Two Saints talk about Sola Scriptura

Arius of Alexandria

On October 31, 2017, Protestants will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the “reformation”.  Truth be told, it’s only the anniversary of Martin Luther posting his complaints of the door of the Castle Church.  This event happened on October 31, 1517.  It should be fair to point out that when the citizens of Germany woke up on the morning of November 1, 1517, they weren’t debating whether they should go to a Protestant Church since they didn’t exist at the time.  Regardless, the reformation is erroneously fixed to this date in 1517 AD just like the Catholic/Greek Schism is erroneously dated to 1054 AD.

Protestants will admit that there were certain photo-Protestants before Luther.  Usually they point to people like Wycliffe and Huss.  I simply say: “Why not go back earlier?”  There were Protestants before these people.  There were people earlier who took the Bible, and the Bible alone and thought that they could interpret it differently from Church authority.  These were people like Arius, Eunomius, Pelagius, Celestius and others.

Why did the Protestant communities of the 16th Century survive while the Protestant communities before that fail?  Politics.  Nothing more.  The reformation was essentially a political event far more than it was a religious one.  It essentially went like this:

Prince X rules over a certain area.  Prince X wants his friend in control over the local church in his dominion instead of a man appointed by some celibate Italian a thousand miles away.  Prince X wants the religious leader of his area to report to him, not to the Pope of Rome.  Prince X doesn’t care much about the doctrine promoted, only that he reports to him.  In conclusion, the doctrine is protected by politicians.

In a way it’s a Universal religion reverting to a more tribal religion.  Regardless, as a member of the Universal Church, I look at Luther and Calvin, no differently than I look at Wycliffe, Huss, Arius, or Dioscorus.  The only reason that Luther and Calvin had teachings and movements that survived is because of politicians who didn’t want foreign influence in their dominion.

Until the French Revolution, France was a very Catholic country.  This is true in the first millennium as well as the second millennium.  Two brilliant French Saints wrote against the Protestants of their day, specifically the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  One was writing in the first millennium and the other in the second millennium.  Enjoy the quotes.

But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

– St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitorium, 434 AD


Our Catholic Church has but one language and one same form of words throughout the whole earth.  On the contrary, gentlemen, your first ministers had no sooner got on their feet, they had no sooner begun to build a tower of doctrine and science which was visibly to reach the heavens, and to acquire then the great and magnificent reputation of reformers, than God, wishing to traverse this ambitious design, permitted among them such a diversity of language and belief, that they began to contradict one another so violently that all their undertaking became a miserable Babel and confusion.  What contradictions has not Luther’s reformation produced!  I should never end if I would put them all on this paper.  He who would see them should read that little book of Frederick Staphyl’s de concordia discord, and Sanders, Book 7 of his Visible Monarchy, and Gabriel de Preau, in the Lives of Heretics: I will only say what you cannot be ignorant of, and what I now see before my eyes.

You have not one same canon of the Scriptures: Luther will not have the Epistle of St. James, which you receive.  Calvin holds it to be contrary to the Scripture that there is a head in the Church; the English hold the reverse: the French Huguenots hold that according to the Word of God priests are not less than bishops; the English have bishops who govern priests, and among them two archbishops, one of whom is called primate, a name which Calvin so greatly detests.  The Puritans in England hold as an article of faith that it is not lawful to preach, baptize, pray, in the Churches which were formerly Catholic, but they are not so squeamish in these parts.  And note my saying that they make it an articles of faith, for they suffer both prison and banishment rather than give it up.  Is it not well known that at Geneva they consider it a superstition to keep any saint’s day?  Yet in Switzerland some are kept, and you keep one of Our Lady.  The point is not that some keep them and others do not, for this would be no contradiction in religious belief, but that what you and some of the Swiss observe the others condemn as contrary to the purity of religion.  Are you not aware that one of your greatest ministers teaches that the body of Our Lord is as far from the Lord’s Supper as heaven is from earth, and are you not likewise aware that this is held to be false by many others?  Has not one of your ministers lately confessed the reality of Christ’s body in the Supper, and do not the rest deny it?  Can you deny me that as regards justification you are as much divided against one another as you are against us – witness that anonymous controversialist.  In a word, each man has his own language, and out of as many Huguenots as I have spoken to I have never found two of the same belief.

– St. Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy, 1598 AD

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18 thoughts on “Two Saints talk about Sola Scriptura

  1. Most every heretic that Vincent of Lerins names, Protestants agree that anti-Deity of Christ, anti-Trinitarian teachers, anti-Chalcedonian, anti – 2 natures of Christ, full humanity of Christ; that they were heretics. Arius was not a “sola Scripturalist”

    Did Jovinian deny the sin nature/inherited sin?
    If he did, then he was a heretic, but his view of marriage is actually more balanced and right than Jerome’s and Augustine, who exalted virginity over marriage and seemed to say that even sex within marriage was sinful.

    Jovinian was right to deny the perpetual virginity of Mary.

    Besides, that, the others were heretics, except it seems to me that Cyril of Alexandria was a very jealous, angry, bitter, violent, and bad character who used physical violence and manipulation of mobs, and political powers to mis-interpret Nestorius and condemn him and exile him (Council of Ephesus, 431 AD and afterwards). Cyril of Alexandria may have gotten his doctrine right; but his behavior did not manifest Christ’s character. Furthermore, Nestorius agreed with Leo’s tome (that Christ was one person with 2 natures) at the end (451 AD), in the work discovered in the 1800s, “The Bazaar of Hericlidus”.

    John Piper has an excellent article/lecture on Athanasius (also later became a chapter in Piper’s book, Contending for Our All) and provides answers as to how a Protestant can hold to Sola Scriptura and also agree with the principle of what Vincent of Lerins says:

    “4. The truth of biblical language must be vigorously protected with non-biblical language.

    Athanasius’ experience was critically illuminating to something I have come to see over the years, especially in liberally minded baptistic and pietistic traditions, namely, that the slogan, “the Bible is our only creed” is often used as a cloak to conceal the fact that Bible language is used to affirm falsehood. This is what Athanasius encountered so insidiously at the Council of Nicaea. The Arians affirmed biblical sentences. Listen to this description of the proceedings:

    The Alexandrians . . . confronted the Arians with the traditional Scriptural phrases which appeared to leave no doubt as to the eternal Godhead of the Son. But to their surprise they were met with perfect acquiescence. Only as each test was propounded, it was observed that the suspected party whispered and gesticulated to one another, evidently hinting that each could be safely accepted, since it admitted of evasion. If their assent was asked to the formula “like to the Father in all things,” it was given with the reservation that man as such is “the image and glory of God.” The “power of God” elicited the whispered explanation that the host of Israel was spoken of as dunamis kuriou, and that even the locust and caterpillar are called the “power of God.” The “eternity” of the Son was countered by the text, “We that live are alway (2 Corinthians 4:11)!” The fathers were baffled, and the test of homoosion, with which the minority had been ready from the first, was being forced (p. 172) upon the majority by the evasions of the Arians.38
    R. P. C. Hanson explained the process like this: “Theologians of the Christian Church were slowly driven to a realization that the deepest questions which face Christianity cannot be answered in purely biblical language, because the questions are about the meaning of biblical language itself.”39 The Arians railed against the unbiblical language being forced on them. They tried to seize the biblical high ground and claim to be the truly biblical people—the pietists, the simple Bible-believers—because they wanted to stay with biblical language only—and by it smuggle in their non-biblical meanings.

    But Athanasius saw through this “post-modern,”post-conservative,” “post-propositional” strategy and saved for us not just Bible words, but Bible truth. May God grant us the discernment of Athanasius for our day. Very precious things are at stake.40

    John Piper
    see the full lecture/article here:

    Therefore, your use of Vincent of Lerins does not deny Sola Scriptura nor the proper interpretation and right way of doing theology and historical theological development. There is a right way (Protestant principle) and there is a wrong way (Newman and Roman Catholicism).

    • Hi Ken,
      First of all, this is my opinion. This is how I view Protestants. No different than the first millenia heretics. True, you promote different heresies than they do(and different than many of your fellow Protestants for that matter) but I view you in the same way. I said:

      “, as a member of the Universal Church, I look at Luther and Calvin, no differently than I look at Wycliffe, Huss, Arius, or Dioscorus.”

      Just my opinion.

      If you want to say that your theology is consistent with the statement of St. Vincent, you’re best to exegete his statement which you didn’t attempt to do.

      • Wycliff and Huss were right. They were treated unjustly and the RC church was very evil in their persecution of them and the execution of Huss and digging up Wycliff’s bones, etc. What a blight on your church!

        • If you truly believe that the persecution of heretics is a blight on my Church then I want you to condemn John Calvin as a blight on Protestantism since he executed heretics as well. Be consistent.

          • There were wrong to execute Servetus (Calvin wrote letters to him pleading with him to repent and did not agree with burning him, and it was the state government that did it), but they inherited that spirit of torturing people and executing people from the Byzantine and Roman Catholic centuries of harshness and marriage of church + state. (sacralism, since Justinian (emperor, 527-565 AD) and some aspects of Theodosius (Emperor 380-392 AD), Heraclius (Emperor, 610-641 AD). Their harshness against the Copts and other non-Chalcedonians caused the bitterness that helped those Christians in the east “welcome the Muslims as liberators”. They (the Oriental Orthodox, Copts, Monophysites, Armenians, Jacobite Syrians) later realized that it was a mistake to welcome the Muslim invaders, but it was too late; the damage had been done.

          • The state government? It was the King Louis III who had Huss executed, not the Church. It was the Spanish crown who had the conversos executed, not the Inquisition. Yet, you’re more than happy to blame Catholicism for those but with Calvin, the blame goes to the state government.

          • Baptists disagree with the marriage of church and state, so we can be consistent and agree with Luther and Calvin on some things, and disagree on other things. Your church was still unjust and wrong in it’s treatment of Wycliff and Huss.

            I, like Dr. White, fully understand that we as baptists would have been mis-treated by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli on the issue of baptism.

            Dr. White on a recent dividing line (Oct. 2, 2017) told the story of Fritz Erbe, who was imprisoned (because he held to believer’s baptism, and said Luther’s fresh translation from Greek helped him see it) in a hole in the Wartburg Castle, same place that Luther was hidden by Frederick and Luther translated the NT into German. Church history is complicated, yes.

  2. Another point from John Piper about Athanasius and how we must explain Biblical truth in non-Biblical words and categories of thought. (like “homo-ousias”, etc.)

    I recommend the whole lecture / article. One of the best things I have read in the last 15 years.
    “6. Don’t aim to preach only in categories of thought that can be readily understood by this generation. Aim at creating biblical categories of thought that are not present.

    Another way to put it is to use the terminology of Andrew Walls: Don’t embrace the indigenous principle of Christianity at the expense of the pilgrim principle.41 The indigenous principle says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). The pilgrim principle says, “Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

    Some of the most crucial and precious truths of the Scripture are counter-intuitive to the fallen human mind. They don’t fit easily into our heads. The orthodox understanding of the Trinity is one of those. If the indigenous principle had triumphed in the fourth century, we would all be Arians. It is far easier for the human mind to say that the Son of God, like all other sons, once was not, and then came into being, than it is to say that he has always been God with the Father, but there is only one God. But the Bible will not let its message be fit into the categories we bring with our fallen, finite minds. It presses us relentlessly to create new categories of thought to contain the mysteries of the gospel.

    Archibald Roberts points out that with the conversion of Constantine and the Edict of Milan (313) which gave legal status to Christianity, “the inevitable influx of heathen into the Church, now that the empire had become Christian, brought with it multitudes to whom Arianism was a more intelligible creed than that of Nicaea.”42 And if you want to grow a church the temptation is to give the people what they already have categories to understand and enjoy. But once that church is grown, it thinks so much like the world that the difference is not decisive. The radical, biblical gospel is blunted and the glory of Christ is obscured.

    Rather, alongside the indigenous principle of accommodation and contextualization, Athanasius would plead with us to have a deep commitment to the pilgrim principle of confrontation and transformation and brain-boggling, mind-altering, recategorization of the way people think about reality.

    And we must not treat these two principles as sequential. They start and continue together. We must not assume that the first and basic truths of Christianity fit into the fallen mind of unbelievers. We must not assume that these first truths can be contextualized in categories of thought that are present in the minds of 21st century human beings, and that only later, after they have become Christians, we can begin to alter the way they think with more advanced truth.

    That’s not the case. From the very beginning, we are speaking to them God-centered, Christ-exalting truths that shatter fallen human categories of thought. We must not shy away from this. We must do all we can to advance it and to help people, by the grace of God, to see what is happening to them (the shattering of their categories) as the best news in all the world.

    From the very beginning, in the most winsome way possible, we must labor to create categories like this: God rules the world of bliss and suffering and sin, right down to the roll of the dice and the fall of a bird and the driving of the nail into the hand of his Son, yet, though he will that such sin and suffering be, he does not sin, but is perfectly holy. Or a category like this: God governs all the steps of all people, both good and bad, at all times and in all places, yet such that all are accountable before him and will bear the just consequences of his wrath if they do not believe in Christ. Or this category: All are dead in their trespasses and sin and are not morally able to come to Christ because of their rebellion, yet, they are responsible to come and will be justly punished if they don’t. Or: Jesus Christ is one person with two natures, divine and human, such that he upheld the world by the word of his power while living in his mother’s womb. Or: sin, though committed by a finite person and in the confines of finite time is nevertheless deserving of an infinitely long punishment because it is a sin against an infinitely worthy God. Or: the death of the one God-Man, Jesus Christ, so displayed and glorified the righteousness of God that God is not unrighteous to declare righteous ungodly people who simply believe in Christ.

    These kinds of mind-boggling, category-shattering truths demand our best thought and our most creative labors. We must aim to speak them in a way that, by the power of God’s word and Spirit, a place for them would be created in the minds of those who hear. We must not preach only in the categories that are already present in our listeners’ fallen minds, or we will betray the gospel and conceal the glory of God.”
    John Piper, from “Contending for Our All: The life and ministry of Athanasius”.
    see link in previous combox.

  3. Francis de Sales was wrong about Luther on James. Luther wrote that it was an epistle of straw in doctrine compared to Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, and 1 Peter, but was never for throwing out of the canon (even if some hot-headed comments might suggest that) and besides, Luther had not authority to do that and Melanchthon and others never allowed Luther’s hot-headed comments (other comments that seemed to say he wanted them removed from the canon – like his comment on the book of Esther). After Luther calmed down and matured, he did not believe in getting rid of James or other books, and frequently quoted James and preached from it in his sermons.

    James Swan has several good articles on these issues at “Beggar’s All Reformation and Apologetics”.

    The rest of Francis de Sales comments shows that he was more interested in uniformity to outward things (RC priesthood, church liturgy, Lord’s supper issues, saints feast day celebrations, etc.) than in Truth. I am glad for the diversity of opinion over the Lord’s supper, baptism, etc. there is no such thing as a NT office of priests. bishops/overseers and presbyters are the same office. Transubstantiation is unbiblical, wrong, heretical, blasphemous, and superstitious! We honor truth over uniformity and RC external unity of dead rituals.

    • “The rest of Francis de Sales comments shows that he was more interested in uniformity to outward things (RC priesthood, church liturgy, Lord’s supper issues, saints feast day celebrations, etc.) than in Truth. ”

      Actually, regarding what St. Francis said, I actually cut the quote off. If I would have let it go a bit more he goes into the different Protestant views on Sacraments such as Baptism, the Eucharist, etc. How many sacraments each Protestant leader believed in, etc. These are huge issues.

      You said: ” I am glad for the diversity of opinion over the Lord’s supper, baptism, etc.”

      Ken, I find this very disturbing. As St. Paul says in Ephesians: ” one Lord, one faith, one baptism”

      Diversity in baptism or one baptism? You don’t agree with St. Paul on this one.

      • The “one baptism” does not mean one time, one method, only infant baptism / only one time, or only water ritual by a RC priest, etc.

        It means that there is only one true baptism by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) that regenerates and then, afterward, is symbolized in water (Matthew 28:19; Acts 10:44-48) after a person repents and believes in Christ. (Acts 2:38-41 – “so, those who had received his word were baptized” (“received” – see also John 1:12). Infant baptism is wrong and baptismal regeneration is wrong.

      • immersion is the only right way, as Romans 6:1-7 demonstrates; and believers baptism (the baptist view) is the only right way. So, we do believe in “one baptism” in that sense, but we don’t make that issue a primary issue that condemns Presbyterians or Lutherans or conservative Anglicans. We can agree to disagree, even though we Baptists know we are right on that issue.

      • Also Colossians 2:11-12 proves the baptist position:

        “. . . through faith in the working of God”

        infants cannot express repentance and faith. Infant baptism is one of greatest mistakes of 3rd century onward.

  4. We honor truth of uniformity and a false unity that Roman Catholicism calls for.

    1 Corinthians 11:19

    “For there must also be factions [ where we get our English word, “heresy” from] among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.”

    In other words, “It is necessary for there to be factions (disagreements, heresies) among you, in order that those who are approved may become manifest among you.” God uses disagreements over interpretations in order to show and manifest and demonstrate who is correct.

    δεῖ γὰρ καὶ αἱρέσεις ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι ἵνα καὶ οἱ δόκιμοι φανεροὶ γένωνται ἐν ὑμῖν

  5. The Roman Catholic Church lied to Huss and promised him safe conduct. No, the blame for the execution of Huss falls squarely on the Roman Catholic Church and all the garbage of Popes and torturing people.