A Dialogue with A Protestant Apologist on

Sola Scriptura and the Early Church


The following is a dialogue that took place on an e-mail list some years ago.  What is contained here, is the response of a Protestant Apologist to some things I had posted about Tradition and Scripture, my first response, his counter response, and my final response.  The words of this Protestant apologists are presented in Blue Tahoma Type; my replies are in regular black type.


…in light of certain statements that have been made I would like to interject some thoughts in response to some of the historical arguments against sola scriptura, especially to answer the challenge that no fathers of the early church taught sola scriptura. I want to begin by submitting to you that Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Lectures, gives us an explicit statement of the principle.


I'm glad that you have made mention of St. Cyril's catechetical lectures, which are very important documents, because this is the oldest catechetical material we have.  Prior to this, we mostly have only apologetic material, some Scriptural commentary, and some sermonic material -- but no catechetical material of any significant length.  This is due to what I mentioned previously, and what is evident in St. Cyril's lectures -- which he prefaces with a warning that this information not be shared with anyone who is unbaptized or preparing for it. Prior to St. Cyril, such information was not written down at all -- only preserved by memorization.  But with the end of the persecutions of the early church, the level of secrecy was gradually relaxed.


I will show that St. Cyril did not teach Sola Scriptura, but was in fact of the same mind as St. Basil, and gives testimony to essentially all the basic teachings of the Orthodox Church.



The following are his comments:


"This seal have thou ever on thy mind which now by way of summary has been touched on in its heads, and if the Lord grant, shall hereafter be set forth according to our power, with Scripture-proofs.  For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures, nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument.  Do not then believe me because I tell thee of these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures (Lecture 4.17)..... Now heed not any ingenious views of mine; else thou mayest be misled; but unless thou receive the witness of the prophets concerning each matter believe not what is spoken; unless thou learn from Holy Scripture ... receive not the witness of man (Lecture 12.5)..... But take thou and hold that faith only as a learner and in profession, which is by the Church delivered to thee, and is established from all Scripture.  For since all cannot read the Scripture, but some as being unlearned, others by business are hindered from the knowledge of them; in order that the soul may not perish for lack of instruction, in the Articles which are few we comprehend the whole doctrine of Faith ...And for the present, commit to memory the Faith, merely listening to the words….


Just an aside… the quote given omits the admonishment that the Creed not be written down, nor shared with any who are unbaptized.


…and expect at the fitting season the proof for each of its parts from the Divine Scriptures.  For the Articles of the Faith were not composed at the good pleasure of men: but the most important points chosen from all the Scriptures, make up the one teaching of the Faith.  And, as the mustard seed in a little grain contains many branches, thus also this Faith, in a few words hath enfolded in its bosom the whole knowledge of godliness contained in both the Old and New Testaments.  Behold therefore brethren and hold the traditions which ye now receive and write them on the table of your hearts (Lecture 5.12).....Let us then speak nothing concerning the Holy Ghost but what is written, and if anything be not written, let us not busy ourselves about it.  The Holy Ghost Himself spake the Scriptures; He has also spoken concerning Himself as much as He pleased, or as much as we could receive... Be those things therefore spoken, which He has said; for whatsoever He has not said, we dare not say (Lecture 16.2)..... Now these things we teach, not of our own ingenuity, but having learned them out of the divine Scriptures of the Church (Lecture 15.13)..... For all things concerning Christ are put into writing, and nothing is doubtful, for nothing is without a text.  All things are inscribed on the monuments of the Prophets; clearly written not on tablets of stone, but by the hand of the Holy Ghost ... Let us then seek texts in proof of the Passion of Christ: for we are met together, not now to make an abstract exposition of the Scriptures, but rather to be made assured of the things which we already believe (Lecture 13.8-9)..... Was Christ made man for nought?  Are our doctrines mere inventions and human sophisms?  Are not the Holy Scriptures our salvation? (Lecture 12.16)."



Let it be noted that St. Cyril says nothing here about the Scriptures that St. Basil does not also say.  He sets the Scriptures in opposition to ingenious reasonings as the standard of Faith -- but he does not set the Scriptures in opposition to Apostolic oral Tradition -- but rather as you yourself have said, he saw them as being in complete unanimity.


John I respectfully disagree with this assertion. First of all, Cyril gives 2 Lectures devoted specifically to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Lectures 16 and 17) in which, like Basil, he defends and expounds upon the Deity and Ministry of the Holy Spirit. But he explicitly denies the validity of oral tradition as a basis for teaching regarding this doctrine. He states: "Let us then speak nothing concerning the Holy Ghost but what is written, and if anything be not written, let us not busy ourselves about it.  The Holy Ghost Himself spake the Scriptures; He has also spoken concerning Himself as much as He pleased, or as much as we could receive... Be those things therefore spoken, which He has said; for whatsoever He has not said, we dare not say' (Lecture 16.2). Scripture and scripture alone is the source of his knowledge about the Holy Spirit and the basis of his teaching.


OK, but let's look at that quote [another Protestant Apologist] likes to tag onto his posts:


“The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject that which is foreign.” (Basil, Moralia, 72:1)


What does St. Cyril say, that St. Basil does not say here?


And yet what does St. Basil say when dealing with heretics who would dispute the Apostolic Tradition, which forms the context of the Scriptures?


"Of the dogmas and kerygmas preserved in the Church, some we posses from written teaching and others we received from the Tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery.  In respect to piety both are of the same force.  No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical.  Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kerygma to a mere term.  For instance, to take the first and most general example, who 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 in prayer?  Which of the saints left us in writing the words of the epiclesis at the consecration of the Bread of the Eucharist and of the Cup of Benediction?  For we are not content with those words the Apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but we say other things also, both before and after; and we regard these other words, which we have received from unwritten teaching, as being of great importance to the mystery.


Where is it written that we are to bless the baptismal water, the oil of anointing, and even the one who is being baptized?  Is it not from the silent and mystical tradition?  Indeed, in what written word is even the anointing oil taught?  Where does it say that in baptizing there is to be a triple immersion?  And the rest of the things done at baptism -- where is it written that we are to renounce Satan and his angels?  Does this not come from that secret and arcane teaching which our Fathers guarded in a silence not too curiously meddled with and not idly investigated, when they had learned well that reverence for the mysteries is best preserved by silence.... In the same way the Apostles and Fathers who, in the beginning, prescribed the Church's rites, guarded in secrecy and silence the dignity of the mysteries; for that which is blabbed at random and in the public ear is no mystery at all.  This is the reason for our handing on of unwritten precepts and practices; that the knowledge of our dogmas may not be neglected and held in contempt by the multitude through too great a familiarity.  Dogma and kerygma are two distinct things.  Dogma is observed in silence; kerygma is proclaimed to all the world"


-St. Basil, "The Holy Spirit" 17,66 (trans from The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol 2 p. 18f.  by William A. Jurgens. 


Here's St. Basil's 92nd Canon (Translation from "The Rudder", which is a book containing the Ecumenical canons, with Traditional commentary):


[This is also found in chapter 29 of St. Basil's work on the Holy Spirit]


"Moreover, as relating to the assertion that the Doxology containing the words "together with the Spirit" is unwitnessed and unwritten, what we have to say is that if nothing else that is unwritten is admissible, then let this not be admitted either; but if the most of the mysteries are conveyed to us outside the scriptures, let us accept this one too together with numerous others.  It is a usage that Apostolical, I presume, to adhere to unwritten and extra-biblical traditions.  For it says: "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the Traditions as I have delivered them to you" (I Cor 11:2).  And:  "Hold fast to the Traditions which ye have been taught, whether orally or through an epistle of ours"  (II Thess 2:15), one of which indeed is the present one, which the first originators composed and handed on to their successors, in due process of time and ever mindful of usage, and have firmly rooted in the Churches by dint of long custom.  If, therefore, we are at a loss to present written evidence as though in a court of justice, but can produce a whole multitude of witnesses, should we not received an express permission from you.  The way I look at the matter is as follows: "At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established" (Deut 19:15).  But if, on the other hand, we have exhibited the fact to you perspicuously for a long time, should we not except you naturally enough to say that there is no evidence to warrant our being put on trial.  For how can it be denied that the old doctrines are awesome and entitled to veneration because of their hoary antiquity?"


Tertullian earlier had made a very similar argument:


“And how long shall we draw the saw to and fro through this line, when we have an ancient practice, which by anticipation has made for us the state, i.e., of the question? If no passage of Scripture has prescribed it, assuredly custom, which without doubt flowed from tradition, has confirmed it. For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down? Even in pleading tradition, written authority, you say, must be demanded. Let us inquire, therefore, whether tradition, unless it be written, should not be admitted. Certainly we shall say that it ought not to be admitted, if no cases of other practices which, without any written instrument, we maintain on the ground of tradition alone, and the countenance thereafter of custom, affords us any precedent. To deal with this matter briefly, I shall begin with baptism. When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel. Then when we are taken up (as new-born children), we taste first of all a mixture of milk and honey, and from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week. We take also, in congregations before daybreak, and from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord both commanded to be eaten at meal-times, and enjoined to be taken by all alike. As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honors. We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord's day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from Easter to Whitsunday. We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground. At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign. If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and faith as their observer. That reason will support tradition, and custom, and faith, you will either yourself perceive, or learn from some one who has” (Tertullian, De Corona, ANF, vol. 3,  p. 94f). 


There is not one mention of oral tradition and the fact that it is never mentioned is proof that it was unnecessary for an exposition and defense of the Faith. The above quotes [from St. Cyril], read objectively, are a clear presentation of the principle of sola scriptura.


On the one hand you say that he rejects oral tradition, and on the other you say he makes no mention of it.  Which is it? :)


Aside from that you have failed to sufficiently account for the repeated admonitions from St. Cyril that his instruction was to remain secret (within the Church only), whereas the Scriptures were open to all, and had certainly been studied by those preparing for baptism prior to the instruction that they received.


If St. Cyril's instruction was just a rehash of the contents of Scripture, and did not contain explanations and elaborations that would not be available to one just reading the text -- why bother with the secrecy?  The secret would have already been out.


St. Cyril's lectures are oral Tradition! That's precisely the point. He saw no conflict between what he taught and the Scriptures – and in fact believed he could defend what he taught from the Scriptures. I believe that too!


St. Cyril's lectures teach prayers for the dead, asking prayers of the Saints, they give very detailed specifics about the Liturgy, etc., and he ends his talk by saying:


"Keep these Traditions inviolate, and preserve yourself from offenses. Do not cut yourself off from Communion, do not deprive yourselves, through the pollutions of sins, of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries. And may the God of peace sanctify you completely; and may your body and soul and spirit be preserved intact at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; to whom be glory, honor, and might: with the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever, and in the ages of ages. Amen [23 (Mystagogic 5), 23]."


Now, had one of these catechumens present at these lectures stood up and said "Despota, where are you getting all this nonsense?  You said everything you were going to teach us would be based on Scripture, and yet I have studied the Scriptures and find nothing about X, Y, Z Traditions you have mentioned."  Of course St. Cyril would give him Scriptural support, but suppose this guy was stubborn and said that he interpreted the Bible differently, and that if it was not specifically spelled out in Scripture, he would not accept it.  You can be sure that St. Cyril would then defend the testimony of the Church, and point out that what he said was the teaching of the whole Church, not

just his own ideas.  In short, he would have done exactly what St. Basil did, when confronted with similar folks.


Now [the other Protestant Apologist] would have us believe that the Fathers were just consistently

inconsistent on this point, but it makes much more sense to just acknowledge that they saw no conflict between the Tradition of the Church and the Scriptures, and so made no issue of it without a reason to.  But here in St. John's homilies, we have a non-polemical occasion for commentary on Tradition, and this is what he says:


“"Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter"  From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there was much also that was not written.  Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief.  Let us regard the Tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief.  Is it Tradition?  Seek no further" [Homilies on the second epistle to the Thessalonians 4:2].


St. John saw this as the plain meaning of the passage -- as do I.


Secondly, he does not simply set scripture in opposition to ingenious reasoning. He tells us what he means by that - ingenious reasoning is the setting forth of doctrine that is not grounded in scripture.


And he of course did not see Tradition as fitting into this category, since his entire lecture was oral Tradition.


Throughout the Catechetical Lectures Cyril explicitly denies the reality of oral tradition as far as the Faith of the Church is concerned.


But you said he made no specific mention of oral Tradition.  How can one explicitly deny something they make no explicit mention of?


Again, he says nothing about oral tradition.


Uhuh. :)


He states that he has given the entirety of the faith, omitting nothing that is essential, and it is all validated by scripture without one reference to tradition. What part of the apostolic tradition that Cyril gives us in his Lectures is from oral tradition, John?


He speaks of the specific words and actions of the liturgy which are not found in Scripture -- though he certainly saw them as being in line with the Scriptures.  But without a doubt, these things were handed down orally -- just as his catechetical instruction was.


If he has given the entirety of the apostolic deposit as he claims and it is all validated by scripture there can be nothing left to an oral tradition.


This would only be true if they were in opposition to one another, and St. Cyril obviously does not think so.  To say that something can be defended from Scripture is not the same as saying it is explicitly spelled out in Scripture.  Again, one would wonder why the secrecy if that were the case.


There is of course the issue of interpretation which is another issue altogether, which is also part of tradition, but interpretation is still subordinate to the ultimate authority of scripture itself.


How can proper interpretation of the Scripture be separated from the ultimate authority of those Scriptures?  Clearly improperly interpreted Scriptures do not give us the authoritative meaning of Scripture. This dichotomy is the problem with the whole Protestant approach to the Scriptures -- and it is furthermore a dichotomy totally alien to the thought of St. Cyril.


Unlike St. Basil, nowhere in St. Cyril's lectures was he challenged by someone who challenged Apostolic Tradition.  In St. Basil's case, he answered those who would have overturned the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, by explicitly showing the connection between oral Tradition and written Tradition -- though in other places, he speaks as does St. Cyril, assuming that it is understood that they in nowise contradict each other, but are rather inseparable.


St. Cyril's audience was a group of catechumens -- none of which challenged his teachings on such things as prayers for the dead, or asking the prayers of the Saints, or the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist -- all of which St. Cyril clearly teaches.


It is a principle of patristic interpretation that one cannot expect a Father to have guarded in his words against a heresy that did not exist in his day.  Earlier Fathers can be found that speak of Christ's one nature -- rather than distinguishing the two.  They use the term in a different sense than used at Chalcedon (at times using nature synonymously with hypostasis).  We do not charge such

Fathers with the monophysite heresy, because we do not expect them to have guarded against that which came latter.


The Sola Scriptura heresy was taught by no one until the reformation -- not even by heretics.  One proof of this is to be found in the fact that no dispute arose over St. Basil's clear explanation of the role of oral Tradition -- nor was Tertullian's explanation [of oral Tradition] disputed.  No one ever charge St. Irenaeus with error, when he argued for the authoritative teaching of the Church, and spoke of the Church as a repository of Apostolic Truth.


Note also, that when he speaks of Scriptural proofs, he is obviously not speaking of Scripture as interpreted by Protestant historical-Critical exegesis, because like the Apostles, he did not interpret

the Scriptures as do modern Protestants.


Also, just as St. Basil speaks of secret Tradition -- so St. Cyril gives vivid testimony as he began his lectures:


"These catechetical lectures for those about to be illuminated you may loan to those who are coming forward to Baptism, and to believers who have already received the Wishing, so that they may have them for their reading; but do not give them at all either to the catechumens or to any others who are not Christians.  For this you will answer to the Lord.  And if you make a copy, write this in the beginning as if the Lord were watching."



Now if oral Apostolic Tradition were the mere recitals of the same words as found in Scripture, we should wonder why the Scriptures were not kept secret, but catechisms and the sacraments were.


As St. Basil makes clear -- Scripture is the public proclamation of the Church. Knowledge held within the Church was only for the benefit of those illumined.  However, both St. Basil and Cyril would  argue that these Traditions (written and unwritten) were a unity, and not to be separated from one another.  Both are necessary to understand the Faith.  Though what the Scriptures may only give hint of, the oral Tradition makes clear.


For example, in Acts were are told briefly of Simon Magus -- in the Tradition of the Church we find out why his name was worth mentioning. He was the first arch-heretic in Church history, and his infamy is constantly mentioned in the writings of the Fathers.


Over and over again Cyril speaks of scripture and scripture alone as the ultimate and final authority for understanding the Faith of the Church. And he states that he is giving to these catechumens the complete teaching on the Faith.  Nowhere in the entirety of his treatise is oral tradition as a separate vehicle of revelation or repository of doctrine even alluded to and his authority as bishop of the Church is subordinated to that of scripture.


As for his own authority as a bishop, no Bishop would suggest that his teachings could override the Apostolic Faith.  Not then, and not today.


Secondly, St. Cyril is rather clear on this subject:


"[The Church] is called Catholic, then because it extends over the whole world, from end to end of the earth; and because it teaches universally and infallibly each and every doctrine which must come to the knowledge of men, concerning things visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings every race of men into subjection to godliness, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals every class of sins, those committed with the soul and those with the body, and it possesses within itself every conceivable form of virtue, in deeds and in words and in the spiritual gifts of every description" [18,23].


A clear statement of the principle of Catholicity.


…there is only one reference to tradition in the entirety of the Lectures, which is an allusion to 2 Thes. 2:15, but that reference is directly related to the specific teachings he is passing on to the catechumens all of which he says must be validated by scripture.  So, according to Cyril, apostolic tradition is codified in scripture and therefore all teaching of the Church, to be able to claim true apostolic authority, must be able to be validated by scripture. Quite frankly I can think of no clearer expression of the principle of sola scriptura than that enunciated by this Father of the 4th century.  But he is not alone.  I believe that he is merely representative of the Fathers as a whole.  Competent historians have consistently witnessed to the fact that scripture was the ultimate authority for all issues of doctrine for the Fathers of the early church and that they rejected the notion of a strictly oral tradition handed down independent of scripture as a gnostic heresy.


First of all, it is not independent of Scripture, nor is Scripture independent of it.  Secondly, where do any of the Fathers reject Apostolic oral Tradition?


Ellen Flessman-van Leer in her work Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church has given an exhaustive study of the teaching of the Fathers of the first 3 centuries.  She comments on Irenaeus' view of tradition: "For Irenaeus, the church doctrine is certainly never purely traditional; on the contrary, the thought that there could be some truth, transmitted exclusively viva voce is a gnostic line of thought (Pg. 133).'


As I noted in my original post, the Gnostic idea of secret Tradition was that only a few enlightened individuals had been entrusted with it. Whereas the Orthodox understanding is that it has been entrusted to the whole Church -- though kept from those outside her.


Let's see what St. Irenaeus says for himself:


"As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this Faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house.  She likewise believed these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed one mouth.  For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the Tradition is one and the same. Neither do the Churches among the Germans believe otherwise or have another Tradition, nor do those among the Iberians, nor among the Celts, nor away in the East, or in Egypt, nor in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world.  But just as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the Truth shines everywhere and enlightens all men who desire to come to a knowledge of the Truth. Nor will any of the rulers in the Churches, whatever his power of eloquence, teach otherwise, for no on is above  the Teacher; nor will he who is weak in speaking subtract from the Tradition.  For the Faith is one and the same, and cannot be amplified by one who is able to say much about it, nor can it be diminished by one who can say but little" [Against Heresies 1:10:2]."


"When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among  others the Truth which is easily obtained from the Church.  For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the Truth, and everyone whosoever wishes draws from her the drink of life.  For she is the entrance to life, while all the rest are thieves and robbers.  That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them, while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the Traditions of Truth.  What then?  If there should be a dispute over some kind of question, ought we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches in which the Apostles were familiar, and draw from them what is clear and certain in regard to that question?  What if the Apostles had not in fact left writings to us?  Would it not be necessary to follow the order of Tradition, which was handed down to those whom they entrusted the Churches?" [3:4:1].


In addition she points out that while Irenaeus affirms that the apostolic tradition is preserved in the oral preaching and teaching of the Church in the succession of its bishops, the actual content of what comprises that tradition is embodied in and validated by scripture. Irenaeus states that what had first been proclaimed orally by the apostles later became inscripturated and it is these scriptures which then became the ground and pillar of the faith.  This is the quote from him: " We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public and at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith (Against Heresies 3. 1. 1).'


This does not suggest that all the Apostolic tradition was written in the NT -- St. Irenaeus' other statements make that clear.


Ellen Flessman-van Leer sums up Irenaeus' point of view: "Tradition is the revelation which reaches us by way of the apostles in the living preaching and teaching of the church; that what the church believes and proclaims is identical with the revelation message which the apostles brought.  This original message has been faithfully preserved and transmitted from generation to generation through the succession of bishops. However, this same message has also been preserved in writing. That is to say, the unadulterated apostolic teaching is to be known in scripture ... What they (the apostles) originally preached orally, then later on, by the will of God, transmitted to us in the scriptures, that it might be the foundation and pillar of our faith (Pg. 128-129)."


The conclusion that all the Tradition was written in the NT, does not follow from the quote you provided.


RPC Hanson, in his work, Tradition   in the Early Church, (Westminster Press, 1962), sums up Irenaeus' view of the relationship between tradition and scripture this way: "If Irenaeus wants to prove the truth of a doctrine materially, he turns to Scripture, because therein the teaching of the apostles is objectively accessible. Proof from tradition and from Scripture serve one and the same end: to identify the teaching of the Church as the original apostolic teaching. The first establishes that the teaching of the Church is the apostolic teaching,  and the second, what this apostolic teaching is (Pg. 1 09)."


I agree that they work towards the same end -- that does not mean they are identical in content and clarity -- just that they are of the same essence -- Apostolic Truth.


JND Kelly in Early Christian Doctrines (Harper & Row, 1978) gives this historical summary of the relationship between tradition and scripture in the first 4 centuries: "A careful analysis of Irenaeus' Adversus haereses reveals that, while the Gnostics' appeal to their supposed secret tradition forced him to stress the superiority of the Church's public tradition, his real defence of orthodoxy was founded on Scripture.  Indeed, tradition itself, on his view, was confirmed by Scripture which was 'the foundation and pillar of our faith.'


Note that the Scriptures say that the Church is the pillar and foundation of Truth (1st Tim 3:15).


I have no problem stating that the Scriptures are the core or summit of the Tradition of the Church – I would only contend that whether it be the summit or the core – in either case it as inseparable as a peak to a Mountain, or the skeleton to a body.  Separate the skeleton from the body, and you have a pile of flesh and dry bones – only together do both live.


...The whole point of his teaching was, in fact, that Scripture and the Church's unwritten tradition are identical in content, both being vehicles of the revelation...Tertullian's attitude does not differ from Irenaeus' in any important respect.


There are of one essence, and I agree Tertullian's attitude was not different in any important respect.


He was an innovator, it is true, in extending the meaning of  'tradition' to cover what had been customary in the Church for long generations.


St. Paul was the originator of this "innovation" because he calls the custom of the Church authoritative Tradition -- 1st Cor 11:2ff. Summing up his argument by saying "But if anyone is contentious, we have no other custom, and neither do the Churches of God" (11:16).


In this sense practices like triple immersion at baptism, the reception of the eucharist in the early morning, the prohibition of kneeling on Sundays and at Eastertide, and the sign of the cross could be described as traditions; one tradition might even be said to be at variance with another.  In its primary sense, however, the apostolic, evangelical or Catholic tradition stood for the faith delivered by the apostles, and he never contrasted tradition so understood with Scripture.


He only contrasted them when dealing with those who disputed the unwritten Traditions:


St. Basil was clearly not limiting his discussion of Tradition to customs, because he appeals to these unwritten Traditions which not even the heretics dared to dispute to support the doctrine of the Holy Spirit – which they did dispute.  Clearly this is not a non-essential of the Faith.


Indeed, it was enshrined in Scripture, for the apostles subsequently wrote down their oral preaching in epistles.  For this reason, Scripture has absolute authority; whatever it teaches is necessarily true and woe betide him who accepts doctrines not discoverable in it. (In the third and fourth centuries) the supreme doctrinal authority remained, of course, the original revelation given by Christ and communicated to the Church by His apostles.


Where is your reference to support your contention that all the Apostolic Tradition was written in the NT?  No such reference exists.


This was the divine or apostolic 'tradition' in the strict sense of the word.  It was with reference to this that Cyprian in the third century could speak of 'the root and source of the dominical tradition', or of 'the fountain-head and source of the divine tradition', and that Athanasius in the fourth could point to 'the tradition ... which the Lord gave and the apostles proclaimed' as the Church's foundation-stone.  This was embodied, however, in Holy Scripture..... There is little need to dwell on the absolute authority accorded to Scripture as a doctrinal norm.  It was the Bible, declared Clement of Alexandria about A.D. 200, which, as interpreted by the Church, was the source of Christian teaching.


First of all, the quotes from Ss. Cyprian and Athanasius do not support your contention, but on the contrary.  You have not shown that either Father in question limited Tradition to the Scriptures.


Secondly, the quote from Clement is certainly not Sola Scriptura!


His great disciple Origen was a thorough-going Biblicist who appealed again and again to Scripture as the decisive criterion of dogma.  The Church drew her catechetical material, he stated, from the prophets, the gospels and the apostles writings; her faith, he suggested, was buttressed by Holy Scripture supported by common sense.


This is not Sola Scriptura, but a simple statement that the Church uses the Scriptures.


In one day, the services of the Orthodox Church contain more Scripture than most Evangelical Churches have read in them in an entire year. I go home almost hoarse after a vigil from the reading and singing of Scripture.


On Holy Saturday, Scripture readings alone go one for hours, and hours.  There are 15 Old Testament readings, numerous Psalms, and the entire book of Acts is read prior to the beginning of the Paschal Vigil (in some parishes, Revelation is also read in its entirety).


On Holy Friday, the reading of the 12 Passion Gospel readings also takes more than an hour.


On a typical Sunday Vigil (Saturday night, the day being divided according to the Jewish reckoning of time, as we have done since Apostolic times) in one stretch, the first 24 Psalms (23 according to LXX numbering) are read.


'The holy and inspired Scriptures', wrote Athanasius a century later, 'are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth';


He does not say that they are fully sufficient in isolation from the Tradition of the Church.


while his contemporary Cyril of Jerusalem, laid it down that 'with regard to the divine and saving mysteries of faith no doctrine, however trivial, may be taught without the backing of the divine Scriptures ... For our saving faith derives its force, not from capricious reasonings, but from what may be proved out of the Bible.' Later in the same century John Chrysostom bade his congregation seek no other teacher than the oracles of God; everything was straightforward and clear in the Bible, and the sum of necessary knowledge could be extracted from it.


More quotes out of context.  St. John clearly did not teach Sola Scriptura:


""Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter"  From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there was much also that was not written.  Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief.  Let us regard the Tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief.  Is it Tradition?  Seek no further" [Homilies on the second epistle to the Thessalonians 4:2].


In the West Augustine declared that 'in the plain teaching of Scripture we find all that concerns our belief and moral conduct'; while a little later Vincent of Lerins (died c. 450) took it as an axiom the Scriptural canon was 'sufficient, and more than sufficient, for all purposes.'


This is really out of context -- this quote I have already posted once and will again if need be -- but he is clearly arguing for the necessity of the Catholic consensus of the Church in this passage.


…Indeed, all the instances of unwritten tradition lacking Scriptural support which the early theologians mention will be found, on examination, to refer to matters of observance and practice (e.g. triple immersion in baptism; turning East for prayer) rather than of doctrine as such,


Not so.  The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit is defended on the basis of unwritten Tradition.


…there was no doctrinal difference between Tradition and Scripture in the early Church as far as their doctrinal content was concerned.


Of course not -- they agree entirely.


…One example [of contradictory traditions] is the Easter controversy of the 2nd century….


This is cited as an example of contradictory Tradition – however the determination of the date of Pascha (Easter) is a matter of Church order, not of dogma.


…and another is the conflict between Stephen, the bishop of Rome with Cyprian and Firmilian, along with other Eastern bishops, over the issue of the rebaptizing of heretics.  Firmilian, in support of Cyprian, explicitly states that Stephen's claim to apostolic authority for his position is spurious and that his (Firmilian's) is the true teaching handed down from Christ and the Apostles.


And it is St. Cyprian's views that we find in the Ecumenical canons received throughout the Church -- St. Basil's first canon explains how St. Cyprian's views ought to be applied pastorally according to the principle of Oikonomia, however.


History affords many examples of Tradition being in conflict with both scripture and with itself (the Marian dogmas of Roman Catholicism are a case in point as are the teachings of papal rule and infallibility).


Manuscript evidence shows many examples of Scripture being at odds with itself -- nevertheless, we ascribe this to the fallibility of individual manuscripts rather than to the Scriptures themselves.


The Tradition of the Church as expressed in it Catholicity, never errs nor contradicts itself.


Sometimes traditional practices that have been deemed authoritative in one age have been completely changed in another. Basil's canons have been cited as authoritative for the practice of the Church in that they were sanctioned by the Trullan Council and the 7th Ecumenical.


And also by the 4th.  Furthermore, even the Monophysites, condemned at the 4th council still consider St. Basil's canons authoritative -- thus showing their acceptance predates Chalcedon.


In particular his 92nd Canon regarding unwritten traditions was cited. However, Basil's Canons also cover the penitential discipline as it was practiced in his day but to my knowledge is no longer practiced.  Canon 56 for example states: 'He that wilfully commits murder, and afterwards repents, shall for twenty years remain without communicating of the Holy Sacrament.  Four years he must mourn without the door of the Oratory, and beg of the communicants that go in, that prayer be offered for him; then for five years he shall be admitted among the hearers, for seven years among the prostrators; for four years he shall be a co-stander with the communicants, but shall not partake of the oblation; when these years are completed, he shall partake of the Holy Sacrament.' In the Early Church this kind of penitential discipline was imposed upon those who committed heinous sin, but it could be done only once in one's lifetime.


On what do you base this?  Obviously, one given a 30 year penance would probably only have imposed once in a life time -- but there is no reason why it could not, if the same person again committed a canonical violation.  Also, it is not true that this was limited to "heinous"

sins -- there were penances for less serious sins, with less serious penances.


Also, St. Basil himself in these canons speaks of their pastoral application, and so while it is true that it would be rare for them to be applied with their full force today -- it is not impossible.

Generally, the wisdom of the Church has been that in times of greater weakness (unlike St. Basil's day, or in the earliest days of the Church) such severity would likely lead one to despair, and so the period of the penance is generally shorter.  But this is by St. Basil's own instruction, who cautions that medicine must be given in such doses as to not kill the patient -- and so wisdom and knowledge of the individual is required to guide the one applying the penance.


The Roman Catholic practice is completely different today from that of the early Church as expressed in Basil's canon. Does the Orthodox Church still follow this kind of penitential discipline?


Yes, as I state above.


Tradition is a terribly shaky foundation upon which look for authority and truth. I submit that the Early Church's foundation was Scripture and Scripture alone and that it is to be so for us today.


I would however argue that the Fathers you cite argue against your position rather than in favor of it.  St. Cyril, in particular, gives full witness to the antiquity of our Orthodox Faith.  The Orthodox, just as St. Cyril, speak in the highest manner of the Scriptures  -- read "The Brothers Karamazov" by Dostoyevsky (particularly the sections on the elder Zosima, and "the Way of a Pilgrim" and you

will see that the Orthodox have always promoted the study of the Scriptures among laymen.  In fact, in a little booklet called "Missionary Conversations with Protestant Sectarians"  the Orthodox priest who is countering Protestant missionaries in Russia, after refuting them from the Scriptures, hands out copies of the Russian Bible to the assembled audience that had listened to their debate.  In another book, called "The Sword of Truth" a Russian Bishop refutes Protestant claims point by point from the Scriptures. However, in so doing, they did not agree to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.


Again, [name of the Protestant Apologist], thank you for your post.  I'll look forward to hearing more from you on this.


[Unfortunately, no response was ever given to this post]