Saturday, June 30, 2007

Would The Church Fathers Oppose Reformation Teachings?

Recently, I began to read through Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. In the Prefatory Address to King Francis, there is a section where Calvin addresses the charge that the Ancient Church Fathers would oppose Reformation teachings.

As I read this section, I found much of what Calvin stated to be quite interesting. Calvin apparently had a good command of Patristic literature and was able counter the slanderous claims made against the Reformation. Below I want to share some of Calvin's response to those who opposed the Reformation on the basis that the Church Father's would have opposed its teaching:

"[T]hey unjustly set the ancient fathers against us (I mean the ancient writers of a better age of the church) as if in them they had supporters of their own impiety. If the contest were to be determined by patristic authority, the tide of victory -to put it very modestly- would turn to our side. Now these fathers have written many wise and excellent things. Still, what commonly happens to men has befallen them too, in some instances. For these so-called pious children of theirs, with all their sharpness of wit and judgment and spirit, worship only the faults and errors of the fathers. The good things that these fathers have written they either do not notice, or misrepresent or pervert. You might say that their only care is to gather dung amid gold. Then, with a frightful to-do, they overwhelm us as despisers and adversaries of the fathers! But we do not despise them; in fact, if it were to our present purpose, I could with no trouble at all prove that the greater part of what we are saying today meets their approval.

Yet we are so versed in their writings as to remember always that all things are ours [I Cor. 3:21-22], to serve us, not to lord it over us [Luke 22:24-25], and that we all belong to Christ [I Cor. 3:23], whom we obey in all things without exception [cf. Col. 3:20]. He who does not observe this distinction will have nothing certain in religion, inasmuch as these holy men were ignorant of many things, often disagreed among themselves, and sometimes even contradicted themselves.

It is not without cause, they say, that Solomon bids us not to transgress the limits set by our fathers [Prov. 22:28]. But the same rule does not apply to boundaries of fields and to obedience of faith, which must be so disposed that "it forgets its people and its father's house" [Ps. 45:10 p.]. But if they love to allegorize so much, why do they not accept the apostles (rather than anyone else) as the "fathers" who have set the landmarks that it is unlawful to remove?"

From here Calvin makes many interesting points on how certain Catholic traditions were not in keeping with the early Fathers whom the Catholics profess to follow. While I would love to point out some of those now, I will refrain from doing so because I want to quote a section here that is more relevant to some of the dialog that has taken place here on the Mafia blog in recent weeks.

Calvin continues:

"It was a father who deemed that one must listen to Christ alone, for Scripture says, "Hear Him" [Matt. 17:5]; and that we need not be concerned about what others before us either said or did, but only about what Christ, who is the first of all, commanded. When they set over themselves and others any masters but Christ, they neither abode by this boundary nor permitted others to keep it. It was a father who contended that the church ought not set itself above Christ, for he always judges truthfully, but ecclesiastical judges, like other men, are often mistaken. When this boundary is broken through, they do not hesitate to declare that the whole authority of Scripture depends entirely upon the judgment of the church.

All the fathers with one heart would have abhorred and with one voice have detested the fact that God's Holy Word has been contaminated by the subtleties of sophists and involved in the squabbles of dialecticians. When they attempt nothing in life but to enshroud and obscure the simplicity of Scripture with endless contentions and worse than sophistic brawls, do they keep themselves within these borders? Why, if the fathers were now brought back to life,and heard such brawling art as these persons call speculative theology, there is nothing they would less suppose than that these folk were disputing about God!"

Soli Deo Gloria!


Joshua A. Hitchcock said...

That was one of my favorite sections. I have picked up Calvin's Institutes again. I should have Truth War finished today or tomorrow.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

After the Reformation era had passed, the weight of scholarly opinion shifted towards the view that the Fathers were as far from Reformed ideas as possible. I think most experts in patristic literature would probably take that view.

Not that a presume to be one.

Gordan said...

The weight of scholarly opinion is also completely opposed to KJV-onlyism.

I'm just sayin'...