Saturday, January 19, 2008

I dealt with this nutty theory last year and you can read what I wrote here.


Zac said...

More from St. Basil the Great

It gladdens me you have undertaken to read from St. Basil the Great (at least, that's what I presume from your quotation of him... I'm certain you wouldn't just take a quote of his from some website without actually reading the context, lest you bear false witness of his teachings)! Of course, since most likely your readers have not read him (except me), I suppose I should give other quotes that better explain what he means by this little sound byte you have provided which almost seems to paint him as a sola scriptura protestant.

Here's a quotation from his work, On the Holy Spirit:

"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. What was the meaning of the mighty Moses in not making all the parts of the tabernacle open to every one? The profane he stationed without the sacred barriers; the first courts he conceded to the purer; the Levites alone he judged worthy of being servants of the Deity; sacrifices and burnt offerings and the rest of the priestly functions he allotted to the priests; one chosen out of all he admitted to the shrine, and even this one not always but on only one day in the year, and of this one day a time was fixed for his entry so that he might gaze on the Holy of Holies amazed at the strangeness and novelty of the sight. Moses was wise enough to know that contempt stretches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar. In the same manner the Apostles and Fathers who laid down laws for the Church from the beginning thus guarded the awful dignity of the mysteries in secrecy and silence, for what is bruited abroad random among the common folk is no mystery at all. This is the reason for our tradition of unwritten precepts and practices, that the knowledge of our dogmas may not become neglected and contemned by the multitude through familiarity. "Dogma" and "Kerygma" are two distinct things; the former is observed in silence; the latter is proclaimed to all the world. One form of this silence is the obscurity employed in Scripture, which makes the meaning of "dogmas" difficult to be understood for the very advantage of the reader: Thus we all look to the East at our prayers, but few of us know that we are seeking our own old country, Paradise, which God planted in Eden in the East. We pray standing, on the first day of the week, but we do not all know the reason. On the day of the resurrection (or "standing again" Grk. anastasin) we remind ourselves of the grace given to us by standing at prayer, not only because we rose with Christ, and are bound to "seek those things which are above," but because the day seems to us to be in some sense an image of the age which we expect..."

"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?"

My words: Important to note that St. Basil's argument is that these extra-scriptural unwritten apostolic traditions are not unscriptural-- in fact, the Scriptures bear witness to them.

While I'm at it, I'll give you something from your favorite teacher, St. Augustine:

"I desire you therefore, in the first place, to hold fast this as the fundamental principle in the present discussion, that our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed to us a "light yoke" and an "easy burden," as He declares in the Gospel : in accordance with which He has bound His people under the new dispensation together in fellowship by sacraments, which are in number very few, in observance most easy, and in significance most excellent, as baptism solemnized in the name of the Trinity, the communion of His body and blood, and such other things as are prescribed in the canonical Scriptures, with the exception of those enactments which were a yoke of bondage to God's ancient people, suited to their state of heart and to the times of the prophets, and which are found in the five books of Moses. As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g. the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord's passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established." [Augustine's Letter to Januarius]

"And if any one seek for divine authority in this matter, though what is held by the whole Church, and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have been handed down by apostolical authority." [Augustine's Against the Donatists

I look forward to seeing these texts, too, on your Church Father quotation board... I know, don't hold my breath, right? =^)

irreverend fox said...

thanks zac!

just trying to bring some balance to the Christian history discussion and to provide examples to support my claim that the ancient Church fathers at times spoke out of both ends of the their mouths. whenever I come across something I underline it or copy and paste it for future use.

and I would suggest to not be too quick to judge the are not the only well one read around here. just the only one confident enough to brag about it in the comment section ;^) there are several men with their MDiv's who float in and out...and like you...I wish they would comment more (hint hint...)

what kind of schedule do you have now? we need to hang out again! I think you'd be amazed at the progress in the parsonage!

irreverend fox said...


should have said "you're not the only well read one..."

Zac said...

Well dear Gary-- flattery aside, I never made a claim to being "well" read, only that I had read St. Basil. And in my own life's experiences I've found about 1 in 2,000 protestants even know who he is let alone have read something about him. And that's not saying they're not well read either-- it's just not on most peoples' radar, even if they're in the MDiv program at Fuller or Baylor or wherever.

Virtually every Orthodox person has at least heard of him, since we use the Liturgy he wrote during Lent and on Christmas day... and his writings are in basically any Orthodox parish library or bookstore. So that's the only thing I'm really "confident" about...

Concerning "both ends" I would say that the Fathers only appear to be doing this to someone who'd think that the writers of Scripture were speaking out of both ends of their mouths. This isn't true, of course, only that the grace-giving truth on various subjects can often not be summed up in a single verse or sound byte. St. Basil was not contradicting himself, because even in the quotation you posted he's not saying what you think he is. His argument is that even the unwritten part of Tradition is harmonious with, and congruent to, Scripture... even the mysteries of the Church are all there taught. Without the unwritten part, we cannot claim to understand the written-- this is a disconcerting thing, to think that others have a better grasp on the meaning and spirit of the Scriptures than we do. But I have found that once one takes the strong medicine of renouncing their own personal papacy, what one finds is that a sure foundation has already been lain-- and the path of life revealed in the Scriptures becomes clear.

And yes, I'd love to hang out. Stay tuned this week for an email about my schedule.

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth...

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

In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.
[St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies died in the early 100s A.D.]

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.

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic," which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. 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 consenting definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.
[St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, died in the 400s A.D.]

irreverend fox said...


you might be right. you see, we train our people to spend their time reading "Paul", "John", "Moses" and other authors of Scripture, if their time is limited.