Saturday, June 5, 2010

Careful Inquiry

"Have thou ever in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. 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 thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou 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 (ca. A.D. 350, Catechetical Lecture IV. 17)

I have no problem with the Fathers, I am still trying to learn them without merely proof-texting them, which is hard, because it seems that their proof-texts are the only thing people care about.

But what is their limit. This troubles me. St. Cyril here says that we are to weigh everything he says against the Scriptures. Of course the debate then immediately goes to 'whose interpretation of the scriptures', which I don't want to get into right now.

In the same way that I am extremely troubled by Trent declaring "concupiscence"/material original sin, what St. Paul calls "sin", I am disturbed by the way Tradition is treated.

I have abandonned the Newman-ian understanding that doctrine develops. The only thing that develops is heresy, the Arians argued that the Trinity was a development, and the catholics argued that it was a Tradition. What is true, must be either in Scripture or the public Tradition of the Church (councils and fathers).

In my personal scruples I was interested to find out from J.N.D. Kelly, that the Tradition of Penance/Reconciliation was quite different than it is now. For example, in the early church, a person could always receive communion unless they committed 3 sins: murder, adultery, apostasy. All other sins were considered to be forgiven merely by contrition and the petition in the Lord's prayer: 'forgive us our trespasses/dimmite nobis debita nostra'. As well, Penance -according to the Fathers- could only be formally done once. You got one shot, and once you had done your penance for a few years, the bishop would come to you and administer the Eucharist. No absolution was ever given, and the first record of absolution in A.D. 589 was called by a contemporary an 'excreable precept' for there to be a human absolution.

Then eventually we get Trent which says:

"the Lord then principally instituted the Sacrament of Penance, when, being raised from the dead, he breathed upon His disciples saying: 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained' (John 20:22-23). By which action so signal and words so clear the consent of all the Fathers has ever understood that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the Apostles and to their lawful successors, for the reconciling of the faithful who have fallen after Baptism." (Sess. XIV, c. i)


So how do we get from 500 years of no confession to a priest, and the only mortal sins being murder, adultery, and apostasy, to: every time you deliberately lust you have to go to confession or you are damned.

This seems to be my issue. Tradition either is static or it develops. If it develops, then there really is a big problem with saying Revelation ended with Christ. If it is ongoing, then the Fathers can eventually be outgrown. For example, St. Augustine, Prosper, and St. Thomas Aquinas all taught the doctrine of reprobation, the idea that God predestines to Damnation.

After the debate with the Jansenists, the Magesterium decided that actually God gives sufficient grace to everyone. Bye bye doctrine of Reprobation, bye bye Tradition, make room for development.

This is an issue I need to carefully inquire into.

Likewise, I'm tired of reading pages of sifted quotes from the Fathers either for or against sola scriptura, sola fide, or any other doctrine. The fact that someone can even make up such pages shows how complex the issues are.

So in the end, if the Church directly contradicts the sense of scripture by saying concupiscence isn't sin, when Paul calls it "sin", does it have that kind of authority? St. Cyril seems to think it doesn't... that is until someone finds me another St. Cyril quote to show why he believed in sola ecclesia.

lord have mercy.


  1. Concupiscence is original sin, that is, it's the consequence of original sin. But it's not actual sin. For actual sin you need knowledge and consent. "Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent."

  2. Tradition either is static or it develops. If it develops, then there really is a big problem with saying Revelation ended with Christ.

    Unless one distinguishes revelation and tradition substantially, as Protestants (and St. Cyril) do.