In my discussions online I have encountered many who claim that the Church Fathers did not teach Sola Scriptura. The assertion is that the confession of Sola Scriptura was born out of the reformation and is a new teaching that should be rejected. I don’t just get this from Roman Catholics either, a good deal of Liberal Protestants and Cultist appeal to this argument as well.
My goal in this post is to demonstrate the opposite. I found the below collection of Patristic quotes HERE. I have arranged them by order of birth date and provided my own analysis.
“Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things.” -St. Athanasius, Letter, De Synodis, Par. 6; 296 – 373 A.D.
“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 you 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.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in NPNF, Volume VII, p. 23.) 313 – 386 A.D.
Notice above that you see St. Cyril juxtaposes “speech” and “reason” against the “Holy Scriptures”. The latter of which we are to use to test the former. This is placing the Word over tradition. The first thing a Roman Catholic will tell you is that they do value Holy Scripture, but they place it equal with tradition. It would see that Cyril was teaching otherwise.
“What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if ‘all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.” Basil the Great (The Morals, p. 204, vol 9 TFOTC). 330-379 A.D.
“everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin”. You don’t get more Sola Scriptura than that.
“Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.” St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Holy Trinity, NPNF, p. 327). 335 – 394 A.D.
“Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.” St. John Chrysostom (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, p. 118, vol. 96 TFOTC) 349 – 407 A.D.
If it were not for the names and dates I would assume the two quotes above were stated by the Reformers themselves. Notice that St. Gregory in particular indicates that we are use the Scriptures to test dogma. This is clearly placing the word over dogma, not even equal to it.
“There comes a heathen and says, “I wish to become a Christian, but I know not whom to join: there is much fighting and faction among you, much confusion: which doctrine am I to choose?” How shall we answer him? “Each of you” (says he) “asserts, ‘I speak the truth.”‘ No doubt: this is in our favor. For if we told you to be persuaded by arguments, you might well be perplexed: but if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule.” — St. John Chrysostom, (Homily 33 in Acts of the Apostles [NPNF1,11:210-n; PG 60.243-44]) 349 – 407 A.D.
“We are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize vvith the intention of those writings.” St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Soul and the Resurrection NPNF II, V:439) 335 – 394 A.D.
Above we see that scripture is again placed as the test, and Chrysostom goes so far as to say that it is a test for the unbeliever as well. If the teacher does not follow the scriptures then they shouldn’t be regarded as a Christian.
“It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments.” St. John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, Book I, Chapter 2; 676 – 749 A.D.
“Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. xix, 1): “Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.”–St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia, Part 1, Question 1, Article 8; 1225 – 1274 A.D.
This passage above by St. Thomas Aquinas is my favorite of the above selections. It was written much later than the others but his thoughts are more formed on this issue. Notice that he doesn’t outright discount extra Biblical teaching, but simply makes clear it’s lower place in the discernment of truth.
This is the confession of Sola Scriptura that is consisent with teachings both ancient and modern; we treat the Scriptures as the “Norma Normans Non Normata” which is latin for “the norm of norms which cannot be normed”. Instead we norm all other teachings by scripture.
The above sample doesn’t prove that there was consensus on Sola Scriptura, or even that those above were always consistent with themselves at every phase of their life. But at the very least don’t let anyone tell you there is no Patristic support for Sola Scriptura.
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