+ Counter-Reply to Protestant anti-Catholic Apologist James White on Athanasius, Tradition, etc.
St. Athanasius: Coptic portrait [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
St. Athanasius (c. 296-373) is almost certainly the second favorite Church father of more polemically-minded Protestants (who want to counter or oppose Catholicism at every turn), after St. Augustine.
They wax eloquently about the famous saying Athanasius contra mundum (“. . . against the world”), referring to the Arian crisis in the Church, and equate this with a Luther-like scenario: speaking truth to corrupt power, and so forth (as if the two stances were theologically or ecclesiologically equivalent).
They pretend that he taught sola Scriptura, or at any rate, something more closely akin to it than the Catholic “three-legged stool” rule of faith (Bible-Tradition-Church). But Athanasius was a good Catholic. I shall now list eleven different areas where St. Athanasius thought very much like a Catholic and very unlike how (most) Protestants approach things. The excerpts are from my book, Catholic Church Fathers: Patristic and Scholarly Proofs (excepting the Deuterocanonical and Baptism sections):
. . . inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. (Festal Letter 2:6)
. . . but concerning matters of faith, they [The Fathers at Nicea] did not write: ‘It was decided,’ but ‘Thus the Catholic Church believes.’ And thereupon they confessed how they believed. This they did in order to show that their judgement was not of more recent origin, but was in fact Apostolic times; and that what they wrote was no discovery of their own, but is simply that which was taught by the apostles. (On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 5; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
For, as we have found after long deliberation, it appeared desirable to adhere to and maintain to the end, that faith which, enduring from antiquity, we have received as preached by the prophets, the Gospels, and the Apostles through our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . (On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 10; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
[H]old fast, every one, the faith we have received from the Fathers, which they who assembled at Nicaea recorded in writing, and endure not those who endeavour to innovate thereon. And however they may write phrases out of the Scripture, endure not their writings; however they may speak the language of the orthodox, yet attend not to what they say; for they speak not with an upright mind, but putting on such language like sheeps’ clothing, in their hearts they think with Arius, after the manner of the devil, who is the author of all heresies. For he too made use of the words of Scripture, but was put to silence by our Saviour. . . . the character of apostolical men is sincere and incapable of fraud. (Circular to Bishops of Egypt and Libya 8; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
Athanasius . . . maintains [Ad Serap. 1, 4] that the Spirit is granted to those who believe and are reborn in the bath of regeneration . . .
Through baptism, according to Athanasius, man is united with the Godhead; [C. Ar. 2, 41] it is the sacrament of regeneration by which the divine image is renewed. [De incarn. 14] The participant becomes an heir of eternal life, [Ad Serap. 1, 22] and the Father’s adoptive son. [C. Ar. 1, 34] (Kelly, 430-431)
Catholic Church and Councils: Infallible Authority of
See, we are proving that this view has been transmitted from father to father; but ye, O modern Jews and disciples of Caiaphas, how many fathers can ye assign to your phrases? Not one of the understanding and wise; for all abhor you, but the devil alone; none but he is your father in this apostasy, who both in the beginning sowed you with the seed of this irreligion, and now persuades you to slander the Ecumenical Council, for committing to writing, not your doctrines, but that which from the beginning those who were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word have handed down to us. For the faith which the Council has confessed in writing, that is the faith of the Catholic Church; to assert this, the blessed Fathers so expressed themselves while condemning the Arian heresy; and this is a chief reason why these apply themselves to calumniate the Council. For it is not the terms which trouble them, but that those terms prove them to be heretics, and presumptuous beyond other heresies. (Defense of the Nicene Definition, 27; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
. . . sectaries, who have fallen away from the teaching of the Church, and made shipwreck concerning their Faith . . . (Against the Heathen, 6; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
Had Christ’s enemies thus dwelt on these thoughts, and recognised the ecclesiastical scope as an anchor for the faith, they would not have made shipwreck of the faith, . . . (Against the Arians III, 58; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
What defect of teaching was there for religious truth in the Catholic Church, . . . (On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 3; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
But the word of the Lord which came through the ecumenical Synod at Nicea, abides forever. (Synodal Letter to the Bishops of Africa 2; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
I thought that all vain talk of all heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the Synod which was held at Nicæa. For the Faith there confessed by the Fathers according to the divine Scriptures is enough by itself at once to overthrow all impiety, and to establish the religious belief in Christ. . . . How then, after all this, are some attempting to raise doubts or questions? (Letter LIX to Epictetus, 1; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
For the statements are not fit for Christians to make or to hear, on the contrary they are in every way alien from the Apostolic teaching. . . . It is enough merely to answer such things as follows: we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this. But lest the ‘inventors of evil things’ make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture, in case they may even thus be put to shame, and cease from these foul devices. (Letter LIX to Epictetus, 3; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
Either then deny the Synod of Nicæa, and as heretics bring in your doctrine from the side; or, if you wish to be children of the fathers, do not hold the contrary of what they wrote. (Letter LIX to Epictetus, 4; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
Deuterocanon (So-Called “Apocrypha”)
St. Athanasius did seem to lower the status of the deuterocanonical books somewhat, but not to a sub-biblical level, as noted by my good friend Gary Michuta, in his excellent book, Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger (Port Huron, Michigan: Grotto Press, 2007, 110-112; bracketed footnote numbering my own):
Athanasius quotes both Baruch and Susanna right along passages from Isaiah, Psalms, Romans, and Hebrews; he makes no distinction or qualification between them . Wisdom also is used as an authentic portion of sacred Scripture . . .:
But of these and such like inventions of idolatrous madness, Scripture taught us beforehand long ago, when it said, ‘The devising of idols, as the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them, the corruption of life . . .’ [Ws 14:12] 
And later in the same work:
For since they were endeavouring to invest with what Scripture calls the incommunicable name . . . 
This reference to the “incommunicable name” comes from Wisdom 14:21 . . .
Athanasius quotes another passage from Wisdom as constituting the teachings of Christ, the Word of God. He undoubtedly uses it to confirm doctrine.  In another argument against Arians, he calls both the Protocanonical Proverbs and the Deuterocanonical Wisdom “holy Scripture” . . .  . . .
Athanasius also quotes the book of Sirach without distinction or qualification, in the midst of several other scriptural quotations.  . . . Athanasius calls the Book of Judith Scripture.  Tobit is cited right along with several Protocanonical quotations  , and even introduced with the solemn formula “it is written.” 
 Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 1.12.
 Against the Heathen, 11.1. Emphasis added.
 Against the Heathen, 1, 17.3.
 On the Incarnate Word, 4.6; 5.2.
 Defense Against Arius, 1, 3.
 Life of Anthony, 28 and Apology Against the Arians, 66.
 Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 2.35 . . .
 Defense of Constantius, 17. Tobit is cited after Matthew and Isaiah.
 Defense Against Arius, Part 1, 11.
The great Protestant Bible scholar F. F. Bruce confirms Michuta’s analysis:
As Athanasius includes Baruch and the ‘Letter of Jeremiah’ in one book with Jeremiah and Lamentations [in his list of the OT canon], so he probably includes the Greek additions to Daniel in the canonical book of that name, and the additions to Esther in the book of that name which he recommends for reading in church [but doesn’t list as a canonical book] . . .
In practice Athanasius appears to have paid little attention to the formal distinction between those books which he listed in the canon and those which were suitable for instruction of new Christians. He was familiar with the text of all, and quoted from them freely, often with the same introductory formula — ‘as it is written’, ‘as the scripture says’, etc. (The Canon of Scripture, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988, 79-80; my bracketed comments, based on the larger context of Bruce’s analysis)
Eucharist (Real Presence)
So long as the prayers and invocations have not yet been made, it is mere bread and a mere cup. But when the great and wondrous prayers have been recited, then the bread becomes the body and the cup the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . When the great prayers and holy supplications are sent up, the Word descends on the bread and the cup, and it becomes His body. (Sermon to the Newly-Baptized; Kelly, 442; Migne, 26, 1325)
Faith and Works Rather Than Faith Alone
For it is not productive of virtue, nor is it any token of goodness. For none of us is judged for what he knows not, and no one is called blessed because he hath learning and knowledge. But each one will be called to judgment in these points–whether he have kept the faith and truly observed the commandments. (Life of Antony; NPNF 2, Vol. IV, 205)
He is to come, no more to suffer, but thenceforth to render to all the fruit of his own cross, that is, the resurrection and incorruption; and no longer to be judged, but to judge all, by what each has done in the body, whether good or evil; where there is laid up for the good the kingdom of heaven, but for them that have done evil everlasting fire and outer darkness. For thus the Lord himself also says: “Henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven in the glory of the Father. Matt. 25:31 . . . For according to the blessed Paul: “We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may receive according as he hath done in the body whether it be good or bad.” (Incarnation of the Word, 56, 4; NPNF 2, Vol. IV, 66).
Mary: Mother of God
And the Angel on his appearance, himself confesses that he has been sent by his Lord; as Gabriel confessed in the case of Zacharias, and also in the case of Mary, bearer of God. (Orations III, 14; NPNF 2, Vol. IV, 401)
It was for our sake that Christ became man, taking flesh from the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. (Against the Arians, III, 29; Gambero, 102)
Mary: Perpetual Virginity
For, if she had had other children, the Savior would not have ignored them and entrusted his Mother to someone else; nor would she have become someone else’s mother . . . he gave her as a mother to his disciple, even though she was not really John’s mother, because of his great purity of understanding and because of her untouched virginity. . . . Mary, who gave birth to God, remained a virgin to the end . . . (De virginitate; Gambero, 104)
. . . Mary Ever-Virgin . . . (Against the Arians, Discourse II, 70; NPNF 2; Vol. IV, 386-387)
. . . pure and unstained Virgin . . . (On the Incarnation of the Word, 8; Gambero, 102)
O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides. (Homily of the Papyrus of Turin, 71, 216; Gambero, 106)
[note: the Protestant anti-Catholic Catholic “Turretinfan” wrote about this second source twice (on 5-8-08 and 11-1-21), questioning its authenticity. My friend Paul Hoffer thoroughly disposed of his arguments (or lack thereof) in a lengthy article dated 4-10-09]
The Papacy and Primacy of Rome
When I left Alexandria, I did not go to your brother’s headquarters, or to any other persons, but only to Rome; and having laid my case before the Church (for this was my only concern), I spent my time in public worship. (Defence before Constantius 4, NPNF 2, Vol. IV, 239)
[Background: Athanasius had appealed to Pope Julius I, over against the heretical ruling against him from eastern bishops, and Julius I reversed the sentence of an eastern council. He fled to Rome in 339 and “established close contacts with the Western Church, which continued throughout his life to support him” — Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, “Athanasius, St.”, p. 101) ]
Tradition (Authentic Divine and Apostolic, as Opposed to “Traditions of Men”)
But, beyond these sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached and the Fathers kept. (To Serapion 1:28; after citing biblical passages concerning the deity of the Holy Spirit)
For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers; whereas they who have not this character are to be called not true doctors but evil. (Defense of the Nicene Definition 4; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
The blessed Apostle approves of the Corinthians because, he says, ‘ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you’ (1 Cor. xi. 2); but they, as entertaining such views of their predecessors, will have the daring to say just the reverse to their flocks: ‘We praise you not for remembering your fathers, but rather we make much of you, when you hold not their traditions.’ (On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 14; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
. . . remaining on the foundation of the Apostles, and holding fast the traditions of the Fathers, . . . (On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 54; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)
Gambero, Luigi, Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought, Thomas Buffer, translator, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, revised edition of 1999.
Kelly, J.N.D., Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, fifth revised edition, 1978.
Schaff, Philip & Henry Wace, editors, Early Church Fathers: Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers Series 2 (“NPNF 2”), 14 volumes, originally published in Edinburgh, 1900, available online.
ADDENDUM (James White)
Counter-Reply to James White’s Critique of My Take on St. Athanasius’ Rule of Faith
Resident Baptist Ken Temple wrote in the combox: “James White demonstrated and proved your citation of Festal 2:6 is wrong in the way you interpret Athanasius. Reading the whole context, from 2:4 to 2:7 teaches us a lot, that Athanasius does not promote extra-Biblical traditions here.”
Robert also stated: “I just read the Athanasius quote IN CONTEXT and I see exactly what you mean, Ken…it is not only NOT supporting the authority of “traditions” it’s supporting the authority of scripture over any traditions!”
Bishop White has written a piece entitled Tradition Glasses, Again! I’ve dealt with Athanasius;’ views in this regard more than once. It gets rather tiresome trying to persuade a certain type of Protestant to grasp elementary distinctions in logic and theological analysis, but we’ll give it yet another shot.
The Right Reverend Bishop White comments:
I couldn’t help but notice Dave Armstrong, who has decided recently to try his hand at church history, taking a shot at the Athanasius Problem. You see, the great bishop of Alexandria is a constant problem for Roman Catholics who wish to portray the early church as if it thought, spoke, and believed, as modern Rome. . . . In any case, Mr. Armstrong recently published yet another book, this time addressing the subject of church history. I had obtained the e-text version of the work, looked through it, and realized that with my current studies and challenges, going back over all the egregious abuses of the early writers represented by Armstrong was surely not worth my while. Someone else with much more time and interest would find an inexhaustible source of classic Roman Catholic anachronism in this work.
White took time out of his busy schedule to bless us with his cogent (and as always, of course, completely unassailable) commentary on one passage of mine:
. . . inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. (Festal Letter 2:6)
He then provides a larger context for the citation, preceded by his own editorial remark: “I popped open my edition of Athanasius and read the context, and could not help but chuckle. . . . remember, let Athanasius define terms rather than Dave Armstrong, or the conflicts of our century:”
4. Now those who do not observe the feast, continue such as these even to the present day, feigning indeed and devising names of feasts, but rather introducing days of mourning than of gladness; `For there is no peace to the wicked, saith the Lord.’ And as Wisdom saith, `Gladness and joy are taken from their mouth.’ Such are the feasts of the wicked. But the wise servants of the Lord, who have truly put on the man which is created in God, have received gospel words, and reckon as a general commandment that given to Timothy, which saith, `Be thou an example to the believers in word, in conversation, in love, in faith, in purity.’ So well do they keep the Feast, that even the unbelievers, seeing their order, may say, `God is with them of a truth.’ For as he who receives an apostle receives Him who sent him, so he who is a follower of the saints, makes the Lord in every respect his end and aim, even as Paul, being a follower of Him, goes on to say, `As I also of Christ.’ For there were first our Saviour’s own words, who from the height of His divinity, when conversing with His disciples, said, `Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls.’ Then too when He poured water into a basin, and girded Himself with a towel, and washed His disciples’ feet, He said to them, `Know what I have done. Ye call Me Master and Lord, and ye say well, for so I am. If therefore I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet: for I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, ye also should do.’
5. Oh! my brethren, how shall we admire the loving-kindness of the Saviour? With what power, and with what a trumpet should a man cry out, exalting these His benefits! That not only should we bear His image, but should receive from Him an example and pattern of heavenly conversation; that as He hath begun, we should go on, that suffering, we should not threaten, being reviled, we should not revile again, but should bless them that curse, and in everything commit ourselves to God who judgeth righteously. For those who are thus disposed, and fashion themselves according to the Gospel, will be partakers of Christ, and imitators of apostolic conversation, on account of which they shall be deemed worthy of that praise from him, with which he praised the Corinthians, when he said, `I praise you that in everything ye are mindful of me.’ Afterwards, because there were men who used his words, but chose to hear them as suited their lusts, and dare to pervert them, as the followers of Hymenaeus and Alexander, and before them the Sadducees, who as he said, `having made shipwreck of faith,’ scoffed at the mystery of the resurrection, he immediately proceeded to say, `And as I have delivered to you traditions, hold them fast.’ That means, indeed, that we should think not otherwise than as the teacher has delivered.
6. For not only in outward form did those wicked men dissemble, putting on as the Lord says sheep’s clothing, and appearing like unto whited sepulchres; but they took those divine words in their mouth, while they inwardly cherished evil intentions. And the first to put on this appearance was the serpent, the inventor of wickedness from the beginning–the devil,–who, in disguise, conversed with Eve, and forthwith deceived her. But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians, because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions. And the Lord most righteously reproved the Jews, saying, `Wherefore do ye also transgress the commandments of God on account of your traditions.’ For they changed the commandments they received from God after their own understanding, preferring to observe the traditions of men. And about these, a little after, the blessed Paul again gave directions to the Galatians who were in danger thereof, writing to them, `If any man preach to you aught else than that ye have received, let him be accursed.’
7. For there is no fellowship whatever between the words of the saints and the fancies of human invention; for the saints are the ministers of the truth, preaching the kingdom of heaven, but those who are borne in the opposite direction have nothing better than to eat, and think their end is that they shall cease to be, and they say, `Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.’ Therefore blessed Luke reproves the inventions of men, and hands down the narrations of the saints, saying in the beginning of the Gospel, `Since many have presumed to write narrations of those events of which we are assured, as those who from the beginning were witnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered to us; it hath seemed good to me also, who have adhered to them all from the first, to write correctly in order to thee, O excellent Theophilus, that thou mayest know the truth concerning the things in which thou hast been instructed.’ For as each of the saints has received, that they impart without alteration, for the confirmation of the doctrine of the mysteries. Of these the (divine) word would have us disciples, and these should of right be our teachers, and to them only is it necessary to give heed, for of them only is `the word faithful and worthy of all acceptation;’ these not being disciples because they heard from others, but being eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, that which they had heard from Him have they handed down.
Between sections 5 and 6 he interjected:
Now before moving on, have you caught his drift? Athanasius is saying the exact opposite of what Armstrong thinks he is saying. He even uses the classically abused text, 2 Thess. 2:15, and says nothing of any teachings that are not biblical in nature. “Apostolic conversation,” “apostolic tradition,” etc., for Athanasius, is nothing more than the words of the Apostles themselves! Roman Catholic controversialists, so accustomed to redefining terms based upon modern usage, read back into Athanasius the very distinctions that he is denying. But we continue on. I will bold the sole portion quoted by Armstrong:
And he concluded:
See what a difference a context makes? Athanasius is making the exact opposite point, concluding, as he so often did, with the teaching that what has been “handed down” is exactly the Scriptures. So when you read Roman Catholics throwing out contextless tidbits like this, do some reading. Remember that they are dogmatically committed to historical anachronism: Rome tells them what they must find in the early writings of the church, and, lo and behold, that’s exactly what they find! Amazing!
I shall now respond at some length to these absurd and groundless accusations. Remember, as I proceed, that White equates anything by way of “tradition” and anything “apostolic” referred to by Athanasius, as strictly the biblical text and teaching. Therefore, all one must do to refute such an assertion is show that Athanasius refers to things as part of the received tradition, that are not in the Bible. That’s rather easy to do, and I have already done it, so I merely have to repeat myself, with a few extra tidbits from the present larger text under consideration. I’ll comment on various portions of the text above:
‘And as I have delivered to you traditions, hold them fast.’ [2 Thess 2:15] That means, indeed, that we should think not otherwise than as the teacher has delivered.
All the text prior to these words pose no problem whatsoever for Catholics, who accept material sufficiency of Scripture. As I have argued many times before, this very passage ends thusly: “hold to the traditions, which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (RSV). White, therefore, must contend that every tradition Paul passed on that was by “word of mouth” (or for that matter, in writing) was also preserved in written Holy Scripture. A very neat and tidy little theory, isn’t it? But of course there is no way to prove this; certainly not from Scripture itself. White doesn’t even try (he knows better than that). He simply assumes that this is the case. But that is no argument, of course. Just because White claims something with no biblical proof is no reason for anyone else to accept it. Likewise, in section 1 of the same letter, even outside of White’s huge context that he provided, Athanasius writes:
those commands which he sent to individuals, he at the same time enjoined upon every man in every place, for he was `a teacher of all nations in faith and truth’.
As in the first instance, there is no reason whatsoever to assume, from this text, that all of Paul’s “commands” were inscripturated. There is no more reason to believe that than there is to believe that everything that Jesus told His disciples was recorded in the Bible. It clearly was not, because the Bible itself informs us so (e.g., Mk 4:33; 6:34; Lk 24:15-16,25-27; Jn 20:30; 21:25; Acts 1:2-3), and it is common sense anyway. Jesus’ teachings and commands, and Paul’s, were binding, since they came from God and an apostle. They didn’t have to be put in Scripture before they had authority, and they clearly included more than what we have in Scripture. As I’ve observed many times: in one night of intense conversation, Jesus or Paul could have easily said far more words than are contained in the entire New Testament. So White offers a bald speculation (i.e., a mere tradition of men, passed down). I’m giving solid reasons and Bible verses. Readers may choose which is the more plausible and biblical of the two options.
inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. [the citation I used in my book]
Here is apostolic succession. Note how Athanasius casually assumes that one criterion for truth is being “handed down” — and not just by apostles, but by “saints” (a larger category). Protestants generally reject apostolic succession, but it is taught here, and by virtually all Church fathers. Athanasius is precisely blasting the Protestant attitude: folks who cite the Scriptures, but yet do not receive traditions and opinions “handed down” and who confuse these true apostolic traditions with “traditions of men.” This is exactly how Protestants like Bishop White regard true Catholic, apostolic traditions (i.e., those that are contrary to Protestantism). The passage, then, is a rather striking indication that Athanasius was a good Catholic, and no Protestant. He doesn’t think like one at all. White rejects apostolic succession; Athanasius fully embraces it.
Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians, because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions.
More apostolic tradition (in complete harmony with the notion of apostolic succession that he had expressed earlier: “opinions as the saints have handed down”).
For they changed the commandments they received from God after their own understanding, preferring to observe the traditions of men. . . . `If any man preach to you aught else than that ye have received, let him be accursed.’
Paul’s characteristic contrast of false traditions of men with true apostolic tradition, reiterated by Athanasius.
For there is no fellowship whatever between the words of the saints and the fancies of human invention; for the saints are the ministers of the truth
Therefore blessed Luke reproves the inventions of men, and hands down the narrations of the saints
as those who from the beginning were witnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered to us
Apostolic tradition (“witnesses”) and succession (“delivered to us”) seen right in the text of Scripture.
For as each of the saints has received, that they impart without alteration, for the confirmation of the doctrine of the mysteries. For as each of the saints has received, that they impart without alteration, for the confirmation of the doctrine of the mysteries.
Another concise, explicit description of apostolic tradition and succession.
All this, yet White thinks that he sees sola Scriptura and a denial of apostolic tradition and succession in these passages. It’s astonishing. White talks about “tradition glasses.” He not only doesn’t have glasses; he has no eyes at all. He’s flat-out blind, to miss all this in the passage. I’m absolutely delighted that he wanted to bring up all this larger context, because it makes my argument ten times stronger. Thanks, good bishop! Catholics can be blessed by viewing this overwhelming affirmation in Athanasius, of our rule of faith. And of course there is tons more, in my paper (from my new book on the Fathers):
See, we are proving that this view has been transmitted from father to father; but ye, O modern Jews and disciples of Caiaphas, how many fathers can ye assign to your phrases?
It is enough merely to answer such things as follows: we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this.
Either then deny the Synod of Nicæa, and as heretics bring in your doctrine from the side; or, if you wish to be children of the fathers, do not hold the contrary of what they wrote.
But, beyond these sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached and the Fathers kept.
For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers; whereas they who have not this character are to be called not true doctors but evil.
The blessed Apostle approves of the Corinthians because, he says, ‘ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you’ (1 Cor. xi. 2); but they, as entertaining such views of their predecessors, will have the daring to say just the reverse to their flocks: ‘We praise you not for remembering your fathers, but rather we make much of you, when you hold not their traditions.’
. . . remaining on the foundation of the Apostles, and holding fast the traditions of the Fathers, . . .
Athanasius accepts books of the Bible (Wisdom, Sirach, Judith, Tobit) that White rejects as “extrabiblical” and no Scripture at all. Therefore, Athanasius is calling inspired what White thinks is an evil tradition of men. Hard to get more poles apart than that!
In my book, I cite a very powerful concurring opinion of Protestant historian Philip Schaff, concerning the Church fathers’ unanimous belief in apostolic succession and the notions of Tradition and an authoritative Church:
Nor is any distinction made here between a visible and an invisible church. All catholic antiquity thought of none but the actual, historical church . . .
The fathers of our period all saw in the church, though with different degrees of clearness, a divine, supernatural order of things, in a certain sense the continuation of the life of Christ on earth, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the sole repository of the powers of divine life, the possessor and interpreter of the Holy Scriptures, the mother of all the faithful . . .
Equally inseparable from her is the predicate of apostolicity, that is, the historical continuity or unbroken succession, which reaches back through the bishops to the apostles, from the apostles to Christ, and from Christ to God. In the view of the fathers, every theoretical departure from this empirical, tangible, catholic church is heresy, that is, arbitrary, subjective, ever changing human opinion; every practical departure, all disobedience to her rulers is schism, or dismemberment of the body of Christ; either is rebellion against divine authority, and a heinous, if not the most heinous, sin. No heresy can reach the conception of the church, or rightly claim any one of her predicates; it forms at best a sect or party, and consequently falls within the province and the fate of human and perishing things, while the church is divine and indestructible.
This is without doubt the view of the ante-Nicene fathers, even of the speculative and spiritualistic Alexandrians . . .
Even Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, with all their spiritualistic and idealizing turn of mind, are no exception here. (History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, Chapter IV, section 53, “The Catholic Unity,” pp. 169-170, 172)
This is emphatically not what Protestants believe, because they deny both apostolic succession and any possibility of an infallible Church. For them only Scripture is an infallible authority. Therefore, the views of the fathers and of Athanasius in particular, couldn’t be any further than they are from James White’s view. Yet he claims Athanasius as one of his own. It’s one of the most striking instances of sheer anachronistic imposition of later Protestant novelties onto the Church fathers that I’ve ever seen. White is seemingly impervious to reason and fact alike. He even has to war against Protestant historians like Schaff, from 100 years ago, as well as the vast majority of Church historians of all stripes today.