Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Faith of Our Fathers

Basil the Great was Bishop of Caesarea, and one of the most distinguished Doctors of the Church. Born probably 329; died 1 January, 379. He ranks after Athanasius as a defender of the Church against the heresies of the fourth century. With his friend Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Gregory of Nyssa, he makes up the trio known as "The Three Cappadocians", far outclassing the other two in practical genius and actual achievement.


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 Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation?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. (On the Holy Spirit, ch 27, ca 350 AD).


St John Chrysostom is a Doctor of the Church, is generally considered the greatest preacher ever heard. His natural gifts, as well as exterior circumstances, helped him to become what he was (347-407).


So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours.” 2 Thes 2:15. Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. If it is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.


St Jerome is often represented as one of the four Latin doctors of the Church along with Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose, and Gregory I (347-420).


Don’t you know that the laying on of hands after baptism and then the invocation of the Holy Spirit is a custom of the Churches? Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as for instance the practice of dipping the head three times in the laver, and then, after leaving the water, of and, again, the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord’s day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost; and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place.


St Augustine of Hippo one of the four Latin doctors and probably the most influential of them all on western theology (354-430).


Those holy and blessed priests, famous in their treatment of doctrine, Iranaeus, Cyprian, Reticius, Olympus, Hilary, Ambrose, Gregory, Innocent, Basil, and to who I add that priest Jerome, omitting those who are still alive have pronounced against you their opinion…because the oral traditions they were given by the church they held, what they learned they taught, what they received from the Fathers they gave to the sons.


What we find in the writings of these most influential Fathers, is a Christianity that is completely foreign to that found in the protestant reformation. Here, the fathers bow the knee not only to scripture, which is the supreme fountain of truth, and by which all things must be measured, but also to the teachings of the apostles that had been passed down to the church by the teaching office of the church. Whether one agrees with them or not, it cannot be denied that the church saw the tradition of the apostles handed down in two forms, one, spoken, and the other written. Nevertheless, further study also shows that this oral tradition this did not give them the freedom to create new doctrine; rather, it constrained them to conform to all that they had received from the apostles. It is precisely new additions to the oral traditions that made the medieval Roman Catholic church’s departure so serious and worthy of reform. The question at hand is this: did the reformers re-form (restore) the church to its early form, or did they deform (change) it into a new shape? The answer is complex. However, this much can be said, the reformation was only a re-shaping movement and not a deforming movement when it actually restored the churches to the shape of the early church. In many ways the reformation succeeded, and yet in others it failed miserably. When the reformers made Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) rather than Prima Scriptura (Scripture First) its driving principle, the formula for deformation was placed front and center.

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