Gregory of Nyssa (d. c. 395) vs. Sola Scriptura as the Rule of Faith


St. Gregory of Nyssa: Hosios Loukas Monastery, Boeotia, Greece (early 11th century Byzantine) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




St. Gregory of Nyssa lived from 331 to 395. The Lutheran “Joel” (I don’t know what his last name is) argued that he was an advocate of sola Scriptura (the Protestant “pillar” and rule of faith, which holds that Scripture alone is the final infallible authority, over against Tradition and the Church) on the Three Hierarchies blog [link now defunct]. His words will be in blue.

Specific references in the patristic texts would have been nice, for the purpose of checking context, but we’ll have to make do with what we have.

Here is what I find . . . Gregory of Nyssa saying about how to resolve doctrinal controversies:

[ . . . ]

We now proceed to their next position, after a short defining and confirmation of our own doctrine. For an inspired testimony is a sure test of the truth of any doctrine: and so it seems to me that ours may be well guaranteed by a quotation from the divine words. In the division of all existing things, then, we find these distinctions. There is, as appealing to our perceptions, the Sensible world: and there is, beyond this, the world which the mind, led on by objects of sense, can view: I mean the Intelligible: and in this we detect again a further distinction into the Created and the Uncreated: to the latter of which we have defined the Holy Trinity to belong, to the former all that can exist or can be thought of after that. But in order that this statement may not be left without a proof, but may be confirmed by Scripture, we will add that our Lord was not created, but came forth from the Father, as the Word with His own lips attests in the Gospel. (Against Eunomius, Book I [22] )

If then the Son also came into being, according to Eunomius’ creed, He is certainly ranked in the class of things which have come into being. If then all things that came into being were made by Him, and the Word is one of the things that came into being, who is so dull as not to draw from these premises the absurd conclusion that our new creed-monger makes out the Lord of creation to have been His own work, in saying in so many words that the Lord and Maker of all creation is “not uncreate”? Let him tell us whence he has this boldness of assertion. From what inspired utterance? What evangelist, what apostle ever uttered such words as these? What prophet, what lawgiver, what patriarch, what other person of all who were divinely moved by the Holy Ghost, whose voices are preserved in writing, ever or originated such a statement as this? (Against Eunomius, Book II)

But of what life does the Holy Spirit, that quickeneth all things, stand in need, that by subjection He should obtain salvation for Himself? Since then it is not on the basis of any Divine utterance that he [Eunomius – jh] asserts such an attribute of the Spirit, nor yet is it as a consequence of probable arguments that he has launched this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it must be plain at all events to sensible men that he vents his impiety against Him without any warrant whatsoever, unsupported as it is by any authority from Scripture or by any logical consequence. (Against Eunomius, Book II)

It is true that we learn from Holy Scripture not to speak of the Holy Ghost as brother of the Son: but that we are not to say that the Holy Ghost is homogeneous with the Son, is nowhere shown in the divine Scriptures. (Against Eunomius, Book II)

But if it is to the Only-begotten God that he [Eunomius] applies such phrases, so as to say that He is a thing made by Him that made Him, a creature of Him that created Him, and to refer this terminology to “the use of the saints” [Eunomius had claimed “the saints” also taught that the Son of God was a creature], let him first of all show us in his statement what saints he says there are who declared the Maker of all things to be a product and a creature, and whom he follows in this audacity of phrase. The Church knows as saints those whose hearts were divinely guided by the Holy Spirit – patriarchs, lawgivers, prophets, evangelists, apostles. If any among these is found to declare in his inspired words that God over all, who “upholds all things with the word of His power,” and grasps with His hand all things that are, and by Himself called the universe into being by the mere act of His will, is a thing created and a product, he will stand excused, as following, as he says, the “use of the saints” in proceeding to formulate such doctrines. But if the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures is freely placed within the reach of all, and nothing is forbidden to or hidden from any of those who choose to share in the divine instruction, how comes it that he endeavours to lead his hearers astray by his misrepresentation of the Scriptures, referring the term “creature,” applied to the Only-begotten, to “the use of the saints”? For that by Him all things were made, you may hear almost from the whole of their holy utterance, from Moses and the prophets and apostles who come after him, whose particular expressions it would be tedious here to set forth. (Against Eunomius, Book III)

And if he [Eunomius] says that he has some of the saints who declared Him [the Only-Begotten God] to be a slave, or created, or made, or any of these lowly and servile names, lo, here are the Scriptures. Let him, or some other on his behalf, produce to us one such phrase, and we will hold our peace. But if there is no such phrase (and there could never be found in those inspired Scriptures which we believe any such thought as to support this impiety), what need is there to strive further upon points admitted with one who not only misrepresents the words of the saints, but even contends against his own definitions? (Against Eunomius, Book III)

If these doctrines [of Eunomius] approve themselves to some of the sages “who are without,” let not the Gospels nor the rest of the teaching of the Holy Scripture be in any way disturbed. For what fellowship is there between the Creed of Christians and the wisdom that has been made foolish? But if he leans upon the support of the Scriptures, let him show one such declaration from the holy writings and we will hold our peace. (Against Eunomius, Book X)

Such is the conception of Him [i.e., the Holy Spirit] that possesses them [the followers of Macedonius]; and the logical consequence of it is that the Spirit has in Himself none of those marks which our devotion, in word or thought, ascribes to a Divine nature. What, then, shall be our way of arguing? We shall answer nothing new, nothing of our own invention, though they challenge us to it; we shall fall back upon the testimony in Holy Scripture about the Spirit, whence we learn that the Holy Spirit is Divine, and is to be called so. Now, if they allow this, and will not contradict the words of inspiration, then they, with all their eagerness to fight with us, must tell us why they are contending with us, instead of with Scripture. We say nothing different from that which Scripture says. (On the Holy Spirit)

Now they charge us with innovation, and frame their complaint against us in this way: They allege that while we confess three Persons we say that there is one goodness, and one power, and one Godhead. And in this assertion they do not go beyond the truth; for we do say so. But the ground of their complaint is that their custom does not admit this, and Scripture does not support it. What then is our reply? We do not think that it is right to make their prevailing custom the law and rule of sound doctrine. For if custom is to avail for proof of soundness, we too, surely, may advance our prevailing custom; and if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs. Let the inspired Scripture, then, be our umpire, and the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words. (On the Holy Trinity, and of the Godhead of the Holy Spirit)

As for ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points [concerning the principles of anger and of desire], were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion on the soul to those speculations. But while the latter [presumably Aristotle is meant] proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such licence, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and 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. (On the Soul and the Resurrection)

And to those who are expert only in the technical methods of proof a mere demonstration suffices to convince; but as for ourselves, we were agreed that there is something more trustworthy than any of these artificial conclusions, namely, that which the teachings of Holy Scripture point to: and so I [Gregory] deem that it is necessary to inquire, in addition to what has been said, whether this inspired teaching harmonizes with it all. And who, she [Gregory’s sister Macrina] replied, could deny that truth is to be found only in that upon which the seal of Scriptural testimony is set? (On the Soul and the Resurrection)

It may not be out of place to point out that these early Fathers (among others) quoted Scripture confidently despite the fact that the Church up to that time had not yet issued a supposedly infallible list of canonical books.

Of course they did. What’s the point? They certainly didn’t believe in sola Scriptura, though, as historians of doctrine recognize.

The point is that it is possible to possess the Scriptures and confidently appeal to them as authoritative without an infallible decree by post-apostolic bishops. It is what Church Fathers did then; it is what Protestants do now. However, Catholic apologists, who contend that without an infallible pronouncement by post-apostolic bishops the canon, and therefore its contents also, are uncertain, say Protestants are logically inconsistent in appealing to the Scriptures. Let those apologists criticize the earliest Church Fathers also.

As to sola scriptura, the quotes above speak for themselves, and quite plainly. They speak the same language as that of Protestant apologists. Is not the resemblance at least uncanny?

Would a RC or EO ever say with . . . Gregory of Nyssa, “A statement unconfirmed by Scripture is a statement without proof”? And again, “Without Scriptural proof, you are a new creed-monger”? And again, “Without Scriptural support, your teaching is unwarranted”? And again, “We do not teach what is nowhere shown in the divine Scriptures”? And again, “The knowledge of the Holy Scriptures is freely placed within the reach of all, and nothing is forbidden to or hidden from any of those who choose to share in the divine instruction”? And again, “If you cannot demonstrate your teaching from Scripture, further disputation is pointless”? And again, “Demonstrate your teaching from Scripture and we will agree with you”? And again, “We fall back on the testimony of Holy Scripture and say nothing different from what Scripture says”? And again, “While we do have a holy tradition, we let Scripture decide questions of dogma”? And again, “We make the Holy Scriptures the rule and measure of every tenet”? Or with St Macrina, “Who could deny that truth is to be found only in that upon which the seal of Scriptural testimony is set”?

Sure, I could say all this (just like St. Gregory did). Most of it falls under the purview of material sufficiency of Scripture, and St. Gregory was not an advocate of sola Scriptura, anymore than any Fathers were, as I will demonstrate.

Who could deny it? Obviously not Protestants. Let “historians of doctrine” take these things into account too.

It’s easy to pretend that these Fathers believed as Protestants do when you only cite one aspect of their beliefs and writings and omit equally important portions about Tradition and the authority of the Church and apostolic succession.

This is precisely what William Webster and David T. King do, and what Jason Engwer does in his series “Catholic But Not Roman Catholic.” I showed the fallacies of that in my lengthy critique and much-ballyhooed public dialogue with him on the CARM board (that he departed midway):

Reply to Jason Engwer’s Catholic But Not Roman Catholic Series on the Church Fathers: Sola Scriptura (An In-Depth Analysis of Ten Church Fathers’ Views Pertaining to the Rule of Faith) 

Dialogue on Sola Scriptura and the Church Fathers

Here are typical appraisals of the Fathers’ views on Scripture and Tradition from three leading Protestant historians (Jaroslav Pelikan, of course, being a Lutheran at the time):

As regards the pre-Augustinian Church, there is in our time a striking convergence of scholarly opinion that Scripture and Tradition are for the early Church in no sense mutually exclusive: kerygma, Scripture and Tradition coincide entirely. The Church preaches the kerygma which is to be found in toto in written form in the canonical books.

The Tradition is not understood as an addition to the kerygma contained in Scripture but as the handing down of that same kerygma in living form: in other words everything is to be found in Scripture and at the same time everything is in the living Tradition.

It is in the living, visible Body of Christ, inspired and vivified by the operation of the Holy Spirit, that Scripture and Tradition coinhere . . . Both Scripture and Tradition issue from the same source: the Word of God, Revelation . . . Only within the Church can this kerygma be handed down undefiled . . . (Heiko Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, rev. 1967, 366-367)

Clearly it is an anachronism to superimpose upon the discussions of the second and third centuries categories derived from the controversies over the relation of Scripture and tradition in the 16th century, for ‘in the ante-Nicene Church . . . there was no notion of sola Scriptura, but neither was there a doctrine of traditio sola.’. . . (1)

The apostolic tradition was a public tradition . . . So palpable was this apostolic tradition that even if the apostles had not left behind the Scriptures to serve as normative evidence of their doctrine, the church would still be in a position to follow ‘the structure of the tradition which they handed on to those to whom they committed the churches (2).’ This was, in fact, what the church was doing in those barbarian territories where believers did not have access to the written deposit, but still carefully guarded the ancient tradition of the apostles, summarized in the creed . . .

The term ‘rule of faith’ or ‘rule of truth’ . . . seems sometimes to have meant the ‘tradition,’ sometimes the Scriptures, sometimes the message of the gospel . . .

In the . . . Reformation . . . the supporters of the sole authority of Scripture . . . overlooked the function of tradition in securing what they regarded as the correct exegesis of Scripture against heretical alternatives.

(Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Vol.1 of 5: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 115-17, 119; citations: 1. In Cushman, Robert E. & Egil Grislis, editors, The Heritage of Christian Thought: Essays in Honor of Robert Lowry Calhoun, New York: 1965, quote from Albert Outler, “The Sense of Tradition in the Ante-Nicene Church,” p. 29. 2. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:4:1)

It should be unnecessary to accumulate further evidence. Throughout the whole period Scripture and tradition ranked as complementary authorities, media different in form but coincident in content. To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading terms. If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principle, tradition was recognized as the surest clue to its interpretation, for in tradition the Church retained, as a legacy from the apostles which was embedded in all the organs of her institutional life, an unerring grasp of the real purport and meaning of the revelation to which Scripture and tradition alike bore witness. (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978, 47-48)

It’s easy for anybody to read his own views back into the Fathers. RC’s never do this?

I’m sure some do. Everyone has a bias. I habitually cite Protestant historians precisely because they don’t have any theological motive to see “non-Protestant” elements in the Fathers. They simply “call it as they see it.” They can’t be accused of pro-Catholic or “anti-Protestant” biases.

It’s best to let the Fathers speak for themselves. In the quotes above, they undeniably speak like Protestants, sweeping generalizations of modern scholars notwithstanding.

No they don’t, because a half-truth is as bad as an untruth. Like I said, if you only cite them talking about Scripture, with carefully selected tidbits, chosen for the Protestant “ear”, then they will sound like Protestants, especially if someone is predisposed to anachronistically read Protestantism into their views in the first place.

One could do that with my own writings, for heaven’s sake. If I am talking about Scripture, or material sufficiency, even perspicuity, I would sound a lot like a Protestant (taking those words in isolation), but I don’t believe in sola Scriptura at all. I think it is unbiblical, unhistorical, illogical and unworkable in practice.

This is why you must also see what these same Fathers think about Tradition, the Church, Councils, bishops, and apostolic succession, and then consider their entire view, not portions of it removed from immediate context and their overall thought.

“Tom R” chimed in:

This is why you must also see what the Biblical authors think about Tradition, the Church, Councils, bishops, and apostolic succession, and then consider their entire view, not portions of it removed from immediate context and their overall thought.

Absolutely. I’ve written five books about that. Glad to see that you agree.

Eric Phillips also joined in:

As for the fathers and sola scriptura discussion, I would like to hear Dave’s definition of sola scriptura. Also, I’ll point out that it’s much easier to be optimistic about the Church’s authority when it isn’t selling “get out of Purgatory free” cards.
I’ve written more on sola Scriptura than anything else and am sick and tired of discussing it, too. It never goes anywhere. I accept Keith Mathison’s “magisterial reformer” definition of sola Scriptura, which is the standard “sophisticated” Protestant definition, as opposed to what Bernard Ramm and others have described as “solO Scriptura.”

The only thing I would be interested in doing on that topic is to pick some Church Father I haven’t already written about in this regard and debate whether he believed in sola Scriptura or not. That would be great, because in my experience, Protestants never stick around long enough to defend their original assertion after I give my argument that the Father in question did not believe in sola Scriptura.

Jason Engwer has written reams and reams of material about this, but he couldn’t even last longer than four of the ten Fathers I proved did not believe in sola Scriptura, and fled for the hills, even though we were in a much publicized and ballyhooed debate on the CARM board. He simply couldn’t handle (or, apparently, even comprehend) a paradigm different from his own.

I’ve written at length about these eleven Church Fathers (so I wouldn’t want to go over old ground there, unless you want to pick up where Jason Engwer left off and make counter-replies):

Dionysius of Alexandria, Theodoret, John Chrysostom, Hippolytus, Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Basil the Great, and Athanasius.

I think weightiness of the above quotes by . . . Gregory of Nyssa in favor of sola scriptura might appear more clearly with a little hypothetical exercise, replacing references to the Scriptures with something like “the magisterium.” E.g.:

“A statement unconfirmed by [the magisterium] is a statement without proof”

“Without [the magisterium], you are a new creed-monger”

“Without [the magisterium], your teaching is unwarranted”

“We do not teach what is nowhere shown in [the magisterium]”

“The knowledge of [the magisterium] is freely placed within the reach of all, and nothing is forbidden to or hidden from any of those who choose to share in the divine instruction”

“If you cannot demonstrate your teaching from [the magisterium], further disputation is pointless”

“Demonstrate your teaching from [the magisterium] and we will agree with you”

“We fall back on the testimony of [the magisterium] and say nothing different from what [the magisterium] says”

“While we do have a holy tradition, we let [the magisterium] decide questions of dogma”

“We make [the magisterium] the rule and measure of every tenet”

“Who could deny that truth is to be found only in that upon which the seal of [the magisterium] is set”

Is there any doubt that if these Fathers had written anything like this instead, Catholic apologists would not hesitate to quote them against Protestants as proving the sufficiency and perspicuity of the magisterium?

We would argue as we do now: Scripture, Tradition, and the Church constitute the “three-legged stool” of Christian authority and the rule of faith. Nothing would change. It is your position that is untenable, once all the relevant facts of Gregory’s beliefs are taken into account, and not carefully selected only to appear (superficially) to be of a “Protestant” nature, as you have done.

I hold to sola scriptura, but I also consider the Nicene Creed, e.g., to be an authoritative and essential document.

If I were a contemporary of Augustine, instead of living post-Cardinal Humbert, post-Unam Sanctam, post-Tetzel, and post-Vatican II, I would probably not insist so much on the sola part either. It’s only once you realize you can’t always trust the establishment that it becomes a really practical concern.

That sounds like fun! Let me have a go at that too!:

If I were living post-Luther, post-Peasants’ Revolt, post State Church, post-execution of Anabaptists, post-pietism and the indifferentist secular liberalism of the next generation, post-German Lutheran 19th century liberalism and higher criticism, post Nazi Germany, post-forsaking of ancient tradition on contraception, post-sanctioning of abortion by most Lutheran denominations, I would probably not insist so much on the sola Scriptura part either (in fact, would outright reject it). It’s only once you realize you can’t always trust radical individualism and traditions of men that it becomes a really practical concern, and apostolic succession and the One True Church stands out in ever greater contrast.

* * *

My methodology will be the same as it was when I debated Baptist Ken Temple on the same topic (with regard to St. Athanasius):

We’ll look to see if the person thinks Scripture is formally sufficient for authority without the necessary aid of Tradition and the Church, or if he does not, as indicated in other statements. A thinker’s statements must be evaluated in context of all of his thought, rather than having pieces taken out and then claiming that they ‘prove’ something that they do not, in fact, prove at all.

In other words, even if you find a quote where a Father seems (at first glance) to be stating something akin to sola Scriptura (since he is writing about the Bible without immediate reference to Church or Tradition), one must examine what the same person believes about Tradition, Church, and apostolic succession, because the very question at hand (what is the rule of faith?) has to do with the relation of all those things. For that reason, all three (or four) have to be examined in his writing, to understand properly how he views their relationship vis-a-vis each other.

The Protestant always puts the Bible above Church and Tradition, and denies that the latter two can be infallible. Catholics and Orthodox believe in a three-legged stool, where, practically-speaking, Church and Tradition have equal authority with Scripture, because they are the necessary framework and interpretive grid through which Scripture can be properly interpreted in an orthodox sense.

So what did St. Gregory believe about the authoritative (infallible?) status of the Church, Sacred Tradition, apostolic succession, bishops, and councils? Well, let’s see! Let’s look at the aspects of his thought on authority and the rule of faith that Joel conveniently omitted, since it didn’t go along with his game plan of “proving” that sola Scriptura (the 16th century Protestant invention) was St. Gregory’s position.

[regarding] “. . . the unique generation of the Son, he explained that it was enough that ‘we have the tradition descending to us from the fathers, like an inheritance transmitted from the apostles along the line of holy persons who succeeded them’.

(J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978, 45; citing Contra Eunomius, 4 [PG 45, 653]; bolded emphases added here as throughout this paper )

So that is one citation from the same work that Joel utilized over and over for supposed proof of sola Scriptura in this great Father’s writings. Is there any other similar indication in this work? Sure there is:

The first point, then, of the unfair dealings in this statement to be noticed is that in professing to expound the mystery of the Faith, he corrects as it were the expressions in the Gospel, and will not make use of the words by which our Lord in perfecting our faith conveyed that mystery to us: he suppresses the names of ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost,’ and speaks of a ‘Supreme and Absolute Being’ instead of the Father, of ‘another existing through it, but after it’ instead of the Son, and of ‘a third ranking with neither of these two’ instead of the Holy Ghost. And yet if those had been the more appropriate names, the Truth Himself would not have been at a loss to discover them, nor those men either, on whom successively devolved the preaching of the mystery, whether they were from the first eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, or, as successors to these, filled the whole world with the Evangelical doctrines, and again at various periods after this defined in a common assembly the ambiguities raised about the doctrine; whose traditions are constantly preserved in writing in the churches. If those had been the appropriate terms, they would not have mentioned, as they did, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, granting indeed it were pious or safe to remodel at all, with a view to this innovation, the terms of the faith; or else they were all ignorant men and uninstructed in the mysteries, and unacquainted with what he calls the appropriate names – those men who had really neither the knowledge nor the desire to give the preference to their own conceptions over what had been handed down to us by the voice of God. (Against Eunomius, Book I, 13)

But let us examine the words that follow: “He is always and absolutely one, remaining uniformly and unchangeably the only God.” If he is speaking about the Father, we agree with him, for the Father is most truly one, alone and always absolutely uniform and unchangeable, never at any time present or future ceasing to be what He is. If then such an assertion as this has regard to the Father, let him not contend with the doctrine of godliness, inasmuch as on this point he is in harmony with the Church. (Against Eunomius, Book II, 5)

Now seeing that the Church, according to the Divine teaching, believes the Only-begotten to be verily God, and abhors the superstition of polytheism, and for this cause does not admit the difference of essences, in order that the Godheads may not, by divergence of essence, fall under the conception of number (for this is nothing else than to introduce polytheism into our life) seeing, I say, that the Church teaches this in plain language, that the Only-begotten is essentially God, very God of the essence of the very God, how ought one who opposes her decisions to overthrow the preconceived opinion?

. . . Let our author, then, show this to begin with, that it is in vain that the Church has believed that the Only-begotten Son truly exists, not adopted by a Father falsely so called, but existing according to nature, by generation from Him Who is, not alienated from the essence of Him that begat Him. But so long as his primary proposition remains unproved, it is idle to dwell on those which are secondary. And let no one interrupt me, by saying that what we confess should also be confirmed by constructive reasoning: for it is enough for proof of our statement, that the tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handed on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them. They, on the other hand, who change their doctrines to this novelty, would need the support of arguments in abundance, if they were about to bring over to their views, not men light as dust, and unstable, but men of weight and steadiness: but so long as their statement is advanced without being established, and without being proved, who is so foolish and so brutish as to account the teaching of the evangelists and apostles, and of those who have successively shone like lights in the churches, of less force than this undemonstrated nonsense? (Against Eunomius, Book IV, 6)

As for ourselves, we take our stand upon the tenets of the Church, . . . (On the Soul and the Resurrection)

Instead, the sheep stray from nourishing pastures, that is, from the traditions of the fathers, lodge outside the fold, and are dispersed throughout alien pastures. When the fruit of such a teaching brings about this situation, the form of a wolf now hiding under a sheep’s skin will show itself.

Let us now examine the teachings of Apollinarius of Syria, to see whether they increase or decrease the flock, gather the dispersed or scatter those who have been gathered, and whether or not they support or manifest hostility towards the teachings of the fathers.

. . . For who does not know that God appeared to us in the flesh? According to pious tradition he is incorporeal, invisible, uncomposite, both was and is boundless and uncircumscribed, is present everywhere, penetrates all creation and has manifested himself in our human condition. (Against Apollinarius)

The argument which you state is something like this: Peter, James, and John, being in one human nature, are called three men: and there is no absurdity in describing those who are united in nature, if they are more than one, by the plural number of the name derived from their nature. If, then, in the above case, custom admits this, and no one forbids us to speak of those who are two as two, or those who are more than two as three, how is it that in the case of our statements of the mysteries of the Faith, though confessing the Three Persons, and acknowledging no difference of nature between them, we are in some sense at variance with our confession, when we say that the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is one, and yet forbid men to say “there are three Gods”? The question is, as I said, very difficult to deal with: yet, if we should be able to find anything that may give support to the uncertainty of our mind, so that it may no longer totter and waver in this monstrous dilemma, it would be well: on the other hand, even if our reasoning be found unequal to the problem, we must keep for ever, firm and unmoved, the tradition which we received by succession from the fathers, and seek from the Lord the reason which is the advocate of our faith: and if this be found by any of those endowed with grace, we must give thanks to Him who bestowed the grace; but if not, we shall none the less, on those points which have been determined, hold our faith unchangeably. (On “Not Three Gods”)

But you will perhaps seek to know the cause of this error of judgment; for it is to this point that the train of our discussion tends. Again, then, we shall be justified in expecting to find some starting-point which will throw light on this inquiry also. An argument such as the following we have received by tradition from the Fathers; and this argument is no mere mythical narrative, but one that naturally invites our credence. (The Great Catechism, Chapter VI)

. . . the traditional teaching which has reached us is as follows. (The Great Catechism, Chapter XXXII)

. . . they say that the charges which are being circulated against us are such as these; that we entertain opinions opposed to those who at Nicaea set forth the right and sound faith, and that without due discrimination and inquiry we received into the communion of the Catholic Church those who formerly assembled at Ancyra under the name of Marcellus. . . . But inasmuch as, since we composed that written defence of our conduct, again some of the brethren who are of one mind with us begged us to make separately with our own lips a profession of our faith, which we entertain with full conviction, following as we do the utterances of inspiration and the tradition of the Fathers, . . . (Letter 2)

So we conclude that St. Gregory of Nyssa did not believe in sola Scriptura, since advocates of that view deny the authoritativeness of sacred tradition, the Church, and apostolic succession. Gregory affirmed all of these; therefore he denies sola Scriptura. It’s as simple as that. His statements on Scripture have to be interpreted in light of these other considerations.

Joel likes quick summaries of “proof texts.” Let’s do one of our own for St. Gregory of Nyssa:

The Binding Authority of Tradition

“Instead, the sheep stray from nourishing pastures, that is, from the traditions of the fathers, lodge outside the fold”

“whether or not they support or manifest hostility towards the teachings of the fathers . . .”

“According to pious tradition he is incorporeal, invisible, uncomposite . . .”

“An argument such as the following we have received by tradition from the Fathers; . . . one that naturally invites our credence.”

“. . . the traditional teaching which has reached us is as follows.”

“. . . following as we do the utterances of inspiration and the tradition of the Fathers”

The Binding Authority of the Church as the Standard of Orthodoxy

“whose traditions are constantly preserved in writing in the churches”

“we take our stand upon the tenets of the Church”

Authoritative Apostolic Succession

“It is enough for proof of our statement, that the tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handed on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them.”

“the teaching of the evangelists and apostles, and of those who have successively shone like lights in the churches”

“even if our reasoning be found unequal to the problem, we must keep for ever, firm and unmoved, the tradition which we received by succession from the fathers”

The Binding Nature of the Decrees of Ecumenical Councils

“. . . they say that the charges which are being circulated against us are such as these; that we entertain opinions opposed to those who at Nicaea set forth the right and sound faith”

* * * * *

And let’s modify one of Joel’s statements above, turn the tables, and do our own “fuller picture” version of it:

The quotes above speak for themselves, and quite plainly. They speak the same language as that of Catholic apologists. Is not the resemblance at least uncanny?Would a Protestant ever say these things [about the binding authority of Tradition, the Church, and apostolic succession]?


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