Early Evidence for the Veneration of the Saints

 

Three Youths in Furnace - Dura Europos Synagogue
Three Youths in Furnace – Dura Europos Synagogue

On November 2nd, John the “Lurker” wrote a brief comment noting that it was incumbent on both the Orthodox and the Reformed Christians to present evidence in support of their respective positions.  Given the brevity of his comment, I will be presenting John’s comment in italics with my responses following.

 

If Wesley needs to “how the Protestant soli deo gloria is not a theological novelty but part of the historic Christian faith in the first millennium” isn’t it just as important for the Orthodox to do so as well? There aren’t very many pieces of evidence from the first century about prayer to the saints or the veneration of the Theotokos. And reference to the ambiguous phrase “communion of the saints” doesn’t seem to be adequate evidence in favor of the particular interpretation that you, Robert, are arguing for. I read the post already, though not immediately before posting this, so I don’t recall any supporting evidence besides “communion of the saints” that is referenced from, say a document from an ECF. If I’m just blind, please correct me where in the above post you mention it. While an Orthodox Christian might nod his head in agreement with your interpretation of that phrase, is it possible that a Reformed Christian could affirm an alternate interpretation.

My Response:

Early Veneration of the Saints

Regarding your assertion: there aren’t many pieces of evidence from the first century about prayer to the saints or the veneration of the Theotokos, I would say that while not abundant, there is evidence from the very early period, possibly as early as the first century.  It is important to keep in mind that the Apostolic Tradition, while it has roots going back to the first century, developed over time taking on a more elaborated form from its simpler precedents.  It is also important to keep in mind that we are talking about a grass roots devotional practice, not a theological system like Gnosticism which generates a significant paper trail.  Still there are multiple sources that support the Orthodox understanding of the veneration the saints.

Philip Schaff in History of the Christian Church Vol. II  §27  noted that the early catacombs contained inscriptions where the departed are asked to pray for their living relatives (p. 83).  What is interesting is a letter from the Church of Smyrna dated AD 155:

Him indeed we adore (προσκυνουμεν) as the Son of God; but the martyrs we love as they deserve (αγαπωμεν αξιως), for their surpassing love to their King and Master, as we wish also to be their companions and fellow-disciples (pp. 82-83).  

The distinction between the worship of Christ and the veneration of the saints is very much the same distinction Orthodox Christians use today.  This shows the remarkable continuity of Orthodoxy with early Christianity.  It can also be taken as evidence that the distinction between adoration and veneration was not concocted by the Seventh Ecumenical Council but has very early roots.

Mary with Jesus
Mary with Jesus

The Christian catacombs with religious images and symbols in Rome have been dated back to the late second century.  One of them contains a fresco that depicts the Virgin with the Child on her knees and a picture of a prophet pointing at them.  This is not a simple mother and child picture but rather a powerful witness to the Incarnation as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and Mary as the Second Eve.

 

Gregory Dix in his magisterial The Shape of the Liturgy noted that it was the practice of the early Christians’ to seek the intercession of the saints:

…but invocations of christian saints who had been Hippolytus’ contemporaries in life have been found on the walls of S. Callistus, which there is good reason to think were scratched there very soon after their burial (p. 346)

Another evidence for the early Christians asking the intercession can be found in Hippolytucs’ commentary on the prayer addressed to the Three Youths mentioned in Daniel:

O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, bless ye the Lord; O ye apostles, prophets, and martyrs of the Lord, Bless ye the Lord: praise Him, and exalt Him above all, forever.  (Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. V p. 190)

An interesting journal article was written by David Frankfurter: “The Cult of the Martyrs in Egypt Before Constantine: The Evidence of the Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah” in Vigilaeae Christianae 48 (1994): 25-47.  This suggests not only the antiquity but also the catholicity of this practice.

Gregory Dix also noted the eagerness with which the early Christians gathered Polycarp’s relics right after his martyrdom.  Then he notes:

Nothing could better illustrate the unprimitive character of much in protestant polemic against the cultus of the saints and their relics which was sincerely put forward in the sixteenth century as a return to genuine ‘apostolic’ christianity than the unaffected religious reverence with which his disciples forthwith treated the body and the memory of this last survivor of the apostolic age (pp. 343-3444).

This comment about Protestantism’s “unprimitive character” is Dix’s indirect way of criticizing the novel character of Protestant theology.

Communion of Saints

Regarding your suggesting that the phrase “communion of saints” is ambiguous and subject to multiple readings, I would say that the scholarly consensus does not support your position.  The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology has this:

The traditional, and probably the best, interpretation refers the phrase to the union of all believers, living or dead, in Christ, stressing their common life in Christ and their sharing of all the blessings of God.

This is further supported by JND Kelly in Early Christian Doctrines (p. 490) and JND Kelly in Early Christian Creeds (pp. 391-2).

Conclusion

You made a good point when you asserted that it was important for both sides to present evidence that shows that their position on the veneration of saints is supported by the practice and teachings of the early church.  I’ve presented here the evidence in support of the Orthodox position, I look forward to what the Protestants can find from the early church.

Robert Arakaki

 

22 comments:

    1. Dom Gregory Dix would never consider himself a Protestant. He remained forever within the Anglo-Catholic orbit, but with marked sympathies for Rome. This is certainly the conclusion in Simon Jones (ed) in “The Sacramental Life” ISBN 978-1-85311-717-6.

      Yet this does not disqualify his contribution to this matter. While scholarship has since moved on, for his generation, he was the most knowledgeable Anglican Divine in these areas, and is regarded interdenominationally as an authority in these matters, even in 2011.

      Apart from this minor squiggle, Robert is to be commended for using non-Orthodox sources to prove an Orthodox point.

  1. Bueno!

    This is the sort of response I was hoping you’d provide. My intent was to make sure that we do exactly what we ask the Reformed to do so far as historical evidence is concerned. I can only see this body of historical evidence increasing as archaeology continues to dig into the past.

    As far as “communion of the saints” is concerned, I only meant that because the phrase is so simple with little explanation, it is possible to try to swing it in a way that doesn’t necessarily include the practice of veneration of the saints. Of course, that interpretation would need some historical evidence from the early Church to support such an interpretation as would the Orthodox position (as you have done above). But if the Protestant sources are willing to concede the ground, I’d be happy to accept it 😀

    John

  2. I think your key phrase is:

    “It is important to keep in mind that the Apostolic Tradition, while it has roots going back to the first century, developed over time taking on a more elaborated form from its simpler precedents.”

    In other words, much has been added to the Apostolic Tradition, which makes it more post-Apostolic, than purely Apostolic. This is where Protestants, I think, will rightly argue: what is the place of Scripture in making sure that the “more elaborated form” does not veer off into something that it shouldn’t be? (We see this happen in Israel’s history over and over again, hence the critique of the Prophets). Could it be that veneration of saints or of Mary has gone too far? What role should the use of Scripture have in bringing the Tradition back in line, if such is the case?

    For example, in Sergius Bulgakov’s essay “The Virgin and the Saints in Orthodoxy,” he says: “[The Theotokos] is the justification, the end, and the meaning of creation. She is, in this sense, the glory of the world….She sanctifies the whole natural world; in her and by her the world attains transfiguration” (in Eastern Orthodox Theology, ed. Daniel B. Clendenin, p. 67). While the Scriptures do say that she is to be called blessed by all generations (a fact that Protestants have woefully missed, especially those of us who follow the supposed Regulative Principle), and that she is entrusted to John’s care (as she is a symbol of the Church, yet Paul will say that the New Jerusalem is the Mother of us all), the Scriptures do not go farther than this (at least as far as I can tell). Christ is the “justification, the end, and the meaning of creation.” Christ “sanctifies the whole natural world.” In him and by him “the world attains transfiguration.” So should we venerate Mary? In the sense of honoring her for her role and her faithfulness in the Incarnation, we certainly should call her “blessed” and often! Should we go so far as to ascribe to her the role and work that Christ himself fulfills? That is another question entirely, one that Protestants will answer in the negative. (I do realize that Bulgakov’s argument is that since she gave her flesh to Christ, she is — in a sense — accomplishing redemption. However, the same logic could be applied to Abraham, since Levi, a number of generations away, was in his loins, according to the author of Hebrews. Wouldn’t Mary and, therefore, Christ’s humanness be contained in Abraham? Without him, there would be no redemption. But I do not see the same level of veneration or honor applied to him as to Mary.)

    And this, maybe, is a useful place for dialogue. Should we honor the saints and the Theotokos? Certainly. How we do it, though, is a matter of no small consequence. I get the sense (and feel free to correct me if I am wrong) that a congregation that deemphasized the elaborate and ornate veneration that has grown out of the Byzantine tradition would be considered less than Orthodox, even though it may cleave closer to the earlier “simpler precedents.”

    As always, I do cherish these dialogues. Certainly Protestantism does need more reform: we are just now beginning to discover the richness of the ancient traditions. However, dialogue is a two-way street. Is Orthodoxy willing to have its own traditions, ancient and venerable as they are, put under a critique that is Scriptural and historical? I hope so. I hope Protestantism is brave enough to do so in its own house as well.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Russ

    1. Russ,

      You are putting words in my mouth when you write: …much has been added to the Apostolic Tradition, which makes it more post-Apostolic, than purely Apostolic. I wrote about the development of Tradition in order to avoid the simplistic claim that the Orthodox Tradition has never changed implying that it has been static from the first century till now. When I think of the development of Tradition I think of a seed growing into a full grown tree. While there are tremendous changes, a fundamental continuity has been maintained. In the context of this inter-faith dialogue it is important that we try to understand where the other party is coming from. As regards your distinction between “purely Apostolic” and “post Apostolic” tradition, I would say that the distinction can be useful in terms of historical dating but in terms of doing theology quite risky. Where would you place the term “Trinity”? Apostolic or post-apostolic?

      For the Orthodox continuity is very important to safeguarding the Apostolic Tradition. For the Orthodox where Roman Catholicism has added to Tradition, Protestantism has subtracted from Tradition. For this reason we regard the Bishop of Rome’s claim to universal supremacy over all Christians and the later claim to infallibility marks a departure from apostolic tradition. With respect to Protestantism we find it problematic that Protestant churches have rejected the Seventh Ecumenical Council’s decision on icons and that many Protestants have become de facto Nestorians by their refusal to address Mary as the Theotokos or Mother of God in their Sunday worship. I may be wrong but I suspect that the church you attend has rejected the Third (Ephesus), Fourth (Chalcedon), and Seventh (Nicea II) Councils if not in theory at least in practice. I would be happy to be proven wrong. Just provide the name of your congregation and describe your Sunday worship service.

      I know of Sergius Bulgakov but I am not familiar with his writings on the Virgin Mary. Please keep in mind that he is a modern Orthodox writer who has had limited influence on Orthodox theology. A better source for the Orthodox understanding of Mary would be the Divine Liturgy, the Ecumenical Councils, or a major church father. I like your reasoning about Abraham as Christ’s human ancestor. The Orthodox Church recognizes him as a saint and even has an icon of him. Does your church honor Abraham too? But the reason why Mary is honored is the exegetical tradition that sees her as the Second Eve who undid the damage done by the First Eve (e.g. Irenaeus of Lyons). Similarly, the Orthodox Church honors John the Forerunner and gives him more attention than Protestants do. When I was a Protestant John the Baptist was more of a shadowy background figure, then when I became Orthodox I was surprised by the attention given him in the liturgy and the feast days.

      As far as the use of Scripture in bringing Tradition back in line, Scripture has played a major role in the Ecumenical Councils. Whenever the Church faced a major crisis (e.g., Arianism) a council was convened and the matter settled by the Church Catholic. The early Church was conciliar in nature and because the Orthodox Church is also conciliar it accepts the teachings of the Councils. Protestantism on the other hand with its adherence to sola scriptura has elevated Scripture over the Councils. This has given rise to a plethora of competing Protestant denominations with little historical memory.

      As far as a congregation being “less than Orthodox,” I would say that either a congregation is Orthodox or it is not Orthodox. Orthodoxy involves the acceptance of Holy Tradition from the successors of the Apostles, the bishops. It is also important to keep in mind that what you regard as elaborate veneration of the saints is part of a longstanding universal practice that developed within the context of Tradition. I am seeking to help Reformed Christians and Evangelicals gain an appreciation of their heritage in the early Church and to become better acquainted with the Orthodox Church. I would hope that your congregation seeks to follow the ancient practice of Sunday worship centered around the Eucharist and Mary and the saints are honored for their devotion to Christ.

      Should Orthodox churches reassess their small “t” traditions? There are some local customs that need to be scrutinized in light of Scripture and capital “T” Tradition like parishes relying on ethnic festivals for much of their income, the use of incomprehensible languages in worship services, and the use of pews in the sanctuary. There is some discussion on these important issues among the Orthodox. But as far as modifying capital “T” Tradition, that won’t happen in the Orthodox Church. That won’t happen because Scripture is not independent of Tradition but is rooted in Apostolic Tradition. As far as Scripture being used for “bringing Tradition back in line,” I would say this question assumes that the Orthodox Church has broken from the early Church something which has yet to be proven. Protestants can assume that of Roman Catholicism (and the Orthodox would agree with them), but this cannot be assumed of Orthodoxy. If you want to assert this position, you would need to prove it.

      You are right that dialogue is a two-way street. I hope that on this blog both sides will have the opportunity to listen to each other and to present evidence in support of their positions. Lastly, I am glad that you and I are in agreement on the need for us to honor Mary and the saints. I appreciate dialoguing with you on these important matters.

      1. Robert,

        Forgive me, I was not trying to put words in your mouth. My interpretation of your statement, as I see now, is one possible — but not correct — interpretation.

        I appreciate the metaphor of organic growth. The question I have is: who prunes it and what are the shears? In organic growth (let’s continue the metaphor and use a tree) it can grow naturally, free of human influence, and be just fine. It can also be over cultivated by man and suffer. However, most timber folks that I have talked to (timberage being one of my great loves in life) say that a tree (or a forest) needs to be thoughtfully cultivated to reach its full potential. So, if the Church is a Tree (or a vine, as Jesus would say), then it will need active, yet careful, pruning. If a practice (say veneration) goes too far, it is too much to shear it down to the root (I’m willing to concede that the Reformers went too far — we should honor, the question remains “what is appropriate honor?”), but it shouldn’t be allowed to grow whichever way it pleases (since this could lead to idolatry and the lessening of Christ’s specific work). Who does the pruning and what shears (standards) do they use?

        As an attempt at an answer, I would say that first and foremost the Father is the cultivator (as per John 15) and the shears He uses are the Scriptures: they act as a boundary for the Tree (in an earlier discussion, I think it was David and I who talked about how Tradition and Scripture cannot, in the end, disagree, so Tradition must — as it is shown by the councils — be modified and “pruned” by the Scriptures). This would allow for growth of that original rootstock (the Tradition), but make sure that all things were kept within Scriptural grounds.

        I’m not sure if you’ll go along with this interpretation of the organic metaphor, but I thought I’d put it out there.

        Thanks again.

        Russ

        1. Russ,

          The pruning is done by the local priest and the bishop. The clergy are responsible for the safeguarding of the Apostolic Traditiion and applying it to the local church. The Good News of Christ’s Resurrection informed the early Church’s preaching, the weekly Eucharistic celebrations, and the doctrine of the communion of saints. When the Roman government unleashed the horrific persecution of the Christians, their willingness to die for Christ gave rise to the veneration of the saints. Much of it was congruent with Tradition but some became quite extreme and the clergy had to curb the excesses. I recall reading a story of Augustine’s mother, Monica, moving to Italy and was stopped by a local priest when she sought to bring food to a saint’s tomb. This practice has been moderated and is continued today in the kollyva, a ceremonial meal made on the anniversary of someone’s death. This has become part of the Orthodox Tradition.

          The Orthodox Church honors the saints through the making of an icon, adding the day of their death to the church calendar, and composing a short hymn (troparia) celebrating their devotion to Christ. Keep in mind that the usage of a troparia celebrating a saint’s life in the Liturgy cannot be done apart from a bishop’s approval and does not become part of the universal practice apart from the accceptance by other bishops in the Orthodox Church. Because worship lies in the hands of the bishop there is very little room for free innovation in Orthodox worship. If you look at a troparia used in the Orthodox Church you will find a Christ centered focus. If you are still concerned about excesses, I would invite you to point to specific practices that you have observed along with the context, e.g., the name of the parish and the circumstances of the incident (Sunday Liturgy, a special feast day etc.).

          The pruning is also done through local, regional, and ecumenical councils. The canons of the councils are an important means by which order is maintained in the church. The chief criterion is Apostolic Tradition (written and oral). Please keep in mind that not all decisions are made through councils. Liturgical developments often take place on the local level and then spread to other areas until they become part of the universal practice accepted by the Orthodox Church. This points to the organic nature of the Orthodox Church and assumes the Holy Spirit’s guiding presence among the laity and the clergy.

          I would like to note that in John 15 Jesus did not refer to “Scripture” as the means by which the Vine is pruned but “the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Your reading “word (rhema)” as Scripture is a possible interpretation but it can also be taken to mean oral tradition. I’m inclined to read John 15 as supportive of the Orthodox approach to Tradition. I understand that you would want to take a Protestant reading of John 15 but the evidence for that reading is not compelling.

          I like your analogy of God the Father being the cultivator and Scripture as the shears which is based on John 15, but I find it rather abstract. Who in your church has the authority to deal with the excesses? The bishop? The presbytery? The denominational headquarters? The pastor of the megachurch? The seminary?

    2. That comment needs to be understood in the whole of Bulgakov’s theology too. He makes that comment because the Theotokos is the image of the Church, and the Mother of God, and hence on his thought, an icon of the Holy Spirit. While very definitely remaining created, she is the pinnacle of creation, the highest of all creation, first outside the Trinity.

      Christ is infinitely beyond this because He is not created. Indeed, the Theotokos is the first of the creatures because she is Mother of the Uncreated God.

      We should note that Christ is not the transfiguration of creation, though he causes this, for He is uncreated. The Theotokos, however, is created, and is transfigured by Christ. While it is Christ who transfigures creation, He Himself in uncreated. It is the virgin who attains the transfiguration of creation.

      1. Yet, Christ, in his human nature, is created. That is what I was speaking of — certainly he gets this from Mary, but by the incarnation makes it infinitely greater than Mary’s regular human nature. Isn’t calling Christ uncreated fairly close to docetism? (I’m not accusing or name-calling here, but genuinely concerned that this is where Bulgakov’s theology could go.)

        Russ

        1. Technically, Christ’s human nature is created, but Christ’s human nature is a universal. Christ Himself is uncreated.

          I think what you mean to say is that Christ’s body is created. Which is true, but which isn’t, I think, quite to the point. Christ’s body isn’t a person, whereas the Theotokos is a person. According to Bulgakov, of all created persons she is the most resplendent. This is accomplished because of the Incarnation, and because she truly formed God the Word (though He was not in need of forming, He freely chose to receive His form from her.)

      2. And, more to the point of my whole argument, where does Scripture come in to reign in our theological speculations? Bulgakov, in my view, goes too far in his “icon of the Holy Spirit” argument — and presenting it (as he does in the book I quoted him from) as the Orthodox belief concerning Mary (without this, he asserts, no “soul” is left in Orthodoxy: a very large claim). Could an Orthodox stay within the Scriptural boundaries of calling her “blessed”? Or is the dormition/assumption (I realize they are different), transfiguration, and glorification of Mary, none of which are mentioned in Scripture, necessary for “the fulness of the faith”?

        I think that if a) Scripture and Tradition cannot ultimately disagree, then b) Tradition cannot add anything to Scripture, but rather lives it out, so c) Tradition must always respect the boundaries of Scripture. I realize that I will be disagreed with, but I’m trying to find a way to balance the Protestant concern about abuses and excess with a robust Tradition that is ancient and venerable. Certainly, Tradition can extrapolate, explain, and bring the Scriptures to a new context (which is what I think the Fathers have done with the Trinity and, especially, Chalcedon), but I don’t think that it should add anything new (elevating Mary theologically to the status she has in both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism — different as those statuses are).

        Thoughts?

        Russ

        1. Just a clarification: He does not say that without the understanding that the Theotokos is the icon of the Spirit Orthodoxy is without soul–I believe that statement would be controversial in Orthodoxy–but that the virgin herself represents the heart of Orthodoxy.

          I suppose he’s right, but we must understand him correctly. He is not saying that veneration of the Theotokos is the center, for he talks about Protestants too as venerating Christ, and he clearly believes Christ is the Center. What he seems to be saying, is that the glorification of the Virgin reveals the true splendor or Christ, and keeps him from becoming a small Christ. I am relatively sympathetic to this view, but I couldn’t do a good job defending it. I would recommend Jacob of Serug On the Mother of God, and Schmemann’s book on the Theotokos>/a>.

          As to whether the Theotokos is historical, Mr. Johnson rightly points out that it probably was not a universal early Christian belief. But it developed naturally and as a consequence of the Christological controversies.

          1. Matthew,

            You might want to check your links. Some don’t seem to be working. But thanks for your contribution.

            Robert

  3. LOL. None of this is historical evidence for the Orthodox position, Robert. It is merely a compilation of historical instances that are at once both questionable in nature and (here) read with the sort of eye that looks for proof where only scant and incomplete information is to be found. Additionally, Dix’s work is decidedly dated as is Schaff.

    The truth is that the earliest extant prayer to Mary was made somewhere around 250-280AD (iow, *third century*) and called the Sub Tuum Praesidium. This prayer is used in Orthodox, Roman, and other liturgies to this day but even this witness does not establish what you would like to establish in making your case. It was never universally adopted, hardly held any central place in existing liturgies, and furthermore didn’t even find its way into the Roman rite until the Ninth Century.

    Jaroslav Pelikan in his exceptional work on Mary (Mary Through the Centuries, cf. the chapter on “Theotokos”) takes great pains to demonstrate that Athanasius (ca. 4th century) referred to a Marian commemoration and office in one or two of his letters but does not conclusively argue that such is the case. Instead, the only conclusion he can really come to is that such a thing is plausible from the perspective of history. The problem here is that the other point of view that all Athanasius was saying was that we remember Mary the way we recall to memory the exhortation of the gospel “once for all delivered to the saints” (cf. 2 Peter 1:15) is equally plausible. In either case, even having a festival in honor of Mary does not necessitate or imply either universality in terms of apostolic practice or further praying to Mary much as Pelikan would like to say otherwise.

    Even still, whatever some saints may have done early on or as late as AD280+ is not necessarily indicative either of a universal witness of the Church or of apostolic practice. And, you simply can’t establish it as such without first believing in the authority of the Orthodox Church to tell you such is the case. And, after that’s done it really doesn’t matter what evidence does or does not exist because your belief in such is only a matter of faithfulness to a party line.

    Bottom line then is that this sort of presentation of “the evidence” is most assuredly prejudicial in the main and establishes nothing for Orthodoxy even on your own terms.

  4. Of course, I should add that by way of contrast we *can* establish the legitimacy of the Christological controversies and their results as much more evidence is available to evaluate well beyond this sort of scant presentation of “evidence” brought forward for review concerning supposed veneration of the saints. If we are to take this fact seriously, the history for veneration of the saints is a much later practice than the more basic and vital components of creedal orthodoxy. To say otherwise is simply to argue from silence–a bad practice when it comes to evaluating history. Better to just let the history speak for itself and admit that what’s going on here is an appeal to Orthodoxy’s authority and then a justification of said authority by making belief in things like veneration of the saints something plausible (much like Pelikan).

    The truth is, however, that without that guiding authority the historical situation as we have it today simply does not lend itself to support the idea that veneration of the saints was an established historical fact prior to the third century. Even less supported would be the idea that such veneration was so universal and so widespread as to be able to claim apostolic precedent.

  5. Rev. Kevin D. Johnson,

    When it comes to the issue of the veneration of the Saints, prayer and pictures are not the only evidence we have. For we can also look at the issue of relics, and the respect or honor given to early christian Martyrs. A good example of this is the Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp.

    And so when it comes to the issue of the Veneration of the Saints, I think a strong case can be made from Christian Antiquity. Especially when we include not only prayers to Saints, and religious pictures/depictions, but also relics and honor and respect due to martyrs in general. If we include all the above then I think a strong case can be made for the Reformed tradition neglects all of this. But we don’t.

    1. The following was submitted by ‘Nicodemus.’

      Robert,

      Allow me a few observations. This discussion of late has revealed two almost inescapable protestant instincts. First is Protestantism a priori submission scripture, regarded as their highest trump card. Thus with a quick wave of Sola Scriptura, all troublesome historic evidence, Church history, practice and Tradition can be summairally dismissed. Secondly, there is the unenviable but instinctive Protestant rejection of I Timothy 3:15. It seems to matter little that the Bible blatantly states the CHURCH as the pillar and ground of Truth. Protestants simply do not accept or submit to this verse. Rather, they replace the Church as the pillar and ground of Truth with Scripture – as interpreted by their favorite Protestant authority. In this they imagine they’ve replaced a subjective authority, with an external, objective and superior plumb line to test all things. Of course, this is foolishness since Scripture demands someones’ authoritative exposition (my pastor, Calvin, Westminster, a group of respected Pastors…) If only the Apostle Paul had said Scripture is the pillar and ground of Truth! What then could the Orthodox do? Would they exegetically weasel out of the verse’s language?

      Both of these protestant notions are ahistoric. The Church never entertained the idea that Scripture stood superior to Church authority or historic Tradition. Yet once the Reformers invented it, they began their spirited argument (now 500-yrs running) to declare what their objective authority actually says – with an increasing multitude of Protestant denominations and interpretations! Problem solved!

      This all not only denigrates early Church history, it grossly misapprehends the place of Oral and Written Tradition in both Judaism and early Christendom. Have our Protestant friends pondered why Christ Jesus never wrote an infallible book summing up all Truth? Nor do we see Christ exhorting His Apostles to write such a book. Behold, even after the Resurrection and Ascension, the Apostles were NOT guided by the Holy Spirit to cloister themselves away to write books of any kind. They preached in the synagogues, taught their doctrine, built Churches – developed their Oral Tradition for thirty years – waiting. Then, AFTER more than thirty-years of ORAL Tradition, they wrote. Their books were not big – the whole New Testament shorter than Genesis-1 Samuel. Also, the Scripture they wrote repeatedly exhorts their disciples to Keep their oral Traditions, along with I Timothy 3:15. Jesus and his Apostles simply did NOT set writing Scripture as their highest of priorities. Church history is subversive to, indeed sabotages, the Protestant hierarchy of values.

      Does this mean Christians aren’t really “people of the book” devoted to reading and literature? Not in a Protestant sense. The written Word of God is of tremendous importance. That is why, after about 300 years of Church Tradition and practice, Church Councils were held to settle which writings or books the Church would declare as Scripture. Church Bishops, gathered together in Council, decided which books comprise both Old and New Testament canon. But Scripture was never allowed to bury the Tradition that preceded and created it, much less usurp the authority given by Scripture to the Church.

      The written word is obviously not the ONLY important Word. HEARING the Word of God is perhaps more critical. Protestants have allowed Roman Catholic indulgence and Papal despotism to cause them to grossly overplay the role of the written Scriptures. At the same time, and for many of the same reasons, they continue to minimized the place of the Church and Oral Tradition. Given the amoral ecclisology at the time of the Reformation, their error is understandable. But understanding the reasons does not excuse continuing the error. Simply stated, corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church does not change the truth of I Timothy 3:15 – or Church history. The Church is the pillar and ground of Truth, not Scripture. That IS what the Apostle Paul said. This is what the Church has believed. To pretend I alone, or a handful of any favorite Pastors and theologians are to forever sort out anew the place of Icons, Fastings, Liturgy, Sacraments, Christology, Confession, Trinitarianism, etc., insults the Holy Spirit, the Apostles, and their martyred heirs who died building Christ’s Church. It’s also insults Holy Scripture (I Timothy 3:15) and The Church.

      Nicodemus

  6. Roberts, you are distorting the classical doctrine of the protestant reformers. First, sola scriptures never meant th bible was the only authority. It did mean that the bible was the sole infallible source of the deposit of the faith. Reformers respect the churches role in its interpretation. Second, sola scriptures was not invented by them, on the contrary, the patristic fathers clearly affirmed sola scriptures. Third, the divisions in Protestantism has to do with sin and deviations away from solascriptura. Modern evangelicals have distorted the concept just as you have. “The shape of sola scriptures” by Keith matteson has been one of the best books in recent times clarifying this issue. Fourth, the “church being the pillar of the truth ” argument is made by eastern orthodox and Roman Catholics. So which one is the true church? What about the divisions within both churches, are the pillars split into sections. The same sediments you level against protestants on sola scriptures boomerang back in your corner. Sola ecclesia has it own problems. Their are different interpretation of not only what the church taught but what the church is.

    1. Peter,

      I’m a little confused. Are you commenting on this particular posting which has to do with the early Christian veneration of the saints or is this a generalized rebuttal?

      There are two problems with your comments. One, you are putting words in my mouth. And two, you set up a straw man argument. I did not assert that for the Reformers the Bible was the sole exclusive authority. If I have please show me where I made that assertion. Further to the point, have you read my article: “Solo Scriptura versus Sola Scriptura: What’s the Diff?

      I also wrote an in depth critique of Keith Mathison’s “The Shape of Sola Scriptura.” See: Contra Sola Scriptura (1 of 4). Feel free to post a comment in response to that blog. Please be careful to spell the author’s name correctly. It’s “Mathison” not “matteson.”

      Let’s take care of these issues first before discussing the other points your raised.

      Robert

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