In a recent combox thread, Pastor Weedon thoughtfully provided us with a number of texts which – in his view – prove that the Fathers of the Church taught the doctrine of “sola scriptura”. Here are the texts he proposed:
“Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.” St. John Chrysostom (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, p. 118, vol. 96 TFOTC)
“Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.” St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Holy Trinity, NPNF, p. 327).
“We are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.” St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Soul and the Resurrection NPNF II, V:439)
“What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if ‘all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.” Basil the Great (The Morals, p. 204, vol 9 TFOTC).
“For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in NPNF, Volume VII, p. 23.)
“It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments.” St. John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, Book I, Chapter 2
“Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): “Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.”–St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia, Part 1, Question 1, Article 8
We will not, at this point, quibble about Pastor Weedon’s interpretation of these passages (although it is obvious to us that these same Fathers also taught doctrines which Lutherans would reject on the basis of “sola scriptura”, eg. the intercession of saints and the sacrifice of the mass and the necessity of episcopal ordination). We will accept – for the sake of the arguement – that by the time of the great post-Nicene Fathers, the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” was in place.
Now here is my question: When did this doctrine originate in the Church?
For it is plainly obvious that the doctrine could not have been apostolic. We are aware that Jesus and the apostles regarded the Hebrew Scriptures (or properly, to the Greek Scriptures of the Old Testament, including the seven deuterocanonical books) as the written and authoratitative Word of God (cf. the numerous references to “scripture” and “the scriptures” in the NT, including 2 Tim 3:16) – but they did not teach that these pre-Christian books were “sufficient” in themselves.
The writings of the apostles gradually gained acceptance as “sacred scripture”, although it is obvious also that in the Church of the later half of the 1st Century and the 1st half of the 2nd Century, there still was not anything that could be called a “canon” in this regard. Even with the death of John and the final completion of the book of Revelation, not all Christian communities had access to all the writings of what we call “the New Testament”, and that some regarded books as Christian Scripture that we today do not.
Therefore, in the first century or so after the death of the apostles, we can hardly think that anyone would have argued the principle of “sola scriptura” as the basis for all teaching and practice, since the OT was not regarded as sufficient and the NT was still in formation.
So at what stage did the Fathers begin insisting upon “sola scriptura” (remember, I am granting Pastor Weedon’s point for the sake of the argument)? Any ideas?
(PS. I just checked Pastor’s blog, and he has a really cool video of Vespers in his church. Check him and his people out in action here.)