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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Prima Scriptura

This is Prima Scriptura: (I thought I already had this on my blog, but I couldn't find it when I was looking for it, and so, I'm doing it again.)


The Metropolitan Timothy(Kallistos) Ware:

""Orthodox are always talking about Tradition.
What do they mean by the word? A tradition is commonly understood to signify an
opinion, belief or custom handed down from ancestors to posterity. Christian
tradition in that case, is the faith and practice which Jesus Christ imparted to
the Apostles, and which since the Apostles' time has been handed down from
generation in the Church. But to an Orthodox Christian, Tradition means
something more concrete and specific than this. It means the books of the Bible;
it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the
writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons
— in fact, the whole system of doctrine, Church government, worship,
spirituality and art which Orthodoxy has articulated over the ages. Orthodox
Christian of today see themselves as heirs and guardians to a rich inheritance
received from the past, and they believe that it is their duty to transmit this
inheritance unimpaired to the future.

Note that the Bible forms a part
of Tradition. Sometimes Tradition is defined as the oral teaching of Christ, not
recorded in writing by His immediate disciples. Not only non-Orthodox but many
Orthodox writers have adopted this way of speaking, treating Scripture and
tradition as two different things, two distinct sources of the Christian faith.
But in reality there is only one source, since Scripture exists within
Tradition. to separate and contrast the two is to impoverish the idea of both
Orthodox, while reverencing this inheritance from the past, are also
well aware that not everything received from the past is of equal value. Among
the various elements of Tradition, a unique pre-eminence belongs to the Bible,
to the Creed, to the doctrinal definitions of the Ecumenical Councils: these
things the Orthodox accept as something absolute and unchanging, something which
cannot be cancelled or revised. The other parts of Tradition do not have quite
the same authority. The decrees of Jassy or Jerusalem do not stand on the same
level as the Nicene Creed, nor do the writings of an Athanasius, or a Symeon the
New Theologian, occupy the same position as the Gospel of St. John.
everything received from the past is of equal value, nor is everything received
from the past necessarily true. As one of the bishops remarked at the Council of
Carthage in 257: 'The Lord said, I am truth. He did not say, I am custom.' There
is a difference between 'Tradition' and traditions': many traditions which the
past has handed down are human and accidental- pious opinions (or worse), but
not a true part of the one Tradition, the fundamental Christian message. pages
196-197 [1]

"The Bible and the Church. The Christian Church
is a Scriptural Church: Orthodoxy believes this just as firmly, if not more
firmly, than Protestantism. The Bible is the supreme expression of God's
revelation to the human race, and Christians must always be 'people of the
Book'. But if Christians are People of the Book, the Bible is the Book of the
People; it must not be regarded as something set up over the Church, but as
something that lives and is understood within the Church (that is why one should
not separate Scripture and Tradition). It is from the Church that the Bible
ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church which originally decided
which books form a part of Holy Scripture; and it is the Church alone which can
interpret Holy Scripture with Authority. There are many sayings in the Bible
which by themselves are far from clear, and individual readers, however sincere,
are in danger of error, and individual readers, however sincere, are in danger
of error if they trust their own personal interpretation. 'Do you understand
what you are reading? Philop asked the Ethiopian eunuch; and the eunuch replied,
'How can I, unless someone guides me?' (Acts viii, 30-I). Orthodox, when they
read the Scripture, accept the guidance of the Church. When received into the
Orthodox Church, a convert promises, 'I will accept and understand Holy
Scripture in accordance with the interpretation which was and is held by the
Holy Orthodox Catholic Church of the East, our Mother.'" pages 199-200

As well as

Clark Carlton:

"Furthermore, the Orthodox Church has never
accepted the Roman Catholic assertion that there are two sources of authority.
The Church recognizes one and only one source of Authority for Her faith and
practice: the apostolic tradition. The Divine Scriptures are part-albeit the
most important part-of the tradition. To set Scriptures up as something over and
apart from tradition is to have the tail wagging the dog." pages 135-136

Anthony M. Coniaris:

"Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos, Professor of New
Testament at Holy Cross School of Theodore Stylianopoulos, Professor of New
Testament at Holy Cross School of Theology, asks us to look upon the Bible as a
record of truth and not truth itself. He writes, ''. . . there emerged in
Orthodox tradition the position that the Bible is the record of truth, not the
truth itself. . . According to the Church Fathers, the truth itself is God
alone." Such an approach to the Bible according to Fr. Stylianopoulos leaves
room for "other records of the experience of God, such as the writings of the
Church Fathers, the liturgical forms and texts, and the decisions of the
Ecumenical Councils. It rescues the Church from an exclusive focus on the Bible.
. .and thus guards Orthodox life from the error of idolatrous veneration of the
text of Scripture (bibliolatry)." In other words, God kept on talking even after
His book had gone to press. This is what Sacred Tradition is all about. Even
though the Orthodox Church distingushes between record and truth, and esteems
also other records of the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, "the Bible
still remains the primary record in the theological tradition and worship of the
Church. . .The main source of patristic theology is Holy Scripture. . . No other
treasure in the tradition of the Church equals the accessibilty, value and
authority of the Bible. . .The Orthodox Church does not have a fundamentalist
but it does have a fundamental view of the sanctity and authority of the
Bible."" [4] page 155

"Since the Bible was written under the guidance of
the Holy Spirit, it is the Holy Spirit abiding in the Church who is the Proper
Interpreter of the Bible. The Church, in other words, is the custodian, the
caretaker, the interpreter of the Bible. It is the Holy Spirit abiding in the
Church Who has guided, and continues to guide, the Church through the centuries
to the proper interpretation of the Scriptures." [5] page 156


"Sacred Tradition plays an important role in the
interpretation of Scripture. By Sacred Tradition we mean, "the life of the Holy
Spirit in the Church" (Vladimir Lossky). The Holy Spirit has been abiding in the
Church since Pentecost guiding it to all truth, i.e., to the proper
interpretation of Scripture. The Orthodox Church does not ignore what the Spirit
has taught in the past regarding Scripture. On the contrary, it treasures this
revelation which comes to us through the Church Fathers and the Councils of the
Church. Thus Scripture and Tradition belong together. Both came from the same
source: the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Because of this, we believe
that the Bible needs Sacred Tradition as the living interpreter of God's word,
just as Sacred Tradition needs the Bible as its anchor and foundation. Those who
deny Sacred Tradition replace the entire 2000 period of the life and work of the
Holy Spirit in the Church with one person's interpretation of Scripture,
........(I skipped a few lines).......We read the Bible not as indivduals but as
members of God's Church. The whole Church reads it with us and we read it with
the whole Church.
Fr. Kallistos Ware writes, "....we do not read the Bible
as isolated individuals, interpreting it solely by the light of our private
understanding. . .We read it as members of the Church, in communion with all the
other members throughout the ages. The final criterion for our interpretation of
Scripture is the mind of the Church. And this means keeping constantly in view
how the meaning of Scripture is explained and applied in Holy Tradition: that is
to say, how the Bible is understood by the Fathers and the saints, and how it is
used in liturgical worship." [6] page 157

The Protestant evangelical scholar Daniel B. Clendenin:

The Primacy of Holy Scripture
"In general we can say
that for Orthodoxy the Spirit speaks to the church through the gospel tradition
(paradosis), this tradition being defined as a living and authentic continuity
with the apostolic past. "The Apostolic Tradition is the gospel, the word and
event of salvation, entrusted by Jesus to His disciples who received the
authority to proclaim it to the world." Paul transmitted this paradosis to the
Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:2, 23; 15:3), and referred to it on three occasions as an
entrusted deposit which the church must guard (1 Tim. 6:20; Tim. 1:12, 14).
Whatever authority or criteria of truth the church possesses resides in its
fidelity to this original apostolic paradosis. In a comprehensive sense the
apostolic tradition finds expression in any number of external forms, all of
which are means used by the indwelling Spirit. Timothy Ware, for example, lists
seven: Scripture, the seven ecumenical councils, later councils and their
dogmatic statements (Orthodoxy's so-called symbolic books), the Fathers,
liturgy, canon law, and icons. These external forms constitute an organic whole,
and it is only for discussion's sake that we treat them separately. For
convenience we can think of them as tradition that is both written (Scripture)
and unwritten (extracanonical sources) or, to use a common distinction, written
Scripture and oral tradition.

Not all the external forms of the Spirit's
witness are of the same nature or value. Tradition is uniquely expressed in our
present canon of written Scripture. Although Orthodoxy refuses to consider
Scripture apart from the broader context of other forms of tradition, and does
not limit authoritative tradition to the biblical canon, it nevertheless accords
a unique status to the Bible. Liturgically, this can be seen not merely in
Orthodoxy's intense veneration of holy Scripture (the elevating, incensing, and
kissing of the Bible, and its being given the primary place of honar in various
processions), but especially in the rich biblical content of the liturgy itself.
Doctrinally, and contrary to a common Protestant misunderstanding, Orthodoxy
does not endorse a "doctrine of homogenized and unstratified authority," but
instead "affirms unequivocally the primary position of Scripture." [7] pages


The Necessity of Holy Tradition
"While the
apostolic deposit finds unique articulation in the written tradition of
canonical Scripture, it is not confined or limited to the biblical text, but
finds fuller expression in extracanonical tradition. Written Scripture is
primary but not exclusive; the tradition of the councils and the Fathers are
indispensable for a number of reasons. First, both the church itself and the
apostolic kerygma existed for nearly three centuries before the ecumenical
councils and the establishment of the scriptural canon. In the Acts of the
Apostles the precanonical "word of God" that the apostles preached about Jesus
continues to grow and flourish, and even seems to be equated with the church
itself (Acts 12:24; 19:20). We also know that Jesus did many things that were
never written down (John 20:30-31;25), and that Paul urged the early Christians
to accept (John 20:30-31;21:25), and that Paul urged the early Christians to
accept both the written and unwritten apostolic paradosis that he passed on to
them (2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Cor 11:2). The oral message preached to the Thessalonians
was rightly received by them as "the word of God" (1 Thess. 2:13; cf. Col. 1:25
and 3:16). Oral tradition is thus a necessary complement or supplement to
written Scripture, for the gospel kerygma is not exactly contiguous with the
canon of Scripture.

Second, Orthodoxy would insist that nobody operates
with a clean slate, a tabula rasa, and, accordingly, noncanonical traditions are
a practical and hermeneutical inevitability. Although someone might claim to
interpret the Scripture de novo in principle, in practice we all read the text
not only with theological or denominational presuppositions, but also through
the space time prisms of our individual cultures and experiences. Furthermore,
even if a neutral reading were possible, it would hardly be desirable because it
would likely lead to arbitrary and errant understandings of the text. Thus it
becomes all the more important tolocate oneself within the apostolic oral
tradition that serves as a hermeneutical context for written Scripture. Third,
liturgical precedent also reveals the importance of noncanonical tradition. We
saw in the last chapter that when defending the use of icons, both John of
Damascus and Theodore the Studite based their cases squarely on the importance
of extrabiblical liturgical tradition. According to Orthodoxy, there are many
similar aspects of the life and liturgy of the church that, while not explicitly
contained in or demanded by Scripture, are of undisputed significance to
believers. Pertinent here is a celebrated passage from Basil's On the Holy
Spirit. In defending the deity of the Holy Spirit, Basil appealed to the fact
that widely used doxologies of the church confessed, "Glory to the Father and to
the Son with the Spirit." While the preposition with was not found in Scripture,
it had all the weight of liturgical precedent, which Basil was of enormous
significance: "Concerning the teachings of the Church, we have received some
from written sources, while others have been given to us secretly, through
apostolic tradition. Both sources have equal force in true in true religion. No
one would deny either source-no one, at any rate, who is even slightly familiar
with the ordinances of the Church. If we attacked unwritten customs, claiming
them to be of little importance, we would fatally mutilate the Gospel, no matter
what our intentions-or rather, we would reduce the Gospel teachings to bare
words." Basil goes on to list some of the uncontested ancient liturgical customs
of the church: certain baptismal practices, and the renunciation of Satan and
his angels. For Basil, not only are certain liturgical traditions of great
importance, "they are indispensable for the preservation of right faith."
Tertullian had made the same point, in a similar manner, more than a century
earlier. Citing important liturgical practices such as the renunciation of the
devil at baptism, threefold immersion, celebration of the Eucharist early in the
morning and only by a bishop, prayers for the dead at the Eucharist, celebration
of the Eucharist on the anniversary of the deaths of martyrs, abstinence from
fasting and from praying in a kneeling position on Sundays, prevention of any
part of the bread and wine from falling onto the ground, and other such
practices, Tertullian remarks: :If you demand a biblical rule for these
observances and others of the same sort, you will find none written. Tradition
will be alleged to you as the authority and custom to support them and faith to
practice them. You yourself will either see the reason which supports the
tradition and the custom and the faith, or you will learn it from someone who
will have seen it. Meanwhile you will believe it to be not lacking in authority
to which to which obedience should be owed." In short, in Basil and Terullian we
see a practical example in which the lex orandi defines the lex credendi. Unless
we wish to denude and mutilate the apostolic tradition, according to Basil and
Tertullian, we will accept the authority of the liturgical precedent, even
though it is not contained in Scripture alone.

Fourth, the necessity of
the extrabiblical tradition finds broad-based support in the theological
methodologies of any number of early fathers, a fact which is of no small
significance for Orthodoxy. Tertullian invoked the "rule of the faith" and
Irenaeus the "canon of truth" against the heretics of their day. Athanasius, the
champion of Nicene orthodoxy, had to defend the council against the Arian charge
that its conclusions (specifically the term homoousios) were innoations. He was
nevertheless thoroughly apostolic. In contending against the Arians, who wished
to limit the argument to Scripture alone, Athanasius appealed to the larger
"scope" (skopos) or "rule" (kanon) of faith, the tradition and teaching of the
catholic church. The stalwart defender of orthodoxy, Ephiphanius, noted that
some elements of the apostolic faith were "delivered to us through the
Scriptures, the others through the Tradition delivered to us by the Holy
Apostles." Chrysostom, commenting on 2 Thessalonians 2:15, pointed out that the
apostles :did not deliver all things by epistle, but many things also unwritten,
and in like manner both the one and the other worthy of credit. Therefore let us
think the Tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition; seek
no farther." Augustine confessed that "I should not have believed the Gospel, if
the authority of the Catholic Church had notmoved me." And so, according to
Orthodoxy, when we appeal to the apostolic tradition outside of sola scriptura,
we stand on the firm ground of the early patristic consensus and theological
method. Of all the justification for invoking the extrabiblical apostolic
tradition a hermeneutical necessity. Hilary of Poitiers noted that "Scripture is
not in the reading but in the understanding," a sentiment repeated by Jerome,
who rebuked certain heretics because, not having the help of the Holy Spirit,
they turned the divine gospel into a human word: "We do not think that [the]
Gospel consits of the words of Scripture but in its meaning........In this case
Scripture is really usefull for the hearers when it is not spoken without
Christ, nor is presented without the Fathers, and those who are preaching do not
introduce it without the Holy Spirit." The problem of misunderstanding as a
result of private interpreting and twisting of the Scripture exposes the
inadequacy of reading the Bible alone and confirms the hermeneutical necessity
of its larger patristic context. This is precisely the problem with heretics, as
George Prestige so sptly observed: "Heretics showed that they could be as
painstaking in their use of Scripture as the saints. The fact soon became
obvious to any intelligent thinker that the principle of 'the Bible and the
Bible only' provides no automatically secure basis for a religion that is to be
genuinely Christian." Irenaeus and Vincent of Lerins made this point in special
ways. Irenaeus employed two striking analogies. He compared heretics' treatment
of Scripture to people who take a beautifully crafted mosaic of a king,
rearrange the pieces to depict a dog or a fox, and then have the audacity to
claim that their rearrangement is the authentic mosaic because it contains the
original materials. Heretics are also like people who arbitrarily rearrange the
poetry of Homer so that, while the verses themselves are original, the meaning
has been grossly distorted. In other words, it is one thing to have at one's
disposal the original material of Scripture, and quite another to us it
properly. Only by adhereing to the apostolic tradition and the rule of truth
will we avoid the hermeneutical distortions of heretics and not mistake foxes
for kings or paltry paraphrases for the real Word.
When searching for a
means to distinguish the true apostolic faith from heresy, Vincent of Lerins
noted that while Scripture is "for all things complete and more than
sufficient," even heretics appeal to Scripture. It seems, Vincent of Lerins
noted that while Scripture is "for all things complete and more than
sufficient," even heretics appeal to Scripture. It seems, Vincent observed, that
"owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it with 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". To "detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they
rise, and to continue sound and complete in the catholic faith," we need the
authority of tradition, specifically, "that which has believed everywhere,
always, by all." This ecumenicity of time and space serves as a hermeneutical
prism so that, in the words of Hilary and Jerome, we do not merely read the text
but understand it rightly. For Vincent, as Florovsky notes, "Tradition was, in
fact, the authentic interpretation of Scripture. And in this sense it was
co-extensive with Scripture. Tradition was actually 'Scripture rightly
understood.' And Scripture for St. Vincent was the only, primary, and ultimate
canon of Christian truth." [8] pages 110-113


[1]pages 196-197, [2]pages 199-200 from the book "The Orthodox Church: New Edition" by the Metro Timothy (Kallistos) Ware, Penguin books @ 1997

[3]pages 135-136 from the book "The Way" by Clark Carlton, Regina @ 1997

[4]page 155, [5]page 156, [6]page 157 from the book "Introducing the Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life" by Anthony M. Coniaris @ 1982

[7]pages 108-109, [8]pages 110-113 from the book "Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A western Perspective" by Daniel B. Clendenin, BakerAcademic @ 2003


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