Church Fathers & Sola Scriptura: Reply to James White Claims

Church Fathers & Sola Scriptura: Reply to James White Claims March 16, 2024

Myths Regarding Cyprian, Augustine, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Athanasius 

This is a reply to an old Dividing Line show from James White called, “The Early Church Fathers and Sola Scriptura” (12-11-98). Now that all these shows have written transcripts, I can interact with them, minus all the time-consuming tedium of searching and transcribing. Much more efficient . . . and tons of shows to pick from. White’s words will be in blue.

0:48 sola Scriptura, the idea that the scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith for the church . . .

Note this well. This is the standard Protestant definition. It follows logically from this statement that neither the Church nor ecumenical councils nor sacred tradition are, or can be infallible. Only one thing is infallible in Protestant belief: the Bible. Therefore, if a Church father claims that either the Church or ecumenical councils or sacred tradition is infallible, it follows inexorably that he cannot and does not adhere to sola Scriptura. Please keep that in mind as we proceed.

One more thing: simply noting that some father wrote about how the Bible is wonderful and inspired and good for theology and determining doctrine (which Catholics wholeheartedly agree with), etc. is not — repeat, NOT — enough to prove that a man believes in the rule of faith called sola Scriptura. But if I had a dime for every time I’ve observed Protestants indulge in this silly logical fallacy, I’d be richer than Elon Musk.

1:59 Well, if you are familiar with this area of discussion, maybe you’ve encountered some Roman Catholic apologetics’ writings, magazines like This Rock or Envoy Magazine or various and sundry books like Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism or Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Truth [I had a chapter in that, recounting my conversion], books like that, you know that they like to cite the early fathers. Well, I like to cite the early fathers too.

Great! We’ll see what he comes up with, then. I guarantee — even before I see what he produces — that none of it will prove what he thinks it proves, because I’ve done more research on the rule of faith in the fathers than with any other topic I’ve looked into with regard to the fathers, and there is no proof at all — that I’ve ever seen — that any of them believed in sola Scriptura. It’s rather easy to prove this lack of belief in specific cases, and I will be doing that here.

2:23 Should  be able to go toe -to -toe, quote-to -quote, with a Roman Catholic in regards to the beliefs of the early church? Well, the answer to that, I think, is no, if Protestantism, if my Reformed faith is something that was unknown and is in fact an innovation that only came about with Martin Luther, or the sharper folks would admit at least John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, or maybe even with people earlier than that. But if it’s an innovation, if it was not something that the early church believed, then I shouldn’t be able to go toe-to-toe, quote-to-quote, with a Roman Catholic. But the simple fact of the matter is we can.

He can try, but he cannot and will not succeed, as I will shortly prove. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

3:41 Just to give you an example, in the middle of the 3rd century, we have Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage. . . . He wrote a letter to Pompey. He was specifically discussing issues in regards to the church, and he said:

Whence is this doctrine? Does it come from the authority of the Lord and of the gospel, or does it come from the commands and epistles of the apostles? For that those things must be done which are written, God testifies and commands when he says to Joshua, “The book of this law shall not depart of your mouth, that you may observe to do all the things which are written” [Josh 1:8]. If, therefore, it is either commanded in the gospel or contained in the epistles and the acts, then also this sacred doctrine must be observed.

I don’t know which translation this is from. I found the letter (White didn’t say which one it was). It’s his Epistle 73, section 2. I cite the Schaff versi0n, from the 38-volume set of the fathers. For some odd reason, White’s version has the word “doctrine” twice, where Schaff has “tradition.” Curious, huh? St. Cyprian holds that the Church is infallible and indefectible:

[T]he Church is thus divinely protected, and its unity and holiness is not constantly nor altogether corrupted by the obstinacy of perfidy and heretical wickedness. (Epistle 46: To Cornelius, 1)

[T]he Church does not depart from Christ; . . . (Epistle 68: To Florentius Pupianus, 8)

[T]he Church herself also is uncorrupted, . . . (Epistle 72: To Jubaianus, 11)

And he believed in an infallible, indefectible tradition, maintained by bishops:

[V]ery many of the bishops who are set over the churches of the Lord by divine condescension, throughout the whole world, maintain the plan of evangelical truth, and of the tradition of the Lord, and do not by human and novel institution depart from that which Christ our Master both prescribed and did; . . . if any one is still kept in this error, he may behold the light of truth, and return to the root and origin of the tradition of the Lord. (Epistle 62: To Caecilius, 1)

. . . God’s tradition . . . (Treatise I: On the Unity of the Church, 19 and Epistle 51: To Antonianus, 24)

. . . the divine tradition . . . (Epistle 41: To Cornelius, 1; Epistle 54: To Cornelius, 17; and Epistle 73: To Pompey, 11)

. . . the Lord’s tradition . . . (Epistle 62: To Caecilius, 17 and 19)

. . . the tradition of Jesus Christ the Lord and our God! (Epistle 73: To Pompey, 4)

. . . laying aside the errors of human dispute, we return with a sincere and religious faith to the evangelical authority and to the apostolic tradition, . . . (Epistle 72: To Jubaianus, 15)

Therefore, by the Protestant definition, he couldn’t possibly have held to sola Scriptura. Why couldn’t James White figure that out?

4:26 Notice then that Cyprian limits the scope of debate to that which is written, specifically to the scriptures themselves.

He does no such thing. To say, “x is an authority and it is in writing” is not the same thing as saying, “there is no other authority which is infallible like x is” or “there is no authority in Christianity that is not written.” What Cyprian wrote about Scripture is not proof that he held that it alone was infallible. Catholics agree with every word of what Cyprian said about the Bible in the citation White pulled up. There is no reason for us not to. He wasn’t asserting sola Scriptura. We need to know what he thought about authority outside of Scripture, and I just provided that. I considered Cyprian’s entire view, not just the portions where he writes about Holy Scripture, that might appear at first glance to assert a certain thing (out of wishful thinking), but in fact, actually do not do so at all.

At 4:54, White cites St. Augustine. Once again, he didn’t give the reference. I had to search it. It’s from Of the Good of Widowhood (2). He writes (and White quoted these portions):

what more can I teach you, than what we read in the Apostle? For holy Scripture sets a rule to our teaching, that we dare not be wise more than it behooves to be wise; . . . Be it not therefore for me to teach you any other thing, save to expound to you the words of the Teacher, . . .

White comments on this:

5:12 Now, obviously, when we hear such words as that, we recognize that specifically he is referring to the scriptures. And he says that the holy scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine. That’s extremely important because what is sola Scriptura? It says that the scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith. And here Augustine, referring to that very rule of faith, says that it is holy scripture that fixes the rule for our doctrine.

This passage doesn’t teach that “only holy Scripture sets a rule.” It teaches that “holy Scripture sets a rule.” The two are not identical. When will Protestant apologists ever grasp this? It’s not rocket science. It’s simple logic. Augustine didn’t say that the Bible was the “sole infallible rule.” That’s simply Protestant boilerplate rhetoric, from their playbook of slogans. The same Augustine also wrote:

My opinion therefore is, that wherever it is possible, all those things should be abolished without hesitation, which neither have warrant in Holy Scripture, nor are found to have been appointed by councils of bishops, nor are confirmed by the practice of the universal Church, . . . (Epistle 55 [19, 35] to Januarius)

Now all of a sudden, there is more than Scripture setting or fixing the rule of faith. He also mentions councils and Church tradition. Here are statements from St. Augustine, showing that he believed in an infallible and indefectible Church:

This same is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the catholic Church, fighting against all heresies: fight, it can: be fought down, it cannot. . . . “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed, 14)

[T]hey introduced into their writings certain matters which are condemned at once by the catholic and apostolic rule of faith, and by sound doctrine. (Harmony of the Gospels, Bk. 1, ch. 1, 2)

It is plain, the faith admits it, the Catholic Church approves it, it is truth. (Sermons on the New Testament, 67, 6)

But those reasons which I have here given, I have either gathered from the authority of the church, according to the tradition of our forefathers, or from the testimony of the divine Scriptures, . . . No sober person will decide against reason, no Christian against the Scriptures, no peaceable person against the church. (On the Trinity, Bk 4, ch. 6, 10)

[T]hey admit the necessity of baptizing infants—finding themselves unable to contravene that authority of the universal Church, which has been unquestionably handed down by the Lord and His apostles . . . (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Baptism, Bk. 1, 39 [XXVI] )

In the following passages, Augustine writes that infallible sacred tradition and ecumenical councils are also part of the rule of faith alongside the Bible:

As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, . . . (Epistle 54 [1, 1]: to Januarius)

[H]e cannot quote a decisive passage on the subject from the Book of God; nor can he prove his opinion to be right by the unanimous voice of the universal Church . . .

[T]he question which you propose is not decided either by Scripture or by universal practice. (Epistle 54 to Januarius, 4, 5 and 5, 6)

. . . moved, not indeed by the authority of any plenary or even regionary Council, but by a mere epistolary correspondence, to think that they ought to adopt a custom which had no sanction from the ancient custom of the Church, and which was expressly forbidden by the most unanimous resolution of the Catholic world . . . (On Baptism, Bk. 3, 2, 2)

And this is the firm tradition of the universal Church, in respect of the baptism of infants . . . (On Baptism, Bk. 4, 23, 31)

[W]hat is held by the whole Church, . . . as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have been handed down by authority, . . . (On Baptism, Bk. 4, 24, 32)

Whence, however, was this derived, but from that primitive, as I suppose, and apostolic tradition, by which the Churches of Christ maintain it to be an inherent principle, that without baptism and partaking of the supper of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and everlasting life? So much also does Scripture testify, according to the words which we already quoted. (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Bapt. Bk. 1, 34 [XXIV] )

The very sacraments indeed of the Church, which she administers with due ceremony, according to the authority of very ancient tradition . . . (On the Grace of Christ and on Original Sin, Bk. 2, 45)

And this custom, coming, I suppose, from tradition (like many other things which are held to have been handed down under their actual sanction, because they are preserved throughout the whole Church, though they are not found either in their letters, or in the Councils of their successors), . . . (On Baptism, Bk. 2, 7, 12)

For if none have baptism who entertain false views about God, it has been proved sufficiently, in my opinion, that this may happen even within the Church. “The apostles,” indeed, “gave no injunctions on the point;” but the custom, which is opposed to Cyprian, may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings. (On Baptism, Bk. 5, 23, 31)

Nor should we ourselves venture to assert anything of the kind, were we not supported by the unanimous authority of the whole Church, to which he himself [St. Cyprian] would unquestionably have yielded, if at that time the truth of this question [rebaptism] had been placed beyond dispute by the investigation and decree of a plenary Council. (On Baptism, Bk. 2, 4, 5)

[S]ubsequently that ancient custom was confirmed by the authority of a plenary Council . . . (On Baptism, Bk 4, 5, 8)

. . . sufficiently manifest to the pastors of the Catholic Church dispersed over the whole world, through whom the original custom was afterwards confirmed by the authority of a plenary Council . . . (On Baptism, Bk. 6, 1, 1)

And let any one, who is led by the past custom of the Church, and by the subsequent authority of a plenary Council, and by so many powerful proofs from holy Scripture, and by much evidence from Cyprian himself, and by the clear reasoning of truth, to understand that the baptism of Christ, consecrated in the words of the gospel, cannot be perverted by the error of any man on earth . . . (On Baptism, Bk. 5, 4, 4)

In light of this overwhelming evidence, we can safely say that St. Augustine rejected sola Scriptura. He clearly held to the Catholic “three-legged-stool” rule of faith (Bible-Tradition-Church). Again, is James White too lazy to do this research that I did? Or does he simply not care about presenting serious, verifiable research? He presented two or three (it was hard to tell), thinking it proved his assertion. I have provided twenty.

5:48 It’s interesting that when he wrote to Maximin the Arian, . . . he said, I must not press the authority of Nicaea against you, nor you that of Ariminum against me. I do not acknowledge the one as you do not the other, but let us come to ground that is common to both, the testimony of the holy scriptures. Notice here, even when faced with a council that Augustine would have considered to be authoritative, that Augustine would have considered to be accurate, that Augustine believed expressed the mind of the church. When talking with Maximin the Arian, he says, I can’t press the authority of that against you and you cannot press against me the authority of Ariminum, another church council that Augustine would have said did not in any way, shape or form express the mind of the church, that it did not in point of fact represent Christian orthodoxy, but you had dueling councils. You had councils that came to different conclusions. But the one thing that doesn’t come to different conclusions, Augustine says, is the testimony of the holy scriptures.

Of course he argued from Scripture with the Arian (just as I did forty years ago in my first major apologetics project, because they had that in common. I do exactly the same with Protestants, for the same reason. One starts with common ground that is agreed-upon in any constructive dialogue or debate. That doesn’t prove anything whatsoever about what one believes is authoritative outside Scripture. It’s simply a methodological choice, nothing more. White is smart enough to figure this out. Good grief!

7:53 He also says, neither dare one agree with Catholic bishops, if by chance they err in anything, with the result that their opinion is against the canonical scriptures of God. Catholic bishops may err, but the scriptures of God do not.

Individual bishops have no gift of infallibility at all, according to Catholicism. They only do in ecumenical council, and when the pope also agrees with their decisions. Decrees of individual bishops aren’t magisterial. So this is a non sequitur. It doesn’t prove at all that Augustine accepted sola Scriptura. He did not, as already proven above.

9:14 Another of the great early fathers was Basil of Caesarea, and he said the hearers taught in the scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the scriptures, but reject that which is foreign. Now notice what he says. The hearers taught in scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers. It sounds a little bit like private interpretation to me. That sounds like we have a responsibility to go to the ultimate rule of faith in scriptures to test what we are taught.

Of course they should do that. I won’t bother looking this up (no documentation given again) because it proves nothing whatsoever, anyway, as to sola Scriptura. I get so tired of explaining the obvious over and over again. White tries another one from Basil, where he says that Scripture should decide the issue between the two competing parties. But I don’t know who he was dialoguing with. If it was a non-Catholic heretic, then it would have been the same reasoning Augustine employed: find common ground and go from there. It proves nothing of Basil’s own view of the rule of faith. In fact, he believed in the infallibility, even the Bible-like inspiration, of the Council of Nicaea:

[Y]ou should confess the faith put forth by our Fathers once assembled at Nicæa, that you should not omit any one of its propositions, but bear in mind that the three hundred and eighteen who met together without strife did not speak without the operation of the Holy Ghost, . . .  (Letter No. 114 to Cyriacus, at Tarsus)

St. Basil also fully accepted the infallible authority of sacred apostolic tradition (even “unwritten tradition”: twice!) and apostolic succession: both of which the so-called “reformers” ditched in the 16th century when they adopted the novel tradition of men, sola Scriptura:

Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning the Spirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture concerning It as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. (The Holy Spirit,  Ch. 9, 22)

The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of sound doctrine [1 Timothy 1:10] is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. So like the debtors — of course bona fide debtors — they clamour for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. But we will not slacken in our defense of the truth. (The Holy Spirit,  Ch. 10, 25)

Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us in a mystery by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay — no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. . . . For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learned the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents. . . . In the same manner the Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awful dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad random among the common folk is no mystery at all. This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and contemned by the multitude through familiarity. (The Holy Spirit,  Ch. 27, 66)

In answer to the objection that the doxology in the form with the Spirit has no written authority, we maintain that if there is no other instance of that which is unwritten, then this must not be received. But if the greater number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without written authority, then, in company with the many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic to abide also by the unwritten traditions. I praise you, it is said, that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you; [1 Corinthians 11:2] and Hold fast the traditions which you have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle. [2 Thessalonians 2:15] One of these traditions is the practice which is now before us, which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time. (The Holy Spirit,  Ch. 29, 71)

[W]e too are undismayed at the cloud of our enemies, and, resting our hope on the aid of the Spirit, have, with all boldness, proclaimed the truth. Had I not so done, it would truly have been terrible that the blasphemers of the Spirit should so easily be emboldened in their attack upon true religion, and that we, with so mighty an ally and supporter at our side, should shrink from the service of that doctrine, which by the tradition of the Fathers has been preserved by an unbroken sequence of memory to our own day. (The Holy Spirit,  Ch. 30, 79)

In our case, too, in addition to the open attack of the heretics, the Churches are reduced to utter helplessness by the war raging among those who are supposed to be orthodox. For all these reasons we do indeed desire your help, that, for the future all who confess the apostolic faith may put an end to the schisms which they have unhappily devised, and be reduced for the future to the authority of the Church; that so, once more, the body of Christ may be complete, restored to integrity with all its members. Thus we shall not only praise the blessings of others, which is all we can do now, but see our own Churches once more restored to their pristine boast of orthodoxy. For, truly, the boon given you by the Lord is fit subject for the highest congratulation, your power of discernment between the spurious and the genuine and pure, and your preaching the faith of the Fathers without any dissimulation. That faith we have received; that faith we know is stamped with the marks of the Apostles; to that faith we assent, as well as to all that was canonically and lawfully promulgated in the Synodical Letter. (Letter No. 92 to the Italians and Gauls, 3)

St. Basil mentions “tradition” 21 times in The Holy Spirit: “the tradition of their fathers” (7, 16); “the tradition of the Fathers” (7, 16); “Can I then, perverted by these men’s seductive words, abandon the tradition which guided me to the light . . .?” (10, 26); “For the tradition that has been given us by the quickening grace must remain for ever inviolate” (12, 28); “by the tradition of the divine knowledge the baptized may have their souls enlightened” (15, 35); “the unwritten traditions are so many” (27, 67); etc.

So we see that the highest reverence of Scripture can exist alongside with reverence for an ecumenical council which always operated with “the operation of the Holy Ghost” and that the same father thought that “not holding their declaration of more authority than one’s own opinion, is conduct worthy of blame.” And it can co-exist with a belief in the sublime authority of apostolic tradition and apostolic succession. As it was for Basil, so it is for Catholics, now, and from the beginning.

13:48 One of my favorite of the early fathers was John Chrysostom. And he said the following, quote:

but when scripture wants to teach us something like that, it interprets itself and does not permit the hearer to err. I therefore beg and entreat that we close our ears to all these things and follow the canon of the holy scripture exactly.

One would have to see what “like that” and “all these things” referred to by consulting context (of which we have none, above). Again, White provided no source and I refuse to do his work for him. It’s not my job to document his own quotations that he didn’t see fit to document, like any 9th-grader writing an essay would do. Needless to say, this doesn’t prove sola Scriptura. St. John Chrysostom accepted the authority of sacred tradition (even unwritten, oral tradition):

“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)

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)

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)

Note two things in particular in the last  quotation: the corresponding relationship of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (which the other citation was a comment upon) and the reference to “anything relating to doctrine.” This shows that he regarded 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (by direct reference: no speculation on our part) as dealing with doctrine and not just practice. And that is the key unlocking the question of what sort of tradition he was referring to in the other citation under examination. To me that settles the argument: St. John Chrysostom did not believe in sola Scriptura. Further contextual factors strengthen this conclusion. Right after this quotation, he wrote about the deposit of faith (or “apostles’ teaching”: Acts 2:42) — which is, of course, primarily doctrinal and theological — in relation to this passage:

After the manner of artists, I have impressed on you the image of virtue, fixing in your soul a sort of rule, and model, and outline of all things pleasing to God. These things then hold fast, and whether you are meditating any matter of faith or love, or of a sound mind, form from hence your ideas of them. It will not be necessary to have recourse to others for examples, when all has been deposited within yourself.

That good thing which was committed unto you keep,— how?— by the Holy Ghost which dwells in us. For it is not in the power of a human soul, when instructed with things so great, to be sufficient for the keeping of them. And why? Because there are many robbers, and thick darkness, and the devil still at hand to plot against us; and we know not what is the hour, what the occasion for him to set upon us. How then, he means, shall we be sufficient for the keeping of them? By the Holy Ghost; that is if we have the Spirit with us, if we do not expel grace, He will stand by us. For, Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. Psalm 127:1 This is our wall, this our castle, this our refuge. If therefore It dwells in us, and is Itself our guard, what need of the commandment? That we may hold It fast, may keep It, and not banish It by our evil deeds.

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 ThessaloniansHomily IV)

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 PhilippiansHomily 3)

Concerning the “sacred writers” he stated:

[I]t 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)

14:34 Cyril of Jerusalem wrote the following in his Catechetical Lectures; this would be in the fourth century:
In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the holy scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me who tell you these things, do not give ready belief unless you receive from the holy scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the holy scriptures. [Catechetical Lectures, 4, 17]

Cyril talks about the inspired authority of Scripture, as he should, and as we do, but he places it within the authoritative interpretation of Holy Mother Church. Hence, he wrote:

But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. . . . So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. . . . Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which ye now receive, and write them on the table of your heart. Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you. (Catechetical Lectures 5:12-13)

He refers to “the tradition of the Church’s interpreters” (Catechetical Lectures 15:13). When Cyril refers to “proof” and “demonstration” from the Scriptures in 4:17, it depends what he means. If he means by that, “all doctrines to be believed are harmonious with Scripture, and must not contradict it,” this is simply material sufficiency and exactly what Catholics believe. If he means, “all doctrines to be believed must be explicitly explained and taught by Scripture and not derived primarily or in a binding fashion from the Church or tradition” then he would be espousing sola Scriptura.

But it’s not at all established that this is what he meant. It is established, on the other hand, that he accepted the binding authority of Church, tradition, and apostolic succession (“that apostolic and evangelic faith, which our fathers ever preserved and handed down to us as a pearl of great price”: To Celestine, Epistle 9).

The notion that all doctrines must be explicit in Scripture in order to be believed (and only binding if so), is simply not taught in the Bible; i.e., sola Scriptura is not taught in the Bible. An authoritative, binding Church and tradition certainly are taught in Scripture, and those two things expressly contradict sola Scriptura. Conclusion: neither the Bible nor St. Cyril of Jerusalem teach sola Scriptura. He refers to the passing-on of apostolic tradition:

And now, brethren beloved, the word of instruction exhorts you all, to prepare your souls for the reception of the heavenly gifts. As regards the Holy and Apostolic Faith delivered to you to profess, we have spoken through the grace of the Lord as many Lectures, as was possible,. . . (Catechetical Lectures 18, 32)

Make thou your fold with the sheep: flee from the wolves: depart not from the Church. . . . The truth of the Unity of God has been delivered to you: learn to distinguish the pastures of doctrine. (Catechetical Lectures 6, 36)

He speaks in terms of the Catholic “three-legged stool” rule of faith: tradition, Church, and Scripture: all harmonious:

But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it , and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper , but engraving it by the memory upon your heart , taking care while you rehearse it that no Catechumen chance to overhear the things which have been delivered to you. . . . for the present listen while I simply say the Creed , and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments. Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which you now receive, and write them on the table of your heart.

Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you. For faith is like putting money into the bank , even as we have now done; but from you God requires the accounts of the deposit. I charge you, as the Apostle says, before God, who quickens all things, and Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession, that you keep this faith which is committed to you, without spot, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Catechetical Lectures 5, 12-13)

At every turn, then, we see that St. Cyril is thoroughly Catholic, and does not teach sola Scriptura.

White then — remarkably — proves that he doesn’t understand logic, nor how to properly analyze patristic statements that are contrary to sola Scriptura, and prove that the one who wrote them didn’t believe in it:

17:27  the first response I automatically get is, “yeah, but those guys believe things that you don’t. Okay, they did. What does that have to do with the issue at hand? Well, nothing at all.

It certainly does if they believe in infallible things other than Scripture, because every time that happens, it’s proof that they don’t adhere to sola Scriptura in its standard definition. But apparently that is too sophisticated for White to grasp. He did acknowledge, however, that St. Basil sometimes appealed to unwritten traditions, but then asserts that “he just was simply inconsistent . . . because all of us are inconsistent at some point or another” (18:52). He can’t admit that he denied sola Scriptura. That wouldn’t go with the plan. He is only willing to concede that he believed in it most of the time, but contradicted it some of the time, being human. He can’t fathom that he actually was consistent, and that he himself is the one stuck in the “either/or” trap of false dichotomies.

20:56  Augustine was inconsistent with himself. 

Well of course. It could never be true in any conceivable universe that James White was inconsistent and wrong and confused, rather than Augustine! No! It’s not possible. Therefore, the fault here must lie with Augustine rather than with the venerable “Dr.” [???]-Bishop.

21:52 The simple fact of the matter remains, he made the statements he made, and if he had as Roman Catholics believe today, that the Scripture is simply part of sacred tradition, [which we don’t believe]

and that you need these oral traditions to buttress these things, then he wouldn’t have said the words that he said. He wouldn’t have made the statements that he made. And so, when we talk about the issue of sola Scriptura in the early church, sadly, I must report to you that the primary response that we get from Roman Catholic apologists is not a meaningful interaction with the passages.

He simply couldn’t have believed as a Catholic does, because he said things that White erroneously and foolishly, illogically believes are the equivalent of sola Scriptura. Therefore, the things I documented above, that prove that Augustine rejected sola Scriptura, are all fabricated and made up by myself or other “Romanists” / “papists.” Makes perfect  sense, right? “Hear no evil, see no evil, read no evil . . .”

22:41 Most of the attempt fails, most of it is just simply to say, well, they couldn’t have meant that because they said this over here, and the idea of testing for consistency and listening to a passage in its own context, thrown out the window, no one really worries about that too much.

I have shown, contrary to this caricatured nonsense, that a father’s thought has to be considered as a whole. All of the men noted above were consistent in their rule of faith, which was the Catholic one. It’s all harmonious. White simply can’t accept that conclusion, and so he is blind to any evidence contrary to the myths that he holds in his head. Catholics don’t have to be blind and ultra-biased and hyper-selective with the Church fathers. It’s so obvious that they believed far more like us than like Protestantism that our work in this regard is rather easy.

Then he cites Athanasius and tries to play the game again. This reply is now over 7,000 words and I’m trying to finish it at 1:30 AM, so I’ll simply refer readers to my treatments of his views:

St. Athanasius’ Rule of Faith (NOT Sola Scriptura) [6-16-03]

Lutheran Chemnitz: Errors Re Fathers & Sola Scriptura (including analysis of Jerome, Augustine, Origen, Epiphanius, Ambrose, Lactantius, Athanasius, and Cyprian) [8-31-07]

Did Athanasius Accept Sola Scriptura? (vs. Bruno Lima) [10-14-22]


See also my web page: Bishop “Dr.” [?] James White: Anti-Catholic Extraordinaire


NOTES: I call Mr. White a bishop because he informed me in a letter dated 10 January 2001 that he was a bishop: “I am an elder in the church: hence, I am a bishop, overseer, pastor, of a local body of believers”. So I have called him that ever since [see more material giving the background and rationale for this, based on White’s own stated beliefs]. As for his supposed doctorate (hence my quotation marks and question mark), see:

James White’s Bogus “Doctorate” Degree (vs. Mark Bainter) [9-16-04]

James White’s Bogus “Doctorate” Degree, Part II (vs. Jamin Hubner) [6-29-10]

James White Bogus “Doctorate” Issue Redux: Has No One Ever Interacted With His Self-Defense? / White Takes His Lumps from Baptist Peter Lumpkins [2-20-11]

Thus we have the double irony of his not wanting to be called what he claims he is (a bishop), while he falsely calls himself what he clearly isn’t (an academic “Doctor” with an authentic, earned doctorate degree).




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Photo credit: see book and purchase information for this 2013 book of mine.

Summary: Anti-Catholic apologist James White dredges up the old, tired “proofs” that six Church fathers believed in sola Scriptura. I provide the full, honest picture of their views.

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