November 8, 2017




William Webster is a prolific opponent of the Catholic Church and author of many papers and published books along these lines. This is a response to his Internet essay, “Rome’s New and Novel Concept of Tradition: Living Tradition (Viva Voce – Whatever We Say) A Repudiation of the Patristic Concept of Tradition,” which is reproduced in its entirety and thoroughly refuted. The subject headings are my own. Mr. Webster’s words will be in blue.


I. Protestant Historians on Church Fathers’ View of Bible and Tradition

II. Mr. Webster’s Confusion About the Definitions of Material and Formal Sufficiency

III. St. Augustine’s Opposition to Sola Scriptura, Documented

IV. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Opposition to Sola Scriptura, Documented

V. Perspicuity of Scripture

VI. “Unanimous Consent of the Fathers” and St. Vincent of Lerins

VII. Is Newman’s Theory of Development a “Novelty” and a “Rationalization” of Insurmountable Historical Difficulties for Catholics?

VIII. Are Vincentian and Newmanian Conceptions of Development Contradictory?

IX. Mr. Webster’s Strange and Mistaken Views on the Catholic Conception of Tradition

I. Protestant Historians on Church Fathers’ View of Bible and Tradition

In the history of Roman Catholic dogma, one can trace an evolution in the theory of tradition.

Indeed; since all doctrines develop throughout history, we would fully expect to see the Christian understanding of tradition undergo this development also. There is nothing improper in this at all, as long as the development is consistent and not a corruption of what came before (as indeed is true of Catholic doctrine – rightly-understood).

There were two fundamental patristic principles which governed the early Church’s approach to dogma. The first was sola Scriptura in which the fathers viewed Scripture as both materially and formally sufficient.

This is simply untrue. Of course, it would require a huge paper in and of itself to demonstrate this. I will cite three of the most reputable Protestant Church historians (who – with all due respect – are far more credentialed than Mr. Webster as authorities on the patristic views concerning Bible and Tradition): Heiko Oberman, Jaroslav Pelikan, and J.N.D. Kelly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the . . . Reformation . . . the supporters of the sole authority of Scripture . . . overlooked the function of tradition in securing what they regarded as the correct exegesis of Scripture against heretical alternatives. (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Vol.1 of 5: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, 115-117,119; citations: 1. In Cushman, Robert E. & Egil Grislis, editors, The Heritage of Christian Thought: Essays in Honor of Robert Lowry Calhoun, New York: 1965, quote from Albert Outler, “The Sense of Tradition in the Ante-Nicene Church,” 29. 2. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:4:1)

It should be unnecessary to accumulate further evidence. Throughout the whole period Scripture and tradition ranked as complementary authorities, media different in form but coincident in content. To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading terms. If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principle, tradition was recognized as the surest clue to its interpretation, for in tradition the Church retained, as a legacy from the apostles which was embedded in all the organs of her institutional life, an unerring grasp of the real purport and meaning of the revelation to which Scripture and tradition alike bore witness. (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 5th ed., 1978, 47-48)

Also, Protestant scholar Ellen Flessman-van Leer, in her Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church (Van Gorcum, 1953, 139, 188), writes:

For Irenaeus, . . . 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, they cannot longer appeal to the immediate memory, as could the earliest writers. Instead they lay stress on the affirmation that this teaching has been transmitted faithfully from generation to generation. One could say that in their thinking, apostolic succession occupies the same place that is held by the living memory in the Apostolic Fathers.

The reader and inquirer, then, must make a choice: between amateur historian Mr. Webster’s declaration: ” . . . sola Scriptura in which the fathers viewed Scripture as both materially and formally sufficient,” or professional Protestant Church historian Oberman’s assertion that: “Scripture and Tradition are for the early Church in no sense mutually exclusive,” or professional Protestant Church historian Pelikan’s opinion (citing Albert Outler): ” ‘in the ante-Nicene Church . . . there was no notion of sola Scriptura,’ ” or professional Protestant Church historian Kelly’s view: “Throughout the whole period Scripture and tradition ranked as complementary authorities . . . To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading terms.” It is the job of historians to render such sweeping judgments of eras and opinions of groups of people, not (ultimately) that of “amateur historians” and apologists such as Mr. Webster or myself. Our cases are only as good as the scholarly support that we can muster up for them.

II. Mr. Webster’s Confusion About the Definitions of Material and Formal Sufficiency
It was materially sufficient in that it was the only source of doctrine and truth and the ultimate authority in all doctrinal controversies.

This is not what materially sufficient means. It is, rather, the belief that all Christian doctrines can be found in the Scripture, either explicitly or implicitly, or deducible from the explicit testimony of Holy Scripture (Catholics fully agree with that). It does not mean that Scripture is the “only” source of doctrine (in a sense which excludes Tradition and the Church). That is what formal sufficiency means. Mr. Webster, then, is already greatly mistaken (in his very first paragraph) with regard to fundamental factual matters and definitions. One need not accept only my word on that. I cite three of Mr. Webster’s fellow Protestant apologists to demonstrate that he is confused in his definitions or formal vs. material sufficiency:

[The Catholic Church] affirms the material sufficiency of the Bible . . . divine revelation is contained entirely in Scripture and entirely in tradition, totum in Scriptura, totum in traditione. It is vital to immediately point out that these Roman Catholic theologians are notaffirming sola scriptura. Instead, they are saying that all of divine revelation can be found, if only implicitly, in Scripture . . . the oral tradition does not contain any revelation that is not to be found, at least implicitly, in the Scriptures. (James White, The Roman Catholic Controversy, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996, 78-79; emphasis in original)A good bit of confusion exists between Catholics and Protestants on sola Scriptura due to a failure to distinguish two aspects of the doctrine: the formal and the material. Sola Scriptura in the material sense simply means that all the content of salvific revelation exists in Scripture. Many Catholics hold this in common with Protestants, including well-known theologians from John Henry Newman to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. French Catholic theologian Yves Congar states: “we can admit sola Scriptura in the sense of a material sufficiency of canonical Scripture. This means that Scripture contains, in one way or another, all truths necessary for salvation.” What Protestants affirm and Catholics reject is sola Scriptura in the formal sense that the Bible alone is sufficiently clear that no infallible teaching magisterium of the church is necessary to interpret it. (Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. Mackenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995, 179-180; Congar quote was cited by James Akin, “Material and Formal Sufficiency,” This Rock 4, no. 10, October 1993: 15 – probably from the former’s book, Tradition and Traditions)

In other words, if Catholics affirm material sufficiency, then it cannot be the case that “material sufficiency” is essentially a synonym for sola Scriptura (as Mr. Webster’s sentence above suggests). Catholics reject only the formal sufficiency of Scripture, which Mr. Webster mistakenly equates with material sufficiency. Because the principle of sola Scriptura is the combination of both material and formal sufficiency, Catholics do not accept it. It is itself the formal principle of authority within Protestantism. Geisler and Mackenzie make a further important clarifying point:

Protestants do not hold . . . that the Bible is formally sufficient without any outside help on everything taught . . . this is not to say that Protestant interpreters cannot utilize traditional commentaries, confessions, and creeds as aids in understanding the text. They can use scholarly sources in their interpretation, but in order to remain true to the principle of sola Scriptura they must not use them in a magisterial way . . . no outside authorities, however trustworthy, should be afforded infallible status. Further, their teaching should never be used if they contradict the clear teaching of Scripture . . . These authorities may be used only to help us discover the meaning of the text of Scripture, not determine its meaning. (Geisler and Mackenzie, ibid., 191; emphasis in original)

Of course, it must also be realized that the Catholic Church, insofar as it is an “official” interpreter of Scripture, also claims to be merely authoritatively discovering the correct meaning, not in any sense determining or creating what is already there, and which only needs to be proclaimed as the binding and correct interpretation (in order to avoid and hinder erroneous interpretations).

In like fashion, the Catholic Church does not claim to have created the canon of Scripture, but merely to have authoritatively proclaimed what was already inspired Scripture intrinsically, or in and of itself. As to the extent that the Church dogmatically defines any particular Scripture passage, this is far less limited than one might think; see my paper, “The Freedom of the Catholic Biblical Exegete.” The Church is much more concerned with true doctrine, rather than with specific biblical proofs for same. No truly Catholic exegete can contradict a Catholic dogma in his exegesis and commentary.

This is scarcely different from the situation and limitations of the Protestant exegete. If, for example, the exegete or commentator is a Calvinist, he is not really allowed to interpret Scripture in a way that denies unconditional election or perseverance of the saints. If he did so, he would cease being a Calvinist exegete (his books wouldn’t be published by Calvinist publishers or used in Calvinist seminaries). Likewise, if a Catholic exegete denied the Immaculate Conception or transubstantiation, he would cease to be an orthodox Catholic exegete. Every Christian community creates its limits of orthodoxy. The Catholic Church is by no means unique in this respect. It is only a matter of degree and the nature of the particular orthodoxy.

III. St. Augustine’s Opposition to Sola Scriptura, Documented
It was necessary that every teaching of the Church as it related to doctrine be proven from Scripture.

This is not technically necessary if one denies sola Scriptura (as the Fathers actually do), and for that reason, many Fathers, such as St. Augustine (highly revered by Protestants and claimed as a major forerunner of Protestant thought), appeal to Tradition as the source of some particular doctrines:

Augustine . . . reflects the early Church principle of the coinherence of Scripture and Tradition. While repeatedly asserting the ultimate authority of Scripture, Augustine does not oppose this at all to the authority of the Church Catholic . . . The Church has a practical priority . . .But there is another aspect of Augustine’s thought . . . we find mention of an authoritative extrascriptural oral tradition. While on the one hand the Church ‘moves’ the faithful to discover the authority of Scripture, Scripture on the other hand refers the faithful back to the authority of the Church with regard to a series of issues with which the Apostles did not deal in writing. Augustine refers here to the baptism of heretics . . . (Oberman, ibid., 370-71)

The custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . 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, Against the Donatists 5:23[31] [A.D. 400] )

But the admonition that he [Cyprian] gives us, ‘that we should go back to the fountain, that is, to Apostolic Tradition, and thence turn the channel of truth to our times,’ is most excellent, and should be followed without hesitation. (Ibid., 5:26[37] )

But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the Apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church. (Letter to Januarius [A.D. 400] )

For my part, I should not believe the gospel except moved by the authority of the Catholic Church. (C. Epis Mani 5,6)

Wherever this tradition comes from, we must believe that the Church has not believed in vain, even though the express authority of the canonical scriptures is not brought forward for it. (Letter 164 to Evodius of Uzalis)

To be sure, although on this matter, we cannot quote a clear example taken from the canonical Scriptures, at any rate, on this question, we are following the true thought of Scriptures when we observe what has appeared good to the universal Church which the authority of these same Scriptures recommends to you. (C. Cresconius I:33)

Even our Lord Jesus and the apostles appealed to tradition rather than Scripture. For example, Jesus’ reference to the “seat of Moses” (Matthew 23:2) cannot be found in the Old Testament. It was a Jewish tradition that Jesus accepted as authoritative. Mr. Webster might reply that Matthew 23:2 is itself now in Scripture, but this is beside the point, since if Scripture itself points to Tradition as authoritative, and also an authoritative teaching Church (as it often does), then Tradition and the Church are indeed authoritative, and the Bible itself doesn’t teachsola Scriptura! To claim that it does is, therefore, a self-defeating position.

IV. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Opposition to Sola Scriptura, Documented
Thomas Aquinas articulated this patristic view when he stated that canonical Scripture alone is the rule of faith (sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei):

It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and others of this kind, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is his meaning when he says ‘we know his testimony is true.’ Galatians 1:9, “If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!” The reason is that only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things.” (Thomas’s commentary on John’s Gospel, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis Lectura, ed. P. Raphaelis Cai, O.P., Editio V revisa [Romae: Marietti E ditori Ltd., 1952] n. 2656, p. 488)*

Latin Text: Notandum autem, quod cum multi scriberent de catholica veritate, haec est differentia, quia illi, qui scripserunt canonicam Scripturam, sicut Evangelistic et Apostoli, et alii huiusmodi, ita constanter eam asserunt quod nihil dubitandum relinquunt. Et ideo dicit Et scimus quia verum est testimonium eius; Gal. I, 9: Si quis vobis evangelizaverit praeter id quod accepistis, anathema sit. Cuius ratio est, quia sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei. Alii autem sic edisserunt de veritate, quod nolunt sibi credi nisi in his quae ver dicunt.

As is so often the case, Protestant polemicists who are seeking to ground distinctively Protestant doctrines in Church history, cite a single passage by a Father or great Doctor like St. Thomas in isolation, where it might appear prima facie that they are teaching sola Scriptura (or some other Protestant notion). This is an extremely common (and also, I might add, irritating) shortcoming, and Mr. Webster falls into the practice here. But when other writings by the same person are examined, it is shown not to be the case. Biblical exegesis can be done in the same inadequate and fallacious way, if not all of Scripture is taken into account.

Of course we find that St. Thomas (a Catholic) elsewhere explicitly accepts the authority of the Catholic Church and Catholic Tradition in a fashion anathema to Protestantism. His remarks above must be synthesized with these other stated opinions. Scripture is indeed the rule of faith in the sense that nothing in the faith can contradict it, and because it contains all of the faith (material sufficiency). It isnot the rule of faith in the formal sense of being the sole principle of authority, to the exclusion of Tradition and Church (formal sufficiency). The former is the teaching of St. Thomas and the Fathers en masse. Let us see what St. Thomas wrote elsewhere, about Tradition and the Church:

Some say . . . that whatever forms of these words are written down in canonical Scripture suffice for consecration. But it is seen to be more probable that consecration takes place solely by those words that the Church uses from the tradition of the Apostles . . . “the mystery of faith” [mysterium fidei] . . . This [expression] the Church has from the tradition of the Apostles, since it is not found in the canonical Scripture. The defining of the faith in articles is the office of the Roman Pontiff. (Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 11:25, in Mary T. Clark, editor, An Aquinas Reader, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972, 409)

. . . the Church’s unity requires agreement on the faith among all believers. But questions often arise about matters of faith. A difference in decrees would divide the Church unless kept in unity through the promulgation of one. So the unity of the Church requires one to be the head of the whole Church . . . We should not therefore doubt that there is one who is the head of the whole Church, and this by Christ’s command. (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 76, in Clark, ibid., 494)

Note that the Scripture doesn’t form the basis-in-practice for Christian unity in doctrine, according to Aquinas; it is, rather, the pope and his decrees, as opposed to a multitudinous “difference in decrees,” such as occurs in Protestantism. This cannot be harmonized with sola Scriptura in any way, shape, or form. Yet Mr. Webster would have us believe that St. Thomas Aquinas adopted sola Scriptura as his rule of faith? Such sentiments as these are quite common in Aquinas’ writings – certainly common enough for Mr. Webster to have discovered them.

None can doubt that the government of the Church is excellently well arranged, arranged as it is by Him through whom kings reign and lawgivers enact just things (Prov. viii, 15). But the best form of government for a multitude is to be governed by one: for the end of government is the peace and unity of its subjects: and one man is a more apt source of unity than many together.But if any will have it that the one Head and one Shepherd is Christ, as being the one Spouse of the one Church, his view is inadequate to the facts. For though clearly Christ Himself gives effect to the Sacraments of the Church, – He it is who baptises, He forgives sins, He is the true Priest who has offered Himself on the altar of the cross, and by His power His Body is daily consecrated at our altars, – nevertheless, because He was not to be present in bodily shape with all His faithful, He chose ministers and would dispense His gifts to His faithful people through their hands. And by reason of the same future absence it was needful for Him to issue His commission to some one to take care of this universal Church in His stead. Hence He said to Peter before His Ascension, Feed my sheep (John xxi, 1) and before His Passion, Thou in thy turn confirm thy brethren (Luke xxii, 32); and to him alone He made the promise, To thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. xvi, 19). Nor can it be said that although He gave this dignity to Peter, it does not pass from Peter to others. For Christ instituted His Church to last to the end of the world, according to the text: He shall sit upon the throne of David and in his kingdom, to confirm and strengthen it in justice and judgement from henceforth, now, and for ever (Isai. ix, 7). Therefore, in constituting His ministers for the time, He intended their power to pass to posterity for the benefit of His Church to the end of the world, as He Himself says: Lo, I am with you to the end of the world (Matt. xxviii, 20).

Hereby is cast out the presumptuous error of some, who endeavour to withdraw themselves from obedience and subjection to Peter, not recognising his successor, the Roman Pontiff, for the pastor of the Universal Church. (Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 76, “Of the Episcopal Dignity, and that therein one Bishop is Supreme,” from An Annotated Translation (With some Abridgement) of the Summa Contra Gentiles of Saint Thomas Aquinas by Joseph Rickaby, S.J., London: Burns and Oates, 1905)

It is an amazing thing that Catholics have to take time to “prove” that St. Thomas Aquinas, the most eminent and brilliant Catholic theologian of all time, was indeed a Catholic, who believed in the papacy, a binding Tradition, and the binding teaching authority of the Church – all of which are utterly foreign to the notion ofsola Scriptura and understood as fundamental to the Catholic outlook. But alas, it is necessary.

The purpose of Scripture is the instruction of people; however this instruction of the people by the Scriptures cannot take place save through the exposition of the saints. (Quodlibet XII, q.16, a. unicus [27] )
The faith is able to be better explained in this respect each day and was made more explicit through the study of the saints. (Sent III. 25, 2, 2, 1, ad 5)

On the contrary, Just as mortal sin is contrary to charity, so is disbelief in one article of faith contrary to faith. Now charity does not remain in a man after one mortal sin. Therefore neither does faith, after a man disbelieves one article.

I answer that, Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith.

The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will.Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.

Reply to Objection 1: A heretic does not hold the other articles of faith, about which he does not err, in the same way as one of the faithful does, namely by adhering simply to the Divine Truth, because in order to do so, a man needs the help of the habit of faith; but he holds the things that are of faith, by his own will and judgment.

Reply to Objection 2: The various conclusions of a science have their respective means of demonstration, one of which may be known without another, so that we may know some conclusions of a science without knowing the others. On the other hand faith adheres to all the articles of faith by reason of one mean, viz. on account of the First Truth proposed to us in Scriptures, according to the teaching of the Church who has the right understanding of them. Hence whoever abandons this mean is altogether lacking in faith.

Reply to Objection 3: The various precepts of the Law may be referred either to their respective proximate motives, and thus one can be kept without another; or to their primary motive, which is perfect obedience to God, in which a man fails whenever he breaks one commandment, according to James 2:10: “Whosoever shall . . . offend in one point is become guilty of all.” (Summa Theologiae II-II, Q.5, A.3; emphasis added)

Certainly no more documentation is necessary. Mr. Webster’s attempt to enlist St. Thomas for sola Scriptura is shown to be an abysmal failure.

V. Perspicuity of Scripture
Additionally, they taught that the essential truths of Scripture were perspicuous, that is, that they were clearly revealed in Scripture, so that, by the enablement of the Holy Spirit alone an individual could come to an understanding of the fundamental truths of salvation.

This is certainly possible; the Catholic is under no compulsion to deny this. In practical terms, and given human nature, however, it doesn’t eliminate the need for an authoritative Church, and it is not true that everyone could and should get saved in such a fashion. The three Protestant historians I cited above deny that the Fathers held to this understanding of “perspicuity” in the interpretation of Scripture:

It is in the living, visible Body of Christ, inspired and vivified by the operation of the Holy Spirit, that Scripture and Tradition coinhere . . . Both Scripture and Tradition issue from the same source: the Word of God, Revelation . . . Only within the Church can this kerygma be handed down undefiled. (Oberman, ibid.; emphasis added)
The term ‘rule of faith‘ or ‘rule of truth’ . . . seems sometimes to have meant the ‘tradition,’ sometimes the Scriptures, sometimes the message of the gospel . . . In the . . . Reformation . . . the supporters of the sole authority of Scripture . . . overlooked the function of tradition in securing what they regarded as the correct exegesis of Scripture against heretical alternatives. (Pelikan, ibid.; emphasis added)

If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principletradition was recognized as the surest clue to its interpretation, for in tradition the Church retained . . . an unerring grasp of the real purport and meaning of the revelation to which Scripture and tradition alike bore witness. (Kelly, ibid.; emphasis added)

VI. “Unanimous Consent of the Fathers” and St. Vincent of Lerins
The second is a principle enunciated by the Roman Catholic Councils of Trent (1546-1562) and Vatican I (1870) embodied in the phrase ‘the unanimous consent of the fathers.’ This is a principle that purportedly looks to the past for validation of its present teachings particularly as they relate to the interpretation of Scripture.

What is “purported” about looking to the past? Obviously, any interpretation of the Fathers (people who lived in the first millennium), be it right, wrong, halfway right, or a completely bogus examination, is “looking to the past.” I find this to be polemical overkill.

Trent initially promulgated this principle as a means of countering the Reformation teachings to make it appear that the Reformers’ doctrines were novel and heretical while those of Rome were rooted in historical continuity.

There is no need to make anything “appear” a certain way when the facts of the matter clearly show that the early Church was far more similar to Catholicism in doctrine than Protestantism, and that the Protestant is forced to special plead in order to “recruit” the Fathers (or even medievals like St. Thomas Aquinas) for their cause. We see that clearly already in the documentation above. As Catholic thought and doctrine was always rooted in history and apostolic succession, Trent’s teaching was nothing new. The novelties (both theological and the revisionist histories spawned by Luther, Calvin et al) were indeed all on the Protestant side.

It is significant to note that Trent merely affirmed the existence of the principle without providing documentary proof for its validity.

Councils are functionally creedal and catechetical, not apologetic. There is a difference. Protestant creeds are largely of the same nature. So I don’t find this “significant” at all. Of course, Mr. Webster is trying to imply that the absence of the apologetic is due to the nonexistence of the historical evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Vatican I merely reaffirmed the principle as decreed by Trent. Its historical roots hearken back to Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century who was the first to give it formal definition when he stated that apostolic and catholic doctrine could be identified by a three fold criteria: It was a teaching that had been believed everywhere, always and by all (quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est). (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Nicece and Post-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955], Series II, Volume XI, Vincent of Lerins, A Commonitory 2.4-6) In other words, the principle of unanimous agreement encompassing universality (believed everywhere), antiquity (believed always) and consent (believed by all).

This is correct. The Catholic view is that no doctrine can change in essence from that which was received by the Church in the beginning from the apostolic deposit. But doctrine can develop and be better understood over time, and this very passage from St. Vincent is, in fact, the most explicit treatment of development of doctrine in the Fathers. Obviously, then, St., Vincent thought that both concepts were perfectly harmonious.

Secondly, it must be understood that “unanimous consent of the Fathers” or “universality” does not mean absolutely everyone, but rather, most, as St. Vincent himself states in the same passage:

We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. (Commonitorium, II, 6; emphasis added)

See also the paper by Catholic apologist Steve Ray, Unanimous Consent of the Fathers.

Vincent readily agreed with the principle of sola Scriptura, that is, that Scripture was sufficient as the source of truth.

As always with the Fathers, this is not true (i.e., Scripture is materially but not formally sufficient, which is what Mr. Webster means). The amazing thing, once again, is that St. Vincent explicitly denies sola Scriptura in the exact same passage that Mr. Webster cites above (Commonitorium 2:4-6). Consideration of context is a minimal requirement of both biblical exegesis and use of patristic citations (or any citations, for that matter). St. Vincent couldn’t be any clearer than he is (emphasis added):

[5.] But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason, – because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

This is precisely the Catholic understanding of the material sufficiency of Scripture, then and now: a necessity for authoritative, binding interpretation by the Church. The latter is the “rule of faith” or regula fidei, not sola Scriptura, which is diametrically opposed to this understanding. This is also contrary to the Protestant belief in the perspicuity of Scripture, because Scripture “seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.” Protestant historian J.N.D. Kelly – in disagreement again with Mr. Webster – thus describes St. Vincent’s view:

. . . in the end the Christian must, like Timothy [1 Timothy 6:20] ‘guard the deposit’, i.e., the revelation enshrined in its completeness in Holy Scripture and correctly interpreted in the Church’s unerring tradition. (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper, rev. ed., 1978, 50-51; emphasis added)

For more excerpts from St. Vincent and many, many others, see, my paper, “Historical Development in the Understanding of Doctrinal Development of the Apostolic Deposit.”

But he was concerned about how one determined what was truly apostolic and catholic doctrine. This was the official position of the Church immediately subsequent to Vincent throughout the Middle Ages and for centuries immediately following Trent. But this principle, while fully embraced by Trent and Vatican I, has all been but abandoned by Rome today in a practical and formal sense.

Mr. Webster (to put it mildly) has shown himself quite confused on this matter. I documented in great detail, in an earlier paper of mine, “Refutation of William Webster’s Fundamental Misunderstanding of Development of Doctrine,” that both Trent and Vatican I espoused development of doctrine as well as St. Vincent’s dictum of patristic consensus and universality. No conflict exists. Mr. Webster has never replied to this paper, for over two years, as of this writing. And he was duly informed of it and thanked me for letting him know. Mr. Webster tried to argue in his earlier paper — to which I responded –, that development of doctrine was a novelty according to Vatican I, and was only adopted later by the Church as a desperate measure.

This is sheer nonsense, as I document beyond any doubt in my paper on the development of development, citing, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas (who lived 600 years before Vatican I and 300 before Trent) at great length. St. Vincent himself (5th century) expresses both ideas in one place, as well as his opposition to sola Scriptura. This is a red herring.

This is due to the fact that so much of Rome’s teachings, upon historical examination, fail the test of unanimous consent.

The truth of the matter is the exact opposite: it is the Protestant novelties which spectacularly fail this test. The patristic evidence is absolutely overwhelming.

Some Roman Catholic historians are refreshingly honest in this assessment. Patrologist Boniface Ramsey, for example, candidly admits that the current Roman Catholic teachings on Mary and the papacy were not taught in the early Church:

Sometimes, then, the Fathers speak and write in a way that would eventually be seen as unorthodox. But this is not the only difficulty with respect to the criterion of orthodoxy. The other great one is that we look in vain in many of the Fathers for references to things that many Christians might believe in today. We do not find, for instance, some teachings on Mary or the papacy that were developed in medieval and modern times. (Boniface Ramsey, Beginning to Read the Fathers (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1986), p. 6)

Of course we don’t see more fully developed teachings earlier on (note Ramsey’s use of the word “developed,” which is key: one must understand what a Catholic means by that; it does not mean “invented,” as Mr. Webster seems to think). Some Fathers were also wrong on some things. This causes no concern for Catholics whatever. Of course, some Fathers erred. They do not possess the gift of infallibility. What Mr. Webster finds so “refreshing” is simply standard Catholic teaching that he obviously does not yet comprehend. He wrongly applies his argument to the Catholic outlook, but it corresponds far more closely to Protestant historical difficulties. Along these lines, I wrote in my paper, “How Newman Convinced me of the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church”:

Some notion of suffering, or disadvantage, or punishment after this life, in the case of the faithful departed, or other vague forms of the doctrine of Purgatory, has in its favour almost a consensus of the first four ages of the Church.

(John Henry Cardinal Newman, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, from the edition published by the University of Notre Dame Press, 1989, 1878 edition of the original work of 1845, p. 21)

Newman then recounts no less than sixteen Fathers who hold the view in some form. But in comparing this consensus to the doctrine of original sin, we find a disjunction:

      No one will say that there is a testimony of the Fathers, equally strong, for the doctrine of Original Sin.

(Newman, ibid.)

In spite of the forcible teaching of St. Paul on the subject, the doctrine of Original Sin appears neither in the Apostles’ nor the Nicene Creed.

(Newman, ibid., 23)

This is a crucial distinction. It is a serious problem for Protestantism that it by and large inconsistently rejects doctrines which have a consensus in the early Church, such as purgatory, the (still developing) papacy, bishops, the Real Presence, regenerative infant baptism, apostolic succession, and intercession of the saints, while accepting others with far less explicit early sanction, such as original sin. Even many of their own foundational and distinctive doctrines, such as the notion of Faith Alone (sola fide), or imputed, extrinsic, forensic justification, are well-nigh nonexistent all through Church history until Luther’s arrival on the scene, as, for example, prominent Protestant apologist Norman Geisler recently freely admitted:

      . . . these valuable insights into the doctrine of justification had been largely lost throughout much of Christian history, and it was the Reformers who recovered this biblical truth . . .

During the patristic, and especially the later medieval periods, forensic justification was largely lost . . . Still, the theological formulations of such figures as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas did not preclude a rediscovery of this judicial element in the Pauline doctrine of justification . . .

. . . one can be saved without believing that imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) is an essential part of the true gospel. Otherwise, few people were saved between the time of the apostle Paul and the Reformation, since scarcely anyone taught imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) during that period!

(Geisler and Mackenzie, ibid., 247-248, 503)

On the other hand, Protestants clearly accept developing doctrine on several fronts: the Canon of the New Testament is a clear example of such a (technically “non-biblical”) doctrine It wasn’t finalized until 397 A.D. The divinity of Christ was dogmatically proclaimed only at the “late” date of 325, the fully worked-out doctrine of the Holy Trinity in 381, and the Two Natures of Christ (God and Man) in 451, all in Ecumenical Councils which are accepted by most Protestants. So development is an unavoidable fact for both Protestants and Catholics.

I made a similar sort of analogical argument in my “live chat discussion” on the Internet with Mr. Webster’s friend, the Protestant anti-Catholic apologist, James White (in his own chat room; his words below in green):

. . . during the course of the debate I repeatedly asked Gerry [Matatics] for a single early Father who believed as he believes, dogmatically, on Mary. I was specifically focused upon the two most recent dogmas, the Immaculate Conception and the Bodily Assumption.

of course, if you are looking for a full-blown doctrine of Immaculate Conception, you won’t find it.

How would you answer my challenge? Did any early Father believe as you believe on this topic?

the consensus, in terms of the kernels of the belief [i.e., its essence], are there overall. I would expect it to be the case that any individual would not completely understand later developments.

So many generations lived and died without holding to what is now dogmatically defined?

Did any father of the first three centuries accept all 27 books of the NT and no others?

Three centuries… would not include Athanasius?

I think his correct list was in the 4th century [it was 367 A.D.], but at any rate, my point is established. How many fathers of the same period denied baptismal regeneration or infant baptism?

The issue there would be how many addressed the issue (many did not). But are you paralleling these things with what you just admitted were but “kernels”?

if even Scripture was unclear that early on, that makes mincemeat of your critique that a lack of explicit Marian dogma somehow disproves Catholic Mariology.

I’ll address that allegation in a moment. :-)[he never did; shortly thereafter Mr. White’s participation in the chat came to an end, due to technical problems]

VII. Is Newman’s Theory of Development a “Novelty” and a “Rationalization” of Insurmountable Historical Difficulties for Catholics?
***At first, this clear lack of patristic consensus led Rome to embrace a new theory in the late nineteenth century to explain its teachings – the theory initiated by John Henry Newman known as the development of doctrine.

Newman merely “fleshed out” teachings which had been set forth by St. Vincent, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and many others through the centuries. He did it in a fresh and copiously-documented way, utilizing brilliant analogical arguments (this was his genius), but it was nothing new at all (as if it were a completely novel thing).

In light of the historical reality, Newman had come to the conclusion that the Vincentian principle of unanimous consent was unworkable, because, for all practical purposes, it was nonexistent. To quote Newman:

It does not seem possible, then, to avoid the conclusion that, whatever be the proper key for harmonizing the records and documents of the early and later Church, and true as the dictum of Vincentius must be considered in the abstract, and possible as its application might be in his own age, when he might almost ask the primitive centuries for their testimony, it is hardly available now, or effective of any satisfactory result. The solution it offers is as difficult as the original problem. (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine [New York: Longmans, Green and Co., reprinted 1927], p. 27)

The obvious problem with Newman’s analysis and conclusion is that it flies in the face of the decrees of Trent and Vatican I, both of which decreed that the unanimous consent of the fathers does exist.

One must understand the context of Newman’s statement and his overall argument, which is highly complex and analogical. He doesn’t reject St. Vincent’s dictum in the slightest. He is simply working through its application to the equally complex facts of history – specifically doctrinal and ecclesiastical history. It is this very “problem” that the book attempts to treat, as Newman states later in his Introduction. It is not a “problem” unique to Catholicism, by any means. It is equally applicable to Protestantism, as he repeatedly states in the Introduction to his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, from which Mr. Webster’s citation above was drawn.

Cardinal Newman repeatedly claims that Protestantism cannot be squared with history, whereas Catholicism can (especially after the nature of true doctrinal development is correctly grasped). Once the entire Introduction is read, and understood, it is utterly obvious that Newman is not trying to avoid “historical reality” at all, but to deal most directly with it, particularly by bringing in examples of doctrines agreed upon by all, such as the Holy Trinity. Let us look at some of his historical reasoning, from the same Introduction:

It may be true also, or at least shall here be granted as true, that there is also a consensus in the Ante-nicene Church for the doctrines of our Lord’s Consubstantiality and Coeternity with the Almighty Father. Let us allow that the whole circle of doctrines, of which our Lord is the subject, was consistently and uniformly confessed by the Primitive Church, though not ratified formally in Council. But it surely is otherwise with the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. I do not see in what sense it can be said that there is a consensus of primitive divines in its favour, which will not avail also for certain doctrines of the Roman Church which will presently come into mention . . .Now it should be clearly understood what it is which must be shown by those who would prove it. Of course the doctrine of our Lord’s divinity itself partly implies and partly recommends the doctrine of the Trinity; but implication and suggestion belong to another class of arguments which has not yet come into consideration. Moreover the statements of a particular father or doctor may certainly be of a most important character; but one divine is not equal to a Catena. We must have a whole doctrine stated by a whole Church. The Catholic Truth in question is made up of a number of separate propositions, each of which, if maintained to the exclusion of the rest, is a heresy. In order then to prove that all the Ante-nicene writers taught the dogma of the Holy Trinity, it is not enough to prove that each still has gone far enough to be only a heretic – not enough to prove that one has held that the Son is God, (for so did the Sabellian, so did the Macedonian), and another that the Father is not the Son, (for so did the Arian), and another that the Son is equal to the Father, (for so did the Tritheist), and another that there is but One God, (for so did the Unitarian), – not enough that many attached in some sense a Threefold Power to the idea of the Almighty, (for so did almost all the heresies that ever existed, and could not but do so, if they accepted the New Testament at all); but we must show that all these statements at once, and others too, are laid down by as many separate testimonies as may fairly be taken to constitute a “consensus of doctors.” It is true indeed that the subsequent profession of the doctrine in the Universal Church creates a presumption that it was held even before it was professed; and it is fair to interpret the early Fathers by the later. This is true, and admits of application to certain other doctrines besides that of the Blessed Trinity in Unity; but there is as little room for such antecedent probabilities as for the argument from suggestions and intimations in the precise and imperative Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, as it is commonly understood by English divines, and is by them used against the later Church and the see of Rome. What we have a right to ask, if we are bound to act upon Vincent’s rule in regard to the Trinitarian dogma, is a sufficient number of Ante-nicene statements, each distinctly anticipating the Athanasian Creed.

. . . the six great Bishops and Saints of the Ante-nicene Church were St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, St. Dionysius of Alexandria, and St. Methodius. Of these, St. Dionysius is accused by St. Basil of having sown the first seeds of Arianism; and St. Gregory is allowed by the same learned Father to have used language concerning our Lord, which he only defends on the plea of an economical object in the writer. St. Hippolytus speaks as if he were ignorant of our Lord’s Eternal Sonship; St. Methodius speaks incorrectly at least upon the Incarnation; and St. Cyprian does not treat of theology at all. Such is the incompleteness of the extant teaching of these true saints, and, in their day, faithful witnesses of the Eternal Son.

Again, Athenagoras, St. Clement, Tertullian, and the two SS. Dionysii would appear to be the only writers whose language is at any time exact and systematic enough to remind us of the Athanasian Creed. If we limit our view of the teaching of the Fathers by what they expressly state, St. Ignatius may be considered as a Patripassian, St. Justin arianizes, and St. Hippolytus is a Photinian.

Again, there are three great theological authors of the Ante-nicene centuries, Tertullian, Origen, and, we may add, Eusebius, though he lived some way into the fourth. Tertullian is heterodox on the doctrine of our Lord’s divinity, and, indeed, ultimately fell altogether into heresy or schism; Origen is, at the very least, suspected, and must be defended and explained rather than cited as a witness of orthodoxy; and Eusebius was a Semi-Arian.

Moreover, It may be questioned whether any Ante-nicene father distinctly affirms either the numerical Unity or the Coequality of the Three Persons; except perhaps the heterodox Tertullian, and that chiefly in a work written after he had become a Montanist: yet to satisfy the Anti-roman use of Quod semper, &c;., surely we ought not to be left for these great articles of doctrine to the testimony of a later age.

. . . It must be asked, moreover, how much direct and literal testimony the Ante-nicene Fathers give, one by one, to the divinity of the Holy Spirit? This alone shall be observed, that St. Basil, in the fourth century, finding that, if he distinctly called the Third Person in the Blessed Trinity by the Name of God, he should be put out of the Church by the Arians, pointedly refrained from doing so on an occasion on which his enemies were on the watch; and that, when some Catholics found fault with him, St. Athanasius took his part. Could this possibly have been the conduct of any true Christian, not to say Saint, of a later age? that is, whatever be the true account of it, does it not suggest to us that the testimony of those early times lies very unfavourably for the application of the rule of Vincentius?

[Dave: note that Newman is here concerned with the “Anti-roman use” of St. Vincent – see the 2nd paragraph above – not with a denigration or disavowal of the dictum itself. Earlier, on p. 15 Newman mentions “the precise and imperative Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, as it is commonly understood by English divines, and is by them used against the later Church and the see of Rome.” This is what he is arguing against, by analogy, by showing that such a method would also prove that the Holy Trinity was not held by the earliest Christians. It is a form of the reductio ad absurdum argument. He makes this crystal-clear in his very next paragraph, following this note – an “unfair interpretation of Vincentius”]

Let it not be for a moment supposed that I impugn the orthodoxy of the early divines, or the cogency of their testimony among fair inquirers; but I am trying them by that unfair interpretation of Vincentius, which is necessary in order to make him available against the Church of Rome. And now, as to the positive evidence which those Fathers offer in behalf of the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, it has been drawn out by Dr. Burton and seems to fall under two heads. One is the general ascription of glory to the Three Persons together, both by fathers and churches, and that on continuous tradition and from the earliest times. Under the second fall certain distinct statements of particular fathers; thus we find the word “Trinity” used by St. Theophilus, St. Clement, St. Hippolytus, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Origen, St. Methodius; and the Divine Circumincessio, the most distinctive portion of the Catholic doctrine, and the unity of power, or again, of substance, are declared with more or less distinctness by Athenagoras, St. Irenaeus, St. Clement, Tertullian, St. Hippolytus, Origen, and the two SS. Dionysii. This is pretty much the whole of the evidence . . . (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Introduction; 14-19; sections 10-13)

Newman goes on to make the argument – briefly alluded to above – that the evidence for purgatory in the Fathers is greater than that for original sin. Yet Protestants inconsistently accept the latter and reject the former. Subsequently, he notes that the patristic evidences are more numerous for papal supremacy than for the Real Presence in the Eucharist. It is in that particular context that Newman makes his remark about St. Vincent, which Mr. Webster quotes. He was dealing directly with its “application.” He is an honest, meticulous historian; the furthest thing from a special pleader. The ostensible difficulty is precisely that which his theory of development was tackling. Newman gives a great abundance of patristic testimony to back up his theory. It is not as if the theory is merely a rationalization, as Mr. Webster and other anti-Catholic critics claim.

But to circumvent the lack of patristic witness for the distinctive Roman Catholic dogmas, Newman set forth his theory of development, which was embraced by the Roman Catholic Church. Ironically, this is a theory which, like unanimous consent, has its roots in the teaching of Vincent of Lerins, who also promulgated a concept of development. While rejecting Vincent’s rule of universality, antiquity and consent, Rome, through Newman, once again turned to Vincent for validation of its new theory of tradition and history. But while Rome and Vincent both use the term development, they are miles apart in their understanding of the meaning of the principle because Rome’s definition of development and Vincent’s are diametrically opposed to one another.

It should be noted that this whole line of anti-Newmanian thought is basically a warmed-over, half-baked version of the polemics of George Salmon. He was a prominent 19th-century Anglican anti-Catholic controversialist who clashed with Newman, and a frequently-cited inspiration and source for the revisionist “historical” anti-Catholic polemics of today. Mr. Webster seems to be his heir apparent. The similarities are striking:

Romish advocates . . . are now content to exchange tradition, which their predecessors had made the basis of their system, for this new foundation of development . . . The starting of this theory exhibits plainly the total rout which the champions of the Roman Church experienced in the battle they attempted to fight on the field of history. The theory of development is, in short, an attempt to enable men, beaten off the platform of history, to hang on to it by the eyelids . . .The old theory was that the teaching of the Church had never varied . . . Anyone who holds the theory of Development ought, in consistency, to put the writings of the Fathers on the shelf as antiquated and obsolete . . . An unlearned Protestant perceives that the doctrine of Rome is not the doctrine of the Bible. A learned Protestant adds that neither is it the doctrine or the primitive Church . . . It is at least owned that the doctrine of Rome is as unlike that of early times as an oak is unlike an acorn, or a butterfly like a caterpillar . . . The only question remaining is whether that unlikeness is absolutely inconsistent with substantial identity. In other words, it is owned that there has been a change, and the question is whether we are to call it development or corruption . . . . (George Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House [originally 1888], 31-33, 35, 39)

Salmon’s book has been refuted decisively twice, by B.C. Butler, in his work, The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to Anglican Polemicist George Salmon (New York, Sheed & Ward, 1954), and also in a series of articles in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, in 1901 and 1902. Salmon revealed in his book his profound and extremely biased ignorance not only concerning papal infallibility, but also with regard to even the basics of the development of doctrine.

VIII. Are Vincentian and Newmanian Conceptions of Development Contradictory?
In his teaching, Vincent delineates the following parameters for true development of doctrine:

But some one will say, perhaps, Shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church? Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning. (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955], Series II, Volume XI, Vincent of Lerins, A Commonitory 23.54)

First of all, Vincent is saying that doctrinal development must be rooted in the principle of unanimous consent. That is, it must be related to doctrines that have been clearly taught throughout the ages of the Church.

This is completely consistent with the Catholic and Newmanian conception of development. St. Vincent doesn’t claim that all doctrines are “clearly taught” at all times. If that were the case, there would be no need for development at all, by definition, as it means a clearer and more in-depth understanding of doctrines as time goes by. All that is necessary in the early stages of development and doctrinal history are kernels, and they are not always so clear until we have the benefit of historical hindsight. The Trinity (see Newman’s treatment above) and the canon of Scripture illustrate this principle and fact as well as any distinctively Catholic doctrines. St. Vincent explains how relatively vague doctrinal understandings become clear precisely through the developmental process:

The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. (Commonitorium, XXIII, 55; emphasis added)

. . . if there be anything which antiquity has left shapeless and rudimentary, to fashion and polish it, if anything already reduced to shape and developed, to consolidate and strengthen it, if any already ratified and defined to keep and guard it. (Commonitorium, XXIII, 59; emphasis added)

In other words, true development must demonstrate historical roots. Any teaching which could not demonstrate its authority from Scripture and the universal teaching of the Church was to be repudiated as novel and therefore not truly catholic. It was to be considered heretical. This is the whole point of Vincent’s criticism of such heretics as Coelestius and Pelagius. He says, ‘Who ever before his (Pelagius) monstrous disciple Coelestius ever denied that the whole human race is involved in the guilt of Adam’s sin?’ (XXIV.62.) Their teaching, which was a denial of original sin, was novel. It could not demonstrate historical continuity and therefore it was heretical.

Catholics agree wholeheartedly with this. But – as Newman argued above – the patristic evidence for original sin is less than that for purgatory. To the extent that Protestants are willing to accept development of doctrine, their task is to explain why some things are legitimate developments and others aren’t – for objective reasons other than an irrational animus against Catholic doctrines.

But, with Newman, Rome redefined the theory of development and promoted a new concept of tradition. One that was truly novel. Truly novel in the sense that it was completely foreign to the perspective of Vincent and the theologians of Trent and Vatican I who speak of the unanimous consent of the fathers. These two Councils claim that there is a clear continuity between their teaching and the history of the ancient Church which preceded them (whether this is actually true is another thing altogether). A continuity which can they claimed could be documented by the explicit teaching of the Church fathers in their interpretation of Scripture and in their practice.

No such thing took place. This is sheer mythology, revisionist history, and wishful thinking. Development was held all along, consistently. One can consult my paper on the history of development for dozens of examples. Here I shall cite a few:

. . . by heretics the Catholic Church has been vindicated, . . . For many things lay hidden in the Scriptures: and when heretics, who had been cut off, troubled the Church of God with questions, then those things which lay hidden were opened, and the will of God was understood . . . Many men that could understand and expound the Scriptures very excellently, were hidden among the people of God, and they did not declare the solution of difficult questions, until a reviler again urged them. For was the doctrine of the Trinity perfectly expounded upon before the Arians snarled at it? Was repentance perfectly treated before the opposition of the Novatians? Likewise, Baptism was not perfectly understood, before rebaptizers from the outside contradicted; nor even the very oneness of Christ . . . (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 55 [21])Within the limits of the Jewish theocracy and Catholic Christianity Augustin admits the idea of historical development or a gradual progress from a lower to higher grades of knowledge, yet always in harmony with Catholic truth. He would not allow revolutions and radical changes or different types of Christianity. “The best thinking” (says Dr. Flint, in his Philosophy of History in Europe, I. 40), “at once the most judicious and liberal, among those who are called the Christian fathers, on the subject of the progress of Christianity as an organization and system, is that of St. Augustin, as elaborated and applied by Vincent of Lerins in his ‘Commonitorium,’ where we find substantially the same conception of the development of the Church and Christian doctrine, which, within the present century, De Maistre has made celebrated in France, Mohler in Germany, and Newman in England. (Protestant Church historian Philip Schaff, Introduction to City of God, 38-volume set of the Church Fathers, December 10, 1886; emphasis added)

In every council of the Church a symbol of faith has been drawn up to meet some prevalent error condemned in the council at that time. Hence subsequent councils are not to be described as making a new symbol of faith; but what was implicitly contained in the first symbol was explained by some addition directed against rising heresies. Hence in the decision of the council of Chalcedon it is declared that those who were congregated together in the council of Constantinople, handed down the doctrine about the Holy Ghost, not implying that there was anything wanting in the doctrine of their predecessors who had gathered together at Nicaea, but explaining what those fathers had understood of the matter. Therefore, because at the time of the ancient councils the error of those who said that the Holy Ghost did not proceed from the Son had not arisen, it was not necessary to make any explicit declaration on that point; whereas, later on, when certain errors rose up, another council [Council of Rome, under Pope Damasus] assembled in the west, the matter was explicitly defined by the authority of the Roman Pontiff, by whose authority also the ancient councils were summoned and confirmed. Nevertheless the truth was contained implicitly in the belief that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q.36, a.2 ad 2)

Since perverse men pervert apostolic teaching and the Scriptures to their own damnation, as it is written in Second Peter 16; therefore there is need with the passage of time of an explanation of the faith against arising errors.

The truth of faith is sufficiently explicit in the teaching of Christ and the apostles. But since, according to 2 Pt. 3:16, some men are so evil-minded as to pervert the apostolic teaching and other doctrines and Scriptures to their own destruction, it was necessary as time went on to express the faith more explicitly against the errors which arose. (St. Thomas Aquinas, ibid., II-IIq.1, a.10 ad 1)

It’s extremely interesting that Mr. Webster holds the curious notion that Newmanian doctrinal development was unknown to Vatican I in 1870. His friend, Pastor David T. King (with whom he has co-authored books), likewise claims that the Church was opposed to such development as liberalism and heretical “evolution of dogma” even up through the reign of Pope Pius X (who died in 1914). As to the latter absurd claim, it was utterly refuted with undeniable facts, in my paper, “Protestant Contra-Catholic Revisionist History: Pope St. Pius X and Cardinal Newman’s Alleged ‘Modernism’.” This paper, too, has never been answered [we begin to see a pattern]. Again, it is very interesting that Mr. Webster believes what he does about Vatican I, since the same pope who convened it, Pius IX, wrote 16 years earlier:

. . . For the Church of Christ, watchful guardian that she is, and defender of the dogmas deposited with her, never changes anything, never diminishes anything, never adds anything to them; but with all diligence she treats the ancient documents faithfully and wisely; if they really are of ancient origin and if the faith of the Fathers has transmitted them, she strives to investigate and explain them in such a way that the ancient dogmas of heavenly doctrine will be made evident and clear, but will retain their full, integral, and proper nature, and will grow only within their own genus – that is, within the same dogma, in the same sense and the same meaning. (Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854 [where Mary’s Immaculate Conception was defined ex cathedra]; in Papal Teachings: The Church, selected and arranged by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, tr. Mother E. O’Gorman, Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1962, 71)

In the very year of the Council, the same pope writes about the immutability of the essences of doctrines, and simultaneous development of them (the two notions being complementary, and not contradictory):

Religion is in no sense the enemy of progress and of culture in the area of science and the arts, and that it is not itself either stationary or frozen in inertia. If there is an immobility which in fact she cannot renounce, it is the immobility of the principles and doctrines which are divinely revealed. These can never change . . . [Heb 13:8] But for religious truths, there is progress only in their development, their penetration, their practice: in themselves they remain essentially immutable. Therefore, We do not Ourselves wish to make new dogmatic definitions, as some people suppose. All the truths divinely revealed have always been believed; they have always been a part of the deposit confided to the Church. But some of them must from time to time, according to circumstances and necessity, be placed in a stronger light and more firmly established. This is the sense in which the Church draws from her treasure new things . . . [Matt 13:52] . . . the old, vetera, always continuing to teach the doctrines which are now beyond all controversy; the new, nova, by new declarations giving a firm and incontestable basis to those doctrines which, though they have always been professed by her, have nonetheless been the object of recent attacks. (Allocution to the Religious Art Exposition, Rome, May 16, 1870; in Papal Teachings: The Church, selected and arranged by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, tr. Mother E. O’Gorman, Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1962, 208)

IX. Mr. Webster’s Strange and Mistaken Views on the Catholic Conception of Tradition

Vatican I, for example, teaches that the papacy was full blown from the very beginning and was, therefore, not subject to development over time.

This is another myth, thoroughly refuted in my first paper contra Mr. Webster. The reader who wishes to examine how spurious Mr. Webster’s reasoning was in this instance can read the other paper. There is no need to repeat myself, seeing as we are now blessed with the great luxury of the Internet link.

In this new theory Rome moved beyond the historical principle of development as articulated by Vincent and, for all practical purposes, eliminated any need for historical validation.

This is both untrue and lacking any substantiation on Mr. Webster’s part. It is mere rhetorical polemics.

She now claimed that it was not necessary that a particular doctrine be taught explicitly by the early Church.

The Church has always claimed this, as shown repeatedly above.

In fact, Roman Catholic historians readily admit that doctrines such as the assumption of Mary and papal infallibility were completely unknown in the teaching of the early Church. If Rome now teaches the doctrine we are told that the early Church actually believed and taught it implicitly and only later, after many centuries, did it become explicit.

Readers can consult my many papers on development of doctrine for introductory and in-depth articles. It’s widely misunderstood by Protestants (as well as many Catholics).

From this principle it was only a small step in the evolution of Rome’s teaching on Tradition to her present position. Rome today has replaced the concept of tradition as development to what is known as ‘living tradition.’ This is a concept that promotes the Church as an infallible authority, which is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who protects her from error.

This is supposedly a “new” teaching? St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas (not to mention St. Vincent of Lerins) would strongly beg to differ.

Therefore, whatever Rome’s magisterium teaches at any point in time must be true even if it lacks historical or biblical support.

That is not the Catholic claim at all (not in the sense that Mr. Webster implies – see my next reply). But it makes for great rhetoric, for the purposes of caricature and cliched anti-Catholic polemics.

The following statement by Roman Catholic apologist Karl Keating regarding the teaching of the Assumption of Mary is an illustration of this very point. He says it does not matter that there is no teaching on the Assumption in Scripture, the mere fact that the Roman Church teaches it is proof that it is true. Thus, teachings do not need to be documented from Scripture:

Still, fundamentalists ask, where is the proof from Scripture? Strictly, there is none. It was the Catholic Church that was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly. The mere fact that the Church teaches the doctrine of the Assumption as definitely true is a guarantee that it is true. (Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism [San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988], p. 275)

Several points need to be made here. First of all, to deny that every doctrine must be “proven” from Scripture is simply a disavowal of the principle of sola Scriptura, which is an unbiblical doctrine in the first place. It is not by any means self-evident that sola Scriptura is true (as so many Protestants – like fish in water, who don’t realize that they are in water) automatically assume). The relationship of Bible and Tradition is one of the important things at issue in Protestant-Catholic discussion. One doesn’t prove something by merely assuming it – that is what is known in in logic as a circular argument, or “begging the question.”

Secondly, one can dispute what it means for a doctrine to be “proven” from Scripture. Protestants are notorious for fighting amongst themselves, with regard to this or that doctrine being “clearly demonstrated” or not in Scripture. Baptism and eternal security are two prime examples of doctrines eternally bandied about in Protestant internal warfare, with all sides claiming that the evidence from “perspicuous” Scripture is so clear for their own position. These differences have not been able to be resolved in the now nearly 500-year existence of Protestantism. So, just as a Catholic is charged with not being able to “prove” the Assumption from Holy Scripture, so the Presbyterian charges the Baptist with not being able to “prove” adult baptism from Scripture, and the Methodist charges the Baptist with not being able to “prove” eternal security from the Bible. Thus, it’s an instance of “the pot calling the kettle black.”

Thirdly, though the Assumption cannot be thus absolutely proven, it can certainly be deduced from other more explicit doctirines (in this instance, Mary’s unique holiness, the doctrine of the general resurrection, and original sin and its effects).

Fourthly, sola Scriptura cannot be proven from Scripture at all, yet Protestants have no problem elevating it into their bedrock principle of formal authority.

Fifthly, the canon of Scripture is not listed in the Bible, so that Protestants who accept it are inconsistently relying on Catholic authority to even get to their Bible and the false principle of sola Scriptura built upon it.

Sixth, the Bible often mentions “tradition” and an authoritative Church in a favorable light.

Seventh: all Christian groups claim authority of some sort. This is not some unique novelty of the Catholic Church. True, the degree, even the kind varies widely, but authority exists. The Catholic believes in faith that God protects the Catholic Church in a unique way. As a matter of fact, some Protestants have made claims that far exceed the authority ever claimed by any pope. For example, Martin Luther:

I now let you know that from now on I shall no longer do you the honor of allowing you — or even an angel from heaven — to judge my teaching or to examine it. For there has been enough foolish humility now for the third time at Worms, and it has not helped. Instead, I shall let myself be heard and, as St. Peter [249] teaches, give an explanation and defense of my teaching to all the world – I Pet. 3:15. I shall not have it judged by any man, not even by any angel. For since I am certain of it, I shall be your judge and even the angels – judge through this teaching (as St. Paul says [I Cor. 6:3 ]) so that whoever does not accept my teaching may not be saved — for it is God’s and not mine. Therefore, my judgment is also not mine but God’s. (Against the Spiritual Estate of the Pope and the Bishops Falsely So-Called, July 1522, from Luther’s Works, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan [vols. 1-30] and Helmut T. Lehmann [vols. 31-55], St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House [vols. 1-30]; Philadelphia: Fortress Press [vols. 31-55], 1955. This work from Vol. 39: Church and Ministry I, edited by J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, and H. T. Lehmann, pages 239-299; translated by Eric W. and Ruth C. Gritsch)

And last but not least, why is it that the Assumption is so troubling to Protestants as a “problem” of history, while their own key distinctive doctrines, such as imputed justification or faith alone or sola Scriptura, cannot be found at all in the Fathers (or with exceeding rarity), as many Protestant scholars freely state? In summary, then, virtually all the arguments made against the Catholic Church on these historical grounds, come back to haunt Protestants to a much greater degree. It’s like throwing stones from a glass house. Protestants are well-used to Catholics giving no replies to these common charges (because many Catholics are unfortunately poorly-catechized and ignorant of their faith), but once Catholics doanswer the bogus and unfair charges, I have found it to be the case (in my 12 years of constant apologetic dialogue) that Protestants rarely counter-reply. The Catholic case from the Bible is, in fact, far superior to the Protestant case.

This assertion is a complete repudiation of the patristic principle of proving every doctrine by the criterion of Scripture.

I have shown above how the Fathers deny formal sufficiency of Scripture, but not material sufficiency. This is the Catholic position – Mr. Webster’s melodramatic language notwithstanding.

Tradition means handing down from the past. Rome has changed the meaning of tradition from demonstrating by patristic consent that a doctrine is truly part of tradition, to the concept of living tradition – whatever I say today is truth, irrespective of the witness of history.

This is sheer nonsense, as shown . . . surely the overall folly of Mr. Webster’s argument is becoming quite evident by now.

This goes back to the claims of Gnosticism to having received the tradition by living voice, viva voce. Only now Rome has reinterpreted viva voce, the living voice as receiving from the past by way of oral tradition, to be a creative and therefore entirely novel aspect of tradition. It creates tradition in its present teaching without appeal to the past. To paraphrase the Gnostic line, it is viva voce-whatever we say.

Mr. Webster’s words sound wonderfully alarming; the only trouble is that here they have no relation to fact whatsoever. It is simply wishful anti-Catholic polemics. If Mr. Webster thinks otherwise, then let him refute the counter-arguments I have presented and thoroughly substantiated throughout this critique. One must document their claims. Mr. Webster presents no authoritative, binding statements from Catholic Councils or popes which verify his extraordinary (and false) charges.

Another illustration of this reality relates to the teaching of the Assumption of Mary from the French Roman Catholic historian, Joussard:

In these conditions we shall not ask patristic thought-as some theologians still do today under one form or another-to transmit to us, with respect to the Assumption, a truth received as such in the beginning and faithfully communicated to subsequent ages. Such an attitude would not fit the facts…Patristic thought has not, in this instance, played the role of a sheer instrument of transmission. (Joussard, L’Assomption coropelle, pp. 115-116. Cited by Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M., ed., Mariology, Vol. I (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955), p. 154)

The editors of the book which references these statements from Joussard offer the following editorial comments:

A word of caution is not impertinent here. The investigation of patristic documents might well lead the historian to the conclusion: In the first seven or eight centuries no trustworthy historical tradition on Mary’s corporeal Assumption is extant, especially in the West. The conclusion is legitimate; if the historian stops there, few theological nerves will be touched. The historian’s mistake would come in adding: therefore no proof from tradition can be adduced. The historical method is not the theological method, nor is historical tradition synonymous with dogmatic tradition. (Juniper B. Carol, O.F.M., ed., Mariology, Vol. I (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955), p. 154)

The historical method is not the theological method, nor is historical tradition synonymous with dogmatic tradition?

I’d have to consult the context for a full exposition of the above citations. Quite obviously, however, historiography and theology are two different fields. The Christian faith does not reduce to mere secular fields of learning, as if faith (or the supernatural in general) is an irrelevancy. There is a large overlap of history and Church history, of course, and Catholics believe that secular research supports Catholic and general Christian claims (it is a large discussion in and of itself, having to do with the relationship of philosophy and other sorts of learning to faith and religion), but one cannot eliminate faith. This faith is not irrational; it simply does not rely ultimately on the conclusions of secular historians, just as the Incarnation – the union of God and Man in one Divine Person – does not rest upon the examination of an anatomist: the Incarnation cannot be proven under a microscope.

Such a view is the complete antithesis of the teaching of Vincent of Lerins and the Councils of Trent and Vatican I.

Not at all, as shown.

This is an apt illustration of the concept of living tradition. This new perspective on tradition is also well expressed by Roman Catholic theologian and cardinal, Yves Congar. In light of the lack of historical support for a number of the Roman Catholic dogmas, Congar sets forth this new approach of living tradition:

In every age the consensus of the faithful, still more the agreement of those who are commissioned to teach them, has been regarded as a guarantee of truth: not because of some mystique of universal suffrage, but because of the Gospel principle that unanimity and fellowship in Christian matters requires, and also indicates, the intervention of the Holy Spirit. From the time when the patristic argument first began to be used in dogmatic controversies-it first appeared in the second century and gained general currency in the fourth-theologians have tried to establish agreement among qualified witnesses of the faith, and have tried to prove from this agreement that such was in fact the Church’s belief – Unanimous patristic consent as a reliable locus theologicus is classical in Catholic theology; it has often been declared such by the magisterium and its value in scriptural interpretation has been especially stressed. Application of the principle is difficult, at least at a certain level. In regard to individual texts of Scripture total patristic consensus is rare. In fact, a complete consensus is unnecessary: quite often, that which is appealed to as sufficient for dogmatic points does not go beyond what is encountered in the interpretation of many texts. But it does sometimes happen that some Fathers understood a passage in a way which does not agree with later Church teaching. One example: the interpretation of Peter’s confession in Matthew 16.16-18. Except at Rome, this passage was not applied by the Fathers to the papal primacy; they worked out an exegesis at the level of their own ecclesiological thought, more anthropological and spiritual than juridical. This instance, selected from a number of similar ones, shows first that the Fathers cannot be isolated from the Church and its life. They are great, but the Church surpasses them in age, as also by the breadth and richness of its experience. It is the Church, not the Fathers, the consensus of the Church in submission to its Saviour which is the sufficient rule of our Christianity. (Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions, New York: Macmillan Company, 1966, pp. 397-400)

Congar affirms that unanimous consent is the classical position in Roman theology.

It still is, as it was dogmatically proclaimed at Trent and Vatican I, which Councils are binding on Catholics. The only reason Mr. Webster thinks otherwise is because he seems to be unable to grasp the idea that development is completely consistent with this notion.

But he honestly admits that for all practical purposes it is nonexistent.

Not at all. Congar writes that “Application of the principle is difficult, at least at a certain level.” Difficulty in application is not the same as “nonexistent.” His point about individual texts is only one aspect, and a relatively unimportant one, since the Church is largely unconcerned with interpretation of individual texts. The Church’s concern is with orthodoxy. How mention of one minor difficulty of application somehow wipes out an entire principle, is a mystery that perhaps Mr. Webster can explain to us, if he ever troubles himself to reply to this paper.

It is a claim that has been asserted for centuries but lacking in actual documentary validation. As Congar says: ‘In regard to individual texts of Scripture total patristic consensus is rare.’ And he uses the fundamental passage for all of Rome’s authority as an example, that being the rock passage of Matthew 16 in which he candidly admits that the present day Roman/papal interpretation of that passage contradicts that of the patristic age. But, according to Congar, the problem is really not a problem because it can be circumvented by a different understanding of consensus.

No; the problem is not a problem because the issue is not how a doctrine is proven from Scripture by the Fathers, but that the Fathers believed in the doctrine, period. The Fathers certainly believed in the papacy.

The Fathers must be interpreted in light of present day teaching. Congar says: ‘The Fathers cannot be isolated from the Church and its life.’ And by the Church and its life, he means the Church as it is today. He says: ‘It is the Church, not the Fathers, the consensus of the Church in submission to its Saviour which is the sufficient rule of our Christianity.’ In other words, what matters is what the Church teaches now.

No, what matters is the authority of the Church. The Church is infallible in an Ecumenical Council, and the pope is infallible under certain conditions. The Fathers en masse are not infallible. But they are witnesses to authentic Catholic Tradition.

That is the criterion of truth and Tradition because the Church is living and Tradition is living.

Church, Tradition, and Scripture are the three-legged stool of authority, as taught in the Bible itself. Remove any one leg and the stool cannot stand.

He continues:

This instance shows too that we may not, at the doctrinal as distinct from the purely historical level, take the witnesses of Tradition in a purely material sense: they are to be weighed and valued. The plain material fact of agreement or disagreement, however extensive, does not allow us to speak of a consensus Patrum at the properly dogmatic level, for the authors studied in theology are only “Fathers” in the theological sense if they have in some way begotten the Church which follows them. Now, it may be, that the seed which will be most fruitful in the future is not the most clearly so at present, and that the lifelines of faith may not pass through the great doctors in a given instance. Historical documentation is at the factual level; it must leave room or a judgment made not in the light of the documentary evidence alone, but of the Church’s faith. (Congar, ibid., 397-400)

Note carefully the last two sentences of that paragraph. Congar postulates that in the future the Church could be teaching doctrines which are completely unheard of today and which will therefore not be able to be documented historically. As he puts it: ‘The lifelines of faith may not pass through the great doctors in a given instance.’ Historical documentation must leave room for judgment that is not restricted to documentary evidence alone but transcends the historical record in light of the present day Church’s faith. In other words, the truth of ecclesiastical history must be viewed through the lens of whatever the faith of the Church is at the present moment.

This is quite a remarkable extrapolation from the text. All Congar is saying is that history is not absolutely identical to Tradition, and that secular study of facts is not the same as a faithful view of the history of doctrine. Reducing Christianity merely to history is the liberal theologian’s and higher critic’s game. I think Mr. Webster and I can agree that this is not the game either of us want to play. We both have faith, as Christians. Cardinal Newman wrote in a related vein:

For myself, I would simply confess that no doctrine of the Church can be rigorously proved by historical evidence: but at the same time no doctrine can be sinply disproved by it. Historical evidence reaches a certain way, more or less, towards a proof of the Catholic doctrines; often nearly the whole way: sometimes it only goes so far as to point in their direction; sometimes there is only an absence of evidence for a conclusion contrary to them; nay, sometimes there is an apparent leaning of the evidence to a contrary conclusion, which has to be explained: – in all cases, there is a margin left for the exercise of faith in the word of the Church. He who believes the dogmas of the Church only because he has reasoned them out of History, is scarcely a Catholic. (“Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” in Difficulties of Anglicans, II, 312)

This in effect cuts the Church off from any kind of continuity as far as real documentation is concerned or accountability. It allows the Church to conveniently disregard the witness of history and Scripture in favor of a dynamic evolving teaching authority. History in effect becomes irrelevant and all talk of the unanimous consent of the fathers merely a relic of history. This brings us to the place where one’s faith is placed blindly in the institution of the Church. Again, in reality Rome has abandoned the argument from history is arguing for the viva voce (living voice) of the contemporary teaching office of the Church (magisterium), which amounts to the essence of a carte blanche for whatever proves to be the current, prevailing sentiments of Rome.

These are worthless wild speculations and cynical observations “derived” from texts which neither assert what Mr. Webster claims they assert, nor are even understood in the first place by Mr. Webster.

Never was this more blatantly admitted and expressed than it was by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892) who was one of the leading proponents for the definition of papal rule and infallibility at Vatican I. His words are the expression of sola ecclesia with a vengeance:

But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine. How can we know what antiquity was except through the Church? – I may say in strict truth that the Church has no antiquity. It rests upon its own supernatural and perpetual consciousness. . . . The only Divine evidence to us of what was primitive is the witness and voice of the Church at this hour (emphasis mine). (The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost: Or Reason and Revelation, New York: J.P. Kenedy & Sons, originally written 1865, reprinted with no date, pp. 227-228)

So, in effect, the new teaching of tradition in Rome is no longer that of continuity with the past but living tradition, or viva voce – whatever we say. Instead of sola Scriptura, the unanimous principle of authority enunciated by both Scripture and the Church fathers, we now have sola Ecclesia, blind submission to an institution which is unaccountable to either Scripture or history.

More unsubstantiated rhetoric . . . Manning’s statements must be interpreted in context. Catholics believe in development. Development holds that doctrines do not change in their essence from the time of the apostles. The Fathers did not believe in sola Scriptura, as shown. We deny “blind submission” and hold that one can have a reasonable faith and belief that God guides His one true Church. We believe that the one Church which He guides is the Catholic Church. Why this must be characterized as “blind submission” is beyond me.

That blind submission is not too strong an allegation is seen from the official Roman teaching on saving faith. What Rome requires is what is technically referred to a dogmatic faith. This is faith which submits completely to whatever the Church of Rome officially defines as dogma and to refuse such submission results in anathema and the loss of salvation, for unless a Roman Catholic has dogmatic faith, he or she does not have saving faith. Rome’s view is based on the presupposition that the Church is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and is therefore infallible. She cannot err. But the presupposition is faulty. Historically, the Roman Church has clearly proven that she can and has erred and is therefore quite fallible. Her gospel is a repudiation of the biblical gospel.

This goes into different territory. Suffice it to say that these are yet more unsubstantiated statements, and as such, not worthy of serious consideration in an otherwise long reply.

This is where we ultimately arrive when the patristic and Reformation principle of sola Scriptura is repudiated for the concept of living tradition and an infallible magisterium – the embracing of teachings which are not only not found in Scripture or the teaching of the early Church, but which are actually contradictory to Scripture and in many cases to the teaching of the Church fathers.

Yet another broad, grandiose statement which need not detain us . . . Mr. Webster is welcome to reply to any of my more than 500 [now, 2000+] papers on my website, which is particularly devoted to biblical evidences for Catholicism, but also to extensive historical apologetics, such as this present paper. As far as I am concerned, Mr. Webster’s claims above (where there is something more than mere subjective opinion with little or no documentation, or wrongheaded misinterpretation of Catholic texts, in which case it is difficult to reply) have been systematically refuted. I take no credit for that. It is a fairly easy (though time-consuming job) to refute weak, fallacious, and perpetually fact-challenged arguments.


Photo credit: Cardinal Newman [public domain]


June 9, 2017

(with particular reference to the papacy, Vatican I, Pope Leo XIII, St. Vincent of Lerins, and Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman)


Photograph Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), by Herbert Rose Barraud (1845-1896) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




The following is a direct reply to Protestant polemicist William Webster’s article: The Repudiation of the Doctrine of Development as it Relates to the Papacy by Vatican I and Pope Leo XIII. His article was largely in response to certain assertions in Steve Ray’s book Upon This Rock. I break up his paragraphs in order to create a more readable back-and-forth dialogue (as is my custom), but readers can easily link to Mr. Webster’s original to check for context, if that is desired. Webster’s words will be in blue.

* * * * *

Ray of Light Concerning Papal Development


One of the claims being made by present day Roman Catholic apologists is that, as an institution, the papacy was something that developed over time.

As indeed every other doctrine held by Catholics and Protestants has, whether in understanding and/or in application.

In his book, Upon This Rock, Steve Ray represents this position. He uses the metaphor of the acorn and the oak. In critiquing my book, The Matthew 16 Controversy, Peter and the Rock, Ray states:

Webster’s section on St. Cyprian also demonstrates his unwillingness to represent fairly the process and necessity of doctrinal development within the Church. As we have demonstrated earlier in this book: the oak tree has grown and looks perceptibly different from the fragile sprout that cracked the original acorn, yet the organic essence and identity remain the same. Do the words of the very first Christians contain the full-blown understanding of the Papacy as expressed in Vatican I? No, they do not, as Webster correctly observes. (Steve Ray, Upon This Rock, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1999, p. 184).

My good friend Steve Ray (we have known each other since 1983 — many of those years as Protestant evangelicals) is exactly right, and presently I endeavor to show why he is, and why William Webster is wrong, by means of many different avenues of historical and theological arguments and analogies.

Now, there is an implicit admission in these statements. Steve Ray is admitting to the fact that the papacy was not there from the very beginning. It was subject to a process of development and growth over time. This is a simple historical fact recognized by historians of nearly every persuasion.

Indeed, all the elements which flow from the essential aspects of the papacy took time to develop fully. Thus the papacy as we know it today (i.e., post-Vatican I, when papal infallibility was defined) was not present “full-blown” in the first century. This should neither surprise nor scandalize Catholics, as if it were a “difficulty.” The essence of the papacy has been there all along, and that is precisely what Catholic apologists and any others who understand the true nature of Newmanian, Vincentian development of doctrine refer to, when they speak of doctrines having been “present from the beginning,” or as “part of the apostolic deposit passed on from Jesus to the Apostles.” Nor is this at all contrary to the teaching of the First Vatican Council or Leo XIII, as I will demonstrate. Mr. Webster simply has no case.

The essence of the papacy is Petrine primacy and divinely-granted jurisdiction over the Church universal. I have recounted many biblical and historical arguments in this regard in the following paper: 50 NT Proofs for Petrine Primacy & the Papacy. Since my analysis in that paper is entirely grounded in the Bible (the sole formal principle of authority for Mr. Webster – assuming he espouses sola Scriptura), therefore the only development these essential, presuppositional aspects of the papacy have undergone – in a remote, somewhat tongue-in-cheek sense – would be the development entailed in the process of determining the canon of the New Testament.

But I find it interesting that Mr. Webster cuts out the second half of Steve Ray’s paragraph, which he cites. I believe that the reader will be able to understand why:

But then, neither do the words of the first Christians present the fully developed understanding of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ (or the canon of the New Testament, for that matter) as expounded and practiced by later generations of the Church. One must be careful not to read too much into the early centuries — but one must also be careful not to ignore the obvious doctrinal substance contained and practiced by our forebears, which was simply developed and implemented as the need arose throughout subsequent centuries. (Ray, ibid., p. 184; emphasis added)

This shows that Mr. Webster’s reasoning would also apply to doctrines he himself also holds (as indeed Newman argued in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine), therefore causing his case to more or less collapse, thus it was better that this was not revealed in a paper such as his present one – it makes for too much extra work, and we are all very busy . . .

Vatican I and Authoritative Biblical Interpretation


The problem for Roman Catholics is not whether there was development. The problem lies in the fact that Vatican I says there was no development.

Of course the Council claims no such thing. It asserts that the papacy was present from the beginning, and Mr. Webster falsely assumes that therefore the papacy as understood and practiced post-1870 is being referred to as having been present all along (i.e., the “oak tree” rather than the “acorn”). It is easy to “win” an argument with a straw man of one’s own making (whether it is intentional or not).

In other words there was no acorn. It was a full blown oak from the very beginning and was therefore the practice of the Church from the very beginnning.

Again, this is a gratuitous and false assumption. Such a thing is never stated by Vatican I. And what is stated is wrongly interpreted by Mr. Webster, as I will demonstrate in due course. It so happens that I have previously “anticipated” Mr. Webster’s argument here (in exchanges with others) and have — I believe — (by means of Newman himself) satisfactorily “answered” his contentions already, in a paper: “The Development of the Papacy (Newman).

Vatican I reaffirmed the decree of the Council of Trent on the Unanimous Consent of the Fathers which has to do specifically with the interpretation of Scripture. It states that it is unlawful to interpret Scripture in any way contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

I assume Mr. Webster makes reference to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter II, “Of Revelation” (ending):

Now since the decree on the interpretation of Holy Scripture, profitably made by the Council of Trent, with the intention of constraining rash speculation, has been wrongly interpreted by some, we renew that decree and declare its meaning to be as follows: that in matters of faith and morals, belonging as they do to the establishing of Christian doctrine, that meaning of Holy Scripture must be held to be the true one, which holy Mother Church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of Holy Scripture. In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret Holy Scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

This passage does not — strictly speaking — deal with mandatory interpretations of particular Scripture verses. The Church — in this instance, as always — is much more concerned with true doctrines, as opposed to absolute requirements of belief with regard to any given biblical passage. That’s why the Council speaks of “the true meaning and interpretation of Holy Scripture” (i.e., as a whole; as a set of doctrinal beliefs, or the crystallization of Holy Tradition), rather than of “the true meaning and interpretation of every individual passage of Holy Scripture.” The Church would, therefore, contend that Holy Scripture teaches the doctrine of the papacy, and that anyone who would deny that is in the wrong, and is opposed to the “unanimous consent” of the Fathers.

Mr. Webster, therefore (inadvertently, I assume) sets up false premises, upon which he bases his argument, which he apparently considers compelling and clear-cut. It rests upon a supposed conciliar requirement to interpret individual biblical passages in the way it itself interprets them, and an alleged claim that all the Fathers indeed interpreted them in this fashion. But these demands and claims simply do not occur in the Council’s decrees. Like many non-Catholic controversialists, Mr. Webster falls prey to the temptation of attributing to the Catholic Church an objectionable and excessive “dogmatism” which goes beyond what the Church claims for itself.

Vatican I then proceeds to set forth its teachings on papal primacy and infallibility with the interpretation of Matthew 16:18, John 21:15-17 and Luke 22:32 as the basis for its teachings.

So far, Mr. Webster is correct. Like any good Protestant, the Catholic Church seeks to offer biblical rationale for its beliefs.

And then it states that the interpretations that it gives and the conclusions it draws from these interpretations, in terms of the practice of the Church, has been that which has ever been taught in the Church and practiced by it.

In terms of the essence of the papacy, and the kernels contained in these passages, yes. But as we will shortly see, Mr. Webster falsely charges that the Church is making an untrue claim about historical exegesis – a contention which I cannot find in the texts he cites (perhaps I missed it, and Mr. Webster can point this out to me).

Here is what Vatican I says:

Chapter I: Of the Institution of the Apostolic Primacy in blessed Peter.

We therefore teach and declare that, according to the testimony of the Gospel, the primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church of God was immediately and directly promised and given to blessed Peter the Apostle by Christ the Lord. For it was to Simon alone, to whom he had already said: “Thou shalt be called Cephas,” that the Lord after the confession made by him, saying: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” addressed these solemn words: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood have not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, it shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.” And it was upon Simon alone that Jesus after his resurrection bestowed the jurisdiction of chief pastor and ruler over all his fold in the words: “Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.” At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture as it has been ever understood by the Catholic Church are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by Christ the Lord in his Church, deny that Peter in his single person, preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through the Church on Peter as her minister.

If any one, therefore, shall say that blessed Peter the Apostle was not appointed the Prince of all the Apostles and the visible Head of the whole Church militant; or that the same directly and immediately received from the same our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honor only, and not of true and proper jurisdiction: let him be anathema.

(Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom [New York: Harper, 1877], Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, Ch. 4, pp. 266-71).

[remainder of lengthy citation from Vatican I deleted — the reader may read it on the link provided on top]

Notice here that Vatican I states that its interpretation of Matthew 16 and John 21 has been the interpretation that has ever been understood in the Church. That is, from them very beginning.

If by this, Mr. Webster is implying that the Council claimed all the Fathers interpreted these particular passages in the same fashion, it simply did not do so. A crucial distinction must be made at this point. The Council (and Catholic apologists today) can and may use various biblical texts in order to support some particular Catholic doctrine. Vatican I, then, is in effect arguing:

“These are some of the biblical reasons why we accept these beliefs (about the papacy), beliefs which have always been held (in their essence – with development over time) by the Church.”

Note that this is quite different (vastly different, in terms of logic) from arguing the following, which — if I am not mistaken — Mr. Webster falsely claims that Vatican I is doing:

“These are some of the biblical reasons which have always been used by the Church — with the unanimous consent of the Fathers — to justify these beliefs (about the papacy), beliefs which have always been held (in their essence — with development over time) by the Church.”

In other words, the beliefs themselves and the particular biblical rationale and proof texts for those beliefs are not one and the same. Thus, even if not all Fathers accepted the interpretations of certain “papal” passages which are frequently used in Catholic apologetics today, that does not mean that they therefore rejected the doctrine of the papacy. Mr. Webster has subtly altered the sense of Vatican I and “smuggled in” notions which are not actually present in the documents themselves, in order to bolster his anti-papal case. Again, I don’t contend that he is being deliberately deceitful. The logic is sufficiently subtle to have been botched in its application, a faux pas all proponents of a particular viewpoint are prone to commit, in their zeal and passion for the ideas they hold. But now that this logical fallacy has been pointed out and exposed, Mr. Webster must honestly face it.

Furthermore, one must precisely understand what is meant by the “unanimous consent” of the Fathers. Steve Ray has written about this as well. In a nutshell, it doesn’t mean in this context (ancient Latin usage), “absolutely every.” It means “very broad / widespread consensus.”

Vatican I, Cardinal Newman, & the Papacy vs. William Webster
It further states that Peter was given a primacy of jurisdiction from the very beginning by Christ himself and that this primacy was passed on to Peter’s successors, the bishops of Rome. This, it says, has been known to all ages.

Indeed, jurisdiction was present from the beginning, and recognized by the Fathers, as fully evidenced in my 50 NT Proofs for Petrine Primacy & the Papacy and in great depth in Steve Ray’s book Upon This Rock. It was present when Jesus gave to St. Peter the “keys of the kingdom,” and renamed him “Rock,” with strongly implied (and soon-exercised) ecclesiological preeminence, as shown in the many passages I detail. The successors are a matter of historical fact. Rome became the center of the Church by God’s design: Sts. Peter and Paul were martyred there, after all. American Christians have scarcely any notion of the place and function of martyrdom in the Christian life. Rome was also obviously key in terms of influencing the Roman Empire. But I digress . . .

In other words, there was no acorn. According to Vatican I, the papacy was a full blown oak from the very beginning because it was established by Christ himself.

The Council never asserts that it was a “full-blown oak from the very beginning” (because that would be clearly untrue). Nothing in the documents contradicts development of doctrine – rightly understood – in the least. The fact that the papacy was established by Christ Himself does not mean that it would initially look and operate in the same manner as it does today, after nearly 2000 years of development. Cardinal Newman writes very eloquently (as always) about this notion:

Let us see how, on the principles which I have been laying down and defending, the evidence lies for the Pope’s supremacy.

As to this doctrine the question is this, whether there was not from the first a certain element at work, or in existence, divinely sanctioned, which, for certain reasons, did not at once show itself upon the surface of ecclesiastical affairs, and of which events in the fourth century are the development; and whether the evidence of its existence and operation, which does occur in the earlier centuries, be it much or little, is not just such as ought to occur upon such an hypothesis.

. . . While Apostles were on earth, there was the display neither of Bishop nor Pope; their power had no prominence, as being exercised by Apostles. In course of time, first the power of the Bishop displayed itself, and then the power of the Pope . . .

When the Church, then, was thrown upon her own resources, first local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops,and next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. It is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated . . .

Moreover, an international bond and a common authority could not be consolidated, were it ever so certainly provided, while persecutions lasted. If the Imperial Power checked the development of Councils, it availed also for keeping back the power of the Papacy. The Creed, the Canon, in like manner, both remained undefined. The Creed, the Canon, the Papacy, Ecumenical Councils, all began to form, as soon as the Empire relaxed its tyrannous oppression of the Church. And as it was natural that her monarchical power should display itself when the Empire became Christian, so was it natural also that further developments of that power should take place when that Empire fell . . .

On the whole, supposing the power to be divinely bestowed, yet in the first instance more or less dormant, a history could not be traced out more probable, more suitable to that hypothesis, than the actual course of the controversy which took place age after age upon the Papal supremacy.

It will be said that all this is a theory. Certainly it is: it is a theory to account for facts as they lie in the history, to account for so much being told us about the Papal authority in early times, and not more; a theory to reconcile what is and what is not recorded about it; and, which is the principal point, a theory to connect the words and acts of the Ante-nicene Church with that antecedent probability of a monarchical principle in the Divine Scheme, and that actual exemplification of it in the fourth century, which forms their presumptive interpretation. All depends on the strength of that presumption. Supposing there be otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it . . .

Moreover, all this must be viewed in the light of the general probability, so much insisted on above, that doctrine cannot but develop as time proceeds and need arises, and that its developments are parts of the Divine system, and that therefore it is lawful, or rather necessary, to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier Church by the determinate teaching of the later.

(Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1878 edition, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1989, pp. 148-155; Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 3)

And then it states that this teaching is part of the content of saving faith. To deviate from this teaching is to incur the loss of salvation. This is an explicit affirmation that outside the Church of Rome there is no salvation.

This is true, but of course it must be understood how this teaching is applied (a task beyond our immediate purview). There are many “loopholes” which allow for ignorance and lessened culpability due to a variety of factors in which a given individual may not be at fault for his unbelief. Catholic teaching in this regard is very biblical, nuanced, and complex, unlike, e.g., Calvinist and other fundamentalist Protestant views which consign whole classes of people to damnation and hell due to double predestination and their never having heard the gospel. I have many links about this topic on my Ecumenism and Christian Unity page.

Later on, in its teaching on papal infallibility, Vatican I states:

For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter, that by his revelation they might make known new doctrine; but that by his assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith delivered through the Apostles. And, indeed, all the venerable Fathers have embraced, and the holy orthodox doctors have venerated and followed, their Apostolic doctrine; knowing most fully that this See of holy Peter remains ever free from all blemish of error according to the divine promise of the Lord our Saviour made to the Prince of his disciples: “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and, when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren.” This gift, then, of truth and never failing faith was conferred by heaven upon Peter and his successors in his chair, that they might perform their high office for the salvation of all . . . [omitted second portion of the citation]

Vatican I is basing its teaching of papal infallibility on the interpretation of Luke 22:32. A teaching or tradition which it says was received from the very beginning of the Christian faith. The Council asserts that the doctrine of papal infallibility is a divinely revealed dogma and all who refuse to embrace it are placed under anathema.

It does not assert that the entire teaching is based on Luke 22:32. It merely gives that passage as a proof text, not for papal infallibility per se, but rather, for the indefectibility of the Church, as centered and grounded in the orthodoxy of the popes. Again, this does not mean that absolutely every Father took this interpretation of Luke 22:32, if that is what is being implied. What was received from the beginning was papal primacy and universal jurisdiction, which is the essence and “seed” of papal infallibility, just as the biblical statement “Jesus is Lord” is the “seed” of the exceedingly complex and highly-philosophical Chalcedonian Christology of 451 A.D.

If Christology itself – the very doctrine of God – took over 400 years to “sort itself out,” so to speak (actually, even longer, as the Monothelite heresy was yet to appear), why not the papacy? In 451, Pope St. Leo the Great was reigning, and was a key figure in determining orthodox Christology (accepted to this day by all three branches of Christianity). The papacy was quite robust and “full-blown” by then, as most historians would agree. See my paper: “Pope Leo the Great & Papal Supremacy.” As for papal infallibility: true Christian authority must have a divinely-ordained means to protect it from error. We serve a God of truth, not of relativism and confusion. Ultimately, this “protector” is the Holy Spirit Himself, according to such passages as John 14:26 and 16:13.

Vatican I, Vincent of Lerins, Verities, & Verbal Gymnastics


Before moving on to Mr. Webster’s misguided accusations concerning the teaching of Pope Leo XIII vis-a-vis Vatican I and development, let us briefly note the fact that Vatican I – far from rejecting it – embraced development of doctrine. There can be no question of this whatsoever, as I will now prove.

Here is a portion of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, ch. 4, “Of Faith and Reason,” from Dogmatic Canons and Decrees (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1977; reprint of 1912 ed. of authorized translations of the Councils of Trent and Vatican I, Imprimatur by John Cardinal Farley of New York, pp. 232-233):

Hence, also, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is perpetually to be retained which our holy Mother the Church has once declared; nor is that meaning ever to be departed from, under the pretence or pretext of a deeper comprehension of them (can. iii). Let then the intelligence, science and wisdom of each and all, of individuals and of the whole Church, in all ages and all times, increase and flourish in abundance and vigour; but simply in its own proper kind, that is to say, in one and the same doctrine, one and the same judgment. (29)

29. Vincent of Lerins, Common. n. 28.

This expresses precisely the Vincentian and Newmanian (and Catholic) understanding of the development of doctrines which remain essentially unchanged. Development is emphatically not evolution per se, which is the transformation or change of one thing into something else. The two concepts are entirely distinct philosophically and linguistically. Shortly I shall cite Pope St. Pius X, who makes precisely this distinction in a papal encyclical.Here is a second translation of the passage, from The Christian Faith: Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, edited by J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, New York: Alba House, 5th revised and enlarged ed., 1990, p. 47:

Hence also that meaning of the sacred dogmas is perpetually to be retained which our Holy Mother Church has once declared, and there must never be a deviation from that meaning on the specious ground and title of a more profound understanding. ‘Therefore, let there be growth and abundant progress in understanding, knowledge and wisdom, in each and all, in individuals and in the whole Church, at all times and in the progress of ages, but only within the proper limits, i.e., within the same dogma, the same meaning, the same judgment.’ (1)

(1) Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium primum, 23.

Perhaps, in the words of the prison guard in Cool Hand Luke, “what we have here is a failure to communicate.” There is no conflict whatever between Cardinal Newman’s thesis in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and the above infallible pronouncement of an Ecumenical Council (during his own lifetime, in fact).

Vatican I cites St. Vincent of Lerins as a precedent, just as Newman himself had 25 years earlier. It cites the very passage which is — from all accounts – the classic exposition of dogmatic development in the Fathers — the very inspiration of Newman to expand upon the notion further. St. Vincent even draws the analogy of the organic growth of bodies, using a metaphor (“seed”) which is the same notion as the “acorn and the oak tree” which Mr. Webster so disdains.

And here is the excerpt from St. Vincent of Lerins which Vatican I cited (Notebooks, 23:28-30), from yet another translation (William A. Jurgens, editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 3 volumes, Collegeville, Minesota: Liturgical Press, vol. 3, 1979, p.265). I will provide the context, with the portion utilized by Vatican I in-between ***’s. Note that by citing this passage – given the explicit context – Vatican I is implicitly and beyond doubt giving sanction to the notion of doctrinal development. It is expressly denying (contra Webster) that Catholic doctrine (including, by extension, the papacy) starts as an “oak tree” rather than as a seed or acorn:

[28] But perhaps someone is saying: ‘ Will there, then, be no progress of religion in the Church of Christ? ‘ Certainly there is, and the greatest. For who is there so envious toward men and so exceedingly hateful toward God, that he would try to prohibit progress? But it is truly progress and not a change of faith. What is meant by progress is that something is brought to an advancement within itself; by change, something is transformed from one thing into another. *** It is necessary, therefore, that understanding, knowledge and wisdom grow and advance strongly and mightily as much in individuals as in the group, as much in one man as in the whole Church, and this gradually according to age and the times; and this must take place precisely within its own kind, that is, in the same teaching, in the same meaning, and in the same opinion.*** [29] The progress of religion in souls is like the growth of bodies, which, in the course of years, evolve and develop, but still remain what they were . . . [30] . . . Although in the course of time something evolved from those first seeds and has now expanded under careful cultivation, nothing of the characteristics of the seeds is changed. Granted that appearance, beauty and distinction has been added, still, the same nature of each kind remains.

[the first ellipses (. . . ) are in Jurgens’ version; the second set is my own]

If this weren’t a striking enough disproof of Mr. Webster’s claim that Vatican I opposes doctrinal development, in the same work, St. Vincent expresses his famous dictum (often cited by Protestant polemicists against development):

In the Catholic Church herself every care must be taken that we may hold fast to that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. For this is, then truly and properly Catholic . . . (Notebooks, 2, 3. Jurgens, ibid., vol. 3, p. 263)

Obviously, unchanging essence and developing, progressing non-essential elements are compatible, according to St. Vincent, Newman, and Vatican I. Here we have almost all the elements outlined by Newman fourteen centuries later, yet Protestant controversialists such as George Salmon and William Webster continue to claim that Newman’s views were a radical departure from Catholic precedent! How silly; how sad!

To establish the fact that St. Vincent of Lerins is a key figure in the “development of development of doctrine,” I shall now cite Pope St. Pius X, and four specialists on the history of Christian doctrine: two Catholic and two Protestant scholars, respectively:

28. It is thus, Venerable Brethren, that for the Modernists, whether as authors or propagandists, there is to be nothing stable, nothing immutable in the Church. Nor, indeed, are they without forerunners in their doctrines, for it was of these that Our predecessor Pius IX wrote: “These enemies of divine revelation extol human progress to the skies, and with rash and sacrilegious daring would have it introduced into the Catholic religion as if this religion were not the work of God but of man, or some kind of philosophical discovery susceptible of perfection by human efforts.”[14] On the subject of revelation and dogma in particular, the doctrine of the Modernists offers nothing new. We find it condemned in the Syllabus of Pius IX, where it is enunciated in these terms: ”Divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the progress of human reason”;[15] and condemned still more solemnly in the Vatican Council: ”The doctrine of the faith which God has revealed has not been proposed to human intelligences to be perfected by them as if it were a philosophical system, but as a divine deposit entrusted to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted. Hence also that sense of the sacred dogmas is to be perpetually retained which our Holy Mother the Church has once declared, nor is this sense ever to be abandoned on plea or pretext of a more profound comprehension of the truth.”[16] Nor is the development of our knowledge, even concerning the faith, barred by this pronouncement; on the contrary, it is supported and maintained. For the same Council continues: “Let intelligence and science and wisdom, therefore, increase and progress abundantly and vigorously in individuals, and in the mass, in the believer and in the whole Church, throughout the ages and the centuries–but only in its own kind, that is, according to the same dogma, the same sense, the same acceptation.”[17] (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi Dominici Gregis, “On the Doctrine of the Modernists,” 8 September 1907, section 28)

Note how the pope who is known for his opposition to theological modernism, or liberalism — in his famous encyclical on that very subject –, cites the same passage from Vatican I which I have noted, including the citation from St. Vincent (which is at the very end). He contends that development of doctrine is neither “evolution” (which he contrasts to it) nor modernism. By extension, then, he is verifying that Vatican I upheld development of doctrine (as explicated by St. Vincent and more recently in the same sense by Cardinal Newman) as entirely orthodox and Catholic.

He states this outright: “Nor is the development of our knowledge, even concerning the faith, barred by this pronouncement; on the contrary, it is supported and maintained.” Nothing could be more clear. This is another nail in the coffin of Mr. Webster’s claims. The papacy is one of many doctrines contained in “the faith” and the apostolic deposit. It develops like all the other dogmas, and like all the beliefs in Protestantism as well — including the canon of Scripture itself (much as many Protestants would seek to deny this).

Vincent’s doctrinal principle does not exclude progress and development; but it does exclude change. For Vincent, progress is a developmental growth of doctrine in its own sphere; change, however, implies a transformation into something different. In his encyclical Pascendi gregis against modernism, Pope Saint Pius X refers favorably to St. Vincent; and so does the Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith. (The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. III, Jurgens, ibid., p. 262)

[Describing St. Vincent’s thought] The criteria of tradition does not lead to immobility, given that it is joined with a second criterion, both essential and complementary, of dogmatic progress which operates according to the laws of organic growth.

‘This progress truly constitutes a progress and not an alteration of the faith, for it is characteristic of progress that a thing grows while remaining the same thing, and characteristic of alteration that one thing is changed into another. Therefore intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom grow and increase considerably both of the individual as of all, of the single man as well as of the entire church, according to ages and times. The particular nature of each is to be respected, however; that is, it remains exactly the same dogma, has the same meaning and expresses the same thought’ (c.23).

Vatican I adopted this well-known formula as its own . . . There is thus a three-fold progress: a progress in formulation which the church, having been challenged by the heretics, accomplishes by means of conciliar decrees to enlighten the understanding with new and appropriate terms and transmit them to those who will come later; progress in the organic life which takes place in dogmatic truths and always exceeds the language which expresses it, much in the same way that a human life grows from infancy to old age while always remaining the same person; progress in the final acquisition of truth without alteration or mutilation . . .

Paradoxically, this teacher of the immutability is revealed as the theologian of the laws of the development of dogma . . . The Commonitorium, as Bossuet noted, also drew its inspiration from the writings of Augustine . . .

Even though Vincent was concerned primarily with the innovations of the heresies, the West has drawn inspiration from his teaching on the progress of dogma developed in several chapters of the Commonitorium (c. 23-24). He recognized this development both in the understanding and in the formulation of dogmatic truth. Without changing the deposit of faith in any way, the church explores its richness more deeply and expresses its content more clearly . . . .

It is certain that . . . the influence of the Commonitorium has not ceased to increase since the sixteenth century . . . Bellarmine described it as the libellus plane aureus, while Bossuet makes constant reference to it in his Defense de la tradition des saints Peres. Catholics and Protestants regarded it with equal admiration at first. Newman found an “ecumenical” norm in the Commonitorium and procured a new importance for the work . . . the First Vatican Council . . . took the last word from Vincent of Lerins in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Faith. (Patrology, Johannes Quasten, vol. IV, ed. Angelo di Berardino, translated by Placid Solari, Allen, Texas: Christian Classics, 1977, from ch. 8, by Adalbert Hamman, pp. 548-550)

Augustine . . . manifestly acknowledges a gradual advancement of the church doctrine, which reaches its corresponding expression from time to time through the general councils; but a progress within the truth, without positive error . . . In like manner Vincentius Lerinensis teaches, that the church doctrine passes indeed through various stages of growth in knowledge, and becomes more and more clearly defined in opposition to ever-rising errors, but can never become altered or dismembered. (History of the Christian Church, vol. 3: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, Philip Schaff, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1974 [orig. 1910], p. 344)

. . . Not that Vincent is a conservative who excludes the possibility of all progress in doctrine. In the first place, he admits that it has been the business of councils to perfact and polish the traditional formulae, and even concepts, in which the great truths contained in the original deposit are expressed, thereby declaring ‘not new doctrines, but old ones in new terms’ (non nova, sed nove). Secondly, however, he would seem to allow for an organic development of doctrine analogous to the growth of the human body from infancy to age. But this development, he is careful to explain, while real, must not result in the least alteration to the original significance of the doctrine concerned. Thus in the end the Christian must, like Timothy, [1 Tim 6:20] ‘guard the deposit’, i.e., the revelation enshrined in its completeness in Holy Scripture and correctly interpreted in the Church’s unerring tradition. (Early Christian Doctrines, J. N. D. Kelly, San Francisco: HarperCollins, revised edition, 1978, pp. 50-51)

Salmon and Dead Horses (Being Beaten)


The Anglican George Salmon’s The Infallibility of the Church (originally 1890) apparently remains an inspiration for the anti-infallibility, anti-development polemics of the current generation of anti-Catholic crusaders, such as William Webster and James White. Yet it has been refuted decisively twice, by B.C. Butler, in his The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to the Abridged “Salmon”‘ and also in a series of articles in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, in 1901 and 1902. (1)

Nevertheless, even the more ecumenical Protestant apologists Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie claimed in 1995, in a major critique of Catholicism, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, (2) that Salmon’s book has “never really been answered by the Catholic Church.” Geisler and MacKenzie cite Salmon as a “witness” for their case (3).

George Salmon revealed in his book his profoundly biased ignorance not only concerning papal infallibility, but also with regard to even the basics of the development of doctrine:

Romish advocates . . . are now content to exchange tradition, which their predecessors had made the basis of their system, for this new foundation of development . . . The theory of development is, in short, an attempt to enable men, beaten off the platform of history, to hang on to it by the eyelids . . . The old theory was that the teaching of the Church had never varied. (4)

1. Butler: New York, Sheed & Ward, 1954, 230 pages. A friend was recently able to obtain the articles from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record in the library of a well-known evangelical seminary in the Chicago area.

2. Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995, p. 206, which calls it the “classic refutation of papal infallibility.” See also p. 459.

3. Geisler and MacKenzie, ibid., pp. 206-207.

4. Salmon, George, The Infallibility of the Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House (originally 1888), pp. 31-33 (cf. also pp. 35, 39).

Here Salmon (like Webster) is quixotically fighting a straw man of his own making and seeking to sophistically force his readers into the acceptance of a false and altogether logically unnecessary dichotomy: that development of doctrine implies change in the essence or substance of a doctrine and therefore is utterly contrary to the claims of the Church to be the Guardian and Custodian of an authoritative tradition of never-changing dogma. But this is emphatically not the Catholic belief, nor that of Newman, to whom Salmon was largely responding. Nor is it true that development was a “new” theory introduced by Cardinal Newman into Catholicism, while the “old theory” was otherwise. This is unanswerably proven by the writing of St. Vincent of Lerins, above (themselves paralleled by St. Augustine and other Fathers well familiar with the orthodox notion of development).

Pope Leo XIII: Foe of Development of Doctrine and Newman?


The papal encyclical, Satis Cognitum, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1896, is a commentary on and papal confirmation of the teachings of Vatican I. As to the issue of doctrinal development, Leo makes it quite clear that Vatican I leaves no room for such a concept in its teachings.

If indeed this were true (it assuredly is not), then I would find it exceedingly odd that Pope Leo XIII would name John Henry Newman a Cardinal in 1879, soon after becoming pope (1878). Why would he do that for the famous exponent of the classic treatment of development of doctrine, if he himself rejected that same notion? No; as before, Mr. Webster is (consciously or not) subtly switching definitions and statements of a pope and a Council in order to make it appear that there is a glaring contradiction, when in fact there is none. Such a mythical state of affairs is beyond absurd:

Il mio cardinale“, Pope Leo called Newman, “my cardinal”. There was much resistance to the appointment. “It was not easy”, the Pope recalled later, “It was not easy. They said he was too liberal.” (Marvin R. O’Connell, “Newman and Liberalism,” in Newman Today, edited by Stanley L. Jaki, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989, p. 87)

And the very fact that Newman was now a member of the sacred college had put to rest, as he expressed it, ‘all the stories which have gone about of my being a half Catholic, a Liberal Catholic, not to be trusted . . . The cloud is lifted from me forever.” (Ibid., p. 87; Letter of Newman to R. W. Church, 11 March 1879, Letters and Diaries, vol. XXIX, p. 72)

Ian Ker, author of the massive 764-page biography John Henry Newman (Oxford University Press, 1988) expands upon Pope Leo XIII in relation to Newman:

The Duke of Norfolk had himself personally submitted the suggestion to the Pope. The Duke’s explicit object was to secure Rome’s recognition of Newman’s loyalty and orthodoxy. Such a vindication was not only personally due to Newman, but was important for removing among non-Catholics the suspicion that his immensely persuasive and popular apologetic writings were not really properly Catholic. It looks in fact as if Leo XIII had already had the idea himself, as Newman was later given to believe . . . After being elected Pope, he is supposed to have said that the policy of his pontificate would be revealed by the name of the first Cardinal he created. Several years later he told an English visitor: . . .

‘I had determined to honour the Church in honouring Newman. I always had a cult for him. I am proud that I was able to honour such a man.’ (p. 715)

Newman wrote:

For 20 or 30 years ignorant or hot-headed Catholics had said almost that I was a heretic . . . I knew and felt that it was a miserable evil that the One True Apostolic Religion should be so slandered as to cause men to suppose that my portrait of it was not the true — and I knew that many would become Catholics, as they ought to be, if only I was pronounced by Authority to be a good Catholic. On the other hand it had long riled me, that Protestants should condescendingly say that I was only half a Catholic, and too good to be what they were at Rome. (in Ker, ibid., pp. 716-717; Letters and Diaries, vol. XXIX, p. 160)

Such is the lot of great men; geniuses; those ahead of their time. Now Mr. Webster joins this miserable, deluded company of those who pretend that Newman was a heterodox Catholic, and that his theory of development is somehow un-Catholic, or — even worse — a deliberately cynical method of rationalization intended to whitewash so-called “contradictions” of Catholic doctrinal history.

Leo states over and over again that the papacy was fully established by Christ from the very beginning and that it has been the foundation of the constitution of the Church and recognized as such from the very start and throughout all ages.

True enough, in the sense which I have repeatedly stressed.

He further affirms that Vatican I’s teaching has been the constant belief of every age and and is therefore not a novel doctrine:

Merciful heavens! A “novel doctrine” is something like sola Scriptura, or sola fide, the latter of which Protestant apologist Norman Geisler states that no one believed it from the time of St. Paul to Luther (and Catholics would also strongly deny that Paul taught it). Likewise, noted Protestant scholar Alister McGrath confesses:

The essential feature of the Reformation doctrines of justification is that a deliberate and systematic distinction is made between justification and regeneration. Although it must be emphasised that this distinction is purely notional, in that it is impossible to separate the two within the context of the ordo salutis, the essential point is that a notional distinction is made where none had been acknowledged before in the history of Christian doctrine. A fundamental discontinuity was introduced into western theological tradition where none had ever existed, or ever been contemplated, before. The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification as opposed to its mode must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum. (Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, the Beginnings to the Reformation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 186-187)

Many other innovations of Protestantism- – established against all contrary Church precedent — amply qualify as true “novelties.” The papacy (even considered as explicitly infallible)- – whatever one thinks of it – is surely not in the same league as all the brand-new Protestant inventions. But let us see what Mr. Webster selects from Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, to supposedly bolster his tenuous claims:

Wherefore, as appears from what has been said, Christ instituted in the Church a living, authoritative and permanent Magisterium, which by His own power He strengthened, by the Spirit of truth He taught, and by miracles confirmed. He willed and ordered, under the gravest penalties, that its teachings should be received as if they were His own…Jesus Christ, therefore, appointed Peter to be that head of the Church; and He also determined that the authority instituted in perpetuity for the salvation of all should be inherited by His successors, in whom the same permanent authority of Peter himself should continue. And so He made that remarkable promise to Peter and to no one else: “Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. xvi., 18)…It was necessary that a government of this kind, since it belongs to the constitution and formation of the Church, as its principal element – that is as the principle of unity and the foundation of lasting stability – should in no wise come to an end with St. Peter, but should pass to his successors from one to another…When the Divine founder decreed that the Church should be one in faith, in government, and in communion, He chose Peter and his successors as the principle and centre, as it were, of this unity…Indeed, Holy Writ attests that the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven were given to Peter alone, and that the power of binding and loosening was granted to the Apostles and to Peter; but there is nothing to show that the Apostles received supreme power without Peter, and against Peter. Such power they certainly did not receive from Jesus Christ. Wherefore, in the decree of the Vatican Council as to the nature and authority of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, no newly conceived opinion is set forth, but the venerable and constant belief of every age (Sess. iv., cap. 3).

Again, this is not at all inconsistent with the idea of a primitive version of the papacy consistently developing into the institution we see today. Mr. Webster simply begs the question by assuming that Pope Leo refers throughout to a full-fledged papacy, and not to the essential, unchanging seed of the later developed papacy, in the person of St. Peter. Leo XIII never makes any statement explicitly denouncing development (which is Mr. Webster’s thesis, after all).

And when he refers to the papacy as the “constant belief,” he is expressing himself no differently than a Protestant who states that “the divinity of Christ has always been believed,” or “the Trinity was always believed,” or the New Testament was always accepted by 1st-century Christians, when they know full well (if they know their Church history at all) that the doctrines of God (trinitarian theology) and especially Christ (Christology) also underwent much development (Two Natures, Athanasian Creed, Theotokos, battles with heretics such as the Monothelites, Arians, and Sabellians) while at the same time remaining the same in essence.

Likewise, there wasn’t total consensus about the New Testament until the canon was finalized in the late 4th century. Yet Scripture was what it was all along: inspired and God-breathed. The Church did not make it so (as Vatican I itself explicitly affirms). Protestants, in speaking of the broad consensus of the early Fathers with regard to the canon of Scripture, are basically asserting the “unanimous consent of the Fathers” in the way a Catholic would argue. Likewise, the papacy was what it was, all along, even if not all recognized it. Not all recognized Jesus as the Messiah and Lord, either. That is no disproof.

Conclusion: Folly, False “Facts,” and Fallacies


The Roman Catholic Church, itself, has officially stated that there was no development of this doctrine in the early Church.

Where? This certainly hasn’t been shown by Mr. Webster. He has to make false deductions and redefine words and phrases to make his nonexistent case, whereas I have clearly demonstrated the opposite, right from the explicit text of Vatican I.

After all, if the fullness of the definition of papal primacy as defined by Vatican I was instituted by Christ immediately upon Peter, as both Vatican I and Leo XIII affirm, then there is no room for development.

This is a classic case of Mr. Webster’s fallacious logic and curious rhetorical method. Where is it stated that the “fullness of definition of papal primacy” was conferred upon Peter? The primacy itself was given to him; the duty and prerogatives of the papal office, and the keys of the kingdom, but none of that implies that a full understanding or application, or unanimous acknowledgement by others is therefore also present from the beginning. The thing itself – in its essential aspects, or nature, is present. And that is what develops, without inner contradiction or change of principle, as Newman ably pointed out in the long citation above.

It was instituted by Christ himself and was therefore present from the very beginning and would have been recognized as such by the Church as Vatican I states: “Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See, does by the institution of Christ himself obtain the Primacy of Peter over the whole Church –, a fact which Vatican I says has been known to all ages leading to the practice “that it has at all times been necessary that every particular Church — that is to say, the faithful throughout the world — should agree with the Roman Church, on account of the greater authority of the princedom which this has received.” This documentation completely demolishes present day Roman Catholic apologists’ theory of development. They are at odds with the magisterium of their own Church. Indeed, these apologists must set forth a theory of development because of the historical reality, but such a theory is at open variance with the clear teaching of Vatican I and Leo XIII.

Hardly. As shown, Vatican I explicitly accepted development of doctrine, citing the very passage from St. Vincent Lerins which is the classic exposition in the Fathers – essentially identical to Newman’s analysis. Pope Leo XIII made Newman a Cardinal – his very first appointment, meant to send a message, yet Mr. Webster would have us believe that he was diametrically opposed to the thought for which Newman was most famous (and notorious, in some circles): development of doctrine. So we are to believe that Leo XIII made a Cardinal someone he regarded as a rank heretic? I suppose any absurd, surreal scenario within the Catholic Church is possible in the minds of many of her more – shall we say – zealous critics. Likewise, the very next pope, and vigorous condemner of modernism, Pope St. Pius X, also supported not only St. Vincent of Lerins, as we saw above, but also John Henry Newman (see below).

Thus, there is quite positive evidence that development of doctrine was (and is) indeed accepted by the Catholic Church. Mr. Webster, on the other hand, in order to put forth his thesis, must rely on distortions of what development means, and improbable deductions from indirect suggestions in conciliar and papal documents, which he interprets as hostile to development. It’s a wrongheaded enterprise from the get-go. Newman was orthodox, despite what Webster, Salmon, and other Protestant polemicists would have us believe:

To make matters worse, and to deepen Newman’s disappointment, the Essay had been eagerly seized by American Unitarians as a first-rate demonstration that the Trinitarian doctrine was not primitive but was a development of the third century. In the midst of the consequent excitement, the militant American convert, Orestes Brownson, made a series of attacks on the Essay, beginning with a review of it in Brownson’s Quarterly Review in July, 1846. Brownson called Newman’s work “essentially anticatholic and Protestant”; he objected to Christianity being treated as an “idea”; and he also objected to Newman’s third mark of a true development, the “power of assimilation” . . .

It is not surprising, therefore, that the edition of 1878 is in so many ways, both large and small, different from that of 1845. Yet in the thirty-three years between the two editions, the Essay made its way with the Church, and was accepted in its original form as, in the words of Dr. Benard, “simply an original and highly ingenious manner of presenting a strictly traditional Catholic doctrine.” But the vicissitudes of Newman’s Essay were not over. During the last years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, there arose the Modernist Movement, in which Newman’s volume was made an instrument of heresy . . .

It may be observed that when Pope Pius X issued the encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis in July, 1907, condemning the Movement, many of Newman’s readers at once feared that the Essay on Developent had been condemned, too . . . But at the very height of the excitement occasioned by the encyclical Pascendi, the Most Reverend Edward Thomas O’Dwyer, bishop of Limerick, published his pamphlet on Cardinal Newman and the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908), which showed clearly that the Modernists could not legitimately depend on Newman for their teaching. The final, authoritative answer to the Modernists, however, appeared when Pope Pius X sent a letter to Bishop O’Dwyer, confirming the latter’s defense of Newman. (Preface to Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by Charles Fredrick Harrold, New York: Longmans, 1949 pp. vii-ix)

So when we analyze these papal teachings in the light of history it is perfectly legitimate to ask the question on two levels. As to the actual institution of the papacy, do we find the teachings of Vatican I expressed by the fathers of the Church in their practice?

Not in its fullness, but this is not required in order for both unchanging essence and developing secondary aspects to harmoniously coexist.

And secondly, as to the issue of interpretation, do we find a unanimous consent of the fathers regarding Vatican I’s interpretation of Matthew 16:18, John 21:15-17 and Luke 22:32 that supports papal primacy and infallibility? In both cases the answer is a decided no.

As already shown, consensus on individual Scripture verses is not required by the Church, and Mr. Webster has not documented that Vatican I taught otherwise. What is required is assent to the essential premises and characteristics of the doctrine, which were indeed there from the beginning, from the time of Christ’s commissioning of St. Peter. Mr. Webster’s case therefore collapses, having been shown to be woefully insufficient or outright contradicted in all of its main points of contention.

I close with a quote from the Protestant apologist C. S. Lewis, which confirms the Newmanian and Catholic understanding of development of doctrine:

How can an unchanging system survive the continual increase of knowledge? . . . Change is not progress unless the core remains unchanged. A small oak grows into a big oak; if it became a beech, that would not be growth, but mere change . . . There is a great difference between counting apples and arriving at the mathematical formulae of modern physics. But the multiplication table is used in both and does not grow out of date. In other words, whenever there is real progress in knowledge, there is some knowledge that is not superseded. Indeed, the very possibility of progress demands that there should be an unchanging element . . . I take it we should all agree to find this . . . in the simple rules of mathematics. I would also add to these the primary principles of morality. And I would also add the fundamental doctrines of Christianity . . . I claim that the positive historical statements made by Christianity have the power, elsewhere found chiefly in formal principles, of receiving, without intrinsic change, the increasing complexity of meaning which increasing knowledge puts into them . . . Like mathematics, religion can grow from within, or decay . . . But, like mathematics, it remains simply itself, capable of being applied to any new theory.

(God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970, pp.44-47. From “Dogma and the Universe,” The Guardian, March 19, 1943, p.96 / March 26, 1943, pp. 104 ,107)


November 11, 2013



See also Part I and the Introduction.


In Vol. III, King and Webster provide us with a litany of Scripture-praising proclamations from St. Basil (329-379): none of which differ in the slightest from Catholic belief. In their section on material sufficiency (pp. 70-72), the following statements are found:

. . . we have determined . . . to avoid now and always every utterance and sentiment not found in the Lord’s teaching . . . our thoughts derive from the Scriptures . . . (Fathers of the Church, Vol. IX, Concerning Faith)

. . . what is in harmony with the Scriptures, what is not in opposition to the Fathers. (Homily 24, NPNF2)

Here even Webster and King include a passage that shows two legs of the Catholic “three-legged stool”: Scripture and the fathers (i.e., tradition). Good for them: they actually included (almost despite themselves) a passage about apostolic tradition (!!!).

. . . each one should learn that which is useful from the inspired Scripture . . . that he may not be accustomed to human traditions. (Regulae Brevius Tractate, Interrogatio et Responsio XCV; translation by William Goode, Vol. III, p. 132)

. . . fearing lest he should either speak or order anything beyond the will of God as declared in the Scriptures . . . (Ibid., XCVIII; Vol. III, p. 132)

. . . every word and deed should be ratified by the testimony of the Holy Scripture . . . (Fathers of the Church, Vol. IX, The Morals, Rule 26; cited again in Vol. III, 143-144)

. . . in conformity with the Scriptures and rejecting what is opposed to them . . . (Fathers of the Church, Vol. IX, The Morals, Rule 72, pp. 185-186; cited again in Vol. III, 144)

. . . everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin. (Fathers of the Church, Vol. IX, The Morals, Rule 80, Cap. 22, pp. 203-204)

. . . let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth. (Letter 189, NPNF2, Vol. VIII)

We have no beef with all this, so there is no need for further comment. We simply add that the fathers, including St. Basil, do not oppose Scripture to the binding authority of the Church and apostolic tradition: all are regarded as perfectly harmonious and complementary. Since Webster and King exclude the many references to such authority other than the Bible, it’s left to me to fill that gap and give the whole picture.

In their chapter three: “The Perspicuity of Scripture,” Webster and King provide some of St. Basil’s statements along those lines (pp. 185-186):

Enjoying as you do the consolation of the Holy Scriptures, you stand in need neither of my assistance nor of that of anybody else to help you comprehend your duty. You have the all-sufficient counsel and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you to what is right. (Letter 283; NPNF2, Vol. VIII)

It is this which those seem to me not to have understood, who, giving themselves up to the distorted meaning of allegory, have undertaken to give a majesty of their own invention to Scripture. It is to believe themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and to bring forth their own ideas under a pretext of exegesis. Let us hear Scripture as it has been written. (Hexaemeron, Homily 9: The Creation of Terrestrial Animals 1; NPNF2, Vol. VIII)  

Note that allegory as a method of hermeneutics is not rejected (as many Protestants do, or largely do), but rather, “the distorted meaning of allegory.”

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful, composed by the Spirit for this reason, namely, that we men, each and all of us, as if in a general hospital for souls, may select the remedy for his own condition. (Fathers of the Church, Vol. 46: Homily 17 on Psalm 44; p. 283)

More is offered in chapter four: “The Self-Interpreting Nature of Scripture” (p. 245 for Basil):

. . . let us obey the Lord who says: ‘Search the Scriptures.’ Let us follow the example of the Apostles who questioned the Lord Himself as top the interpretation of His words, and learn the true and salutary course from His words in another place. (Fathers of the Church, Vol. IX, Concerning Baptism, Book II, Q&R; 4, p. 399)

Whatsoever seems to be spoken ambiguously or obscurely in some places of holy Scripture, is cleared up by what is plain and evident in other places. (Regulae Brevius Tractate, Interrogatio 267; translation by William Whitaker, in his Disputation on Holy Scripture [Cambridge University Press: 1849, p. 491] )

And again in chapter six: “The Necessity for Diligent Personal Study of Scripture” (p. 287 for Basil) they cite the following:

The study of inspired Scripture is the chief way of finding our duty . . . (Letter 2 [3]; NPNF2, Vol. VIII)

Read your Bible carefully, and you will find the answer to your question there. (Letter 188; NPNF2, Vol. VIII; repeated on Webster and King’s p. 302)

. . . one who examines each word minutely can gain a very accurate knowledge of the meaning of the Holy Scripture, so that there is no excuse of any of us being led astray . . . (Fathers of the Church, Vol. IX, Preface on the Judgment of God, p. 48)

That gives us a thorough survey of St. Basil’s view of Scripture. No problem for Catholics here at all. But there is a huge problem for sola Scriptura Protestants, when we also look at what Basil wrote about tradition, including oral tradition, and the Church. So why don’t we take a few minutes to examine the whole picture now, rather than a slanted, one-sided presentation for polemical purposes, that deliberately ignores all of this other relevant data (which amounts — I would argue — to sophistry and half-truth).

Much of the following was documented in August 2003 during a debate on the same topic with ant-Catholic apologist Jason Engwer, (originally promoted and held in the anti-Catholic CARM forum: Jason split — with the obligatory insults — long before it was over: a rather common occurrence for anti-Catholics) and has been available on my website or blog ever since. Additional material comes from my recent book: The Quotable Eastern Church Fathers. None of this is “new stuff” for me; it’s “old ground.”

The new thing in this paper is to demonstrate how Webster and King are so absurdly hyper-selective in their presentation. It’s the game they play throughout their three-volume work, which is unworthy of any Christian who seeks to be honest about what the Church fathers taught, regardless of how consistent the results are with their own belief-system (while they accuse Catholics many times in the set of this same sort of historical dishonesty). Many Protestant scholars and historians routinely present the true facts (one need not be Catholic or Orthodox to be honest and truthful about patristic beliefs); but, sadly, anti-Catholic polemicists like Webster and King — who have a distinct agenda — do not.

To give just one example of an honest Protestant scholar, writing on our topic, J. N. D. Kelly — someone cited by Webster and King –, stated about St. Basil and tradition:

. . . Basil made the liturgical custom of baptizing in the threefold name a pivot in his argument for the coequality of the Spirit with Father and Son, pleading that the apostolic witness was conveyed to the Church in the mysteries as well as in Scripture, and that it was apostolic to abide by this unwritten tradition.

(Early Christian Doctrines, HarperSanFrancisco: revised edition of 1978, 45; footnotes to the primary work: The Holy Spirit, 26; 28; 66-67; 71)

Now, wouldn’t those passages in St. Basil the Great be relevant to the question of his views on authority and (supposedly his acceptance of) sola Scriptura? Certainly so; yet Webster and King deemed them not relevant enough to include in their “survey.” They wouldn’t fit with the plan, you see . . . The real Basil is so much a proponent of apostolic tradition that he says the enemies of the faith are those who want to destroy it:

The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of “sound doctrine” is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. (The Holy Spirit, 25; NPNF2-8)

He doesn’t pit Scripture and tradition  and Church against each other at all, but rather, appeals to them all interchangeably (the Catholic “three-legged stool” of authority): 

What our fathers said, the same say we, that the glory of the Father and of the Son is common; wherefore we offer the doxology to the Father with the Son. But we do not rest only on the fact that such is the tradition of the Fathers; for they too followed the sense of Scripture, and started from the evidence which, a few sentences back, I deduced from Scripture and laid before you. (The Holy Spirit, 16; NPNF2-8)

I was distressed to hear that over anti above the disturbance brought on the Churches by the Arians, and the confusion caused by them in the definition of the faith, there has appeared among you yet another innovation, throwing the brotherhood into great dejection, because, as you have informed me, certain persons are uttering, in the hearing of the faithful, novel and unfamiliar doctrines which they allege to be deduced from the teaching of Scripture . . . who has the hardihood now once again to renew by the help of sophistical arguments and, of course, by scriptural evidence, that old dogma of Valentinus, now long ago silenced? . . . These, brethren, are the mysteries of the Church; these are the traditions of the Fathers. Every man who fears the Lord, and is awaiting God’s judgment, I charge not to be carried away by various doctrines. If any one teaches a different doctrine, and refuses to accede to the sound words of the faith, rejecting the oracles of the Spirit, and making his own teaching of more authority than the lessons of the Gospels, of such an one beware . . . (Letter #261; NPNF2-8)

Basil was a strong advocate of even oral, or unwritten tradition (one would never know that, merely reading Webster and King, would they?):

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, 22; NPNF2-8)
. . . they clamour for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. But we will not slacken in our defence of the truth. We will not cowardly abandon the cause. The Lord has delivered to us as a necessary and saving doctrine that the Holy Spirit is to be ranked with the Father. (The Holy Spirit, 25; NPNF2-8)
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 learnt 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. . . . 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. . . . Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source? If it be granted that, as we are baptized, so also under the obligation to believe, we make our confession in like terms as our baptism, in accordance with the tradition of our baptism and in conformity with the principles of true religion, let our opponents grant us too the right to be as consistent in our ascription of glory as in our confession of faith. If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated. While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on “the mystery of godliness” is so important, can they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers;—which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches;—a word for which the arguments are strong, and which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery? (The Holy Spirit, 66-67; NPNF2-8)
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 ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you;” and “Hold fast the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle.” 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. If, as in a Court of Law, we were at a loss for documentary evidence, but were able to bring before you a large number of witnesses, would you not give your vote for our acquittal? I think so; for “at the mouth of two or three witnesses shall the matter be established.” And if we could prove clearly to you that a long period of time was in our favour, should we not have seemed to you to urge with reason that this suit ought not to be brought into court against us? For ancient dogmas inspire a certain sense of awe, venerable as they are with a hoary antiquity. I will therefore give you a list of the supporters of the word (and the time too must be taken into account in relation to what passes unquestioned). For it did not originate with us. How could it? We, in comparison with the time during which this word has been in vogue, are, to use the words of Job, “but of yesterday.” I myself, if I must speak of what concerns me individually, cherish this phrase as a legacy left me by my fathers. It was delivered to me by one who spent a long life in the service of God, and by him I was both baptized, and admitted to the ministry of the church. (The Holy Spirit, 71; NPNF2-8) 
These are very clear, unambiguous statements indeed. They leave little room for doubt or any argument against the view that he holds to the authority tradition. Yet Webster and King argue that he believed in sola Scriptura, just like a good Protestant would. After all, this is presupposed in the very subtitle of their Volume III: “The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura“. Even the citations they provide, in hyper-selectivity don’t prove this claim, and the citations I am providing flat-out disprove and discredit it as dishonest and foolish posing.
St. Basil teaches the related Catholic notion of apostolic succession:
. . . we 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, 79; NPNF2-8)
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 #92 to the Italians and Gauls, 3; NPNF2-8)
For Basil, the Catholic Church, following apostolic and patristic tradition, was the standard of orthodoxy:
Did it not at one time appear that the Arian schism, after its separation into a sect opposed to the Church of God, stood itself alone in hostile array? But when the attitude of our foes against us was changed from one of long standing and bitter strife to one of open warfare, then, as is well known, the war was split up in more ways than I can tell into many subdivisions, so that all men were stirred to a state of inveterate hatred alike by common party spirit and individual suspicion. But what storm at sea was ever so fierce and wild as this tempest of the Churches? In it every landmark of the Fathers has been moved; every foundation, every bulwark of opinion has been shaken: everything buoyed up on the unsound is dashed about and shaken down. (The Holy Spirit, 77; NPNF2-8)
. . . maintain for the true Church its famous orthodoxy . . . (Letter #47 to Gregory; NPNF2-8)
He held to the binding authority of ecumenical councils, which he regarded almost as inspired by God:
. . . the same Fathers who once at Nicæa promulgated their great decree concerning the faith. Of this, some portions are universally accepted without cavil, but the homoousion, ill received in certain quarters, is still rejected by some. . . . To refuse to follow the Fathers, not holding their declaration of more authority than one’s own opinion, is conduct worthy of blame, as being brimful of self-sufficiency. (Letter #52 to the Canonicae; NPNF2-8)
. . . you 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 #114 to Cyriacus, at Tarsus; NPNF2-8)
St. Basil taught papal primacy and overarching authority:
It has seemed to me to be desirable to send a letter to the bishop of Rome, begging him to examine our condition, and since there are difficulties in the way of representatives being sent from the West by a general synodical decree, to advise him to exercise his own personal authority in the matter by choosing suitable persons to sustain the labours of a journey,—suitable, too, by gentleness and firmness of character, to correct the unruly among us here; . . .  ( Letter #69 to St. Athanasius, 1-2; NPNF2-8)
To renew laws of ancient love, and once again to restore to vigorous life that heavenly and saving gift of Christ which in course of time has withered away, the peace, I mean, of the Fathers, is a labour necessary indeed and profitable to me, but pleasant too, as I am sure it will seem to your Christ-loving disposition. For what could be more delightful than to behold all, who are separated by distances so vast, bound together by the union effected by love into one harmony of members in Christ’s body? Nearly all the East (I include under this name all the regions from Illyricum to Egypt) is being agitated, right honourable father, by a terrible storm and tempest. The old heresy, sown by Arius the enemy of the truth, has now boldly and unblushingly reappeared. Like some sour root, it is producing its deadly fruit and is prevailing. The reason of this is, that in every district the champions of right doctrine have been exiled from their Churches by calumny and outrage, and the control of affairs has been handed over to men who are leading captive the souls of the simpler brethren. I have looked upon the visit of your mercifulness as the only possible solution of our difficulties. Ever in the past I have been consoled by your extraordinary affection; and for a short time my heart was cheered by the gratifying report that we shall be visited by you. But, as I was disappointed, I have been constrained to beseech you by letter to be moved to help us, and to send some of those, who are like minded with us, either to conciliate the dissentient and bring back the Churches of God into friendly union, or at all events to make you see more plainly who are responsible for the unsettled state in which we are, that it may be obvious to you for the future with whom it befits you to be in communion. In this I am by no means making any novel request, but am only asking what has been customary in the case of men who, before our own day, were blessed and dear to God, and conspicuously in your own case. For I well remember learning from the answers made by our fathers when asked, and from documents still preserved among us, that the illustrious and blessed bishop Dionysius, conspicuous in your see as well for soundness of faith as for all other virtues, visited by letter my Church of Cæsarea, and by letter exhorted our fathers, and sent men to ransom our brethren from captivity. But now our condition is yet more painful and gloomy and needs more careful treatment. We are lamenting no mere overthrow of earthly buildings, but the capture of Churches; what we see before us is no mere bodily slavery, but a carrying away of souls into captivity, perpetrated day by day by the champions of heresy. Should you not, even now, be moved to succour us, ere long all will have fallen under the dominion of the heresy, and you will find none left to whom you may hold out your hand. (Letter #70 to Pope Damasus [complete]; NPNF2-8)
St. Basil the Great, then, is seen to hold the same opinion concerning authority and the rule of faith as all the other Church fathers, and it is not sola Scriptura. Webster and King are dead-wrong to claim otherwise.
* * * * *
November 9, 2013


In Vol. III, Ch. 2 (“The Ultimate Authority of Scripture”). Webster and King cite the following passages from St. Cyril:

Have thou ever in your mind this seal , which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning , but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.

[Catechetical Lectures, IV: 17]

And first let us inquire for what cause Jesus came down. Now mind not my argumentations, for perhaps you may be misled but unless thou receive testimony of the Prophets on each matter, believe not what I say: unless thou learn from the Holy Scriptures concerning the Virgin, and the place, the time, and the manner, receive not testimony from man. For one who at present thus teaches may possibly be suspected: but what man of sense will suspect one that prophesied a thousand and more years beforehand? If then you seek the cause of Christ’s coming, go back to the first book of the Scriptures.

[Catechetical Lectures, XII:5]

Catholics have no problem with these statements. We only would if Cyril intended them to be in opposition to or in exclusion of the authority of the Church and tradition; but of course he doesn’t do that. In other passages that Webster and King conveniently omit, he acknowledges these.

In the same Lecture 4 (first quote above), St. Cyril writes at length about Holy Scripture (sections 33-36). How does he instruct a believer to determine which books are in the Bible? He does so by an extrabiblical authority: the Church:

Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testament, and what those of the New. (IV:33)

Right off the bat, this is contrary to several of the tenets that the authors laid out in the Introduction to Vol. III:

3.) All doctrines must be proven from Scripture.
4.) What the Apostles taught orally has been handed down in Scripture.
5.) Scripture is the ultimate judge in all controversies.
6.) Scripture is the ultimate and supreme authority for the Church.
7.) If Scripture is silent on an issue it cannot be known.

The canon of Scripture is never listed in Scripture, which contradicts all five tenets above. Scripture is silent on that issue, and Webster and King say, therefore, that it can’t be known (#7). But the canon is known through the authority of the Catholic Church. The Church delivers Holy Scripture to the Christian believer. Protestantism has never been able to rationalize away this clear contradiction of sola Scriptura. Hence, Cyril states:

Study earnestly these only which we read openly in the Church. Far wiser and more pious than yourself were the Apostles, and the bishops of old time, the presidents of the Church who handed down these books. Being therefore a child of the Church, trench thou not upon its statutes. (IV:35)

Moreover, when Cyril lists the books of the Old Testament, delivered authoritatively by the Church, he includes “Jeremiah . . . including Baruch and Lamentations and the Epistle” (IV:35). Baruch was thrown out of Protestant Bibles, but accepted by the Church fathers and Catholics. The “Epistle of Jeremiah” is the last chapter of Baruch in Catholic Bibles, but excluded by Protestant ones. In the next section (IV:36), he lists all New Testament books except for Revelation, and states: “. . . whatever books are not read in Churches, these read not even by yourself,. . .”

Thus — so Cyril would say — , not only is Revelation not Scripture, but not to be read at all by an individual. This is because the canon of the Bible was itself a developing doctrine of the Church. Revelation was one of the last books accepted. Cyril died in the decade before the Church finalized the canon at the councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397). These included the deuterocanonical books (what Protestants call the “Apocrypha”: those that they arbitrarily reject).

This is an example of why Catholics don’t grant individual Church fathers binding authority: only the Church in its authoritative pronouncements (through councils and popes) has that. The fathers are guides when they agree en masse. The canon was still developed, and reached its final development shortly after Cyril. But neither what he said about the biblical canon, nor what the Church declared shortly afterwards, comports totally with what Protestants think, nor with sola Scriptura.

We know that St. Cyril cited deuterocanonical books in these same Catechetical Instructions; e.g., Wisdom of Solomon (9:2; 9:16; 12:5), Sirach (6:4; 11:19; 13:8), and the chapters of Daniel that Protestants discarded (14:25; 16:31).

Commenting on the Creed, Cyril again upholds a strong notion of the authority of the Catholic Church:

Now then let me finish what still remains to be said for the Article, In one Holy Catholic Church, on which, though one might say many things, we will speak but briefly.

It is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly . . . (XVIII:22-23)

Now, imagine if Cyril had said this about Scripture, that it “teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge.” Webster and King would be all over that as proof that he was teaching material sufficiency of Scripture and also formal sufficiency (“complete”). But here he is stating these attributes with regard to the Church, not Scripture (the Church teaches with completeness, just as Scripture does); and so for that reason, Webster and King decided that this passage was not commensurate with their sophistical plan of “proving” that the Scripture alone provides this sort of sufficiency or “completeness” — and they deliberately omitted it.

This is their standard practice with all the Church fathers, and it’s intellectually dishonest, on the grounds that a half-truth or a partial truth is almost as bad as a lie. They habitually present one strain of patristic teaching that agrees with Catholicism: glowing remarks about Holy Scripture, while ignoring all that is said of the Church, tradition, apostolic succession, bishops, councils, popes, etc.

Even this would be acceptable if their stated intent was simply to show what the fathers believed about Scripture. We would have no beef with that. But this isn’t what they are doing. They claim that the fathers taught sola Scriptura: the notion that nothing is infallible or finally binding except scriptural teaching. That’s not true (as a matter of demonstrable fact), and it’s shown to not be true precisely by noting what these fathers thought about these other elements of authority (the Church, tradition, apostolic succession, bishops, councils, popes). St. Cyril rejects all sectarianism and denominationalism:

Concerning this Holy Catholic Church Paul writes to Timothy, That you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the House of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth [1 Tim 3:15].

But since the word Ecclesia is applied to different things (as also it is written of the multitude in the theatre of the Ephesians, And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the Assembly [Acts 19:14], and since one might properly and truly say that there is a Church of evil doers, I mean the meetings of the heretics, the Marcionists and Manichees, and the rest, for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to you now the Article, And in one Holy Catholic Church; that you may avoid their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic in which you were regenerated. And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord’s House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all, which is the spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . (XVIII:25-26)

He teaches that salvation comes through the Catholic Church:

In this Holy Catholic Church receiving instruction and behaving ourselves virtuously, we shall attain the kingdom of heaven, and inherit eternal life; . . . (XVIII:28)

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,. . . (XVIII: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. (VI:36)

He refers to “the divine Scriptures used in the Church” and “the tradition of the Church’s interpreters” (XV:13). This goes against Webster and King’s typically Protestant notion that “Scripture interprets Scripture, i.e., it is self-interpreting.”

He regards the Church as the determinant of orthodoxy, insofar as what it holds, is apostolic Christianity:

And to be brief, let us neither separate them, nor make a confusion : neither say thou ever that the Son is foreign to the Father, nor admit those who say that the Father is at one time Father, and at another Son: for these are strange and impious statements, and not the doctrines of the Church. (XI:18)

And formerly the heretics were manifest; but now the Church is filled with heretics in disguise. For men have fallen away from the truth, and have itching ears. [2 Tim 4:3] Is it a plausible discourse? All listen to it gladly. Is it a word of correction? All turn away from it. Most have departed from right words, and rather choose the evil, than desire the good. This therefore is the falling away, and the enemy is soon to be looked for: and meanwhile he has in part begun to send forth his own forerunners , that he may then come prepared upon the prey. Look therefore to yourself, O man, and make safe your soul. The Church now charges you before the Living God; she declares to you the things concerning Antichrist before they arrive. Whether they will happen in your time we know not, or whether they will happen after you we know not; but it is well that, knowing these things, you should make yourself secure beforehand. (XV:9)

. . . the Catholic Church guarding you beforehand has delivered to you in the profession of the faith,  . . . (XVII:3)

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. (V: 12-13)

At every turn, then, we see that St. Cyril is thoroughly Catholic, and does not teach sola Scriptura. Webster and King have misled their readers in claiming the contrary, by trotting out just two passages, while ignoring the many other relevant ones that I have highlighted above.

* * * * *
November 8, 2013


(11-8-13)See Part I and Part II.

David T. King and William Webster are anti-Catholic Protestant polemicists who have been very active in opposing the Catholic Church. I have written in the past, twice about William Webster’s gross ignorance regarding the concept and definition of development of doctrine, and twice about his solely self-published books (including the present three-volume work under consideration).

David T. King, likewise, was exceedingly ignorant about Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: claiming that he was a modernist who believed in evolution (heretical notion) rather than development (orthodox notion) of doctrines. I quickly disabused him of that fairy tale. I’ve also refuted his claim that St. John Chrysostom and St. Irenaeus were proponents of sola Scriptura and have three other papers about his foolishness and antics on my Anti-Catholicism web page. None of these have ever been replied to by King, Webster, or any other anti-Catholic.

I’ll be devoting a series to the three-volume set of King and Webster, entitled, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith; in particular, their historical arguments, in Volume II (subtitled, “An Historical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura” — William Webster), and Volume III (subtitled, “The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura” — Webster and King).

The set was self-published (Battle Ground, Washington: Christian Resources Inc.) in 2001. For a withering critique of it, see Phil Porvaznik’s delightful article, Holy Scripture Volume IV: The Ground and Pillar of Whose Faith? (or what William Webster and David King don’t tell you)”.

This series will be devoted to exposing the unsavory tactics of (I must say) ultimately intellectually dishonest, sophistical citations of the Church fathers: a thing — sadly — very common in less scholarly Protestant circles from the very beginning. I’ve written many times about this (see examples on my Church Fathers page), including several examinations of John Calvin’s “patristic distortions” in my first book devoted to him. King and Webster engage in the same timeworn, cynical, many-times-refuted tactics.

To start, let’s be sure to present exactly what it is the authors / editors are contending for. All effective critiques must always nail down matters of definition and goals in the work being scrutinized. A Foreword by the King of the anti-Catholics, James White (to whom I have just devoted a book-length refutation), appears in the first two volumes. Mr. White writes:

The doctrine of sola Scriptura is a divinely given bulwark against error and the traditions of men. It teaches us that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Church. . . .

Responding directly and forcefully to those of the Roman Church who press flawed, illogical, un-scriptural, and a-historical arguments upon a gullible audience, Webster and King demonstrate the truth of sola Scriptura through sound and knowledgeable exegesis of the text of Scripture and the writings of the early Christians. (Vol. I, 11-12)

King gets in his shots, too, in his Introduction to Vol. I:

In this work, we intend to prove that Roman apologists have misrepresented and manipulated the truth of Scripture, the facts of history, the writings of the Church Fathers and what the Reformers believed and taught regarding sola Scriptura. (Vol. I, 20)

In his Introduction to Vol. II, Webster pontifi—, er, opined:

. . . Scripture is both materially and formally sufficient. The reformers argued that the Church is not infallible but that all tradition and teaching must be subject to the final authority of Scripture. Scripture is the sole and final arbiter of truth, infallible and the ultimate authority. (Vol. II, 17)

. . . we will examine what the Church fathers taught about Scripture and tradition. We will find that the Reformers were correct in claiming patristic support for the principle of sola Scriptura . . . It is the Roman Catholic teaching on tradition and authority which is unbiblical and unhistorical. (Vol. II, 18)

The Introduction of Vol. III (no author given: both men edited this volume) focuses in on the Church fathers:

The Reformers insisted that Scripture was the ultimate authority for the Church and . . . that Scripture alone was . . . the only infallible rule of faith. . . .

When they [the Church fathers] are allowed to speak for themselves it becomes clear that they universally taught sola Scriptura in the fullest sense of the term embracing both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture. This is clearly revealed by statements, such as the following, which are found repeatedly in their writings:

1) Scripture is the sole source of doctrine for the faith of the Church.
2) All doctrines necessary for salvation and moral living for the Christian are contained in Scripture.
3.) All doctrines must be proven from Scripture.
4.) What the Apostles taught orally has been handed down in Scripture.
5.) Scripture is the ultimate judge in all controversies.
6.) Scripture is the ultimate and supreme authority for the Church.
7.) If Scripture is silent on an issue it cannot be known.
8.) All teachers and councils are subject to the authority of Scripture.
9.) Any bishop or teacher who teaches doctrines that are not contained in Scripture or are contradictory to Scripture is to be rejected.
10.) Scripture reveals clearly and plainly all truths necessary for salvation and moral living.
11.) Scripture interprets Scripture, i.e., it is self-interpreting.
12.) The Holy Spirit reveals truth and gives understanding of Scripture directly to those who pray and walk in obedience.

. . . it is the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura which [is] true to the ancient faith and practice of the Church and that it is, in fact, the Roman Catholic Church which has misrepresented the Church fathers . . . (Vol. III, 9-10)

I submit that when readers see how Webster and King systematically, selectively prooftext the fathers and ignore hundreds of other statements of theirs that don’t fit into their preconceived Protestant notions of authority (superimposed anachronistically back onto the fathers), that a very different picture will emerge, and that the fathers will be shown to be — as always — quite profoundly consistent with Catholic teaching with regard to the question of authority, tradition, Church, and Scripture (i.e., the rule of faith) that is the focus of the three-volume set.

I’ve already demonstrated this in a trilogy of books devoted to Catholic distinctives in the Church fathers, and in, e.g., a very in-depth debate on the fathers and sola Scriptura with anti-Catholic apologist Jason Engwer.  Now I will demonstrate how the attempt to establish the exact opposite (i.e., supposed Protestant distinctives in the fathers specifically in relation to the all-important question of authority and the rule of faith) fails miserably and is based on intellectually dishonest, highly selective use of quotations, to the exclusion of other highly relevant ones that don’t fit into the preconceived (anti-Catholic / absurdly tendentious) “talking points.”

I will show repeatedly how the citations presented prove nothing of what is claimed for them (or that we already agree, so that a quotation is a moot point with regard to Protestant-Catholic disputes), and how others that are omitted directly contradict sola Scriptura itself, and various tenets that comprise or surround it: particularly the twelve points above.

March 25, 2021

[book and purchase information]

Reply to a Protestant apologist’s comments (in blue) on a public discussion board:


Do you even comprehend that whether Newman’s theory is seen as “development” or “evolution” largely depends on one’s philosophical presuppositions . . . ?

No, because that is a non sequitur. You seem to believe that one’s philosophy almost entirely colors their perceptions of theology, ecclesiology, and Church history. I don’t buy that (not nearly to the extent that you do). I continue to maintain that Christianity is not a philosophy. Faith is not philosophy. And all Christians have faith. To the extent that they do, they are not acting or believing on solely philosophical grounds. Development can be understood as a way to view Church history, without recourse to complicated philosophical discussions.

Consider that for someone who doesn’t believe in “essences” and doesn’t invest “Church history” with the power to legislate belief and practice, a theory that approaches history with such a priorism cannot help but look like a theory that justifies mutation and evolution,

With evolution (at least macroevolution, at any rate), something changes into something else entirely different. Development is like an acorn changing into an oak tree, or a human embryo growing into an adult person: an organic continuity where the essence stays the same even though outward appearances differ. This is not even a Catholic-Protestant issue. Christians of all stripes (i.e., those who think about and respect Church history at all) have always accepted development in some form or other.

The argument between Catholics and Protestants on this is not over whether development occurs at all, but over which doctrines are developments and which are corruptions. Even [anti-Catholic apologist] James White believes that. He (and most Protestants) think distinctive Catholic doctrines are unbiblical, nonbiblical, extra-biblical, and therefore corruptions, and no developments. Catholics think Protestant distinctives are late-arising novelties (as well as unbiblical) and therefore clearly not developments of what came before, as there was no “before.”

This is a standard concept amongst Church historians of whatever stripe. Lutheran (now Orthodox) Jaroslav Pelikan’s views (and admiration of Cardinal Newman) are well-known. Any Church historian you could find accepts the notion of development and understands that it is not evolution. Protestant historian J. N. D. Kelly, for example, starts out his widely-used work, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper, revised edition, 1978) with these words:

The object of this book is to sketch the development of the principal Christian doctrines . . . (p. 3)

He goes on to state that the student of the “patristic age”:

. . . must not expect to find it characterized by that doctrinal homogeneity which he may have come across at other epochs. Being still at the formative stage, the theology of the early centuries exhibits the extremes of immaturity and sophistication . . . it is a commonplace that certain fathers (Origen is the classic example) who were later adjudged heretics counted for orthodox in their lifetimes. The explanation is not that the early Church was indifferent to the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy. Rather, it is that, while from the beginning the broad outline of revealed truth was respected as a sacrosanct inheritance from the apostles, its theological explication was to a large extent left unfettered. Only gradually, and even then in regard to comparatively few doctrines which became subjects of debate, did the tendency to insist upon precise definition and rigid uniformity assert itself. (pp. 3-4)

Likewise, widely respected Protestant historian Philip Schaff. In his General Introduction to his multi-volume History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1975, reprint of 1910 edition from Scribner’s, New York, p. 10), he writes:

[T]he mind of the Church has gradually apprehended and unfolded the divine truths of revelation, . . . the teachings of scripture have been formulated and shaped into dogmas, and grown into creeds and confessions of faith, or systems of doctrine stamped with public authority. This growth of the church in the knowledge off the infallible word of God is a constant struggle against error, misbelief, and unbelief; and the history of heresies is an essential part of the history of doctrines.Every important dogma now professed by the Christian church is the result of a severe conflict with error. The doctrine of the holy Trinity, for instance, was believed from the beginning, but it required, in addition to the preparatory labors of the ante-Nicene age, fifty years of controversy, in which the strongest intellects were absorbed, until it was brought to the clear expression of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The Christological conflict was equally long and intense, until it was brought to a settlement by the council of Chalcedon.

Most Protestant apologists or students of history are well-acquainted with the outlines of Church history and the early theological struggles to define orthodoxy. To reiterate, then: the existence of doctrinal development itself it is not a Protestant-Catholic argument; the real dispute is over which particular doctrines are the legitimate developments.


Related Reading

Development of Doctrine: A Corruption of Biblical Teaching? [1995]

Development of Doctrine: He Will Teach You . . . [2-17-91; rev. May 1996]

Overview of Development of Doctrine (TV Interview) [5-1-99]

William Webster’s Misunderstanding of Development of Doctrine [2000]

Development of Doctrine: Patristic & Historical Development (Featuring Much Documentation from St. Augustine, St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Thomas Aquinas, Vatican I, Popes Pius IX, Pius X, Etc.) [3-19-02]

Catholic Synthesis of Development & “Believed Always by All” [3-19-02]

Was Cardinal Newman a Modernist?: Pope St. Pius X vs. Anti-Catholic Polemicist David T. King (Development, not Evolution of Doctrine) [1-20-04]

A Brief Introduction to the Development of Doctrine [8-30-06]

Development of Catholic Doctrine: A Primer [National Catholic Register, 1-5-18]

C. S. Lewis on Inevitable Development of Doctrine [2-17-19]


(originally posted on my website on 17 October 2002)


Summary: All Christians have always accepted development of doctrine. Catholics and Protestants dispute which doctrines are developments and which are (actually or supposedly) corruptions.


March 24, 2021

Reformed Protestant apologist Matt Hedges wrote an article entitled, “Documentation for Pope Gelasius’ Denial of Transubstantiation” (3-23-21). In it, he claimed:

Here is an interesting quote from Pope Gelasius concerning the nature of the elements of the bread and wine in the Eucharist:

“The sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, which we receive, is a divine thing, because by it we are made partakers of the divine-nature. Yet the substance or nature of the bread and wine does not cease. And assuredly the image and the similitude of the body and blood of Christ are celebrated in the performance of the mysteries.” (De duabus naturis in Christo Adv. Eutychen et Nestorium, this quote from Gelasius is attested in a few different sources: [1] [2] [3] [4]) . . .

This contradicts the definition of transubstantiation given by Rome:

“But in the Eucharist-a supernatural transformation-substantial change occurs without accidental alteration. Thus, the properties of bread and wine continue after consecration, but their essence and substance cease to exist, replaced by the substance of the true and actual Body and Blood of Christ.” (Dave Armstrong, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism [Sophia Institute Press; Manchester, NH, 2003], pg. 81)

“If anyone says that in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent, Session 13, Canon 2).”

Some Roman Catholic apologists have responded to this clear quote from Pope Gelasius by insisting that he is speaking only of the accidents, or outward appearance of the bread and wine. Yet the clear reading of Gelasius is his plain assertion that the substance does not change, which is explicitly contradictory to what the Roman Catholic church teaches today concerning the doctrine of transubstantiation.

He provides further analysis from scholars which can be read there. Now here is the Catholic reply:

[I]t is assumed wrongly that by the words “nature” and “substance” the Fathers cited, writing centuries before heresies had made accurate definition and precise terminology necessary, intended to mean what the Tridentine Fathers meant by them. This is demonstrably untrue. The words ‘substance’ and ‘nature’ are synonymous with what at Trent were called the ‘species’ or ‘accidents.’ This is surely evident (a) from the context of the various passages, where a conversion (metabolen), to use Theodoret’s word, of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, is mentioned; (b) from the fact that they constantly and uniformly speak of such ‘nature’ and ‘substance’ as symbols; (c) from Leibnitz’ (a Protestant authority) well-known observation that the Fathers do not use these terms to express metaphysical notions. (W. R. Carson, “The Antiquity of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation”, in American Ecclesiastical Review, Dec. 1903, pp. 421-439)

Pope Gelasius categorically affirms the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. . . . Second, Pope Gelasius was concerned in defending the nature of Christ not the Eucharist. So he was not so concerned in giving his understanding of the Eucharist as he was in explaining the mystery of the Incarnation. Remember, the Church was concerned with various Christological heresies at this time which denied the two natures, the two wills, and the one [divine] personhood of Christ. At this point in time, the mystery of the Eucharist had not so developed in the mind of the Church to force upon the mind of Pope Gelasius an expression of the Eucharist in the terms of transubstantiation. The Church had to develop a theological language to express the mind of the Church on various matters of faith. The Church was just beginning to express its thoughts to describe the change of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. There was no question regarding a Real Presence in the Eucharist; however, it is another matter regarding the type of change (consubstantiation, transubstantiation etc.). At best, Pope Gelasius was simply saying that the appearance [accidents] of bread/wine remain alongside the Real Presence in an attempt to explain the mystery of the Incarnation, since Christ humanity remains alongside His divinity. . . . his theological vocabulary did not allow him to express the mystery of the Eucharist with any more precision. (Joe Gallegos, Cor Unum Apologetic Website, “Church Fathers FAQ” / “Did Pope Gelasius deny the doctrine of transubstantiation?”)

Gelasius notes that the Eucharist is “a divine thing” (divina res) and by consuming the divine thing we become partakers of the divine nature. Gelasius also says, “Yet the substance or nature of the bread and wine does not cease to be.” Does this mean that he believed that the bread and wine remain after consecration? I have two reasons to doubt this to be the case.

First, the preceding line identifies the Eucharist as a “divine thing.” Surely, if the Eucharist was Christ’s body and blood plus the substance of bread and wine, he could not say that. It would only be partly divine.

Second, Gelasius himself later says, “Thus, as the elements pass into this, that is the divine substance by the operation of the Holy Ghost and none the less remain in their own proper nature…” Although his language is imprecise, he does, nevertheless, state that the elements (bread and wine) “pass into” the divine substance. Is this not transubstantiation? If not, it sure does sound like it. He also says “…and nonetheless remain in their own proper nature.” What does he mean by nature? Since the “divine thing” isn’t manifested after consecration, it seems to me that what he means by “nature” must be the accidents or appearances of bread and wine. In other words, the elements (of bread and wine) become (pass into this, that is the divine substance), yet they retain their nature (i.e., physical appearances or accidents). If this is so, it mirrors the definition given at Trent. (Steve Ray, “A Critique of William Webster’s article: ‘The Eucharist’ “)

Matt claims: “the clear reading of Gelasius is his plain assertion that the substance does not change”. This is shown to be a falsehood, once the larger context is consulted, as Steve Ray alluded to. Here is the passage shortly after what Matt cites:

[B]y the work of the Holy Spirit they pass over into the divine substance while nevertheless remaining in their own nature [Lat. in hanc, scilicet divinam, transeant sancto Spiritu perficiente substantiam, permanentes tamen in suae proprietate naturae] (Patrologia Latina [PL], 224 [Supplementum 3], 773-74; Latin translation provided [I believe] by James T. O’Connor, The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, San Francisco, Ignatius Press: 1988, p. 72)

O’Connor further comments:

As is obvious, the letter is not directly concerned with the Eucharist but rather with the Christological Mystery of the two natures in the One Person of the Lord. This Mystery was attacked by both Nestorians and Monophysites and was the subject for two Church councils, Ephesus and Chalcedon. The letter seeks to use the eucharistic Mystery as an illustration for the Christological truths. It works from the implicit assumption, accepted by all parties, that the eucharist is Christ. But, says the author, it is also bread and wine, thereby illustrating how Christ’s Person is one, his natures two. It is easy to see how the comparison could be made, and it indicates that the notion of a total change in the elements was not yet so fixed in Christian thought that alternative solutions did not present themselves. (Ibid., pp. 72-73)

St. John Henry Cardinal Newman drew the same distinction between nature and substance that Pope Gelasius did in the second excerpt I have cited:

I consider the ‘natura’ of bread and wine remains – though the substance does not. The substance is that which we neither see nor touch – the natura is that which presents itself to the senses. The substance is the foundation or resting place of the natura.

When our Lord appeared as a gardener to St. Mary M. – and ‘under another form’ to the two disciples, He took upon His personal substance a new nature, a foreign nature, as He now takes the sensible qualities of bread or wine. . . . The Church uses the best words, and she speaks of Transubstantiation. (Letters and Diaries, vol. xxvii, 115; Letter to Miss Rowe, 3 Sep. 1874)

He commented further on the distinction between substance and accidents in the Eucharist:

As to the word ’accidents’ it has high authority, but is a scholastic, not a dogmatic word – ’Substance’ however is dogmatic, and the simple question is, what it means. The Church gives her own sense to words; and this very word ’substance’ which occurs in the Nicene Creed, did not take its place there without fearful controversies and divisions, from the unwillingness of numbers to give up their own sense of the word and to accept the ecclesiastical. Now as to the Holy Eucharist, the word ’substance’ denotes nothing which enters into the idea of effect, nothing which appeals to the senses. Intoxication is an effect – poisoning is an effect – they are the effect of a force – but force is distinct from substance. What we see, taste, hear etc etc. is no part of the substance of a thing. . . . Catholics hold, that, though the bread, that is, the substance of bread is not present, yet all those effects upon our senses and upon our bodies, which would follow, were it present, do follow though it is not present – viz colour, size, taste, solidity, power of nourishing (for Saints have lived upon the Sacred Host) power of poisoning etc etc. – The change which takes place in Transubstantiation has nothing to do with these effects, – it relates to that which we know nothing about, and can know nothing about – that substance which is something altogether hidden from us. It is nothing to the purpose then, that, as you say, the species of wine after consecration can intoxicate. (Letters and Diaries, vol. xxii, Letter to J. O. Wood, 24 Oct. 1865)

The doctrine of transubstantiation, of course, developed just as all other doctrines develop. It is a particularly mysterious mystery: up there with other exceedingly complex doctrines like predestination, the two Natures of Christ, and trinitarianism (all quite difficult to express in any language whatever). Therefore, we would especially expect in this instance some imprecision and more primitive forms of language and expressions and descriptions (i.e., more than usual) in the Church fathers, and we see some of that (even perhaps self-contradiction, unless he was using different senses of single words, which is possible) in Pope Gelasius. Catholic writer Tim A. Troutman elaborates:

The claim that the Church fathers believed in Transubstantiation is not a claim that any particular father commanded a precise understanding of the doctrine as formulated by Trent. Any given Church father could no sooner express this doctrine precisely in its developed form than could any given ante-Nicene father express the Niceno-Constantinoplitan doctrine of the Trinity. Yet this does not mean either that they did not believe it, or even that it existed in mere “seed form.” The Nicene doctrine of the Trinity can be detected not only in the early Christian writings and in the New Testament, it is an unavoidable development. That is, anything other than the Niceno-Constantinopolitan doctrine of the Trinity would be contrary to the Tradition of the Church. Likewise, the affirmations that the fathers made about the Eucharist were not only compatible with Transubstantiation, they were incompatible with anything less. (“The Church Fathers on Transubstantiation”, Called to Communion, 12-13-10)

Andrew Preslar makes helpful comments about fluidity of language in the combox of this article (#203, 7-12-14):

[A]s a general matter, relative to Eucharistic doctrine (but especially to Christology), we know that fluidity of terminology over time and from place to place makes it possible to affirm the same thing (e.g., the realities of the appearances continue to exist, they do not change as appearances) in different ways (e.g., no change took place in the natural substances [appearances] of bread and wine). As warranted by circumstances, the Church can and does further define doctrine, and in so doing it must use particular words which, in the process and in that context, become more definite in meaning (e.g., “substance”).

Catholic apologist Joe Heschmeyer adds:

The first time we see the word “Trinity” used to describe God is in 181 A.D.  The reality is there, but crafting a precise philosophical language to capture these realities takes time.  In contrast to the kinks that the early Church was hammering out on everything from the Trinity to the Bible, their grasp of Eucharistic theology is almost shockingly clear.  Even though philosophical terms like transubstantiation are far in the future, we’re already seeing, by 200, terms like transmutation being used to describe what the words of consecration does to the bread and wine, and what the Eucharist does to our soul. (“Very Early Church Fathers on the Eucharist”, Shameless Popery, 11-17-10)


Photo credit: Sharon Tate Soberon (1-23-13) [Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 license]


Summary: Many folks critical of Catholicism and especially its doctrine of transubstantiation bring up Pope Gelasius (r. 492-496) as a supposed denier of the doctrine. I show that this is not the case.


March 3, 2021

Protestant anti-Catholic polemicists David T. King and William Webster are the editors of a three-volume series, entitled, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (self-published by Webster’s outfit, Christian Resources Inc. [Battle Ground, Washington] in 2001). I’m most interested in Volume IIIsubtitled, “The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura” (edited by both Webster and King). In the Introduction to Vol. III (p. 9) they make the fantastically absurd, demonstrably false assertion:

[T]he Church fathers . . . universally taught sola Scriptura in the fullest sense of the term embracing both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture.

The definition of sola Scriptura, according to three of the most able and articulate Protestant defenders of it in our time, is the following:

[T]he Bible alone is the infallible written authority for faith and morals (Norman Geisler)

Scripture . . . is the only inspired and inherently infallible norm, and therefore Scripture is the only final authoritative norm. (Keith A. Mathison)

The doctrine of sola scriptura . . . is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church. (James R. White) [my bolding; see the sources for these quotations and also a fuller explication by each man]

Such a definition entails also understanding what sola Scriptura is not. It logically rules out tradition, the Church, ecumenical councils, bishops, popes, or appeal to apostolic succession as infallibly and finally authoritative. Only the Bible is that. Therefore, if any Church father believes that any of these are infallible or a final authority, then he (by the same token) does not and indeed cannot believe in sola Scriptura. I didn’t “set the rules”. Protestants have by defining sola Scriptura as they do. Thus, they have to live with their own definition and unbiblical rule of faith.

I shall be examining (in this series of papers) several Church fathers that Webster and King bring up, and documenting that they rejected sola Scriptura. I’ve already done this documentation with regard to AugustineAthanasiusJohn ChrysostomJeromeAmbroseIrenaeusJustin MartyrClement of AlexandriaHippolytusDionysiusBasil the GreatCyril of JerusalemTheodoretGregory of NyssaTertullianOrigenGregory NazianzenEpiphaniusLactantiusCyprianPapiasHilary of PoitiersCyril of AlexandriaPope St. Gregory the Great, Rufinus, and John Damascene.

All citations are from Volume III unless otherwise indicated.


And because nothing knows itself better than the very glory of God, we believe nothing on the subject of God with greater right than those writings in which God Himself is His own witness. (On the Incarnation of the Lord, Against Nestorius, Book 7, ch. 12) [p. 119]

[T]he mysteries of Scripture . . . were not declared to us by the grace of the Holy Spirit in order that they should remain unknown and obscure; but they are rendered obscure by our fault . . . the mere reading of Holy Scripture is by itself amply sufficient for beholding the true knowledge, nor do they need the aid of commentators . . . (Institutes of the Coenobia, 5:34) [p. 276]


The first citation has to do with material sufficiency: about which Catholics agree, so it is no proof of sola Scriptura. The second is about the perspicuity or clearness of Scripture, which is a different and more complex issue, but what he writes is not necessarily inconsistent with the Catholic rule of faith either. As always, to determine his view on the rule of faith, we need to see what any given Church father stated about other related issues, as outlined in the introduction above.

John Cassian (very much in contradiction to sola Scriptura) held that Church authority was infallible and able in and of itself to counter heretical beliefs:

Therefore, as I said above, if you had been a follower and assertor of Sabellianism or Arianism or any heresy you please, you might shelter yourself under the example of your parents, the teaching of your instructors, the company of those about you, the faith of your creed. I ask, O you heretic, nothing unfair, and nothing hard. As you have been brought up in the Catholic faith, do that which you would do for a wrong belief. Hold fast to the teaching of your parents. Hold fast the faith of the Church: hold fast the truth of the Creed: hold fast the salvation of baptism. (On the Incarnation of the Lord, Against Nestorius, Book 6, ch. 5)

He then must of course be outside the Church, who does not hold the faith of the Church. (On the Incarnation of the Lord, Against Nestorius, Book 3, ch. 14)

He believed in Petrine primacy:

. . . that greatest of disciples among disciples, and of teachers among teachers, who presided and ruled over the Roman Church, and held the chief place in the priesthood as he did in the faith. Tell us then, tell us, we pray, O Peter, you chief of Apostles, tell us how the Churches ought to believe in God. For it is right that you should teach us, as you were taught by the Lord, and that you should open to us the gate, of which you received the key. Shut out all those who try to overthrow the heavenly house: and those who are endeavouring to enter by secret holes and unlawful approaches: as it is clear that none can enter the gate of the kingdom save one to whom the key bestowed on the Churches is revealed by you. (On the Incarnation of the Lord, Against Nestorius, Book 3, ch. 12)

He taught that one had “faith in the Church”: the divinely instituted Body of Christ:

Because the flesh of the Church is the flesh of Christ, and in the flesh of Christ there is present God and the soul: and so the same person is present in Christ as in the Church, because the mystery which we believe in the flesh of Christ, is contained also by faith in the Church. (On the Incarnation of the Lord, Against Nestorius, Book 5, ch. 12)

John Cassian holds to apostolic tradition and succession and the “three-legged stool” Catholic rule of faith (Bible-Church-tradition):

If you were an assertor of the Arian or Sabellian heresy, and did not use your own creed, I would still confute you by the authority of the holy Scriptures; I would confute you by the words of the law itself; I would refute you by the truth of the Creed which has been approved throughout the whole world. I would say that, even if you were void of sense and understanding, yet still you ought at least to follow universal consent: and not to make more of the perverse view of a few wicked men than of the faith of all the Churches: which as it was established by Christ, and handed down by the apostles ought to be regarded as nothing but the voice of the authority of God, which is certainly in possession of the voice and mind of God. (On the Incarnation of the Lord, Against Nestorius, Book 6, ch. 5)

. . . an ever unbroken faith and Catholic confession . . . (On the Incarnation of the Lord, Against Nestorius, Book 7, ch. 30)

All of the above data, which is perfectly relevant to the question of John Cassian’s rule of faith, Webster and King deliberately decided to hide from their readers. This is atrocious research method and dishonest. They are too informed to simply plead the excuse of ignorance (not given the massive number of citations they have produced in three volumes). No; this is intentional misleading and disinformation.


Summary: John Cassian denied sola Scriptura, and espoused infallible Church authority, apostolic tradition and succession, and the “three-legged stool” Catholic rule of faith (Bible-Church-tradition).

March 2, 2021

Protestant anti-Catholic polemicists David T. King and William Webster are the editors of a three-volume series, entitled, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (self-published by Webster’s outfit, Christian Resources Inc. [Battle Ground, Washington] in 2001). I’m most interested in Volume IIIsubtitled, “The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura” (edited by both Webster and King). In the Introduction to Vol. III (p. 9) they make the fantastically absurd, demonstrably false assertion:

[T]he Church fathers . . . universally taught sola Scriptura in the fullest sense of the term embracing both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture.

The definition of sola Scriptura, according to three of the most able and articulate Protestant defenders of it in our time, is the following:

[T]he Bible alone is the infallible written authority for faith and morals (Norman Geisler)

Scripture . . . is the only inspired and inherently infallible norm, and therefore Scripture is the only final authoritative norm. (Keith A. Mathison)

The doctrine of sola scriptura . . . is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church. (James R. White) [my bolding; see the sources for these quotations and also a fuller explication by each man]

Such a definition entails also understanding what sola Scriptura is not. It logically rules out tradition, the Church, ecumenical councils, bishops, popes, or appeal to apostolic succession as infallibly and finally authoritative. Only the Bible is that. Therefore, if any Church father believes that any of these are infallible or a final authority, then he (by the same token) does not and indeed cannot believe in sola Scriptura. I didn’t “set the rules”. Protestants have by defining sola Scriptura as they do. Thus, they have to live with their own definition and unbiblical rule of faith.

I shall be examining (in this series of papers) several Church fathers that Webster and King bring up, and documenting that they rejected sola Scriptura. I’ve already done this documentation with regard to AugustineAthanasiusJohn ChrysostomJeromeAmbroseIrenaeusJustin MartyrClement of AlexandriaHippolytusDionysiusBasil the GreatCyril of JerusalemTheodoretGregory of NyssaTertullianOrigenGregory NazianzenEpiphaniusLactantiusCyprianPapiasHilary of Poitiers, Cyril of AlexandriaPope St. Gregory the Great, and John Damascene.

All citations are from Volume III unless otherwise indicated.


These are the writings which the Fathers included in the canon, and on which they desired the affirmations of our faith to be based. (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 38) [p. 80]

[T]he truth of this is guaranteed for us by numerous testimonies in Holy Scripture. (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 33) [p. 80]

. . . we believe, according to wat is written . . . These things and many like these you will find in the divine Scriptures . . . (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 47) [p. 190]

All of this is simply material sufficiency, which poses no problem at all for Catholics or our rule of faith (per the explanation of several past installments). As always, we have to dig much further to see what a given Church father believes about the rule of faith. Webster and King persistently (and we must sadly, say, dishonestly) systematically refuse to do this. If they did, they’d have to give up their entire project in the three volumes, as a pack of falsehoods in its conclusion, so the stakes are high!


Rufinus believed in the infallibility of the Church:

I as yet remain in ignorance on the subject, except so far as this, that the Church delivers it as an article of faith that God is the creator of souls as well as of bodies. (Apology sent to Anastasius, Bishop of the City of Rome, 6)

Where can simple faith and innocence be safe if they are not protected in the Church? (Apology sent to Anastasius, Bishop of the City of Rome, 7)

As for me, I declare in Christ’s name that I never held, nor ever will hold, any other faith but that which I have set forth above, that is, the faith which is held by the Church of Rome, by that of Alexandria, and by my own church of Aquileia; and which is also preached at Jerusalem; and if there is any one who believes otherwise, whoever he may be, let him be Anathema. (Apology sent to Anastasius, Bishop of the City of Rome, 8)

This is that holy Church which is without spot or wrinkle. . . . this Church which keeps the faith of Christ entire, . . . (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 39)

Rufinus accepted the sublime, infallible authority and indefectibility of the Apostolic See of Rome:

[T]he body . . .  is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. This is the doctrine which has been handed down to me by those from whom I received holy baptism in the Church of Aquileia; and I think that it is the same which the Apostolic See has by long usage handed down and taught. (Apology sent to Anastasius, Bishop of the City of Rome, 4)

. . . the Church of the city of Rome . . . no heresy has had its origin there . . . (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 4)

Rufinus held to infallible tradition, preserved by the Church:

And therefore it seems proper in this place to enumerate, as we have learned from the tradition of the Fathers, the books of the New and of the Old Testament, which, according to the tradition of our forefathers, are believed to have been inspired by the Holy Ghost, and have been handed down to the Churches of Christ. (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 36)

These are the traditions which the Fathers have handed down to us, which, as I said, I have thought it opportune to set forth in this place, for the instruction of those who are being taught the first elements of the Church and of the Faith, that they may know from what fountains of the Word of God their draughts must be taken. (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 38)

. . . in accordance with the traditional and natural meaning of the Creed . . . (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 1)

Our forefathers have handed down to us the tradition, that, after the Lord’s ascension, when, through the coming of the Holy Ghost, tongues of flame had settled upon each of the Apostles, that they might speak diverse languages, so that no race however foreign, no tongue however barbarous, might be inaccessible to them and beyond their reach, they were commanded by the Lord to go severally to the several nations to preach the word of God. . . . And for this reason, the tradition continues, the Creed is not written on paper or parchment, but is retained in the hearts of the faithful, that it may be certain that no one has learned it by reading, as is sometimes the case with unbelievers, but by tradition from the Apostles. (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 2)

[I]f, I say, we have intelligently followed these in succession in accordance with the rule of the tradition hereinbefore expounded, we pray that the Lord will grant to us, and to all who hear these words, that having kept the faith which we have received, having finished our course, we may await the crown of righteousness laid up for us, . . . (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, 48)

Clement, the disciple of the Apostles, who was bishop of the Roman church next to the Apostles, was a martyr, wrote the work which is called in the Greek Αναγνωρισμός, or in Latin, The Recognition. In these books he sets forth again and again in the name of the Apostle Peter a doctrine which appears to be truly apostolic . . . There are also some other things inserted into his books which the church’s creed does not admit. I ask, then, what we are to think of these things? Are we to believe that an apostolic man, nay, almost an apostle (since he writes the things which the apostles speak), one to whom the apostle Paul bore his testimony in the words, With Clement and others, my fellow labourers, whose names are in the book of life was the writer of words which contradict the book of life? . . . in the case of these very reverend men and doctors of the church; we have found it impossible, I say, to believe that those reverend men who again and again have supported the church’s belief should in particular points have held opinions contradictory to themselves. (Epilogue to Pamphilus the Martyr’s Apology for Origen)

Rufinus accepted popes as the “rulers” of the Church, with succession from St. Peter:

There is a letter in which this same Clement writing to James the Lord’s brother, gives an account of the death of Peter, and says that he has left him as his successor, as ruler and teacher of the church; and further incorporates a whole scheme of ecclesiastical government. (The Preface to the Books of Recognitions of St. Clement)

Finally, Rufinus reports the following opinion and action of others, but it may very well have been his own belief also:

Putting aside all Greek literature, they [St. Basil and St. Gregory] are said to have passed thirteen years together in studying the Scriptures alone, and followed out their sense, not from their private opinions, but by the writings and authority of the Fathers. (Church History, 2:9)


Summary: Rufinus rejected sola Scriptura & believed in the infallibility of the Church and the See of Rome, infallible tradition, as well as Petrine primacy and historical papal succession from St. Peter.



March 1, 2021

Protestant anti-Catholic polemicists David T. King and William Webster are the editors of a three-volume series, entitled, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (self-published by Webster’s outfit, Christian Resources Inc. [Battle Ground, Washington] in 2001). I’m most interested in Volume III: subtitled, “The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura” (edited by both Webster and King). In the Introduction to Vol. III (p. 9) they make the fantastically absurd, demonstrably false assertion:

[T]he Church fathers . . . universally taught sola Scriptura in the fullest sense of the term embracing both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture.

The definition of sola Scriptura, according to three of the most able and articulate Protestant defenders of it in our time, is the following:

[T]he Bible alone is the infallible written authority for faith and morals (Norman Geisler)

Scripture . . . is the only inspired and inherently infallible norm, and therefore Scripture is the only final authoritative norm. (Keith A. Mathison)

The doctrine of sola scriptura . . . is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei, the infallible rule of faith for the Church. (James R. White) [my bolding; see the sources for these quotations and also a fuller explication by each man]

Such a definition entails also understanding what sola Scriptura is not. It logically rules out tradition, the Church, ecumenical councils, bishops, popes, or appeal to apostolic succession as infallibly and finally authoritative. Only the Bible is that. Therefore, if any Church father believes that any of these are infallible or a final authority, then he (by the same token) does not and indeed cannot believe in sola Scriptura. I didn’t “set the rules”. Protestants have by defining sola Scriptura as they do. Thus, they have to live with their own definition and unbiblical rule of faith.

I shall be examining (in this series of papers) several Church fathers that Webster and King bring up, and documenting that they rejected sola Scriptura. I’ve already done this documentation with regard to AugustineAthanasiusJohn ChrysostomJeromeAmbroseIrenaeusJustin MartyrClement of AlexandriaHippolytusDionysiusBasil the GreatCyril of JerusalemTheodoretGregory of NyssaTertullianOrigenGregory NazianzenEpiphaniusLactantiusCyprianPapiasHilary of Poitiers, Pope St. Gregory the Great, and John Damascene.

All citations are from Volume III unless otherwise indicated.


Sufficient, sufficient for this [obtaining a knowledge of the faith] are the Scriptures of the holy Fathers . . . (De SS. Trinitate Dialogus I. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 2, pp. 281-282) [p. 125]

That which the divine Scripture has not spoken, how shall we receive it, and reckon it among verities? (Glaphyrorum In Genesim, Lib. II. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p.  181) [p. 124]

[Y]ou, O my friend, will adduce vain words to us, and heap up a cold and useless mass of notions, unless you should prove to us, that the volumes of the sacred writers agree with what you have spoken? (De SS. Trinitate Dialogus III. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p. 182) [p. 125]

It is best . . . to make the words of the inspired writers the correct and exact rule of faith. (De SS. Trinitate Dialogus IV. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p. 183) [p. 126]

[H]old firmly to the sacred Scriptures, and following the right path of the sacred writers, go straight to the truth itself. (De Recta Fide, Ad Theodosium Imperatorem. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, pp. 183-184) [p. 126]

[I]t is necessary that we should follow the sacred Scriptures, in nothing going beyond what they sanction. (Ad Reginas De Recta Fide Oratio Altera. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p. 184) [p. 127]

[I]t is impossible for us to say, or at all think anything concerning God, beyond what has been divinely declared by the divine oracles of the Old and New Testament (De Sacrosancta Trinitate, Cap. 1. Translation by William Goode, Vol. 3, p. 185) [p. 128]

[A]n exact and scrupulous knowledge of each particular matter we can obtain from no other source than from divinely-inspired Scripture. (Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, Homily 55, trans. R. Payne Smith; Studion Publishers, Inc., 1983, p. 240) [p. 128]

Note (for what it’s worth), that Webster and King rely in all but the last citation above on translations of William Goode, who was an anti-Catholic, strong Protestant partisan (against whom I’ve partially devoted a book refuting sola Scriptura). Biases have been known to affect translation (even Bible translation: see example one / example two). I’m not saying we can question any or every rendering above, but rather, simply to keep in mind the likely bias of the translator. In any event, material sufficiency of Scripture is wholly consistent with Catholicism, and neither identical to, nor exclusive to, sola Scriptura. So all the examples above that Webster and King classify under “material sufficiency” prove exactly nothing as to St. Cyril’s alleged espousal of sola Scriptura.


It remains the case, as always, that one must examine what Church fathers stated regarding other means of binding, infallible authority within Christianity (besides Holy Scripture), to determine whether they hold to sola Scriptura.

St. Cyril of Alexandria believed in the authoritative, binding, infallible nature of the decisions of ecumenical councils:

And in no wise do we suffer to be shaken by any one, the faith defined, or the symbol of faith settled, by our fathers, who assembled, in their day, at Nicaea. Neither do we allow ourselves, or any other to alter a word there set down, or even to omit a single syllable, mindful of that saying: ‘Remove not the ancient land-marks which thy fathers have set.’  (Letter to John of Antioch, 5)

[H]e opposes the truth and the very symbol of the Church’s Faith, which the fathers once gathered together at Nicea through the illumination of the Spirit defined; he, fearing lest any should keep whole the Faith, instructed unto the Truth by their words, endeavours to calumniate it and alters the significance of the words, . . . against the holy fathers who have decreed for us the pious definition of the Faith which we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast, as it is written. (Tomes Against Nestorius: I, 5)

. . . the holy Churches in every region under Heaven, and the venerable Fathers themselves who put forth unto us the definition of the right and undefiled Faith, viz. (the Holy Ghost speaking in them) that the Word of God was made flesh and became Man, . . . (Tomes Against Nestorius: IV, 2)

St. Cyril held to the binding authority of apostolic tradition and Church teaching:

[H]old fast the faith in simplicity of mind; establishing the tradition of the church as a foundation, in the inmost recesses of thy heart, hold the doctrines which are well-pleasing unto God. (Festal Letters, Homily 8)

[T]he word of the truth contends on our side and the tradition of the undefiled Faith. (Tomes Against Nestorius: III, 3)

And he espoused the indefectibility and infallibility of the one true Church, with Peter (and popes) as the head:

He promises to found the church, assigning immovableness to it, as He is the Lord of strength, and over this he sets Peter as shepherd. (Commentary on Matthew)

‘I have raised him up a king with justice, and all his ways are right.’ The ways of Christ are right, and he has built the holy city, that is, the church, wherein also he dwelleth. For he abideth in the saints, and we have become temples of the living God, having Christ within us through the participation of the Holy Spirit. He, therefore, founded a church, himself being the foundation, in which we also, as rich and precious stones, are built into a holy temple, as a dwelling-place for God in the spirit; the church, having Christ for a foundation, and an immovable support, is perfectly immoveable. (Commentary on Isaiah, 4)

[T]he Catholic Church, which Christ Himself presented to Himself, has not the wrinkles of him who has compiled such things, but rather as unblemished, she keeps wholly without rebuke her knowledge of Him, and hath made full well her tradition of the Faith. . . . following the confessions annexed hereto of the holy Fathers, . . . (Tomes Against Nestorius: II, Introduction)

Therefore, by inexorable logical deduction and many expressly contradictory statements, St. Cyril of Alexandria did not believe in sola Scriptura. Webster and King have inexcusably misled their readers yet again. Bearing false witness violates the Ten Commandments and is, therefore, a grave sin. According to Revelation 21:8, habitual, unrepentant “liars” are among those who will receive the sentence of hell. So this is a serious business indeed. Christian teachers must — by God’s grace — teach the truth and make every effort to ensure that they are doing so. James 3:1 (RSV) warns: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.”


Photo credit: St. Cyril of Alexandria: icon in St. George Orthodox Cathedral (Cuauhtémoc, Mexico). Catedrales e Iglesias/Cathedrals and Churches; uploaded to Flickr on 10-20-13 [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license]


Summary: St. Cyril of Alexandria did not believe in sola Scriptura, since he held to infallible ecumenical councils, an indefectible and infallible Church, and the binding authority of tradition.


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