Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sola Scriptura in Athanasius: Contra Gentes

Athanasius' first major work "Contra Gentes" begins with the line: "The knowledge of our religion and of the truth of things is independently manifest rather than in need of human teachers, for almost day by day it asserts itself by facts, and manifests itself brighter than the sun by the doctrine of Christ." (source) Notice how Athanasius describes the truth of the Christian religion as being self-evident and explicitly not "in need of human teachers."

Athanasius immediately continues: "Still, as you nevertheless desire to hear about it, Macarius, come let us as we may be able set forth a few points of the faith of Christ: able though you are to find it out from the divine oracles, but yet generously desiring to hear from others as well." The divine oracles he refers to here are Scripture. Athanasius states that these things can be found out from Scripture, but that Macarius would like to hear it from others as well.

Athanasius then explicitly states:
For although the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth,—while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which a man will gain some knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures, and be able to learn what he wishes to know,—still, as we have not at present in our hands the compositions of our teachers, we must communicate in writing to you what we learned from them,—the faith, namely, of Christ the Saviour; lest any should hold cheap the doctrine taught among us, or think faith in Christ unreasonable.
Here Athanasius explicitly acknowledges the sufficiency of Scripture. He also confesses the usefulness of human teachers, and he himself is one such teacher, doing what our "blessed teachers" before him did: not infallibly defining the Scriptures, but simply explaining them.

After the introduction (section 1), Athanasius begins (section 2) with a discussion of Creation and general theology. He makes explicit reference to "Holy Scriptures," and there are lots of doctrines obviously derived from Scripture taught in the section. He even quotes from Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

In the next section (section 3), Athanasius speaks of the fall. He again clearly derives his teaching from Scripture and makes his reliance on Scripture explicit: "... according to what the holy Scriptures tell us ...."

In the following section (section 4), Athansius speaks of the effects of the fall, particularly on the mind. He again derives his teaching from Scripture. Speaking to the intended purpose of the things man has, Athanasius describes "ears to listen to the divine oracles and the laws of God ..." ("divine oracles" and "laws" are synonyms for Scripture). Athanasius quotes from 1 Corinthians 10:23 “All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient.”

In the next section (section 5), Athanasius speaks of the effects of the fall in terms of sins that flow from it. He once again derives his teaching from Scripture, with fairly obvious reliance on Romans 3:15 ("Their feet are swift to shed blood"), Proverbs 1:16 ("For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood."), or Isaiah 59:7 ("Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths."). Athanasius quotes from Philippians 3:14 “I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of Christ Jesus.”

Next (section 6), Athanasius makes reference to various erroneous views. He again relies on Scripture both to form his doctrinal correctives, but also to describe those in error (For example, he alludes to 1 Timothy 1:19). He is explicit in relying on Scripture to refute the errors: "But these men one can easily refute, not only from the divine Scriptures, but also from the human understanding itself ...." He then quotes from the gospels, quoting Jesus, quoting the Old Testament (bracketed references are my insertion): "To begin with, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ says in His own gospels confirming the words of Moses: “The Lord God is one; [Mark 12:29 / Deuteronomy 6:4]” and “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth [Matthew 11:25 / Luke 10:11 / Deuteronomy 10:14 / Genesis 24:3 / Exodus 31:17].”

Athanasius continues (section 7) by refuting a dualist notion that there is a good god and an evil god. Here we finally have a reference to the church, but it is simply "the truth of the Church’s theology must be manifest ...." Athanasius continues to argue from reason and Scripture. For example, referring to Scripture in yet another way, and quoting it, Athanasius writes: "as the Spirit says somewhere in writing, “God made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions.” [Ecclesiastes 7:29]"

The next section (section 8) has Athanasius explaining how the error of the use of representational images in worship arose. In this discussion he has clear dependence on Romans 1:20-24. Moreover, he explicitly quotes from Scripture: " But to this the divine Scripture testifies when it says, “When the wicked cometh unto the depth of evils, he despiseth.” [Proverbs (LXX) 18:3]" (You may recall we saw this same Scripture quoted in the Deposition of Arius)

After this (section 9) Athanasius deals with the descent into various things that are not divine as though they were deity, including creatures, non-existent things, passions, and parts. Here, Athanasius explicitly quotes from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom of Solomon as though it were Scripture, "According as the wisdom of God testifies beforehand when it says, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication.”[Wisdom 14:12]" (Cf. Athanasius' explicit identification of Wisdom of Solomon as non-canonical in his 39th festal letter, although as that was written later than this, it may reflect a change of views on his part)

The next section (section 10) gets more specific in calling out specific deities that are simply dead humans, both male and female (Athanasius is especially down on the idea of worshiping women: "For even women, whom it is not safe to admit to deliberation about public affairs, they worship and serve with the honour due to God ... "). While Scripture is not specifically mentioned, the dependence on Wisdom 14 seems pretty apparent.

The following section (section 11) provides a rebuttal. Athanasius again quotes Wisdom of Solomon 14, calling it "Scripture", this time quoting it at length:
But of these and such like inventions of idolatrous madness, Scripture taught us beforehand long ago, when it said, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them, the corruption of life. For neither were they from the beginning, neither shall they be for ever. For the vainglory of men they entered into the world, and therefore shall they come shortly to an end. For a father afflicted with untimely mourning when he hath made an image of his child soon taken away, now honoured him as a god which was then a dead man, and delivered to those that were under him ceremonies and sacrifices. Thus in process of time an ungodly custom grown strong was kept as a law. And graven images were worshipped by the commands of kings. Whom men could not honour in presence because they dwelt afar off, they took the counterfeit of his visage from afar, and made an express image of the king whom they honoured, to the end that by this their forwardness they might flatter him that was absent as if he were present. Also the singular diligence of the artificer did help to set forward the ignorant to more superstition: for he, peradventure, willing to please one in authority, forced all his skill to make the resemblance of the best fashion: and so the multitude, allured by the grace of the work, took him now for a god, which a little before was but honoured as a man: and this was an occasion to deceive the world, for men serving either calamity or tyranny, did ascribe unto stones and stocks the incommunicable Name.” [Wisdom 14:12-21]

Next (section 12) Athanasius demonstrates both the frailty and the immorality of the deities, building on comments from previous sections.

Athanasius then (section 13) turns to the folly of idolatry. While he does not explicitly refer to Scripture, his argument closely follows that of Isaiah 44, for example Isiah 44:15-17 describing a person who cuts up wood, uses some for burning and the other for making a god.

His next section (section 14) is especially rich in Scripture. He begins:
But better testimony about all this is furnished by Holy Scripture, which tells us beforehand when it says, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. Eyes have they and will not see; a mouth have they and will not speak; ears have they and will not hear; noses have they and will not smell; hands have they and will not handle; feet have they and will not walk; they will not speak through their throat. Like unto them be they that make them.” [Psalm 115:4-8]
He then continues:
Nor have they escaped prophetic censure; for there also is their refutation, where the Spirit says, “they shall be ashamed that have formed a god, and carved all of them that which is vain: and all by whom they were made are dried up: and let the deaf ones among men all assemble and stand up together, and let them be confounded and put to shame together; for the carpenter sharpened iron, and worked it with an adze, and fashioned it with an auger, and set it up with the arm of his strength: and he shall hunger and be faint, and drink no water. For the carpenter chose out wood, and set it by a rule, and fashioned it with glue, and made it as the form of a man and as the beauty of man, and set it up in his house, wood which he had cut from the grove and which the Lord planted, and the rain gave it growth that it might be for men to burn, and that he might take thereof and warm himself, and kindle, and bake bread upon it, but the residue they made into gods, and worshipped them, the half whereof they had burned in the fire. And upon the half thereof he roasted flesh and ate and was filled, and was warmed and said: ‘It is pleasant to me, because I am warmed and have seen the fire.’ But the residue thereof he worshipped, saying, ‘Deliver me for thou art my god.’ They knew not nor understood, because their eyes were dimmed that they could not see, nor perceive with their heart; nor did he consider in his heart nor know in his understanding that he had burned half thereof in the fire, and baked bread upon the coals thereof, and roasted flesh and eaten it, and made the residue thereof an abomination, and they worship it. Know that their heart is dust and they are deceived, and none can deliver his soul. Behold and will ye not say, ‘There is a lie in my right hand?’” [Isaiah 44:9-20]
He wraps this up with conclusions including "How then can they fail to be judged godless by all, who even by the divine Scripture are accused of impiety?"

The next section (section 15) criticizes idols as being obviously inanimate objects. While he doesn't explicitly quote Scripture here, his argument is reminiscent of Psalm 115:7 "They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat."

We could summarize the following section (section 16) as "inconsistency is the sign of a failed mythology" (to riff off Dr. White's famous maxim). Athanasius points out that the poets' description of the gods is inconsistent and consequently untrustworthy.

Athanasius then argues (section 17) that the poetic deification of these gods was designed to offset their human failings, as opposed to inventing the failings to bring the gods down. He suggests that this was arranged by God, because they were misappropriating "what Scripture calls the incommunicable name and honour of God" (apparently referring again to Wisdom 14).

Athanasius next (section 18) disputes the assertion that the gods invented the arts. On the contrary, Athanasius cleverly points out that in fact the artists who made the images invented the gods.

In the following section (section 19), Athanasius points out the inconsistencies of the use of images to represent God. He quotes from Romans 1:21-26:
For there are with them images of beasts and creeping things and birds, as the interpreter of the divine and true religion says, “They became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things, wherefore God gave them up unto vile passions.”
As an aside, I do find it interesting that Athanasius records the pagans using the same arguments as later idolatrous Christians would use:
While those who profess to give still deeper and more philosophical reasons than these say, that the reason of idols being prepared and fashioned is for the invocation and manifestation of divine angels and powers, that appearing by these means they may teach men concerning the knowledge of God; and that they serve as letters for men, by referring to which they may learn to apprehend God, from the manifestation of the divine angels effected by their means.

Next (section 20), Athanasius argues that images are not good teachers about God, because they are dead - mere dead reflections of living creatures and consequently less than them. Moreover, even if the images are beautiful, that beauty comes from living artists, not from the object of art.

The following section (section 21), contains a very similar argument dealing with the use of the images in connection with praying to (i.e. invoking) the diety represented, whether via angels or not. Once again, Athanasius finds this absurd.

Next (section 22), Athanasius argues that images are an inadequate representation of God both because they do not correspond to the form of God and because they are corruptible.

Then (section 23) Athanasius argues that the diversity of opinions amongst the pagans regarding gods is further evidence of the weakness of their view. What is considered deity by one group is food or an abomination by other groups, for example. Athanasius wraps up this discussion with what appears to be riff on (or paraphrase of) Romans 1:21-26, which had quoted a few sections earlier.

Athanasius next (section 24) once again points out that each group destroys the gods of the other group, either by sacrifice or eating. Picking on the Egyptians (fitting for his location), Athanasius points out that the water of the Nile is used to wash off dirt and is disposed of carelessly.

Next (section 25) Athanasius turns to the folly and abomination of human sacrifice. Athanasius points out the absurdity of offering equal to equal or arguably offering the higher to the lower, since a living human is sacrificed to a dead idol. He notes that this problem was not unique to one group of pagans, but widely problematic.

Athanasius then turns (section 26) to the sexual immorality that came from the worship of the gods. He quotes from Romans 1:26-27:
But all live along with the basest, and vie with the worst among themselves, and as Paul said, the holy minister of Christ: “For their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness.”

Next (section 27), Athanasius addresses the arguments of those who claim to worship the universe or parts of it, rather than animals. Athanasius claims that this position is rebutted by the testimony of the universe to her creator. Athanasius quotes Psalm 19:1:
as the divine law also says: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.”

Athanasius then (section 28) argues against the idea that the universe as a whole is God. This cannot be, because the universe is made up of parts.

In the final section of part 1 (section 29), Athanasius summarizes much of the preceding discussion by pointing out, in essence, that the whole system of paganism is inconsistent and unreliable. The forces of nature are opposed to one another, none of them being all powerful. He indicates that in the next part he will discuss the "Leader and Artificer of the Universe, the Word of the Father."

Part II

The first section of part 2 (section 30), Athanasius argues that everyone can perceive God, because man has a rational soul. In support of his argument, Athanasius quotes from both the Old and New Testaments:
in the first instance, as Moses also taught, when he said: “The word” of faith “is within thy heart.” [Deuteronomy 30:14] Which very thing the Saviour declared and confirmed, when He said: “The kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:21]

The next section (section 31) contains Athanasius' argument that man has a rational soul. He focuses on the fact that senses alone are not enough to make decisions not to grasp a sword blade or drink poison, and similarly more than senses are need to appreciate music.

After that (section 32), Athanasius argues against those who deny reason. He argues that the only way to explain the turning away of the senses from doing that which they are designed to do, such as turning away from seeing, etc. is reason governing the body. Athanasius also argues that sense experience leads away from eternality and immortality, but argues that our conception of those things demonstrates that there must be the presence of something immortal to produce a concept of immortality since our bodies could not have spontaneously come up with such a thing. Similarly, the existence of moral restraints are not explained by natural forces, but instead by a rational soul.

In the following section (section 33), Athanasius makes a reference to church teaching, but it is merely: "But that the soul is made immortal is a further point in the Church’s teaching which you must know ...." He then argues for this position, however, by reasoning from the difference between body and the soul ("But we shall more directly arrive at a knowledge of this from what we know of the body, and from the difference between the body and the soul."), namely that the body has mortal objects and the soul has immortal objects. He does not appeal to any allegedly authoritative church tradition or church council.

Athansius then (section 34) concludes by going back to his Romans 1 themes and pointing out that men who deny they have a soul become like irrational animals, and that those who admit they have a soul are self-contradictory in worshiping a soul-less deity. In support of his position, Athanasius appeals to Scripture:
For the soul is made after the image and likeness of God, as divine Scripture also shews, when it says in the person of God: “Let us make man after our Image and likeness.” [Genesis 1:26]

Part III

Part 3 begins (section 35) with an argument by Athanasius that the invisible God can be seen through his visible works. In support of this argument, he appeals directly to the authority of Scripture:
And I say this not on my own authority, but on the strength of what I learned from men who have spoken of God, among them Paul, who thus writes to the Romans: “for the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made;” [Romans 1:20] while to the Lycaonians he speaks out and says: “We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good tidings, to turn from these vain things unto a Living God, Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is, Who in the generations gone by suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. And yet He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness.” [Acts 14:15-17]

Then (section 36) Athanasius produces a number of examples from nature that he believes demonstrate that nature has a creator who makes everything work together.

In the following section (section 37) Athanasius amplifies this argument by noting that the dualities of nature can only be explained by an overruling power holding them such that it's not (for example) all hot or all cold, all light or all darkness. None of these dualities has won out, because they serve a higher purpose.

Then (section 38) Athanasius argues that the harmony of nature implies rule, and that this can only be rule by one.

Similarly, in the following section (section 39), Athanasius argues that multiple gods creating the universe would imply weakness and/or would result in disharmony.

Then (section 40), Athanasius answers the question: "Who is the one God who created the universe?" He asserts that it is God the Word. While he does not directly quote from the Scripture, numerous bits are clearly derived from the Scripture, such as the following:
  • "Father of Christ" (Cf. Romans 15:6)
  • "by His own Wisdom and His own Word, our Lord and Saviour Christ," (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24; 1 Timothy 1:1)
  • "Word which is God" (Cf. John 1:1)
  • "He being the Power of God and Wisdom of God " (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:24)
  • "has suspended the earth, and made it fast, though resting upon nothing" (cf. Job 26:7)
  • "the sea is kept within bounds," (Cf. Jeremiah 5:22; Psalm 104:9)


Next, (section 41), Athanasius again discusses the Word. His discussion is rich with Biblical terminology, and he even concludes the section with an explicit quotation of Scripture:

For it partakes of the Word Who derives true existence from the Father, and is helped by Him so as to exist, lest that should come to it which would have come but for the maintenance of it by the Word,—namely, dissolution,—“for He is the Image of the invisible God, the first-born of all Creation, for through Him and in Him all things consist, things visible and things invisible, and He is the Head of the Church,” [Colossians 1:15-18] as the ministers of truth teach in their holy writings.

Then (section 42) Athanasius describes what the Word does. Once again, he closely follows Biblical teaching and even directly quotes from John's gospel:
And, not to spend time in the enumeration of particulars, where the truth is obvious, there is nothing that is and takes place but has been made and stands by Him and through Him, as also the Divine says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made.” [John 1:1]

In the next section (section 43), Athanasius likens the universe to a choir, the human body with its senses, and a city, with the Word analogously being the conductor, the soul, and the king.

After that (section 44), Athanasius expands on his point about the Word being the ordering principle. Athanasius quotes from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom:
But Himself being over all, both Governor and King and organising power, He does all for the glory and knowledge of His own Father, so that almost by the very works that He brings to pass He teaches us and says, “By the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably the maker of them is seen.” [Wisdom 13:5]

Then (section 45) Athansius argues that just as the Universe shows us the Word, the Word shows us the Father. He quotes copiously from Scripture:
And this one may see from our own experience; for if when a word proceeds from men we infer that the mind is its source, and, by thinking about the word, see with our reason the mind which it reveals, by far greater evidence and incomparably more, seeing the power of the Word, we receive a knowledge also of His good Father, as the Saviour Himself says, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” [John 14:9] But this all inspired Scripture also teaches more plainly and with more authority, so that we in our turn write boldly to you as we do, and you, if you refer to them, will be able to verify what we say. 3. For an argument when confirmed by higher authority is irresistibly proved. From the first then the divine Word firmly taught the Jewish people about the abolition of idols when it said: “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or in the earth beneath.” [Exodus 20:4 / Deuteronomy 5:8] But the cause of their abolition another writer declares, saying: “The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the works of men’s hands: a mouth have they and will not speak, eyes have they and will not see, ears have they and will not hear, noses have they and will not smell, hands have they and will not handle, feet have they and will not walk.” [Psalm 135:15-17 / Psalm 115:4-7] Nor has it passed over in silence the doctrine of creation; but, knowing well its beauty, lest any attending solely to this beauty should worship things as if they were gods, instead of God’s works, it teaches men firmly beforehand when it says: “And do not when thou lookest up with thine eyes and seest the sun and moon and all the host of heaven, go astray and worship them, which the Lord thy God hath given to all nations under heaven.” [Deuteronomy 4:19] But He gave them, not to be their gods, but that by their agency the Gentiles should know, as we have said, God the Maker of them all. 4. For the people of the Jews of old had abundant teaching, in that they had the knowledge of God not only from the works of Creation, but also from the divine Scriptures. And in general to draw men away from the error and irrational imagination of idols, He saith: “Thou shalt have none other gods but Me.” [Exodus 20:3 / Deuteronomy 5:7] Not as if there were other gods does He forbid them to have them, but lest any, turning from the true God, should begin to make himself gods of what were not, such as those who in the poets and writers are called gods, though they are none. And the language itself shews that they are no Gods, when it says, “Thou shalt have none other gods,” which refers only to the future. But what is referred to the future does not exist at the time of speaking.
Notice in this section not only the fact that Athansius so abundantly relies on Scripture, but that he says "inspired Scripture also teaches more plainly and with more authority" (than nature and reason) and "an argument when confirmed by higher authority is irresistibly proved."

The next section (section 46) continues Athanasius' demonstration from Scripture (here, I quote the entire section, because it is so rich with Scripture quotations):
Has then the divine teaching, which abolished the godlessness of the heathen or the idols, passed over in silence, and left the race of mankind to go entirely unprovided with the knowledge of God? Not so: rather it anticipates their understanding when it says: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God;” [Deuteronomy 6:4] and again, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy strength;” [Deuteronomy 6:5 / Mark 12:30 / Luke 10:27] and again, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve, and shalt cleave to Him.” [Deuteronomy 10:20 / cf. Matthew 4:10 / Luke 4:8] 2. But that the providence and ordering power of the Word also, over all and toward all, is attested by all inspired Scripture, this passage suffices to confirm our argument, where men who speak of God say: “Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth and it abideth. The day continueth according to Thine ordinance.” [Psalm 119:90-91 / LXX Psalm 118:90-91] And again: “Sing to our God upon the harp, that covereth the heaven with clouds, that prepareth rain for the earth, that bringeth forth grass upon the mountains, and green herb for the service of man, and giveth food to the cattle.” [Psalm 147:7-8] 3. But by whom does He give it, save by Him through Whom all things were made? For the providence over all things belongs naturally to Him by Whom they were made; and who is this save the Word of God, concerning Whom in another psalm he says: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Breath of His mouth.” [Psalm 33:6] For He tells us that all things were made in Him and through Him. 4. Wherefore He also persuades us and says, “He spake and they were made, He commanded and they were created;” [LXX Psalm 148:5] as the illustrious Moses also at the beginning of his account of Creation confirms what we say by his narrative, saying: and God said, “let us make man in our image and after our likeness:” [Genesis 1:26] for also when He was carrying out the creation of the heaven and earth and all things, the Father said to Him, “Let the heaven be made,” and “let the waters be gathered together and let the dry land appear,” and “let the earth bring forth herb” and “every green thing:” [Genesis 1] so that one must convict Jews also of not genuinely attending to the Scriptures. 5. For one might ask them to whom was God speaking, to use the imperative mood? If He were commanding and addressing the things He was creating, the utterance would be redundant, for they were not yet in being, but were about to be made; but no one speaks to what does not exist, nor addresses to what is not yet made a command to be made. For if God were giving a command to the things that were to be, He must have said, “Be made, heaven, and be made, earth, and come forth, green herb, and be created, O man.” But in fact He did not do so; but He gives the command thus: “Let us make man,” and “let the green herb come forth.” By which God is proved to be speaking about them to some one at hand: it follows then that some one was with Him to Whom He spoke when He made all things. 6. Who then could it be, save His Word? For to whom could God be said to speak, except His Word? Or who was with Him when He made all created Existence, except His Wisdom, which says: “When He was making the heaven and the earth I was present with Him?” [Proverbs 8:27 - "and earth" may be a variant] But in the mention of heaven and earth, all created things in heaven and earth are included as well. 7. But being present with Him as His Wisdom and His Word, looking at the Father He fashioned the Universe, and organised it and gave it order; and, as He is the power of the Father, He gave all things strength to be, as the Saviour says: “What things soever I see the Father doing, I also do in like manner.” [John 5:19] And His holy disciples teach that all things were made “through Him and unto Him;” [Romans 11:36] 8. and, being the good Offspring of Him that is good, and true Son, He is the Father’s Power and Wisdom and Word, not being so by participation, nor as if these qualifies were imparted to Him from without, as they are to those who partake of Him and are made wise by Him, and receive power and reason in Him; but He is the very Wisdom, very Word, and very own Power of the Father, very Light, very Truth, very Righteousness, very Virtue, and in truth His express Image, and Brightness, and Resemblance. And to sum all up, He is the wholly perfect Fruit of the Father, and is alone the Son, and unchanging Image of the Father.
Notice that Athanasius believes that the divinity of the Word as distinct from the Father is already sufficiently clear from the Old Testament: "one must convict Jews also of not genuinely attending to the Scriptures."

Finally (section 47), Athanasius concludes the work. He continues to quote from Scripture:
But in and through Him He reveals Himself also, as the Saviour says: “I in the Father and the Father in Me:” [John 14:10] so that it follows that the Word is in Him that begat Him, and that He that is begotten lives eternally with the Father. But this being so, and nothing being outside Him, but both heaven and earth and all that in them is being dependent on Him, yet men in their folly have set aside the knowledge and service of Him, and honoured things that are not instead of things that are: and instead of the real and true God deified things that were not, “serving the creature rather than the Creator,” [Romans 1:25] thus involving themselves in foolishness and impiety.
He concludes with an exhortation to worship the Word or face peril on judgment day.

You will notice that although there were a couple of mentions of the church, there was no appeal to the authority of the church nor any appeal to the authority of church tradition apart from Scripture. Instead, the only appeal to authority was to the authority of Scripture, a source of authority that to Athanasius was so clear in its teaching of the deity of Christ even in the Old Testament that the Jews are to be faulted for inattentively reading the Old Testament Scriptures.

-TurretinFan

3 comments:

Byzas said...

Hi Turretinfan,
I thought I might as well respond to this as well...but before I do I should lay some ground work.

1) If the early church believed in sola scriptura then they would have put something to that effect in a credal document. As far as I'm aware that didn't happen. However, the Nicaean-Constantinoplian Creed (and the Apostles Creed for that matter) has something to say about the Church. This pretty much sums up where their priorities lay.

2) The OT for Athanasius is the Septuagint not the Masoretic Text. The same goes for all Greek speaking Church Fathers. IF Athanasius is promoting sola scriptura then his scriptura is the Septuagint.

3) As you stated in chapter 11 of the Contra Gentes Athanasius quotes the Wisdom of Solomon as scripture. Despite what many think Athanasius quoted the 'Apocrypha' (actually anagignoskomena) as scripture fairly regularly. F. F. Bruce acknowledges this fact in his 'The Canon of Scripture' (page 80 ). If Athanasius believes in sola scriptura then the Apocrypha is part of that scriptura.

Now to the Contra Gentes
Firstly 'sufficient' has become a technical term in Reformed Creeds but you can't project the meaning of that term into Athanasius. I'll look up the Greek word he used but sufficient can easily mean important. Or Athanasius is simply stating that the scriptures tell as all we need to know about Jesus but that doesn't carry over to worship, church government, sacraments or ecclesiology.

Next, as far as I'm aware the prophets and Apostles were human teachers. Is Athanasius excluding them as human or is he dismissing their authority? It seems to me Athanasius is rejecting pagan philosophers and teachers rather than teaching sola scriptura. Ironically, isn't Athanasius setting himself up as a teacher just by writing the book?

Let's have a few quotes from Athanasius's other works-

Let these unlearned persons cease such misrepresentations, but let them learn from the example of the Fathers; and let them read the Scriptures - Athanasius, Defence before Constantius 18 (NPNF 2, IV:245.

Accordingly we too, according to your confession of faith, desire to hold the Apostolic tradition, and to live according to the commands of the divine law - Athanasius, Second Letter to Lucifer, Epistle 51 NPNF 2, IV: 561-62.

But do you, remaining on the foundations of the Fathers, pray that now at length all strife and rivalry may cease, and the futile questions of the heretics may be condemned - Athanasius, Councils of Arminum and Seleucia 54, NPNF 2 IV: 478

This then I consider the sense of this passage, and that, a very ecclesiastical sense - Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians 1:38, NPNF 2, IV:331.

Finally, I made a counterpoint earlier about your assertion that John Chrysostom supported sola scriptura but I didn't give any evidence. Here is a nice little quote from him

' So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold to the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours'. Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther - John Chrysostom, On the 2nd Epistle to the Thessalonians, Homily 4:2, NPNF I XIII: 390.

Turretinfan said...

"1) If the early church believed in sola scriptura then they would have put something to that effect in a credal document. As far as I'm aware that didn't happen. However, the Nicaean-Constantinoplian Creed (and the Apostles Creed for that matter) has something to say about the Church. This pretty much sums up where their priorities lay."

The creeds of the early church were short summary statements of Biblical doctrine. Athanasius provides great evidence that they believed even the controverted points of those creeds were clearly taught in Scripture.

"2) The OT for Athanasius is the Septuagint not the Masoretic Text. The same goes for all Greek speaking Church Fathers. IF Athanasius is promoting sola scriptura then his scriptura is the Septuagint."

a) The Masoretic text, as such, didn't exist in the patristic period. The Masoretes came later and with incredible accuracy preserved the text they received.
b) Athanasius spoke Greek and relied on Greek translations, though not only on the LXX translation. Thanks to the influence of Origen, Athanasius and other Alexandrians were aware of multiple Greek translations.
c) Which translation you use is completely tangential to Sola Scriptura.
d) Similarly, canon issues are basically tangential to Sola Scriptura.

"3) As you stated in chapter 11 of the Contra Gentes Athanasius quotes the Wisdom of Solomon as scripture. Despite what many think Athanasius quoted the 'Apocrypha' (actually anagignoskomena) as scripture fairly regularly. F. F. Bruce acknowledges this fact in his 'The Canon of Scripture' (page 80 ). If Athanasius believes in sola scriptura then the Apocrypha is part of that scriptura."

Athanasius definitely did appreciate the Wisdom of Solomon. There are some good reasons to reject the canonicity of that book (as Athanasius eventually did), but issues of canon are tangential to Sola Scriptura, as I mentioned above.

Byzas said...

Hi Turretinfan,

1) l'll reiterate my point about the creed. If the early Christians had believed in sola scriptura they would have made it an article in the creed. Yet the didn't. Yes, the creed summaries key Biblical doctrine like one God and the incarnation but it also includes the 'Church' as a key article and also baptismal regeneration. These are equally Scriptural. The reason sola scriptura is not mentioned is that it is simply not a Biblical methodology.

2) Please point out where in his writings Athanasius takes an interest in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament or rival Greek translations. True, the Masoretic text didn't exist as it technically refers to the Hebrew text with the vowel marks. However, the proto-Masoretic text was around. How accurately this text was transmitted prior to the Masorets is a matter of some dispute. Accurate yes! incredible accuracy? Not really. Just check the textual history of Genesis, Samuel and Jeremiah.

3) if the issue of canon is 'basically tangential' then my practice of prayers for the dead is in conformity with sola scriptura as 2 Maccabees 12:46 is part of my Bible.
I'm not sure why you take Athanasius's letter of 367 as a rejection. He refers to the rabbinic collection as ' canon' but he doesn't reject the rest. He calls these texts '...instruction in the word of Godliness'. This is far from a rejection and is in keeping with his earlier usage.