Turretin Lied About the Catholic View of Scripture

Turretin Lied About the Catholic View of Scripture August 24, 2022

François Turretin (1623-1687) was a Genevan-Italian Reformed scholastic theologian, earnest defender of the Calvinistic orthodoxy represented by the Synod of Dort, and one of the authors of the Helvetic Consensus (1675). His Institutes of Elenctic Theology (three parts, Geneva, 1679–1685) used the scholastic method. It was a popular textbook; notably at Princeton Theological Seminary, until it was replaced by Charles Hodge‘s Systematic Theology in the late 19th century. Turretin also greatly influenced the Puritans.

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I am replying to a portion of a piece from Turretin simply entitled “The Scriptures”: from the website, A Puritan’s Mind. No further information was provided as to what work it is drawn from, but a search revealed that it is from Institutes of Elenctic Theology. His words will be in blue.

QUESTION 3: Was the Holy Scripture written because of the circumstances of the time (occasionaliter), and without divine command? Negative, against the Roman Catholics.

I. This question is debated between us and the Roman Catholics, who, in order to minimize the authority and perfection of Scripture, teach not only that it is less than necessary, and that the church could do without it, but even that it was written without any express divine commandment, and simply passed on to the church as a result of special circumstances. [my italics]

This is sheer nonsense. Here is what the Council of Trent taught about Holy Scripture, in its fourth session in 1546 (Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures):

. . . which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament–seeing that one God is the author of both –as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.

That was 77 years before Turretin was born, and so he was responsible for getting it right and not twisting and distorting what the Catholic Church had authoritatively proclaimed in an ecumenical council.

The First Vatican Council in 1870 reiterated this in even stronger terms, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter Two: On Revelation:

6) The complete books of the old and the new Testament with all their parts, as they are listed in the decree of the said council and as they are found in the old Latin Vulgate edition, are to be received as sacred and canonical.

7) These books the church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the church.

Likewise, the Second Vatican Council (in much greater depth and precise clarity) stated in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) on 18 November 1965:

In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col. 1;15, 1 Tim. 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Bar. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself. This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation. (Ch. 1, 2)

. . . Through the patriarchs, and after them through Moses and the prophets, He taught this people to acknowledge Himself the one living and true God, provident father and just judge, and to wait for the Savior promised by Him, and in this manner prepared the way for the Gospel down through the centuries. (Ch. 1, 3)

Through divine revelation, God chose to show forth and communicate Himself and the eternal decisions of His will regarding the salvation of men. That is to say, He chose to share with them those divine treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind.

As a sacred synod has affirmed, God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason (see Rom. 1:20); but teaches that it is through His revelation that those religious truths which are by their nature accessible to human reason can be known by all men with ease, with solid certitude and with no trace of error, even in this present state of the human race. (Ch. 1, 6)

In His gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see 2 Cor. 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, (1) and to impart to them heavenly gifts. This Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing.  (Ch. 2, 7)

. . . Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, . . . (Ch. 2, 9)

Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text). (Ch. 3, 11)

However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, (6) the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words. . . . (Ch. 3, 12)

. . . the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, . . . (Ch. 3, 13)

. . . The plan of salvation foretold by the sacred authors, recounted and explained by them, is found as the true word of God in the books of the Old Testament: these books, therefore, written under divine inspiration, remain permanently valuable. “For all that was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). (Ch. 4, 14)

God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, . . . (Ch. 4, 16)

The word of God, which is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe (see Rom. 1:16), is set forth and shows its power in a most excellent way in the writings of the New Testament. . . . (Ch. 5, 17)

. . . The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (Ch. 5, 18)

Besides the four Gospels, the canon of the New Testament also contains the epistles of St. Paul and other apostolic writings, composed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, . . . (Ch. 5, 20)

The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, . . . like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.. . . (Ch. 6, 21)

Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament which is called the septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones especially the Latin translation known as the vulgate. But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them. (Ch. 6, 22)

Sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinizing in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word. For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired, really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology. . . . (Ch. 6, 24)

Therefore, all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become “an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly” since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy. The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, . . . (Ch. 6, 25)

In this way, therefore, through the reading and study of the sacred books “the word of God may spread rapidly and be glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1) and the treasure of revelation, entrusted to the Church, may more and more fill the hearts of men. Just as the life of the Church is strengthened through more frequent celebration of the Eucharistic mystery, similar we may hope for a new stimulus for the life of the Spirit from a growing reverence for the word of God, which “lasts forever” (Is. 40:8; see 1 Peter 1:23-25). (Ch. 6, 26)

There is no attempt whatsoever tominimize the authority and perfection of Scripture” in any of these documents. It’s asserted over and over that the Scriptures came about by God’s will and that the Holy Spirit, working through willing holy apostles, produced the inspired revelation of the Bible. There is not the slightest hint that the Bible was “less than necessary” or that “the church could do without it.” or that it was “written without any express divine commandment.” All of this is lies and falsehood. 

[They also] teach that Christ gave the apostles no commandment to write,

We know of no such command, if we go by what is recorded in Scripture, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that He did so but that it wasn’t recorded in the Bible. Dei Verbum contradicts what Turretin claims that the Church teaches (though this was after his lifetime, so we take that into consideration):

Christ the Lord . . . commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, . . . The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing. (Ch. 2, 7)

The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (Ch. 5, 18)

I would say that the above was already contained in less developed form in Trent’s declaration:

. . . which (Gospel), . . . our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, . . .

and that they had no intention of writing the gospel, except in a secondary sense and because of special circumstances, as Bellarmine argues (De Verbo Dei, book 4.3-4). [my italics]

I can’t examine what Bellarmine wrote (it may not be in English, and I couldn’t find it in a brief search), but I can say for sure that he is not the magisterium. He was allowed of course, to have his opinions, but that’s not magisterially binding on Catholics, like the decrees of ecumenical councils (ratified by popes) are.

The apostles certainly intended to write the Gospels. How could it be otherwise? Does Turretin think they were held at sword-point and forced to write down thoughts that the Catholic Church at Trent stated were “dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost”? How silly can we get? Whatever Bellarmine wrote, I would virtually guarantee can’t possibly be the silliness that Turretin portrays it to be.

Since we have seen how our Protestant friend butchered and thoroughly distorted what Trent decreed, it’s somewhat likely that he did the same with Bellarmine. Bellarmine was, perhaps, merely noting that the apostles did not know at first that they were to write the Gospels, since they were extensively preaching, as the primary and most effective means (in a culture where not all could read) of spreading the gospel message at first; and that that was what we see recorded in Scripture:

Matthew 10:7 [RSV]: preach as you go . . .

Mark 3:14 And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach

Mark 6:12 So they went out and preached that men should repent.

Mark 13:10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.

Mark 16:15 . . . Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.

Mark 16:20 they went forth and preached everywhere . . .

Luke 9:2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal.

Luke 9:6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

Luke 24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Acts 5:42 And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

[cf. Acts 6:2; 8:4, 12, 25, 40; 9:27, 29; see many more instances in Acts and the books after that in the New Testament (link one / link two) ]

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Photo credit: from the Brill page, “Francis Turretin (1623–87) and the Reformed Tradition”: chapter 6, publication history.

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Summary: The 17th century Reformed / Calvinist theologian François Turretin engaged in wholesale lying & distortion with regard to the dogmatic Catholic view of Holy Scripture.

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