St. John Chrysostom & St. Irenaeus: Sola Scripturists?

St. John Chrysostom & St. Irenaeus: Sola Scripturists? April 22, 2016
Refutation of Anti-Catholic Polemicist and Reformed Protestant Pastor David T. King
St. John Chrysostom: Fresco in the Church of the Theotokos Peribleptos in Ohrid, Macedonia (13th century) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

This is the same old same old: historical revisionism and anachronism galore: a tired attempt to make the Church fathers into something they were not, simply so the distinctives of Protestantism can be shored up and given a sophistical semblance of historical continuity that they (quite glaringly and obviously) do not possess.

I’ve written about sola Scriptura about 5,834 times. One tires of it. But what the heck: one more time won’t hurt, I reckon, in light of deluded confident assertions from a person who, time and again, refuses to defend his arguments. I highly doubt that this time will be any different, but you never know. There is always a first for everything.

My standard approach to this business of:

Church Father X believes in sola Scriptura, because, look, see!: he praises Scripture in this place and this, and the other over there, and says that Christians ought to read the Bible to learn theology! Obviously, then, he agrees with the formal Protestant principle of sola Scriptura! Who could possibly doubt it?

. . . is the following (I cite my paper about St. Athanasius’ view of authority, of my 5,834 on this topic):

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.

Pastor King’s words will be in blue; St. John Chrysostom’s (c. 347-407) in green. St. Irenaeus’ (c. 130-c. 200) words will be in purple.

“Tarry not, I entreat, for another to teach thee; thou hast the oracles of God. No man teacheth thee as they; for he indeed oft grudgeth much for vainglory’s sake and envy. Hearken, I entreat you, all ye that are careful for this life, and procure books that will be medicines for the soul. If ye will not any other, yet get you at least the New Testament, the Apostolic Epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If grief befall thee, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take thence comfort of thy trouble, be it loss, or death, or bereavement of relations; or rather dive not into them merely, but take them wholly to thee; keep them in thy mind.

This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how ought we to come off safe? Well contented should we be if we can be safe with them, let alone without them.”

Source: NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians, Homily 9.

This source is available online. Fellow anti-Catholic apologist Jason Engwer suggested a similar passage, for the same purpose:

Let us not therefore carry about the notions of the many, but examine into the facts. For how is it not absurd that in respect to money, indeed, we do not trust to others, but refer this to figures and calculation; but in calculating upon facts we are lightly drawn aside by the notions of others; and that too, though we possess an exact balance, and square and rules for all things, the declaration of the divine laws? Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things.  (Homilies on Second Corinthians, 13, c. 7, v. 1)

So the great Father loves Scripture. Amen! Of course, King assumes that anyone who loves Holy Scripture must believe that it is the only binding, infallible authority and must accept the formal principle of sola Scriptura. But this is clearly a logical fallacy. There are number of different positions one can take with regard to the relationship of Scripture, Church, Tradition, and apostolic succession.

St. John Chrysostom’s own position is not sola Scriptura, and this can easily be shown. He also accepts an authoritative oral tradition that isn’t (by definition) even written; therefore, the furthest thing from sola Scriptura and the Bible alone as ultimate authority. Furthermore, he grounds such authority in the testimony of Scripture itself (just as I, as a Catholic apologist and critic of sola Scriptura, have done, and would do). To show this is a rather easy matter. In fact, it can be demonstrated from St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on other epistles of Paul (i.e., of the same sort as the present one — or two, including Engwer’s prooftext — under consideration).

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that King’s and Engwer’s citations above indicate (or prove?) St. John Chrysostom’s belief in a key plank of sola Scriptura: the ability of the individual to interpret for himself without necessary aid from some semblance of binding corporate Christian authority. Now, assuming that, how does a person holding to his alleged beliefs on the subject explain the following “counter-evidence” from the same writer?:

Since then he had already admonished them concerning these things when present, and some perhaps listened to him and others disobeyed; therefore in his letter also again, he foments the place, like a physician, by his mode of addressing them, and so corrects the offence. For that he had heretofore admonished them in person is evident from what he begins with. Why else, having said nothing of this matter any where in the Epistle before, but passing on from other accusations, doth he straightway say, “Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you?”

. . . “That ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.” It appears then that he used at that time to deliver many things also not in writing, which he shows too in many other places. But at that time he only delivered them, whereas now he adds an explanation of their reason: thus both rendering the one sort, the obedient, more steadfast, and pulling down the others’ pride, who oppose themselves. (Homily XXVI on 1 Corinthians; commenting on 1 Cor 11:2)

Thus, St. John Chrysostom is stating that some of these “traditions” St. Paul refers to and that which he delivered to his charges, were “not in writing.” And the Bible says we are to “hold fast” to them. This is impossible in a sola Scriptura view because it would be considered “unbiblical” by definition and therefore not binding (not being in Scripture itself, according to that view); therefore one could not “hold it fast.” Conclusion: he cannot possibly believe in sola Scriptura if this is his opinion. He comments in similar fashion on the related verse, 2 Thessalonians 2:15:

“So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours.”

Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken. (On Second Thessalonians, Homily IV)


Not by letters alone did Paul instruct his disciple in his duty, but before by words also which he shows, both in many other passages, as where he says, “whether by word or our Epistle” (2 Thess. ii. 15.), and especially here. Let us not therefore suppose that anything relating to doctrine was spoken imperfectly. For many things he delivered to him without writing. Of these therefore he reminds him, when he says, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me.” (Homily III on 2 Timothy – on 2 Tim 1:13-18)

He even appeals to an apostolic unwritten tradition of intercessory prayers for the dead (mentioning also the Sacrifice of the Mass:

Mourn for those who have died in wealth, and did not from their wealth think of any solace for their soul, who had power to wash away their sins and would not. Let us all weep for these in private and in public, but with propriety, with gravity, not so as to make exhibitions of ourselves; . . . Let us weep for these; let us assist them according to our power; let us think of some assistance for them, small though it be, yet still let us assist them. How and in what way? By praying and entreating others to make prayers for them, by continually giving to the poor on their behalf.

. . . Not in vain did the Apostles order that remembrance should be made of the dead in the dreadful Mysteries. They know that great gain resulteth to them, great benefit; for when the whole people stands with uplifted hands, a priestly assembly, and that awful Sacrifice lies displayed, how shall we not prevail with God by our entreaties for them? And this we do for those who have departed in faith, . . .

[NPNF Editor’s note: “The reference doubtless is to the so-called ‘Apostolical Constitutions,’ which direct the observance of the Eucharist in commemoration of the departed”] (On Philippians, Homily 3)

This is no Protestant, since they don’t pray for the dead, and don’t even have a Mass, let alone a Sacrifice of the Mass. Concerning the “sacred writers” he stated:

. . . it was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which they have delivered by unwritten tradition. (On Acts of the Apostles, Homily 1)

Pastor King accepts none of these things. He would consider them outrageous. They are no different than what I and other orthodox Catholics believe. Yet King looks down as us as non-Christians and pretends that St. John Chrysostom (who agrees with Catholics on this and lots of other things) is a wonderful man of God and supposed quasi-Protestant. Look at the very sub-title of his book, after all: “The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura.”

But if this is one example of many supposed “proofs”, and it is radically taken out of context with the rest of the Church Father’s thoughts, so that it amounts to little more than a gross misrepresentation and falsehood. St. John Chrysostom casually assumes an existing tradition, when he states, for example:

Ver. 8. “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth.”

Who are these? The magicians in the time of Moses. But how is it their names are nowhere else introduced? Either they were handed down by tradition, or it is probable that Paul knew them by inspiration. (Homily VIII on 2 Timothy)

For, “remember,” he says, “the words of the Lord which he spake: It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (v. 35.) And where said He this? Perhaps the Apostles delivered it by unwritten tradition; or else it is plain from (recorded sayings, from) which one could infer it. (Homily XLV on Acts 20:32)

But back to David King. After he gives his prooftext, he attempted to defend it as proving that Chrysostom held to sola Scriptura, as follows:

Anyone who understands the distinction between the material and formal sufficiency of Holy Scripture can readily see that Chrysostom’s quote here assumes the basic perspicuity (formal sufficiency) of Holy Scripture, as he urges his readers not to wait “for another to teach thee.”

This doesn’t follow at all. What St. John Chrysostom asserts is material sufficiency (all that is necessary to be believed by the Christian is present in Scripture, either explicitly or indirectly, or deduced from clear scriptural teaching). Catholics readily agree with that. It is not a Protestant distinctive at all.

Formal sufficiency of Scripture, on the other hand, is the notion that Scripture is the only final infallible authority, and that no tradition, Church, council or teaching passed down by apostolic succession is sufficient to be infallible, as Scripture is. This is sola Scriptura, and Chrysostom clearly rejects that, since I have already shown how much non-biblical tradition (i.e., tradition not based solely in the biblical text) he accepts (he was also a very strong supporter of the papacy and strong central papal authority).

His quote also assumes the availability of the NT scriptures for his audience, and its sufficiency to meet the needs of those who read them. Chrysostom here does not, as you suggest, treat Scripture as one would “vitamin supplements,” but as utterly essential for he says that the ignorance of Holy Scripture “is the cause of all evils.”

So what? The Bible itself says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. So if ignorance of Scripture is so bad that we must adopt Scripture alone in order to avoid all evil; likewise, by analogy, if money is a similar cause of lots of evil, then if Scripture Alone is the solution to the one problem, Poverty Alone and no money at all must be the solution to the other. This is the absurdity of King’s exclusivist reasoning. I just did a reductio ad absurdum on his view.

The logic is impeccable. I challenge anyone to show how it is not. The reasonable person would conclude that, just as it doesn’t follow that Scripture is the only infallible authority, it also doesn’t follow that the only solution to the temptations of riches is to have no money at all. Both are extreme, illogical solutions to the problem.

The failure to take vitamin supplements is not the cause of all bad health in the physical realm. His analogy is clear for anyone to see, i.e., unless someone is determined not to see it.

There is a specimen example of someone [Jonathan Prejean] who is determined not to see it. All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain. Remember the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia. Since therefore, while he had no man to guide him, he was thus reading; for this reason he quickly received an instructor. God knew his willingness, He acknowledged his zeal, and forthwith sent him a teacher. But, you say, Philip is not present with us now. Still, the Spirit that moved Philip is present with us. Let us not, beloved, neglect our salvation!

This makes little sense. “Necessary things are all plain” in Scripture (perspicuity), but the eunuch “had no man to guide him.” Why did he need a guide at all, then, if it was so plain? But King says that God knew he was willing to learn, and so He sent an instructor. But that’s already another proposition. Here are the two different ideas:

1) Scripture is plain in its main teachings; plain enough for anyone to understand (Luther’s famous “plowboy”) and sufficient in order to obtain salvation.

2) God will send an instructor to anyone who is willing to be willing to follow Scriptural teaching wherever it leads. If no instructor is present, the Holy Spirit will suffice.

Only the first is truly perspicuity in the classic sense. Only the first is a situation in which nothing else is needed except Scripture. The second concedes that something else is necessary in order to properly understand Scripture in the first place. Now, either proposition can be defended or disputed, but they are different propositions from the outset. King has switched horses in midstream, hoping that the reader wouldn’t notice the shift.

In any event, he doesn’t defend either proposition above by simply presenting them both, jumbled together. Once he concedes that a reliable instructor is necessary, however, then he has already given up 75% of the argument, and opens the door for the possible authority of the Church, Tradition, apostolic succession, bishops, councils, and popes. It’s a loophole a mile wide.

1) We do not quote the ECFs to prove sola Scriptura. We quote them to prove that they do not represent the modern day Roman position with respect to the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. In other words, we quote them to show that it is Rome that has departed from the ancient church’s view of Holy Scripture, not Protestants.

If that is so, then Pastor King has failed in this instance. Jason Engwer failed to defend his claim that ten different Fathers believed the same sort of thing. I thoroughly refuted him on the CARM board (he left the much-anticipated and advertised debate after having replied on four of the ten Fathers I dealt with). Separately I have shown that this myth of “proto-Protestantism with regard to sola Scriptura” didn’t apply to St. Athanasius or St. Gregory of Nyssa, either. It’s always the same. This claim is pure fiction. King then cites St. Irenaeus:

Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200): We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed “perfect knowledge,” as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. ANF: Vol. I, Against Heresies, Book 3:1:1.

To claim him as supposedly an adherent of sola Scriptura is miles beyond absurd, since he was one of the Fathers who particularly espoused and developed the idea of apostolic succession: which itself runs counter to sola Scriptura. John Calvin expressly repudiated apostolic succession:

But by what arguments do they prove their possession of the true Church? They appeal to ancient records which formerly existed in Italy, France, and Spain, pretending to derive their origin from those holy men who, by sound doctrine, founded and raised up churches, confirmed the doctrine, and reared the edifice of the Church with their blood; they pretend that the Church thus consecrated by spiritual gifts and the blood of martyrs was preserved from destruction by a perpetual succession of bishops. They dwell on the importance which Irenæus, Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, and others, attached to this succession (see sec. 3). How frivolous and plainly ludicrous these allegations are, I will enable any, who will for a little consider the matter with me, to understand without any difficulty. (Inst., IV, II, 2)

We (say they) are the pillars of the Church, the priests of religion, the vicegerents of Christ, the heads of the faithful, because the apostolic authority has come to us by succession. As if they were speaking to stocks, they perpetually plume themselves on these absurdities. Whenever they make such boasts, I, in my turn, will ask, What have they in common with the apostles? We are not now treating of some hereditary honour which can come to men while they are asleep, but of the office of preaching, which they so greatly shun. In like manner, when we maintain that their kingdom is the tyranny of Antichrist, they immediately object that their venerable hierarchy has often been extolled by great and holy men, as if the holy fathers, when they commended the ecclesiastical hierarchy or spiritual government handed down to them by the apostles, ever dreamed of that shapeless and dreary chaos where bishoprics are held for the most part by ignorant asses, who do not even know the first and ordinary rudiments of the faith, . . . (Inst., IV, V, 13)

But St. Irenaeus expressly states and holds over and over what Calvin and subsequent Protestants repudiated (it is directly contradictory to the formal principle of sola Scriptura and formal sufficiency of Scripture). I dealt with his views at length in my 40% debate with Jason Engwer (before he decided to flee for the shelter of the hills), but here are a few highlights:

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. (Against Heresies, 1, 10, 2)

. . . Hyginus, who held the ninth place in the episcopal succession from the apostles downwards.

. . . those apostles who have handed down the Gospel to us . . . (Against Heresies, 1, 27, 1-2)

The Universal Church, moreover, through the whole world, has received this tradition from the apostles. (Against Heresies, 2, 9, 1)

. . . the only true and life-giving faith, which the Church has received from the apostles and imparted to her sons. For the Lord of all gave to His apostles the power of the Gospel, . . . (Against Heresies, 3, Preface)

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth . . . It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition. (Against Heresies, 3, 2, 2)

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. (Against Heresies, 3, 3, 1)

Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere. (Against Heresies, 3, 3, 2)

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. . . . To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (Against Heresies, 3, 3, 3)

. . . the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. (Against Heresies, 3, 3, 4)

Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches? (Against Heresies, 3, 4, 1)

. . . carefully preserving the ancient tradition . . . by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established. (Against Heresies, 3, 4, 2)


2. Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church, – those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismaries puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth . . . (Against Heresies, 4, 26, 2)

And then shall every word also seem consistent to him, if he for his part diligently read the Scriptures in company with those who are presbyters in the Church, among whom is the apostolic doctrine, as I have pointed out. (Against Heresies, 4, 32, 1)

8. True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; . . .


Scholars sum up his view of authority:

For Irenaeus, on the other hand, tradition and scripture are both quite unproblematic. They stand independently side by side, both absolutely authoritative, both unconditionally true, trustworthy, and convincing.

. . . Irenaeus and Tertullian point to the church tradition as the authoritative locus of the unadulterated teaching of the apostles, . . . transmitted faithfully from generation to generation.

(Ellen Flessman-van Leer, Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church, Van Gorcum, 1953, 139, 138)

Besides appealing to the Scriptures, the fathers, particularly Irenaeus and Tertullian, refer with equal confidence to the “rule of faith;” that is, the common faith of the church, as orally handed down in the unbroken succession of bishops from Christ and his apostles to their day, and above all as still living in the original apostolic churches, like those of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome. Tradition is thus intimately connected with the primitive episcopate. The latter was the vehicle of the former, and both were looked upon as bulwarks against heresy.

Irenaeus confronts the secret tradition of the Gnostics with the open and unadulterated tradition of the catholic church, and points to all churches, but particularly to Rome, as the visible centre of the unity of doctrine. All who would know the truth, says he, can see in the whole church the tradition of the apostles; and we can count the bishops ordained by the apostles, and their successors down to our time, who neither taught nor knew any such heresies. Then, by way of example, he cites the first twelve bishops of the Roman church from Linus to Eleutherus, as witnesses of the pure apostolic doctrine. He might conceive of a Christianity without scripture, but he could not imagine a Christianity without living tradition; and for this opinion he refers to barbarian tribes, who have the gospel, “sine charta et atramento,” written in their hearts.

(Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II: Ante-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 100-325, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970; reproduction of 5th revised edition of 1910, Chapter XII, section 139, “Catholic Tradition,” pp. 525-526)

His most characteristic thought, however, is that the Church is the sole repository of the truth, and is such because it has a monopoly of the apostolic writings, the apostolic oral tradition and the apostolic faith. . . . the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back to the apostles themselves provides a guarantee that this faith is identical with the message which they originally proclaimed.

(J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, HarperSanFrancisco, revised 1978 edition, 192)

I am sorry that it irritates you for us to quote the fathers in demonstrating that Rome has departed from their view on Holy Scripture. But you need to take that up with your own communion.

As we see again and again, the exact opposite is true: the fathers utterly contradict anachronistic, revisionist views of Protestants, awkwardly forced upon them in a desperate attempt to give Protestantism some remote semblance of historical continuity. Pastor King’s ignorance with regard to the Fathers’ views on these matters is breathtaking.

Where did he [Cardinal Newman] make any attempt to show where tradition is on an equal par with Holy Scripture, or that it is infallible. [?]

St. Irenaeus alone, in the above citations, is sufficient to more than establish this. And he is only the tip of the iceberg.

1) Irenaeus’ use of the word “tradition” is not to be taken as synonymously with extrabiblical revelation. It is clear that he often uses it as synonymous with Scripture, or with teaching derived from Scripture. It is the Roman uncritical use of such an assumption that betrays a lack of understanding of Irenaeus.

This is sheer nonsense. One counter-example will suffice. St. Irenaeus clearly teaches that apostolic succession is an authoritative, binding, infallible tradition: indeed, quite sufficient to definitively refute heretics (most explicitly in Against Heresies, 3, 3, 3). Now, King’s choices in how to deal with this are limited to only a few:

1) Deny that St. Irenaeus teaches this (hardly possible).

2) Deny that it is a biblical doctrine — in which case the Father is teaching as authoritative something not in the Bible at all, thus neatly, decisively putting the lie both to King’s assertion above, and to the claim that Irenaeus believes in sola Scriptura.

3) Assert that it is a biblical doctrine. This, too, contradicts sola Scriptura, because that view holds that only the Bible is infallible, whereas apostolic succession is the view that this historical, institutional, episcopal succession is as infallible in preserving truth as the word of Scripture. And, of course, if King admits that it is a biblical doctrine, then he has to explain why he rejects it?

Any way he chooses, he loses. And that is because he is stating (whether he knows it or not) historical falsehood in the first place.

I don’t have to agree with every doctrine Irenaeus espouses . . .

Granted, (from his perspective, but actually in the Catholic approach, too, since we don’t hold Fathers to be infallible). However, he does have to show that Irenaeus believes in sola Scriptura, and that is impossible, based on what we have seen above. Also, if it can be shown that Irenaeus believes in doctrines that King thinks are not present in Scripture at all, then that sort of shows that Irenaeus doesn’t believe in Bible Alone (by King’s own criterion).

Your claim that Irenaeus represents the views of your modern day communion in apostolic succession is far more problematic than my understanding that he attempted to base all his theology on inscripturated revelation. Yet, you do so shamelessly. Does your communion believe in a future, literal thousand year reign of Christ on the earth as did Irenaeus? Does your communion believe that Jesus lived to be at least 50 years of age as did Irenaeus?

This is another astonishingly ignorant argument, betraying a dense incomprehension of the definition and nature of of apostolic succession. The latter doesn’t mean:

Every father whom we revere is right in every jot and tittle, and his entire teaching is part of apostolic succession.

Rather, it means:

Whatever is true theology can be shown to have been passed down in unbroken succession, passed on from the apostles to their successors, to the Church through history up till today (whereas falsehood and heresy cannot so trace itself back).

You see, if you are going to accept uncritically everything Irenaeus supposively passed down as apostolic teaching, then that is more of a problem for you as you shamelessly claim him as exclusively your witness.

Since this is based on the same dead-wrong premise just exposed and examined, no further answer is necessary.

King then wrongheadedly (as usual) cites St. Augustine, but I don’t have time to pursue the views of another Father, when I have already done so in my debate with Engwer (Augustine is covered in Part I, section VII).

He [St. Augustine] actually invited people to test what he or anyone else claims as dogma from the standard of Holy Scripture.

So what? I do that all the time, too: all the time. And I am a huge critic of sola Scriptura. See my paper: “If the Church Fathers Can Be Remarkably Transformed Into “Sola Scriptura Protestants” by “Bible Prooftexts”, Why Not Me, Too?!!”

King then cites St. John Chrysostom’s comment (Homily IX) on the famous sola Scriptura “prooftext” of 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which is no better than the text itself for King’s purposes: neither proves it in the slightest, but only material sufficiency: which Catholics already accept. Besides, in his Homily II on the same book (cited above), Chrysostom refers to an oral tradition given from Paul to Timothy, which the latter was to “hold fast.” This is hardly compatible with sola Scriptura.

The polemic of Rome is self-serving and diminishes the authority of Holy Scripture by insisting that the Scriptures are too obscure to be understood by the ordinary man.

That is simplistic. It is more accurate that we say (very much like St. Irenaeus) that Scripture is rather easily able to be potentially distorted by the ordinary man, if that man is not connected with a Church with an authoritative Christian tradition to guide him against going astray. There is nothing in Catholic teaching that would preclude the possibility of a spiritually-seeking man, to find theological truth in Scripture alone. But that same Scripture points to an authoritative Tradition and Church and apostolic succession: so it always leads away from Protestantism, even by itself.

Our view toward Holy Scripture is the view of the ancient church.

That’s hogwash. I’ve disproven this time and time again, and no reputable Church historian can be found to back this up. It’s an utterly ludicrous claim.

So when we interpret 2 Timothy 3:14-17 as the Scriptures teaching that they are sufficient in and of themselves, that rules out the need for any other infallible authority. Other authorities, like Chrysostom, can be helps, but they are not infallible.

Okay, let’s grant this momentarily for the sake of argument. If Chrysostom truly believed this (which I deny), then how is it that he believes in the following doctrines (since Pastor King would vehemently deny are taught in Scripture)? The reputable Protestant historian Philip Schaff writes: 

Even Chrysostom did not rise above the spirit of the time. He too is an eloquent and enthusiastic advocate of the worship of the saints and their relics. At the close of his memorial discourse on Sts. Bernice and Prosdoce—two saints who have not even a place in the Roman calendar—he exhorts his hearers not only on their memorial days but also on other days to implore these saints to be our protectors: “For they have great boldness not merely during their life but also after death, yea, much greater after death. For they now bear the stigmata of Christ [the marks of martyrdom], and when they show these, they can persuade the King to anything.” He relates that once, when the harvest was endangered by excessive rain, the whole population of Constantinople flocked to the church of the Apostles, and there elected the apostles Peter and Andrew, Paul and Timothy, patrons and intercessors before the throne of grace. Christ, says he on Heb. i. 14, redeems us as Lord and Master, the angels redeem us as ministers. (History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, Chapter 7, § 84. The Worship of Martyrs and Saints, 439-440)

Again, King has some tough choices. If the Father believed these things (as Schaff says he did), then he didn’t do so on the basis of Scripture Alone (if King is right that one can find no biblical support for these things). But if that is true, then Chrysostom didn’t believe in Scripture Alone as the final infallible authority, and King’s claim that he did is false. If he did believe in sola Scriptura, furthermore, then his views should reasonably be expected to resemble Protestant views, and we know that very few Protestants hold these kinds of beliefs.

Our exegesis find a very good precedent in a man like Chrysostom. And again, we don’t quote Chrysostom in order to prove sola Scriptura, but to show that such witness as he agree with us, and not with modern day Rome.

A patristic “Proto-Protestant” who believes in intercession of the saints, oral tradition, and praying for the dead? Nor does he even believe in what King claims he believes (sola Scriptura). It hasn’t been proven. All that King has proven was that St. John Chrysostom held to the material sufficiency of Scripture, just as Cardinal Newman did, and as I do.

King cites Athanasius, Basil, and Augustine. I’ve dealt with each of their views on Scripture and Tradition in other papers.

I am not going to let you get away with this tactic again. I am not being mean or uncharitable to hold your feet to your own professed belief by insisting that you make it good on a particular case. You see, as long as folks such as yourself can get away with speaking in generalizations, and never deal with the problems of the particular, it all sounds plausible. But the moment your theory is subjected to the particulars, it begins to unravel. You’re walking away from the burden of explaining a particular regarding the very subject at hand. . . . it is charitable to hold you to your own principles. I am not going to let you off the hook by permitting you to speak in generalizations, all the while avoiding the particulars, because that is where your theory begins to unravel.

Nice preaching. This was all in reply to someone else, not me. King has been running from me like I am a leper ever since I refuted his rather dogmatic, confident claim that Pope St. Pius X thought Cardinal Newman was a flaming liberal who believed in evolution of dogma; that was in March 2002, over five years ago. We shall see if Pastor King will hold good to his word in defending his own claims. Nothing I have seen of him leads me to believe that he will. Mark my words.

As for my comments about the use of sophistry previously, it is my studied belief that a Roman Catholic must indulge in such for the maintenance of their apologetic, whether he/she can or does recognize it to be so. I do not regard it as inflammatory to critique and assess a particular argument as sophistry. I think that those who take offense to that do so in frustration, because of their inability to sustain their claims.

This all very much applies to his own argument, too, of course, which I would describe in many ways as well: revisionism, special pleading, obscurantism, obfuscation, sophistry, selective citations and proof texts radically out of context, tunnel vision, historical anachronism, circular logic, just for starters . . .


Meta Description: St. John Chrysostom & St. Irenaeus did NOT believe in sola Scriptura: contrary to the absurd revisionist claims of anti-Catholic polemicists.

Meta Keywords: St. John Chrysostom, St. Irenaeus, Bible Only, biblical prooftexts, biblical theology, Christian Authority, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, infallible authority, Rule of Faith, Sacred Scripture, Scripture Alone, Sola Scriptura, Church fathers, patrology, patristics, early Church, David T. King, anti-Catholicism


Browse Our Archives

error: Content is protected !!