27 February 2008

Thoughts on 1 Timothy 3:14

There is a tendency among Roman and Orthodox apologists to use this passage as a way of showing that anything that the Church has accepted and approved over time must be God's truth and acceptable, because she cannot finally err.

What I'm curious about is how the passage was used in the Fathers? Does anyone know of a father who treated the passage in a similar way? The reason I ask is because I only can think of two places where it is treated, and each of them deal with it quite differently than what one hears today.

St. Irenaeus speaks like this: "We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through 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." (Ad Haer Book 3, Chapter 1)

Here a great father of the Church describes the writings of the holy apostles as the "ground and pillar of our faith."

St. John Chrysostom, in his homilies on 1 Timothy, said: ""That you may know," he says, "how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." Not like that Jewish house. For it is this that maintains the faith and the preaching of the Word. For the truth is the pillar and the ground of the Church."

Here again, the passage is understood in such a way that the terms are even inverted: the truth is the pillar and ground of the Church - that truth being the faith and the preaching of the Word.

So both of these fathers explicitly link the Word to the "ground and pillar of faith" that is the Church.

Luther had occasion to speak of this in Wider Hanswurst, and there he makes this point: "Therefore, the holy church cannot and may not lie or suffer false doctrine, but must teach nothing except what is holy and true, that is, God's Word alone; and where it teaches a lie it is idolatrous and the whore-church of the devil." AE 41:214

In other words, it was because she clung to Him who alone is truth, allowed His Word to judge everything she taught and submitted herself to Him, Truth Incarnate, the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. It is not that her saying so makes things so; it is that she speaks the words of God faithfully.

But to return to the prior question: does anyone know of a place in the fathers where 1 Timothy 3:14 is treated of that skates close to the way it is used today by the Roman and Eastern Apologists?

8 comments:

Dixie said...

St. Irenaeus skates right on the same track as present day apologists. In the same reference, book V, 20



1. Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches; which fact I have in the third book taken all pains to demonstrate. It follows, then, as a matter of course, that these heretics aforementioned, since they are blind to the truth, and deviate from the [right] way, will walk in various roads; and therefore the footsteps of their doctrine are scattered here and there without agreement or connection. But the path of those belonging to the Church circumscribes the whole world, as possessing the sure tradition from the apostles, and gives unto us to see that the faith of all is one and the same, since all receive one and the same God the Father, and believe in the same dispensation regarding the incarnation of the Son of God, and are cognizant of the same gift of the Spirit, and are conversant with the same commandments, and preserve the same form of ecclesiastical constitution, and expect the same advent of the Lord, and await the same salvation of the complete man, that is, of the soul and body. And undoubtedly the preaching of the Church is true and steadfast, in which one and the same way of salvation is shown throughout the whole world. For to her is entrusted the light of God; and therefore the "wisdom" of God, by means of which she saves all men, "is declared in [its] going forth; it uttereth [its voice] faithfully in the streets, is preached on the tops of the walls, and speaks continually in the gates of the city." For the Church preaches the truth everywhere, and she is the seven-branched candlestick which bears the light of Christ.


Of course the reason the Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth is because she is joined to Christ and guided and protected by the Holy Spirit. What I understand St. Irenaeus to say is that you can tell the "churches" of the heretics because they are not speaking the Truth and are not continuing in the traditions of the Apostles.

Frankly, the Luther quote sounds similar (but clearly leaving out the reference to tradition) so I think I am missing your point. Are you saying the Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth WHEN she is truthful to scriptures or BECAUSE she is truthful to Scriptures. You don't think you can trust the Church?

William Weedon said...

Hi, Dixie!

That's a great quote from St. Irenaeus, but I don't think it deals specifically with 1 Tim. 3:14 (as does the passage where he alludes to it that I cited earlier).

You might also want to check out his words in 3,2,1 and 2 (and on the subject of the constitution of the church, it's worth checking out further 4,26,5).

The great thing about St. Irenaeus, as Fr. Behr also has pointed out, is that while the heretics appeal to unwritten tradition for what is not in the Scripture (or in contradiction to it), and claim that the Scriptures are not clear, he argues that the unwritten tradition says nothing but what is also written, and this truth he finds preserved by the succession of presbyters (his term, not mine!).

The Church AS Church cannot err; but certainly those in the Church and even claiming to speak for her can and have. St. Irenaeus had not faced yet what happens when a regularly ordained bishop or presbyter would speak heresy and insist on it. One thinks of Nestorius, Honorius, and others. Sadly, the centuries after him showed that to be a huge problem. Still, the reason the Church AS Church cannot err is simply because she hands on nothing other or less than what the Apostles have given us. But it does not follow from this that whatever is claimed to be from the Apostles is in fact so - that's what St. Irenaeus fought against! - rather, the touchstone is: does this agree with the Sacred Scriptures.

The Church is she who urges Christ upon us by the Holy Spirit, for as St. Irenaeus said: "If any one, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling (vocationis)." 4, 26, 1 And it is incumbent upon Christians to make sure that what they hear is truly the Church speaking to them: "Test all things!" the Apostle warns.

But we're straying from my initial question: does anyone know of a passage in the Fathers where they explicate 1 Tim 3:14 as it is done these days by the apologists in Roman and Orthodox camps?

orrologion said...

The Truth is the pillar and ground of the Church, the Truth is Jesus Christ Himself, the Church is the Body of Christ, therefore "the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth". The Scriptures are the Word of God, but only in a sense; we have not deified the Scriptures making them the Logos of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, Who alone is properly speaking The Word of God. In the same manner can St. Irenaeus ellide Scripture (remember, he means OT alone) with the Church, which (rather, Who) is the pillar and ground of the truth.

William Weedon said...

But I would like to see some of the Fathers in how they treat the passage. That's what I was really asking for.

orrologion said...

You may have to check Migne's PG and PL for us and do a little translating, or divvy out some translating assignments both to Lutherans and OC/RC friends.

It will be interesting to see what Seminarian Bill thought of this passage rather than Pastor Weedon; or, early Luther rather than late Luther. Earlier is always better, after all. :)

I'll also check my new OSB tonight since they provide patristic citations, too.

There is a great quote from Fr. George Calciu regarding such arguments for and against a doctrine that I hope to post soon.

Along a different track but similarly, A. Papadakis treats the rise of scholasticism in his "The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy" and how the early scholastic efforts attempted to collect all these differeing canons and patristic interpretations in one place so they could be 'explained'. Interesting stuff.

Pr. Lehmann said...

Earlier is always better? Somebody hasn't read Cyprian.

That's the same sort of thinking that overinflates the importance of Hippolytus of Rome (a schismatic).

Of course thinking of the Eastern Church. Earlier that 1054 is better. It's before you were excommunicated from the holy catholic and apostolic church for your refusal to confess what the Scriptures teach regarding the procession of the Holy Spirit. ;-)

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

St. Basil the Great, Letter 28:

"A man has passed away who was quite manifestly far superior to his contemporaries in the sum total of human virtues; a bulwark of his native land, an ornament of the churches, a pillar and foundation of the truth, a firm support of the faith of Christ, a steadfast helper for his friends, a most formidable foe for his enemies, a guardian of the ordinances of the Fathers, an enemy of innovation; in his own person he showed forth the ancient character of the Church, so moulding on the model of the early organization, as after a sacred image, the form of the church under his charge, that those who were of his society seemed to live in the society of those who shone like stars two hundred years and more ago."

Here, as in other places in his letters, St. Basil refers to an individual as a pillar and foundation of truth; but here he also shows how that comparison is legitimate, when he says that in his person this man modeled the character of the Church. You are not likely to find many references to this teaching back then, because it was not in dispute that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth.

I might add that the Irenaeus quote (I cannot now lay my hands on the Latin--does anyone else have access to it?)does not seem to me to describe the writings of the apostles as the pillar and foundation of our faith, but rather the apostles themselves--first by proclamation, then by writing. This makes more sense in the immediately-following chapters, where after summarizing the apostolic preaching and their writings, he then goes into detail about the apostolic lineage of the churches, over against the gnostic innovators. He certainly doesn't pit the writings of the apostles *over against* the Church as judge.

Hope this helps...

William Weedon said...

Thank you, Father. That one is very helpful.

I remember that Behr's translation of the Ad. Haer. was better than the one in Schaff, but I don't have access to it anymore.