Sola Scriptura: The Bible alone is enough!
Apostolic Fathers used scripture as the primary defense against false doctrine.
Apostolic Fathers: Dates they lived and other information.
Apostolic Fathers: Five kinds of Tradition.
325 AD: Athanasius:
"the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth" (Athanasius, Against the Heathen, part 1, 1, 3)
Athanasius states that in defending doctrine, the scriptures are all-sufficient! In the Arian theological wars, Athanasius uses scripture not tradition as a first line of attack!
"Now one might write at great length concerning these things, if one desired to go rate details respecting them; for the impiety and perverseness of heresies will appear to be manifold and various, and the craft of the deceivers to be very terrible. But since holy Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us, therefore recommending to those who desire to know more of these matters, to read the Divine word, I now hasten to set before you that which most claims attention, and for the sake of which principally I have written these things." (Athanasius, To the Bishops of Egypt, Ch 1, 4)
You will see a pattern with Athanasius, in that he states scripture as being all-sufficient to teach the truth. No appeal is made to tradition.
"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; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ, announced in divine Scripture" (Athanasius, de Synodis, Part 1, 6)
Athanasius states that the scriptures are all-sufficient. He also says that the decisions of the councils were identical with divine scripture, or as Athanasius, "you can't tell one from the other". When you read the Nicene Creed, you wonder if you are reading the Bible! No extra-Biblical tradition here in the mind of Athanasius!
"Such then, as we have above described, is the madness and daring of those men. But our faith is right, and starts from the teaching of the Apostles and tradition of the fathers, being confirmed both by the New Testament and the Old. For the Prophets say: 'Send out Thy Word and Thy Truth,' and ' Behold the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which is being interpreted God with us.' But what does that mean, if not that God has come in the Flesh? While the Apostolic tradition teaches in the words of blessed Peter... [Athanasius then quotes: 1 Peter 4:1; Titus 2:13; Heb 2:1] (Athanasius, To Adelphius, Letter 60, 6)
Athanasius clearly refers to the "tradition of the fathers", which he views as an oral tradition distinct from scripture. However, look at what he says about this tradition! It is confirmed by scripture. Then notice that "Apostolic tradition" is scripture itself, when he quotes Peter (1 Peter 4:1) and Paul (Titus 2:13). Notice that the expression, "words of blessed Peter" might be seen as some oral tradition, but it just the plain Good old Bible Athanasius is referring to!
"This is no Ecclesiastical Canon; nor have we had transmitted to us any such tradition from the Fathers, who in their turn received from the great and blessed Apostle Peter ... but where only the fear of God and the Apostolical rule shall prevail; that so in the first place, the faith of the Church may be secure, as the Fathers defined it in the Council of Nicaea (Athanasius, History of the Arians, Part 5, 36)
Athanasius has already stated that "Ecclesiastical Canons" "tradition from the Fathers" "Apostolical rule" were based directly upon scripture. We do not question that Athanasius took the view that there was a tradition based upon succession of bishops in all the hundreds of churches. We simply point out that until the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches can point out a single place where Athanasius or any early writer tells us: "This is a doctrine not found in scripture, because the Bible is not all-sufficient... this doctrine came directly from the extra-biblical oral tradition of the apostles." Until that time, we see Athanasius doing exactly what all churches today should do: Base their "church traditions" directly on scripture. We think Athanasius is a good example in this regard! Athanasius doesn't help the Roman Catholic and Orthodox apologists prove their point! Now remember, it is futile for the Catholic and Orthodox apologists to point out the fact that Athanasius believed a lot of doctrines in 325 AD that are not found in the Bible. (We would ask them for a list of such doctrines.) The point is that Athanasius never pointed to any of these doctrines and said, "This didn't come from scripture, but oral tradition of the apostles. Indeed, because Athanasius believed ALL HIS DOCTRINE, even the one's he was wrong about, came directly from scripture!
"For where is there a Canon that a Bishop should be appointed from Court? Where is there a Canon that permits soldiers to invade Churches? What tradition is there allowing counts and ignorant eunuchs to exercise authority in Ecclesiastical matters, and to make known by their edicts the decisions of those who bear the name of Bishops? He is guilty of all manner of falsehood for the sake of this unholy heresy" (Athanasius, History of the Arians, Part 7, 51).
We do not deny that Athanasius appeals to Canons and tradition as a source of divine authority. But this is post Nicene Creed and the "rule of faith" made popular by Irenaeus and Tertullian 125 years earlier, has now flowered into a written document that is seen to have the same authority of scripture. We also agree that there were many canons that legislated many organizational and liturgical matters that were not found in scripture. But none of the represent a "distinct doctrine" as much as they represent detailed rules to govern existing doctrines. If the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches point to these Canons and tradition as a source of divine extra-biblical authority, we would ask, why is Nicea the first time we hear about them? If these Canons and tradition are "divine rules practiced by the apostles" then why did later councils and creeds modify and reverse decisions of earlier councils and canons? Our whole point is that creed making, is the source of religious division, not the solution. Rather than getting progressively more complex with time, why not just stick with what the Bible says. It is quite certain that the Arians would have been exposed as false teachers had the Nicene or any creed not been written! Creed making seems to solve one problem but in fact creates a whole series of new ones!
"6. For not only in outward form did those wicked men dissemble, putting on as the Lord says sheep's clothing, and appearing like unto whited sepulchres; but they took those divine words in their mouth, while they inwardly cherished evil intentions. And the first to put on this appearance was the serpent, the inventor of wickedness from the beginning-the devil,-who, in disguise, conversed with Eve, and forthwith deceived her. But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians [1 Cor 11:2] , because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions. And the Lord most righteously reproved the Jews, saying, `Wherefore do ye also transgress the commandments of God on account of your traditions.' For they changed the commandments they received from God after their own understanding, preferring to observe the traditions of men. And about these, a little after, the blessed Paul again gave directions to the Galatians who were in danger thereof, writing to them, `If any man preach to you aught else than that ye have received, let him be accursed." ... "7. Again we write, again keeping to the apostolic traditions, we remind each other when we come together for prayer; and keeping the feast in common, with one mouth we truly give thanks to the Lord" ... "8. We begin the fast of forty days on the 13th of the month Phamenoth (Mar. 9). After we have given ourselves to fasting in continued succession, let us begin the holy Paschal week on the 18th of the month Pharmuthi (April 13). Then resting on the 23rd of the same month Pharmuthi (April 18), and keeping the feast afterwards on the first of the week, on the 24th (April 19), let us add to these the seven weeks of the great Pentecost" (Athanasius, Festal Letters, Easter, Letter 2. For 330, 6,7,8)
Athanasius is engaged in the "Easter wars". All this talk about "apostolic traditions" by Athanasius shows us that he really thought his tradition was the true and 1st century tradition. Yet the Latin/western church and the Greek/eastern churches were divided then and the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches were dare divided even today over which Easter Liturgy is really the true "apostolic tradition". Easter is not taught in scripture and none of the apostolic fathers knew anything about it! As we have seen, the early church celebrated the resurrection of Christ every week on the day he rose: Sunday. We actually appreciate Paul's statement in 1 Cor 11:2, where he praises the Corinthians for "holding firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you." Paul was inspired, no church leader today is inspired. I would make sure that I listened and imitated everything Paul said just like the Corinthians did! What is amazing about this passage by Athanasius, is that it is basically his "sales pitch" for the people to do Easter HIS WAY, and not the way other churches were doing it. Obviously appealing to current tradition doesn't work! The solution to the Easter wars, was to abolish easter altogether, since it wasn't important enough for any of the apostles to mention it in scripture!
"Let this, then, Christ-loving man, be our offering to you, just for a rudimentary sketch and outline, in a short compass, of the faith of Christ and of His Divine appearing to usward. But you, taking occasion by this, if you light upon the text of the Scriptures, by genuinely applying your mind to them, will learn from them more completely and clearly the exact detail of what we have said. For they were spoken and written by God, through men who spoke of God. But we impart of what we have learned from inspired teachers who have been conversant with them, who have also become martyrs for the deity of Christ, to your zeal for learning, in turn. (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, 56)
Whereas the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches teach that only the church can correctly interpret the Bible, Athanasius really believed that scripture was understandable by the common man by simply reading it (Eph 3:3-5)! Notice it is addressed to the "Christ-loving man", to all! This kind of statement from Athanasius, should be troubling for Catholics and Orthodox alike, since, he is the a church leader who is not supposed to ask us to use our own powers of interpretation to know truth, he is supposed to interpret it for us and just tell us his opinions!
by Steve Rudd
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