisdom, and secondly its usefulness.

166. – In order to have true wisdom, one must inquire into its source, and so Paul says, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. “The source of wisdom is God’s word in the highest heaven” (Sir 1:5). Therefore you should draw wisdom from the word of Christ: “That will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples” (Deut 4:6); “He was made our wisdom” (1 Cor 1:30). But some people do not have the Word, and so they do not have wisdom. He says that this wisdom should dwell in us: “Bind them about your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Prov 3:3). For some, a little of Christ’s word is enough, but the Apostle wants them to have much more; thus he says, let the word of God dwell in you richly: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything” (2 Cor 9:8); “Search for it as for hidden treasures” (Prov 2:4). He adds, in all wisdom, that is, you should want to know everything that pertains to the wisdom of Christ: “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27); “The heart of a fool is like a broken jar; it will hold no wisdom” (Sir 21:17) [Vulgate].

167. – This wisdom is useful in three ways: for instruction, for devotion, and for direction.

168. – It instructs us in two ways: first, to know what is true; and so Paul says, as you teach. He is saying, in effect: this wisdom dwells in you so richly that it can teach you all things: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Secondly, this wisdom instructs us to know what is good, and so Paul says, and admonish one another, that is, encourage yourselves to do good things: “To arouse you by way of reminder” (2 Pet 1:1).
- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Colossians, Lecture 3 on Chapter 3, at Colossians 3:12-17, Sections 165-68

I selected the following passage of one of many passages where Thomas affirms the perspicuity of certain texts of Scripture. I picked this one because it is on a subject that I think many folks today wouldn't regard as especially clear, and further because it seems to have relation to the Thomist/Molinist debate. Finally, I picked it because it is an example of Thomas rejecting what may perhaps be the majority patristic view on the topic - while Thomas only mentions Origen by name he references "some people" which sounds suspiciously as though it might refer to many people euphemistically.
[1] Some people, as a matter of fact, not understanding how God could cause a movement of the will in us without prejudice to freedom of will, have tried to explain these texts in a wrong way. That is, they would say that God causes willing and accomplishing within us in the sense that He causes in us the power of willing, but not in such a way that He makes us will this or that. Thus does Origen, in his Principles, explain free choice, defending it against the texts above.

[2] So, it seems that there developed from this view the opinion of certain people who said that providence does not apply to things subject to free choice, that is, to acts of choice, but, instead, that providence is applied to external events. For he who chooses to attain or accomplish something, such as to make a building or to become rich, is not always able to reach this end; thus, the results of our actions are not subject to free choice, but are controlled by providence.

[3] To these people, of course, opposition is offered quite plainly by the texts from Sacred Scripture. For it is stated in Isaiah (26:2): “O Lord, Thou hast wrought all our works in us.” So, we receive not only the power of willing from God, but also the operation.
- Thomas Aquinas, Contra Gentiles, Book 3, Part 2, Chapter 89, Sections 1-3

This passage provides a reasonably good statement of both the formal sufficiency and perspicuity (the doctrine that the things necessary for salvation are clearly stated in Scripture) of Scripture:
To restore man, who had been laid low by sin, to the heights of divine glory, the Word of the eternal Father, though containing all things within His immensity, willed to become small. This He did, not by putting aside His greatness, but by taking to Himself our littleness. No one can say that he is unable to grasp the teaching of heavenly wisdom; what the Word taught at great length, although clearly, throughout the various volumes of Sacred Scripture for those who have leisure to study, He has reduced to brief compass for the sake of those whose time is taken up with the cares of daily life. Man’s salvation consists in knowing the truth, so that the human mind may not be confused by divers errors; in making for the right goal, so that man may not fall away from true happiness by pursuing wrong ends; and in carrying out the law of justice, so that he may not besmirch himself with a multitude of vices.

Knowledge of the truth necessary for man’s salvation is comprised within a few brief articles of faith. The Apostle says in Romans 9:2 8: “A short word shall the Lord make upon the earth”; and later he adds: “This is the word of faith, which we preach” (Rom. 15:8). In a short prayer Christ clearly marked out man’s right course; and in teaching us to say this prayer, He showed us the goal of our striving and our hope. In a single precept of charity He summed up that human justice which consists in observing the law: “Love therefore is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:15). Hence the Apostle, in 1 Corinthians 13:13, taught that the whole perfection of this present life consists in faith, hope, and charity, as in certain brief headings outlining our salvation: “Now there remain faith, hope, and charity.” These are the three virtues, as St. Augustine says, by which God is worshiped [De doctrina christiana, 1, 35]
- Thomas Aquinas, Theological Compendium, Chapter 1 (appears to be repeated verbatim as the first chapter of both part 1 and part 2)

This passage is more tangential to our discussion. It highlights one of the reasons that the medieval period was as dark as it was: the priests who were conducting their liturgies in Latin didn't even know how to speak it. Thomas rightly chides them for this, and insists that a knowledge of Scriptures is essential for a preacher. The implication is that Thomas would have disagreed with those modern Roman Catholics who try to argue that Christianity is not a religion of the book.
The necessity for priests devoted to the ministry of preaching is, furthermore, shown by the great ignorance prevailing in some places amongst many of the clergy, some of whom know not even how to speak in Latin. It is rare to find any who are conversant with the Scriptures. Yet a knowledge of the holy writings is essential to those who would preach the word of God. Hence if preaching be entrusted solely to parish priests, the faithful will be greatly the losers.
- Thomas Aquinas, Contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, Part 2, Chapter 3

One of the few places in Aquinas' writings where he explores the boundaries between papal power and Scriptures is the following. In this passage, we see that the one thing higher than papal power for Aquinas is the power and authority of the Scriptures.
In answer to the second objection, the Pope, as we have already shown, does not, by giving to religious the privilege of preaching or hearing confessions, act contrary to St. Paul’s admonition; for these religious do not preach to another man’s people. It is not true to say that the Pope cannot alter any Apostolic decree; for the penalties pronounced against bigamy and against fornication among the clergy, are, by authority of the Holy See, sometimes in abeyance. The power of the Pope is limited only in so far that he cannot alter the canonical scriptures of the Apostles and Prophets, which are fundamental to the faith of the Church.
- Thomas Aquinas, Contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, Part 2, Chapter 3

This is similar to the passage above about the necessity of Scriptures for preachers. I've included it because it makes explicit the primacy of Scripture ("above all things").
From all that has been said, we see then that it is advisable for religious [i.e. those in religious orders], and especially for preachers, to be learned, and that above all things they ought to have a good knowledge of Holy Scripture.
- Thomas Aquinas, Contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, Part 3, Chapter 4

A rare instance of where Thomas interacts with the decrees of Nicaea is the following. In the following, we see that Thomas explicitly denies that the council of Nicaea had higher authority than the Old Testament Scriptures. Instead, Thomas appears to assert only that Nicaea was right - a position similar to those of most Reformed folks.
Doubt also arises from the same letter where Athanasius says that “only the definition of the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea, discerned in the spirit and not in the letter, is the unique and true possession of the orthodox.” Someone might interpret this as implying that the definition of the said Council enjoys greater authority than the letter of the Old Testament, which is absolutely false.

The text, however, must be read in the sense that through the said Council the true meaning of Sacred Scripture is perceived, a meaning which only Catholics possess, although the letter of Sacred Scripture is common to Catholics and heretics and Jews.
- Thomas Aquinas, Against the Errors of the Greeks, Part 1, Chapter 32

UPDATE: Here's an alternative translation, which appears to be more faithful to the original Latin (thanks to Pastor David King for this update):

Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274: Doubt also arises from the same letter where Athanasius says that “only the definition of the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea, discerned in the spirit and not in the letter, is the unique and true possession of the orthodox.” Someone might interpret this as implying that the definition of the said Council enjoys greater authority than the letter of the Old and New Testaments, which is absolutely false.

The text, however, must be read in the sense that through the said Council the true meaning of Sacred Scripture is perceived, a meaning which only Catholics possess, although the letter of Sacred Scripture is common to Catholics and heretics and Jews. See the full translation of Aquinas’ Contra Errores Graecorum, provided by James Likoudis in his Ending the Byzantine Greek Schism (New Rochelle, NY: Catholics United for the Faith, 1992), Part 1, Chapter 32, p. 154

This concludes our somewhat extended examination of Thomas' own comments on Scripture - its exclusive and primary place, its sufficiency, and its perspicuity. We can conclude from this at least that Thomas held to some form or kind of Sola Scriptura (broadly defined), even if it did not reach in him the purity it reached in other great thinkers, such as Calvin - and even if it did not reach the full extent of the definitions we find in the Westminster Confession of Faith or the like. As we noted above, he held a place for traditional customs that is probably a large place than Reformed believers would accept, and his view of the pope's role in the church is not one that any Reformed believer would accept.

Bellisario concludes his comment with the following jewel: "Webster is a buffoon. Nothing to be scared of."

That is more of the argument-by-adjective style we've noticed above. However, as we've seen from the discussion above, there is an abundance of evidence that supports what Webster said about Thomas Aquinas, even beyond the bare fact of the precise quotation that Webster's comment is based on. It appears that Webster's comments are consistent with the overall trajectory of Aquinas' thought on Scripture.

One word of caution. Aquinas was not a fully Reformed believer. Not every point of his doctrine or ecclesiology lines up with Reformed theology. In fact, on many points that are not trivial his views are closer to those of modern-day Roman Catholics. One of the reasons, as William Webster has pointed out, is that Thomas Aquinas mistakenly relied on forged patristic writings (link to discussion). Incidentally, given his somewhat uncritical acceptance of forged documents, one ought to take his patristic quotations above with a grain of salt, and check them to verify their authenticity before citing the father that is allegedly being quoted. I have not checked all of Aquinas' sources above, and consequently have simply cited them as Thomas - not as the father himself.

The above abundant evidence of Thomas Aquinas' very high and exclusive view of Scripture, embodying some form of Sola Scriptura, should not be confused for a statement that Aquinas would have agreed with every last word of an extended Reformed treatise on the subject. It ought to go without saying that Aquinas was a fallible man, and we ought to recognize his fallibility. He may well also have been an inconsistent man. We see inconsistency all around us today, and even though Thomas Aquinas' study was extensive, he is not immune from being inconsistent.

- TurretinFan

P.S. I anticipate but hope against the following non-rebuttals: (1) the same accusation already made against Webster vainly brought against me, namely that the above compilation represents ignorance or unfamiliarity with the Thomistic corpus; (2) that the quotations above are "cut-and-paste" (obviously, one cuts and pastes quotations - otherwise one is paraphrasing, not quoting -- the above represents more than a simple cut-and-paste on several levels); (3) that "Catholics accept what Aquinas said but that doesn't equate to Sola Scriptura" (Aquinas is not being consistent with the modern Roman Catholic view. Furthermore, the seeming bulk of Aquinas' writings indicate his view that Scripture's authority is even higher than the highest church authority. While Aquinas may additionally have believed that the ecumenical councils necessarily did not err, Aquinas seems not to have given them the same authority as Scripture - the one possible straw upon which an opposite conclusion might be built is addressed above.)

27 comments:

SeanPatrick said...

You are still conflating formal sufficiency with material sufficiency.

In a previous post on this topic you wrote this:

Now, I will certainly concede that Aquinas mistakenly believed that a council of the universal church could not err, and that Aquinas accorded a primacy to the bishop of Rome that was excessive.

Now, why on earth would Aquinas believe that a council of the universal church could not err?

You were right that Aquinas believed this about the Church. What does Aquinas say?

On the contrary, The universal Church cannot err, since she is governed by the Holy Ghost, Who is the Spirit of truth: for such was Our Lord's promise to His disciples (Jn. 16:13): "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth." Now the symbol is published by the authority of the universal Church. Therefore it contains nothing defective.
(Summa Theologica, II.II, q. 1, a. 9)

Turretinfan said...

SP wrote: "You are still conflating formal sufficiency with material sufficiency."

No, I'm not.

SP wrote: "Now, why on earth would Aquinas believe that a council of the universal church could not err?"

Isn't obvious? If the council erred as to an essential of the faith, that would mean that the universal church had fallen away. Universal apostasy is unthinkable. Thus, because of a relatively small error about the nature of large councils, we end up with Aquinas additionally holding to a view of inerrancy of the universal church.

That inerrancy, however, doesn't imply any defect in the formal or material sufficiency of Scripture.

We tried at length to explain this to you before, as I recall.

Coram Deo said...

Arguments are so much easier to win when you simply make assertions to the effect that your opponent is "ignorant, fallacious, uneducated, a hypocrite, and a liar", and then summarily declare yourself the victor.

Sadly that doesn't work in the real world, only in the comic book fantasy world of small men.

MB: "TF, why don't you just admit that you're an ignorant liar you moron!?!"

TF: "Well, actually MB, the point I was making is that you said A = B, which is incorrect when in every possible situation A = non-B, here are the citations and evidence [link]"

MB: "Why are you a liar, TF? And why don't you just come out and admit that you made up all that evidence, because it's all lies, and I never, EVER said that A = non-B, EVER!!"

TF: "Actually MB, what I said, when quoting you, is that you said A = B, I never insinuated that you said A = non-B, which would be a correct statement, as I proved in my posted evidence and with the link I provided."

MB: "There you go again! Every time I catch you in a LIE you go and change the subject! You're always inventing LOOPHOLES so you can say that you're not a liar when EVERYBODY can see that I never, never, never, ever in a million quadrillion possible universes EVER said that A = non-B; YOU LIAR!"

TF: "MB, I never sugggested that you said A = non-B, that's not being argued, you said that A = B [link]"

MB: "You're a moron, and so is anyone who disagrees with me and everyone who lies about things that I've said that I never said, because EVERYONE knows I would never say something like that. Why are you such a LIAR?!?

Repeat, rinse, repeat as necessary.

In Christ,
CD

SeanPatrick said...

We tried at length to explain this to you before, as I recall.

Yes. I recall. I suppose that the fact that you are unable to prove anything about Aquinas (or any other ECF) holding to the formal sufficiency and/or perspicuity of scripture is only my fault and in no way means that you are simply wrong.

Matthew Bellisario said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Bellisario said...

TF wrties "While he may have been inconsistent in this, and while he sometimes seemed to have a very high view of church authority, nevertheless his view of Scripture is consistent with what Webster mentions briefly on one page of his book."

If you would have read St. Thomas at length, and not composed another hatchet, cut and paste job on him, you would realize that Aquinas was very consistent in citing Scripture, Tradition and the Church as being one authority. The only inconsistency is in your and Webster's fallacious attempt to force Aquinas into a position he never took.

The fact is just because St. Thomas has a high view of Scripture and cites it as an authority, he does not divorce it from the authority of the Church or Tradition, which he also cites as being authorities. Also I noticed how you selectively quoted my 10 page essay on the subject, completely ignoring the large part of my argument and sources. No surprise there. Taking things out of context and using selective emphasis is your way of claiming victory, even though it is a victory that only exists in your crippled imagination. Keep up the cut and paste efforts. It makes your ignorance shine brightly.

Finally we have a case of Turretin Fan and his buddy Webster vs the entire body of real Thomistic scholars. They all seem to read Aquinas in proper context, reading his entire body of work, and they realize that Aquinas consistently acknowledged Scripture, Oral Kerygma and the Church as being united in authority, and yet TF and his buddy Webster have read a few cut and pasted quotes taken out of context and have come to the conclusion that, "Thomas Aquinas believed in the perspicuity, sufficiency, and primacy of Scripture. While he may have been inconsistent in this..." I think we all know who was consistent in acknowledging the Church, Scripture, and Tradition, and who invented this inconsistent sufficiency of Scripture.

Rather than letting St. Thomas speak for himself in his entire body of work, TF and Webster would rather have everyone believe that St. Thomas was inconsistent when he supposedly acknowledged the sufficiency of Scripture, rather than acknowledge the clear fact that St. Thomas held to the untied authority of the Church, Tradition and Scripture.

Turretinfan said...

"Yes. I recall. I suppose that the fact that you are unable to prove anything about Aquinas (or any other ECF) holding to the formal sufficiency and/or perspicuity of scripture is only my fault and in no way means that you are simply wrong."

If proof equals persuasion, then apparently neither side can "prove" anything, since neither side has been persuaded. But if "proof" simply means evidence and rational arguments, we've given you them.

Turretinfan said...

LOL Bellisario. You are so predictable.

MB wrote: "If you would have read St. Thomas at length,"

That was the predicted non-response number 1.

"and not composed another hatchet, cut and paste job on him,"

That was the predicted non-response number 2.

"you would realize that Aquinas was very consistent in citing Scripture, Tradition and the Church as being one authority."

I suppose if lack of counting ability equals consistency ...

"The only inconsistency is in your and Webster's fallacious attempt to force Aquinas into a position he never took."

a) that wouldn't *necessarily* be a sign of inconsistency; and

b) you haven't (and apparently can't) establish that Aquinas didn't take the positions we've documented above.

"The fact is just because St. Thomas has a high view of Scripture and cites it as an authority, he does not divorce it from the authority of the Church or Tradition, which he also cites as being authorities."

No, he doesn't *divorce* them, they were never wed. What he doesn't do is denigrate Scripture (as Rome does) by making the Church/Tradition its equal.

"Also I noticed how you selectively quoted my 10 page essay on the subject, completely ignoring the large part of my argument and sources."

There was only one part of the 10 page essay that dealt with Webster. That was the portion to which I was responding. You claimed you refuted Webster, so I responded to that portion of your essay that dealt with Webster, and I titled my post with "Webster" in the title and introduced my post with two sentences specifically focused on the fact that I entered the discussion to defend him against your unjustified criticism of him. I would hope that someone who is able to write a 10 page paper would be able to understand why only the relevant portion of the paper would be addressed.

"Finally we have a case of Turretin Fan and his buddy Webster vs the entire body of real Thomistic scholars."

a) No, this is specifically against your calumnies, and you have not yet arrogated to yourself the title of a "real Thomistic scholar" as far as I know.

b) Given the fact that a huge fraction of the Thomistic studies that are done are done by Roman Catholics, it would not be surprising if a Reformed look at Thomas would provide differently light than the numerically overwhelming majority.

c) Appealing to the secondary materials when presented with the primary materials is an obvious attempt to avoid considering the primary materials. Let the reader judge for himself why someone might do that.

[cont'd in part 2]

Turretinfan said...

[cont'd from part 1]

"They all seem to read Aquinas in proper context, reading his entire body of work, and they realize that Aquinas consistently acknowledged Scripture, Oral Kerygma and the Church as being united in authority, and yet TF and his buddy Webster have read a few cut and pasted quotes taken out of context and have come to the conclusion that, 'Thomas Aquinas believed in the perspicuity, sufficiency, and primacy of Scripture. While he may have been inconsistent in this...'"

Just because something is united doesn't mean they are equals. For example, if Bellisario still lived in his parents' basement he would still be united to his nuclear family, but that wouldn't make him his father's equal.

"I think we all know who was consistent in acknowledging the Church, Scripture, and Tradition, and who invented this inconsistent sufficiency of Scripture."

We've demonstrated above that Thomas taught the sufficiency of Scripture.

"Rather than letting St. Thomas speak for himself in his entire body of work, TF and Webster would rather have everyone believe that St. Thomas was inconsistent when he supposedly acknowledged the sufficiency of Scripture, rather than acknowledge the clear fact that St. Thomas held to the untied authority of the Church, Tradition and Scripture."

Let me provide a counter-point on inconsistency. I've let Thomas speak for himself at great length (to the point where Bellisario predictably complained that a "cut and paste job" had been performed) and now Bellisario who quotes not a word of Aquinas in his response to me is complaining that I don't let Aquinas speak for himself.

- TurretinFan

Matthew Bellisario said...

TF "No, he doesn't *divorce* them, they were never wed. What he doesn't do is denigrate Scripture (as Rome does) by making the Church/Tradition its equal."

Yes they are wed as one authority, and no Rome does not make them "equal" in a strict sense, only in using analogies to explain to people that Scripture and Tradition are form the same wellspring, because they all are tied together as one authority. This is also very clear in reading St. Thomas.

TF "I would hope that someone who is able to write a 10 page paper would be able to understand why only the relevant portion of the paper would be addressed."

This is proof that you did not ready my entire paper because the entire paper deals with how St. Thomas viewed doctrine, so the entire essay is all relevant to this discussion. Another example of how you cannot take an entire work and understand it as a whole. You did the same thing with St. Thomas.

TF. "No, this is specifically against your calumnies, and you have not yet arrogated to yourself the title of a "real Thomistic scholar" as far as I know."

No, I read real Thomistic scholars and I read the writings of St Thomas as a body of work, and I do not take one liners out like you do to try and force Aquinas into holding a position he never held to.

TF "We've demonstrated above that Thomas taught the sufficiency of Scripture."

First of all who is we? Secondly, no you have not demonstrated anything of the sort.

TF, "and now Bellisario who quotes not a word of Aquinas in his response to me is complaining that I don't let Aquinas speak for himself."

Why don't you read the rest of my 10 page essay where I adequately cite St Thomas and clearly prove that he never held to the sufficiency of Scripture that you claim he did. It is not my problem if you can't read anything from beginning to end. Did you just go to the one paragraph where Webster is mentioned and not read what came before and after it? Are you going to say that I never quoted St. Thomas to prove my point in my original essay? Or did you not read the rest of it? I think we all know that you did not read my essay for beginning to end.

Turretinfan said...

"Yes they are wed as one authority, and no Rome does not make them "equal" in a strict sense, only in using analogies to explain to people that Scripture and Tradition are form the same wellspring, because they all are tied together as one authority."

This is an interesting claim. What is the relative authority of Scripture and the Church in the strict sense? (I mean, in the modern Roman Catholic view.)

Incidentally, the same analogy can be applied to Reformed views of church/traditional authority. They all come from the same source of authority and are united in that respect.

That's one reason that analogies and fuzzy metaphors aren't helpful to the discussion. It's better to focus on more precisely defined subjects such as sufficiency.

"This is also very clear in reading St. Thomas."

Scripture's sufficiency is abundantly clear from Thomas' writings, as I've demonstrated.

"This is proof that you did not ready my entire paper because the entire paper deals with how St. Thomas viewed doctrine, so the entire essay is all relevant to this discussion."

As I already said several times. This post is about responding to your claim that you refuted Webster. That's why I specifically quoted and responded to the portion of your post that addressed Webster. I wasn't trying to take on the larger project of responding to every paragraph of your ten page post.

"Another example of how you cannot take an entire work and understand it as a whole. You did the same thing with St. Thomas."

This post doesn't claim to provide the entire Thomistic corpus, just as it doesn't claim to respond to every paragraph of your ten page article. It's not a question of not understanding the documents as a whole, but of limiting the discussion to a particular topic.

"No, I read real Thomistic scholars and I read the writings of St Thomas as a body of work, and I do not take one liners out like you do to try and force Aquinas into holding a position he never held to."

I'm sure you do read real Thomistic scholars. And I'm willing to believe that you're not trying to force Aquinas into holding a position he never held. That said, you are clearly avoiding dealing with the evidence presented from Thomas' own writings.

"First of all who is we? Secondly, no you have not demonstrated anything of the sort."

(addressed above)

"Why don't you read the rest of my 10 page essay where I adequately cite St Thomas and clearly prove that he never held to the sufficiency of Scripture that you claim he did."

I didn't think there was much worth responding to in your paper the first time I read it. The only reason I came back to it was to address your triumphalistic claim to have refuted Webster. Perhaps I'll reconsider, but I'm not inclined at present to invite upon myself a fresh load of insults for the trouble of correcting your errors.

[cont'd in part 2]

Turretinfan said...

[cont'd from part 1]

"It is not my problem if you can't read anything from beginning to end."

Take a deep breath and read what you wrote.

"Did you just go to the one paragraph where Webster is mentioned and not read what came before and after it?"

You may be wondering how that would even be possible. How could I manage to find that one paragraph and know that it has the complete discussion of Webster without reading at least the immediately preceding and immediately following paragraphs. The answer, of course, is a diving rod. It twitched on that paragraph, so I knew I didn't have to even look at the other ones.

And, of course, for the humor-impaired, that's a joke. Of course, I read the context as well as the rest of the article. How else would I be able to know that I had found the entire discussion about Webster?

"Are you going to say that I never quoted St. Thomas to prove my point in my original essay?"

I didn't say that, and I'm not planning to. Your original essay quoted about a dozen times from Thomas, mostly from his Summa Theologica and Against the Greeks.

You provided the following quotations:

1) A quotation standing for the idea that literal sense takes primacy (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 1, Article 10).

2) A quotation standing for the idea that "only the Church of Peter was always firm in the faith" (Catechism of Thomas Aquinas, 9th article)

3) A quotation from Summa 1:1:2 reply to objection 2

4) Some alleged last words of Aquinas.

5) You provide (as noted above) a citation to "(Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, Question 26)"

6) You quote the famous "only canonical Scripture" passage.

7) You quote a portion of "(Summa Theologica III, Question 64, article 2)"

8) You quote a portion of "(Summa Theologica III, Question 25, Article3 )"

9) You quote a portion of "(Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 1, Article 9)"

10) You quote from "(Catechism of Thomas Aquinas, 10th article)"

11) You quote from "(Summa Theologica II, Question 5, Article 2)"

12) You quote from "(Opusculum contra errores Graecorum, Chapter Four)"

13) You quote from "(Opusculum contra errores Graecorum, Chapters 32, 33, 34 and 35)"

If I have left out any other quotation, please let me know.

"Or did you not read the rest of it? I think we all know that you did not read my essay for beginning to end."

I think we see just the opposite, but even had I not read your entire essay that would at most reflect badly on me ... it wouldn't address the arguments or evidence I've presented.

- TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

Sean Patrick wished to direct our attention to the following:

Geisler and Mackenzie in "Roman Catholics and Evangelicals" explain:

A good bit of confusion exists between Catholics and Protestants on sola Scriptura due to a failure to distinguish two aspects of the doctrine: the formal and the material. Sola Scriptura in the material sense simply means that all the content of salvific revelation exists in Scripture. Many Catholics hold this in common with Protestants, including well-known theologians from John Henry Newman to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. French Catholic theologian Yves Congar states: “we can admit sola Scriptura in the sense of a material sufficiency of canonical Scripture. This means that Scripture contains, in one way or another, all truths necessary for salvation.” What Protestants affirm and Catholics reject is sola Scriptura in the formal sense that the Bible alone is sufficiently clear that no infallible teaching magisterium of the church is necessary to interpret it. (Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, pp. 179, 180.)

Sean hasn't actually demonstrated anywhere we've conflated these, but he's sure that we have and he insists that we need to prove we haven't. Without a specific allegation, specific refutation is next to impossible.

-TurretinFan

SeanPatrick said...

Without a specific allegation, specific refutation is next to impossible.

Specifically, the allegation is that given Aquinas' ecclesiology, he could not possibly have held that scripture was ‘formally’ sufficient. Nothing that he wrote suggests that he did not believe in the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Somebody who holds to the ‘formal sufficiency’ of scripture rejects the teaching authority of the Catholic Church by definition.

His ecclesiology and 'formal sufficiency' are at odds.

At the end of the day, his view on scripture is consistent with that of the Catholic Church and his ecclesiology is that of the Catholic Church.

When I asked you, "Now, why on earth would Aquinas believe that a council of the universal church could not err?"

You said, "Isn't obvious? If the council erred as to an essential of the faith, that would mean that the universal church had fallen away. Universal apostasy is unthinkable. Thus, because of a relatively small error about the nature of large councils, we end up with Aquinas additionally holding to a view of inerrancy of the universal church."

Your response does take into account Aquinas' very own words. He did not merely default to this position for fear of a universal falling away.

Here, again, is what he said, "The universal Church cannot err, since she is governed by the Holy Ghost, Who is the Spirit of truth: for such was Our Lord's promise to His disciples (Jn. 16:13): "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth." Now the symbol is published by the authority of the universal Church. Therefore it contains nothing defective.

For Aquinas, and all the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, Scripture belongs to the Church, and is only understood rightly within the Church.

Con'd

SeanPatrick said...

This is highlighted by the following from the Summa:

Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Sacred Scripture, has not the habit of faith, but holds the [other articles] of faith by a mode other than faith. If someone holds in his mind a conclusion without knowing how that conclusion is demonstrated, it is manifest that he does not have scientific knowledge [i.e. knowledge of causes], but merely an opinion about it. So likewise, it is manifest that he who adheres to the teachings of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teachings of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves [even] one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things (but if he is not obstinate, he is not a heretic but only erring). Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.”
Summa Theologica II-II Q.5 a.3

In the Catholic Church, Scripture is something properly known and understood through the Church's teaching authority guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit operates through the Church to cast a supernatural light upon Scripture, so that it may be understood.

This is St. Thomas Aquinas' view as well and it pretty obvious if we make an effort to understand Aquinas' view of the Church as it relates to scripture.

Your narrow view (narrow in the sense that it does not understand the nature of the Church as understood by Aquinas) does not make sense of statements like the following from Aquinas:

Hence our Lord said to Peter whom he made Sovereign Pontiff (Luke 22:32): “I have prayed for thee,” Peter, “that thy faith fail not, and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” The reason of this is that there should be but one faith of the whole Church, according to 1 Corinthians 1:10: “That you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you”: and this could not be secured unless any question of faith that may arise be decided by him who presides over the whole Church, so that the whole Church may hold firmly to his decision. Consequently it belongs to the sole authority of the Sovereign Pontiff to publish a new edition of the symbol, as do all other matters which concern the whole Church, such as to convoke a general council and so forth.
Summa Theologica II-II Q.1 a.10

Statements such this and other statements from Aquinas make no sense at all if we take your view that Aquinas taught the 'formal sufficency' of scripture.

It seems that the best you can do with these problems is to say, "Well, he made a 'small error.'"

However, if you look at the question as a whole, you'll see that Aquinas is virtually saying exactly what the Catholic Church says in 2010 about the nature of scripture and the Church.

Turretinfan said...

Sean Patrick:

You wrote: "Specifically, the allegation is that given Aquinas' ecclesiology, he could not possibly have held that scripture was ‘formally’ sufficient."

1) Hopefully you understand how that is not a specific allegation of us "conflating formal sufficiency with material sufficiency."

2) Given the definition of formal sufficiency that you have provided, the only way in which Aquinas' ecclesiology could become relevant to the issue of formal sufficiency is if he insisted that the Scriptures are not sufficient of themselves but require "the Church" in order to be sufficient to provide a saving knowledge of God.

That is to say, his ecclesiology would have to go beyond saying that the Church is inerrant or even infallible to saying that the things necessary for salvation cannot be understood from Scripture alone without the Church.

3) Do you seriously think that his ecclesiology was that high?

4) To respond to your quotation, unless you think that Aquinas believed that people could not have a saving knowledge of God without the symbol in its most recently amended form, Aquinas' view of the pope's ability to add articles to the symbol seems irrelevant to the question at hand.

5) As for Aquinas' view on universal apostasy, the reason it is unthinkable is the Holy Spirit.

SeanPatrick said...

'Turretin Fan'.

The question of the relationship of the church and scripture for Aquinas does not get any clearer than Summa II-II Q.5 a.3 which I posted above.

Aquinas calls those that do not accept the teaching of the Church 'heretics' who 'go after their own will.'

No person holding to the 'formal' sufficiency would call the teaching of the church a 'Divine Rule', as does Aquinas.

Given the definition of formal sufficiency that you have provided, the only way in which Aquinas' ecclesiology could become relevant to the issue of formal sufficiency is if he insisted that the Scriptures are not sufficient of themselves but require "the Church" in order to be sufficient to provide a saving knowledge of God.

Could God's Grace touch somebody through the scriptures who has no knowledge of the Church's doctrines and give them what you call, "saving knowledge of God." Absolutely.

Could God's Grace touch somebody through His creation and the law written on their hearts who has no knowledge of the scriptures? Absolutely.

In the first case, this does not mean that the Church is not guided by the Holy Spirit no more than in the second case, this does not mean that scripture is not God's word.

I'll give you the last word.

Turretinfan said...

"The question of the relationship of the church and scripture for Aquinas does not get any clearer than Summa II-II Q.5 a.3 which I posted above."

That's as good a concession speech as I could have hoped you would give.

"Aquinas calls those that do not accept the teaching of the Church 'heretics' who 'go after their own will.'"

That's not *exactly* the tone that post-Vatican-II Romanism uses now, is it. Regardless, it doesn't address the issue of formal sufficiency, as I've already noted.

"No person holding to the 'formal' sufficiency would call the teaching of the church a 'Divine Rule', as does Aquinas."

To the extent that the teachings of the church "proceed[] from the First Truth manifested in Sacred Scripture" they are indeed a divine rule. That's Aquinas' qualification, just as it is mine. By ignoring his qualification, you change the meaning of his words through an invalid generalization.

"Could God's Grace touch somebody through the scriptures who has no knowledge of the Church's doctrines and give them what you call, "saving knowledge of God." Absolutely."

Thank you for admitting this. On this point, you *seem* to agree with Aquinas and us.

"Could God's Grace touch somebody through His creation and the law written on their hearts who has no knowledge of the scriptures? Absolutely."

We deny that the light of nature alone is sufficient to bring men to saving faith in Christ. Perhaps you were unaware of that. If so, please re-read Chapter 1, Section 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

"In the first case, this does not mean that the Church is not guided by the Holy Spirit no more than in the second case, this does not mean that scripture is not God's word."

We (you and us) don't disagree over whether the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, but the way in which that happens. Scripture promises the Holy Spirit not to the institution but to all believers.

"I'll give you the last word."

We'll see.

-TurretinFan

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Coram Deo,

MB: "You're a moron, and so is anyone who disagrees with me and everyone who lies about things that I've said that I never said, because EVERYONE knows I would never say something like that. Why are you such a LIAR?!?

Coram Deo: Repeat, rinse, repeat as necessary.

LOL. Very nice.

But how come when I rinse and repeat I still feel like I need a shower?

Blessings,

PA

Matthew Bellisario said...

You guys are really a piece of work. Keep patting each other on the back as TF selectively quotes Aquinas out of context. If this is the best you have then I'll leave you to it. TF, you are truly as waste of time. I'll leave you and your imaginary Aquinas to the figment of your crippled imagination.

Turretinfan said...

"You guys are really a piece of work."

Your frustration is noted.

"Keep patting each other on the back as TF selectively quotes Aquinas out of context."

a) Isn't that redundant? (i.e. selectively quoting and quoting out of context)

b) And both parts of the redundancy are false. That's why Bellisario is not pointing out where, in each case, the context changes the meaning or something has been selectively omitted that would alter the sense.

"If this is the best you have then I'll leave you to it. TF, you are truly as [sic] waste of time. I'll leave you and your imaginary Aquinas to the figment of your crippled imagination."

Insults rather than arguments, duly noted.

-TurretinFan

Coram Deo said...

Just for the record, I called this argument before it even happened.

Duly noted.

In Christ,
CD

Matthew Bellisario said...

"Insults rather than arguments, duly noted."

In my 10 pages I have alrady presented my argument and it is plain that Aquinas did not beleive what you claim he believed. No need for me to rehash the facts i have already presesnted. You have not countered what I have already presented, so the insult is just an addition.

Turretinfan said...

"In my 10 pages I have alrady [sic] presented my argument and it is plain that Aquinas did not beleive [sic] what you claim he believed."

My blog post above is about 1000 words longer than your "10 pages" and more than adequately demonstrates from Aquinas' own words that Aquinas believed what Aquinas said he believed.

More to the point, it adequately rebuts the paragraph in which you attempted to respond to Webster.

"No need for me to rehash the facts i [sic] have already presesnted. [sic]"

No one is going to force you to interact with the arguments and evidence I presented.

"You have not countered what I have already presented, so the insult is just an addition. "

a) I responded to the portion of your article that I quoted. I countered your claims there with quotations from and references to Aquinas' writings.

b) If your response is simply, "I already addressed those issues in the remainder of the article," I would respectfully disagree, but so be it. Perhaps I'll find time to provide a detailed response to every paragraph of your article, but probably not.

-TurretinFan

Matthew Bellisario said...

"My blog post above is about 1000 words longer than your "10 pages" and more than adequately demonstrates from Aquinas' own words that Aquinas believed what Aquinas said he believed."
"
Just beacuse you cut and pasted more words does not make your argument any more convincing. I could cut and paste the entire Summa, and tell everyone that I put up Aquinas' own words, so what? You did not demonstrate or say anything that refuted what I wrote in my essay. It is very clear that you are not familiar at all with the great Saint, or any of his works. Go back to your milk and cookies, your mom is probably looking for you. That was another insult in case you were wondering. I'll leave you to your fantasy world, where everything is exactly like you want it to be.

Turretinfan said...

"Just beacuse [sic] you cut and pasted more words does not make your argument any more convincing."

a) I didn't suggest that it does.

b) Quoting lots of words from Aquinas is not a bad thing.

"I could cut and paste the entire Summa, and tell everyone that I put up Aquinas' own words, so what?"

If you pasted the whole work, you'd probably be posting a lot of irrelevant material. There's a contrast between doing that, and quoting a lot of relevant material.

"You did not demonstrate or say anything that refuted what I wrote in my essay."

Your failure to be persuaded is not strong evidence against the fact that you have been refuted.

"It is very clear that you are not familiar at all with the great Saint, or any of his works."

It's one thing to make a claim like that, and another to demonstrate a claim like that. I've demonstrated some of your mischaracterizations of Thomas' writings in my article.

"Go back to your milk and cookies, your mom is probably looking for you."

More insults, we see.

"That was another insult in case you were wondering."

I wasn't wondering.

"I'll leave you to your fantasy world, where everything is exactly like you want it to be."

And again, more insults.

-TurretinFan

john martin said...

Isn't obvious? If the council erred as to an essential of the faith, that would mean that the universal church had fallen away.”

Not really. It would mean the teaching arm of the church had fallen away or Christ was a fraud when he promised to protect the church against the gates of hell.

“Universal apostasy is unthinkable.”

No. Universal apostasy is not permitted by the promises made by Christ, who is God. As Jesus is God, then universal apostasy is not possible.

“ Thus, because of a relatively small error about the nature of large councils,”

The error is made by you and not by Thomas.

“ we end up with Aquinas additionally holding to a view of inerrancy of the universal church.”

There is no error in Aquinas. Aquinas well understood that the church as the body of Christ and the apostles who handed down their teaching authority with the power to bind and loose, could not enter into full apostasy, especially when the church meets and formally teaches the faithful.

“That inerrancy, however, doesn't imply any defect in the formal or material sufficiency of Scripture.”

No. Aquinas’ inerrancy does undo formal sufficiency of scripture, simply because Christ is God and the church has his authority to teach in his name. As God is all powerful and the church teaches with his power, it must be inerrant and infallible when it formally teaches the faithful on faith and morals.

Church history clearly shows the church Councils resolved doctrinal controversies using scripture and tradition, therefore scripture is historically been understood by the church to be materially sufficient.

Formal sufficiency of the scriptures requires the scriptures to have formal statements about all the truths implied within the text. As all the formal answers are not found in scripture, the text is only materially sufficient. Therefore we need a magesterium and tradition to complement the scriptures to provide formal as well as material sufficiency to the scriptures.

JM