Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Closing Statement, Sola Scriptura Debate, 1999, San Diego, CA
04/18/2008 - James White
Christianity Today Poll Reveals Confusion and Ignorance of Post-Evangelicalism
04/17/2008 - James WhiteThe Papal visit has once again revealed just how little post-evangelicalism cares about the purity of the gospel. Here's a short discussion of a CT poll that illustrates the problem.
Quoting the Early Church Fathers
04/17/2008 - James SwanIt was a little over ten years ago that a group of Catholic apologists contributed chapters to the 600+ page book, Not By Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura [Santa Barbara: Queenship Publishing, 1997]. Patrick Madrid was responsible for the first chapter: Sola Scriptura, A Blueprint for Anarchy. I've heard Madrid is coming out with a new book on sola scriptura, so I've been re-reading this old presentation against Scripture as the only infallible and sufficient authority for the Church. Call it an exercise in compare and contrast: I'm curious to see what type of argumentation Madrid will put forth ten years later. Madrid made some bold, if not at times insulting assertions ten years back, including a section derogatorily entitled, "How Protestants Distort and Misreport the Church Fathers." Madrid states,
"A ploy being adopted by a growing number of evangelical apologists is what I call the 'hijacking' of the Church Fathers, attempting to press them into service for sola scriptura. This ploy mimics the Jehovah's witnesses and Mormons, who also attempt to defend their unorthodox teachings from behind a carefully-constructed facade of patristic quotes- quotes invariably taken out of their immediate context and without regard to the complete writings of the Fathers.
The practice of selective quoting from the Fathers- great Fathers such as Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Augustine, and Basil of Caesarea- is spreading. In fact, often the very Protestant apologists who misuse and twist the testimony of the Fathers to fit their hermeneutic of anachronism (i.e., reading their own views such as sola scriptura and sola fide back into Scripture and the Fathers) are themselves accusing Catholics of 'misusing' or 'prooftexting' the Fathers" [Not By Scripture Alone, pp. 5-6].
At this point, Madrid includes a footnote mentioning Dr. White's use and opinion of the Church Fathers in defense of sola scriptura and how "absurd," it is, and how White manages to "dupe many." During his opening statement in his debate with Dr. White, Madrid stated that he was resisting the temptation "to bury Mr. White under a mountain of quotations from the Church Fathers, proving they did not teach sola scriptura." Madrid compared Dr. White's use of the Fathers to a kidnapper cutting and pasting words from a newspaper to make a ransom note. These are strong assertions indeed, and Madrid does appear confident he can prove his case. In Not By Scripture Alone, the first example put forth is a citation from Basil of Caesarea (that Dr. White used eighteen years ago during his debate with Madrid on sola scriptura). Madrid explains,
"Basil of Caesarea has provided Evangelical polemicists with what they think is the 'smoking gun' to deny Catholic claims and uphold sola scriptura: 'Therefore, let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the Word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth' (Epistle ad Eustathius). This, they think, means that Basil would have been comfortable with John Calvin's theology that 'All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them' (The Westminster Confession of Faith, 7). But if Basil's quote is to be of any use to the Protestant apologist, the rest of Basil's writings should be consistent and compatible with the theology expressed in this quote from the Westminster Confession. But watch what happens to Basil's alleged sola scriptura mindset when we look at other statements of his..." [Not By Scripture Alone, p. 7].
Madrid then lists two citations from Basil that appear to affirm "Tradition" as another equally authoritative source of divine revelation. For example, the first citation states:
"Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or enjoined which are preserved in the Church, some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have delivered to us in a mystery by the apostles by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force" (On the Holy Spirit, 27)."
One can see the discrepancy. Basil states that Scripture is to decide on matters, but then, according to Madrid, Basil also refers to a second source of revelation, the "mystery by the apostles by the tradition of the apostles." Madrid states, "Such talk hardly fits with the notion that Scripture is formally sufficient for all matters of Christian doctrine. Basil's appeal to an authoritative body of unwritten apostolic Tradition within the Church is frequent in his writings" [Not By Scripture Alone, p.8]. Has Madrid proved his case? Was Basil referring to an unwritten apostolic Tradition that held contents like the Assumption or Papal infallibility, passed down from the Apostles? Did Basil receive an unwritten God-inspired Tradition, passed down from the Apostles, able to infallibly decide between disputing parties?
It may shock you to read that William Webster, in his magnificent treatment defending sola scriptura stated, "It is also true that the Church fathers embraced a form of tradition that was independent of Scripture. This can be easily documented from their writings, examples being Papias, Tertullian, Epiphanius, John Chrysostom, Augustine and Basil the Great" [William Webster, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Vol. II (Battle Ground: Christian Resources Inc.), p. 139]. The explanation though of what Webster and Basil mean, in no way support Madrid's charges. Rather, the opposite is true: Madrid is the one misrepresenting Basil.
What Basil meant by "Tradition" is not what Madrid is trying to make it. Basil, in using the term, is describing "mysteries" of the Christian faith that were allegedly communicated in an unwritten form. These refer to liturgical rites of say, baptism or the Eucharist. In other words, Basil was not teaching two sources of infallible revelation, with "Tradition" functioning similarly to Scripture. As William Webster has pointed out, "This tradition referred primarily to ecclesiastical practices and customs and not to doctrine" [Holy Scripture Vol. 2, p.139]. Similarly, after discussing Basil and other Early Church Fathers, the great patristic scholar J.N.D. Kelly noted, "Indeed, all the instances of unwritten tradition lacking Scriptural support which the early theologians mention will be found, on examination to refer to matters of observance and practice (e.g. triple immersion in baptism; turning East for prayer) rather than of doctrine as such, although sometimes they are matters (e.g. infant baptism; prayers for the dead) in which doctrine is involved) [J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (New York: HarperSan Francisco, 1960), p. 47].
Explaining Basil's citations in greater detail, Georges Florovsky, an Orthodox theologian stated,
"In any case, one should not be embarrassed by the contention of St. Basil that dogmata were delivered or handed down by the Apostles, en musterio. It would be a flagrant mistranslation if we render it as 'in secret.' The only accurate rendering is: 'by the way of mysteries,' that is- under the form of rites and (liturgical) usages, or 'habits.' In fact, it is precisely what St. Basil says himself: ta pleista ton mustikon agraphos hemin empoliteuetai. [Most of the mysteries are communicated to us by an unwritten way]. The term mustika refers here, obviously to the rites of Baptism and Eucharist, which are, for St. Basil, of 'Apostolic' origin... Indeed, all instances quoted by St. Basil in this connection are of ritual or liturgical nature" [Florovsky, Georges, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View. The Collected Works, vol. 1. (Vaduz: Buchervertriebsansstalt, 1987), pp. 86-87].
Commenting on Basil's passages on authoritative tradition (On the Holy Spirit, 27), Emmanuel Amand de Mendieta stated,
"The whole passage has frequently been misinterpreted by Roman Catholic theologians, who imagine that in it they have found something to prove the Tridentine dogma of Tradition, considered as an equal and distinct source of revelation... In reality, this passage of Basil, the beginning of which is a little vague and lacking in precision, cannot be considered as confirming the Tridentine dogma that doctrinal Tradition is a second fully distinct source of divine revelation. In order to be convinced of the falsity of such an assertion, one need only take the trouble to read the whole passage. In brief, in all his homiletic, doctrinal, ascetic and monastic works, Basil refers constantly, and almost in every line, to the Bible, quoting, expounding, or illustrating it, or drawing out in detail what it teaches without departing from the traditional doctrine of the Church. He leaves us in no doubt that he regards the Bible, especially the New Testament, as the sovereign and all-sufficient moral and doctrinal standard for all Christians, and particularly for the cenobites under his charge. Basil of Caesarea thus taught me a never-forgotten lesson. [Emmanuel Amand de Mendieta, Rome and Canterbury: A Biblical and Free Catholicism, trans. Coslett Quin (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1962), pp. 140, 141, 143].
Just like a shell game, one must keep an eye on the ball. Madrid shuffled Basil around just enough so that one is left unsure of what exactly Basil held to. For instance, Madrid hasn't defined what contents make up "Tradition" for either himself or Basil, or even if they believed the same content of Tradition. But guess who does define the contents of tradition? Basil! Webster points out, "Basil's teaching primarily had to do with customs and practices such as triple immersion in baptism and turning to the East in prayer, practices of secondary importance" [Holy Scripture Vol. 2, p.144]. By not defining Tradition, Madrid misrepresents Basil, hoping no one will actually read On The Holy Spirit 27.66 and 29.71 in which Basil clearly points out what he means. Look through Madrid's chapter for the same definitional honesty put forth by Basil, you will not find it.
One last area should not be left unexplored. Madrid argues for the early Fathers holding to Tradition, implying that the early Fathers are in unity with modern-day Roman apologists. In other words, if Basil and Madrid were able to sit down together and discuss "Tradition," both should be on the same page as to what that "Tradition" is. For Basil, tradition included turning to the east in prayer. Is Madrid praying toward the east? Other early Fathers held that prayers should be directed west. In his Disputations on Holy Scripture, William Whitaker evaluates many of the traditions put forth by Basil, and concludes,
"The papists themselves retain not all these traditions of Basil's. They do not dip, but sprinkle; they do not pray standing upon the Lord's day, as Basil here determines that we ought; for if we follow Basil, we ought to pray standing on all Sundays from Easter to Pentecost. This the papists do not observe, shewing therein that Basil is not to be listened to upon that matter. For Basil contends most earnestly for this tradition, and adduces three reasons in support of the practice: 1. because Christ arose upon the Lord's day; 2. because we seek the things that are above. But we should do this always; and according to this reason, we should always pray standing: 3. because the eighth day is a symbol of the world to come; and therefore, says he, the church hath taught its nurslings to make their prayers in an erect posture, and that upon a necessary obligation. A similar decree was made in the first council of Nice, can. 20. But a different custom hath now for a long time prevailed. The papists themselves have taught us by their own example to reject such traditions. For these traditions of Basil's are either necessary, or they are not. If they be not necessary, why do they press us with the authority of Basil? For either we should not be attacked, if they be unnecessary; or they sin in not observing them, if they be necessary. Let them choose which they will" [ William Whitaker, Disputations On Holy Scripture, trans. and ed. William Fitzgerald(Cambridge: University Press, reprinted 1849),p. 593].
Well, it has been ten years since Mr. Madrid's accusations on Protestants quoting the Early Church Fathers. Maybe in the past ten years, Madrid has come across the same information presented above. Maybe his new book won't be filled with emotionally charged words like "hijacking," and poor historical analysis like his "Blueprint for Anarchy" chapter was. The object of the historical analysis on the early Fathers is not to make them Protestant or Roman Catholic, but to let them be who they were in their own place in history. We can only hope that Mr. Madrid treats Basil, if at all, with integrity in his forth-coming book.
Boston College Papacy Debate: Scott Butler Attempts to Respond, Ends Up Melting Down
04/11/2008 - James White
Catholic Answers and Veronica's Station of the Cross
04/06/2008 - James Swan
"Originating in the Middle Ages and promoted by the Franciscans, the Stations of the Cross is a devotion to the passion of Christ from the moment of his condemnation by Pilate to his burial. Churches place fourteen images, representing scenes from the passion, spaced out on walls in such a way that a person walks from one to the other until meditations and prayers are completed" [Alfred McBride, O. Praem, Catholic Beliefs From A to Z (Ann Arbor: Servant Publications, 2001) p.159].
Recently John Martignoni appeared on Catholic Answers Live to answer questions on "Scriptural Apologetics." John is "dedicated to explaining and defending the Scriptural foundations of the Catholic faith." The show began with a lengthy discussion on the Stations of the Cross. This intrigued me, considering the practice appears late in church history, thus it is not a Biblical tradition. It appears to be based on a tradition that Mary daily walked the Via Dolorosa. At each place of importance, Mary knelt and prayed. Martignoni tried to present some sort of "scriptural foundation" to solidify each station, but one in particular has absolutely no explicit or implicit Biblical proof that can even romotely be mustered up for the cause of Rome: Station six- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. Don't bother pulling out your Bible concordance and looking up "Veronica," she isn't there. The Catholic Encyclopedia offers this information on her:
"In several regions of Christendom there is honored under this name a pious matron of Jerusalem who, during the Passion of Christ, as one of the holy women who accompanied Him to Calvary, offered Him a towel on which he left the imprint of His face. She went to Rome, bringing with her this image of Christ, which was long exposed to public veneration" [source].
Before one begins to suspect the historical possibility of Veronica and this story, the Encyclopedia then notes that early relics like the towel described above were called "vera icon (true image), which ordinary language soon made veronica...By degrees, popular imagination mistook this word for the name of a person and attached thereto several legends which vary according to the country." The Catholic Encyclopedia then lists many of these several legends. This though does not deter the Encyclopedia from concluding:
"These pious traditions cannot be documented, but there is no reason why the belief that such an act of compassion did occur should not find expression in the veneration paid to one called Veronica, even though the name has found no place in the Hieronymian Martyrology or the oldest historical Martyrologies, and St. Charles Borromeo excluded the Office of St. Veronica from the Milan Missal where it had been introduced."
Well, I can think of a few very good reasons not to venerate Veronica: the Encyclopedia has presented no positive historical evidence that such a person ever existed, and it earlier confirmed the origination of her name evolved from a description of an inanimate object to the status of a person!
Now let's take a listen to Mr.Martignoni's "scriptural apologetic" for Station six:
First Martignoni informs us the source for Station six comes from the apocryphal Acts of Pilate from 100-125 A.D. Some of the sources I checked date the work from 150-255 A.D. The Catholic Encyclopedia, though an older work, states, "We are forced to admit that is of later origin, and scholars agree in assigning it to the middle of the fourth century" [source]. Obviously, the certainty that this is an early work is debatable. The actual reference to Veronica from this text is also less than compelling:
There was found there also a woman named Veronica, and she said: Twelve years I was in an issue of blood, and I only touched the edge of his garment, and directly I was cured.The Jews say: Our law does not admit the testimony of a woman.
Martignoni refers to the story of Veronica as stemming from "small 't' tradition." He correctly notes that the story from the Acts of Pilate speaks of Jesus healing a woman of a blood disorder. Note above, the story of Veronica's towel is...missing. The Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature notes,
"A late tradition represents [Veronica] as a niece of King Herod and as offering her veil, or a napkin, as a sundarium to the suffering Christ on the Way of the Cross, whose pictured features were thus impressed upon the linen. This tradition has found no acceptance since the 11th cent." [Henry Wace, William Piercy, eds., The Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1911), p. 1106].
In fact, in some translations of the section above, the name isn't Veronica, but Bernice [Willis Barnstone, ed., The Other Bible (San Francisco: Harper San Fransisco, 2005), p.366]. The reason appears to be that the name "Veronica" is found in a later Latin manuscript (the original text is in Greek). Veronica (or Bernice) appears in the text as witness on behalf of Christ. These two women may in fact be the same, as "Veronica" appears to be a latinisation of "Bernice." But, neither name may be accurate. The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII [Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995 (reprint)] translates the text simply as "a woman" (p. 419), and notes that only some of the manuscripts use either the names mentioned.
Martignoni states if one or two of the Stations of the Cross did not happen, well, "so what?" He states, "You can't prove it did not happen." He then states the tradition of this story goes back almost 2000 years. This serves as proof that it did happen! My challenge to Martignoni would be to document this claim. Trace the tradition of this story back 2000 years. Explain why this is not a tradition of men, like those decried by Jesus.
Where then did the Veronica story come from? I found a version of it in The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII, pp.466-467, "The Death of Pilate Who Condemned Jesus." The editors note of this text, "The language shows it to be of a late date" (p. 354). Here is the pertinent section:
"And this messenger returning to his inn, met a certain woman named Veronica, who had been a friend of Jesus; and he said: O woman, a certain physician who was in this city, who cured the sick by a word alone, why have the Jews put him to death? And she began to weep, saying: Ah me! my Lord, my God and my Lord, whom Pilate for envy delivered, condemned, and ordered to be crucified. Then he, being exceedingly grieved, said: I am vehemently grieved that I am unable to accomplish that for which my Lord had sent me. And Veronica said to him: When my Lord was going about preaching, and I, much against my will, was deprived of His presence, I wished His picture to be painted for me, in order that, while I was deprived of His presence, the figure of His picture might at least afford me consolation. And when I was carrying the canvas to the painter to be painted, my Lord met me, and asked whither I was going. And when I had disclosed to Him the cause of my journey, He asked of me the cloth, and gave it back to me impressed with the image of His venerable face. Therefore, if thy Lord will devoutly gaze upon His face, he shall obtain forthwith the benefit of health. And he said to her: Is a picture of such a sort procurable by gold or silver? She said to him: No; but by the pious influence of devotion. I shall therefore set out with thee, and shall carry the picture to be seen by Caesar, and shall come back again.
Volusianus therefore came with Veronica to Rome, and said to Tiberius the emperor: Jesus, whom thou hast been longing for, Pilate and the Jews have delivered to an unjust death, and have through envy affixed to the gibbet of the cross. There has therefore come with me a certain matron, bringing a picture of Jesus himself; and if thou wilt devoutly look upon it, thou shall immediately obtain the benefit of thy health. Caesar therefore ordered the way to be strewn with silk cloths, and the picture to be presented to him; and as soon as he had looked upon it, he regained his former health."
In the same volume, a document entitled "The Avenging of the Savior" claims Veronica was the woman "who suffered from an issue of blood twelve years" [The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII, p. 475]. In this story, Veronica has a "portrait of the Lord." This portrait has miraculous powers.
Martignoni notes that the Stations of the Cross are an act of devotion, therefore, one can still gain spiritual benefit from it. What benefit could possibly be gained from a practice not only non-Biblical, but including non-historical, and most likely fictional facts about Veronica? I've read elsewhere that plenary indulgences can be granted to those who take part in this act of devotion [Stanley Stuber, Primer on Roman Catholicism for Protestants (New York: Association Press, 1953), p.190]. Hence, an act that is part of small "t" tradition has quite an effect on a participant.
Catholics continually make the claim that to be deep in history is to cease being Protestant. Well, if one does history as Martignoni does, I would have to ask how the word "history" is being defined. If it means that anything is history because one cannot prove it did not happen, and whatever small "t" tradition is now part of Catholic practice is true because it's a nice act of devotion, I would rather not go deep into Martignoni's method of history.
Boston College Papacy Rebuttal: James White
04/04/2008 - James White