Hunter/Dogmatic Theology/II/II

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Outlines of Dogmatic Theology


CHAPTER II: THE PROTESTANT RULE OF FAITH.

86. Subject of the Chapter. — In the last chapter we showed that the true Rule of the Christian faith is the living voice of the Church of the present day proclaiming the tradition received from preceding generations, and divinely guaranteed from error. In the present chapter we shall prove this more fully by examining the arguments adduced for the Protestant view, which is the only rival of that held by Catholics. This view makes the Bible only be the Rule of Faith. After stating some preliminary objections to this view, we shall discuss the arguments in its favour as given in Dr. Harold Browne's Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, the most authoritative work upon the subject, and show that they fail to prove the point.


87. The Protestant Rule not Scriptural. — As was before remarked, the Rule is expressed with perfect accuracy by the oft-quoted words of Chillingworth: "The Bible, and the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants." This then is a fundamental part of their religion; that the whole of it is to be found in the Bible. It is therefore curious to remark that this principle itself is not found in the Bible; nor, in fact, is there any pretence for saying that it is found. The Bible cannot lay down this principle without speaking of itself as a whole; but it does not do so; there is no passage that so much as hints at the existence of any complete collection of the inspired Books of the New Law, and in fact there is no likelihood that any such collection was made until long after the death of the last Apostle. St. Peter, it is true (2 St. Peter iii. 16), speaks of there being things hard to understand "in all the Epistles" of St. Paul; but this reference, whatever it point to, is by no means enough to establish the Protestant Rule. It is scarcely worth while to mention the almost childish use that has sometimes been made of the passage of the Apocalypse (xxii. 18, 19), where a curse is denounced against any man who should add to, or take away from, the words of the book of that prophecy: the book here referred to is obviously the Apocalypse itself, and not all that is contained in that collection of books which we call the Bible. The Apocalypse is probably put last in the collection because there is no other book of the same nature, and because there was an impression, not improbably correct, that it was the last to be written; and even if the verses just referred to, spoke of the whole collection, the woe would fall upon any one who put a book forward as inspired which had no just claim to that title; it would not touch one who maintained that a portion of God's revelation had never been recorded by any inspired writer, which is the Catholic position.


88. Prescription. — Further, Prescription is in favour of the Catholic view, and opposed to that of the Protestants, for there certainly was a time when the Protestant Rule was not known. We have seen (n. 80) that the Apostles acted upon the Catholic principle, urging the claim of the living teacher to obedience, and the practice of the Church was the same in subsequent ages. Among the scanty records of the proceedings of the first General Council held at Nice, in 325, we find no trace of appeal being made to Scripture as the sole authority; and we learn from St. Athanasius, who was present, and took a leading part in the business of the Council, that when the Arianizing party wished to use none but Scriptural language in the definition of faith, the assembled Bishops refused to admit the principle, and chose the word consubstantial, which, though old, was not Scriptural. (St. Athan. Epistola ad Afros Episcopos, n. 6; P.G. 26, 1040.) Also, Socrates (Hist. Eccl. 1, 10; P.G. 67, 100), and Sozomen (Hist. Eccl. 1, 22; P.G. 67, 924) tell how1cordially Acesius, the Bishop of the schismatical Novatians, accepted the definition of the Council; and he added the reason, that it was nothing new, but was the tradition which had come down to him from the days of the Apostles. One who was familiar with the Protestant Rule would not have spoken in this way.


The second General Council, held at Constantinople in 381, accepts the faith defined at Nice, because it is ancient. (Hardouin's Councils, I, 824.) In the third, held at Ephesus in 431, the Bishops accepted the exposition of the Nicene faith sent to them by St. Cyril of Alexandria, giving for reason that it was in accord with what the Church had always held from the beginning, with the primitive tradition which was preserved incorrupt among Christians. (Ibid. I, 1365.) Quotations of this sort might be multiplied indefinitely; what we have adduced are enough to show that the Council of Trent introduced no novelty when in the proemium to the decree on Justification adopted in the fifth session, it professed its intention of expounding that true and sound doctrine which Christ taught, which the Apostles handed down, and which the Catholic Church, under guidance of the Holy Spirit, ever retained. The Vatican Council also acted on the old principle when it declared (Const, 1, c. 4, de Fide et Ratione) that the doctrine of faith revealed by God was a deposit entrusted by Christ to His Church, to be faithfully kept and declared with infallible certainty.


What has been said, makes it clear that the Catholic Rule is in possession; no one can assign a time when it was not in use. The Protestant Rule, on the other hand, is barred by prescription: it is discredited as a novelty. Nothing can restore its credit except proof that a new revelation has been given by God, abolishing the old economy, and establishing the new in its place. We shall now proceed to show how very little there is that can be found to say on behalf of the Protestant Rule.


89. Scripture. — We will first consider the texts of Scripture which are alleged to prove the sufficiency of the written word. They will be found collected in Dr. Browne's work on the Articles, in the discussion of the Sixth Article. We will copy them as they stand in the Protestant authorized version, to prevent all dispute, but we shall group them in such manner as will remove the necessity of repetition of our remarks. We shall find that not one of the texts is opposed to our doctrine.


I. Thus the Scripture tells us, that if men speak not according to the law and the testimony, it is because they have no light in them (Isaias viii. 20); that the law of the Lord is perfect (Psalm xviii. 7); that the Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation (2 Timothy iii. 15); and that it was a great privilege of the Jews that to them were committed the oracles of God. (Romans iii. I.) But these passages are not to the purpose, for they all refer to the books of the Old Testament, for St. Timothy cannot have learned the New Testament from his childhood; if, then, they have any bearing upon our question, they prove that the Christian Revelation contained nothing new, which will not be maintained. They in fact teach us no more than that the Holy Scriptures are profitable reading, which we not only admit, but maintain, provided they are read under proper safeguards. All good things may be abused, and the reading of Scripture is no exception.


II. Again, St. Luke wrote his Gospel that Theophilus might know the certainty of the things in which he had been instructed; and St. Peter wrote his second Epistle that those whom he addressed might be able, after his decease, to have those things always in remembrance. (2 St. Peter i. 15.) This last passage is obscure, and has received more than one interpretation, as may be seen in Cornelius à Lapide; but it certainly cannot put the matter higher than it is put by St. Luke, and he teaches us no more than that writing is one useful way of preserving tradition; and we know that God has seen fit to use it; but St. Luke does not tell us that it is the only means, and if he did say so, he would at the same time say that his Gospel contained the whole of Christian truth, making all subsequent writings superfluous. The same remark applies to St. John xx. 31.


III. In Deut. iv. 2, we are warned not to add to the word which the Lord commands; and the Pharisees are reproved for teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (St. Matt. xv. 9), and thus making the word of God of none effect by their tradition (St. Mark vii. 13); along with which passages Dr. Browne also quotes the verse of the Apocalypse (xxii. 18) on which we have commented (n. 87), at the same time that he confesses that it may apply only to the book in which it occurs: as we explained. These texts expose the crime of those who add to the Divine word by setting up inventions of their own as Divine revelations, but they do not touch those who proclaim a truly Divine revelation which they have received in addition to what had already been committed to writing; if they forbid all addition to the Old Law, the Christian Revelation falls under the condemnation.


It is worth while to notice that in the verse of St. Matthew, where the authorized version has "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," the equally Protestant revised version has "teaching as their doctrines," while the Greek original is merely "teaching doctrines commandments;" the Vulgate, followed by the Douay version, has "doctrines and commandments," which is in accord with the Septuagint version of the passage in Isaias (xxix. 13) from which the words are taken; the Hebrew has "commandment of men, doctrine." It will be observed that among these versions it is the authorized that makes most for the purpose for which it is cited by Dr. Browne, and in fact the words are one of the main supports of the Protestant cause. Dr. Alford (ad loc.) confesses that the words are in apposition, whereas both the Protestant versions make "doctrines" a predicate.


IV. We have just seen an instance where a translator appears to have been influenced by a doctrinal bias. The first text in the next group shows the hopelessness of every attempt to make a translation "without note or comment," as is required by the Protestant Rule. The passage is found in St. John (v. 39), and is rendered in the authorized version, "Search the Scriptures," as if it were a command. It may be so, but it is by no means certain. Dr. Browne tells us that "it may be, and very likely ought to be translated, 'Ye search the Scriptures,'" merely stating what was the practice of the Pharisees. Neither the form of the verb (ἐρευνᾶτε) nor the context decides the question; yet the authorized version gives the rendering which seems to favour the Protestant view, without any hint that any other view is possible. The revised version is fairer, giving both the alternative renderings, as is done also by the Douay translators, who found the same ambiguity in the Latin (scrutamini); but by the course adopted, the revisers have acknowledged their inability to give a translation of the Scriptures, thus exhibiting a fatal flaw in the Protestant system of private judgment. The great bulk of men must exercise their judgment on the translation, and here it is confessed that the work of translating is impossible. Every translation is in truth a commentary, and the commentator is sometimes at a loss, and sometimes prejudiced and fraudulent. (n. 156.)


But even if the passage be taken as giving a command, the sense ascribed to it by St. Augustine, St. Chrysostom, and Theophylact, as may be seen in à Lapide, it fails to bear out the Protestant advocate. The meaning is the same as that conveyed by the place in St. Matthew (xxii. 29), where our Lord points out that ignorance of the Scriptures is the cause of error; and to the same effect, the Berœans are praised (Acts xvii. n) because they "searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so." All these passages refer to Jews who admitted the authority of the Scriptures, and who ought to have found enough in these books to lead them to accept Christ as the Deliverer promised by the Prophets. The Berœans did not search the Scripture to verify the doctrine preached by St. Paul, such as the necessity of Baptism; and had they done so they would have been disappointed, for the Old Testament does not teach the necessity of Christian Baptism; but they searched to see whether the prophecies quoted by St. Paul bore the meaning which he put upon them, for this being ascertained, his authority to teach followed without further proof. (See Acts xiii. 32; xvii. 2, 3; xviii. 28; xxvi. 27; also n. 204.) In the same way, we have appealed to the Scriptures in our last chapter as establishing the Catholic Rule of Faith, and we shall make the same appeal when treating of the Church, and elsewhere. It is an appeal which will not be declined by those to whom our argument is addressed.


It is to be observed that St. Paul makes no use of the Old Testament when addressing Gentiles in proof of his mission; for instance, when at Athens, he quotes the Greek poet (Acts xvii. 28) as an authority having weight with his hearers, but he makes no reference to the Prophets, of whom they knew nothing.


90. Reason. — Having exhausted his Scriptural arguments, Dr. Browne attempts to show that Reason favours the Protestant view, and first he says that Tradition is proverbially uncertain, and that it failed to maintain purity of doctrine under the Old Law, whereas Scripture has secured us a knowledge of the great doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation, and many more. We reply that whatever may have been the case with Tradition under the Old Law that of the New Law has no uncertainty if, as we hold, it has been divinely guaranteed to us; and that Scripture, apart from the living voice of a teacher, has wholly failed to keep the great doctrines alive; for these doctrines are rejected by many who hold Scripture in reverence, but refuse to listen to Tradition. To our argument that Tradition was the first rule, he replies that it may have been changed, but he offers no proof that it actually was changed; he admits that Scripture is not written systematically, but urges that this casual collection of memoirs and letters may, under God's providence, have been so ordered as to convey all Christian truth. No one would deny that this may have been so, but the question is, whether we have any reason to believe, in defiance of appearances, that it was so. He thinks that Apostolic authorship is sufficient to establish the character of a book as being a portion of the Scripture; unaware, it would seem, that Apostolic authorship is by no means identical with inspiration, the special character of Scripture. It would seem that Dr. Browne has failed to grasp our idea of Tradition, as being the voice of the living Church, for he seems to think that it is to be searched for in the writings of the Fathers, whereas we hold that the voice of the Church of the nineteenth century is as authoritative us that of the Church of the second century. The voice of the living man tells us what is the truth; the researches of the theologian may go to show us that this truth was explicitly known fifteen hundred years ago, but our faith does not rest on his researches.


91. The Fathers. — Dr. Browne quotes some passages from the Fathers as showing that they looked on Scripture as the exclusive Rule. We will not go through them all. It is enough to say that some mean that all things are contained in Scripture, inasmuch as it is by Scripture that we know the Divine origin of the Christian dispensation. There are others which speak of the perfection of Scripture. Scripture being the work of God, is certainly perfect with the perfection which God designed for it; but whether it was designed to contain all Christian truth is the point in question. Lastly, when the Fathers combat a heretic who is setting up a doctrine which is avowedly not contained in Tradition, they may challenge him to adduce Scripture proof for it, by way of illustrating the want of all basis for his novel speculations.


92. Recapitulation. — In this polemical chapter, we have shown that the Protestant Rule is not Scriptural, and that Prescription is against it; after which we have dealt with what Dr. Browne has found to urge in favour of his Rule, from Scripture, Reason, and the Fathers.

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