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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

More on Calvin's View of the "Early Church Fathers"

In our previous study, we referred to Calvin's Commentary on John 8 which contains this:

Nor do I approve of the ingenuity of Augustine... [in his interpretation of this verse]

Calvin contradicting Augustine. Way to go, John!

And Calvin generally liked Augustine, as did Luther.

Further, even though the Greeks above the rest—and Chrysostom especially among them—extol the ability of the human will, yet all the ancients, save Augustine, so differ, waver, or speak confusedly on this subject, that almost nothing certain can be derived from their writings.
-Excerpt, Calvin’s Institutes, “The church fathers generally show less clarity but a tendency to accept freedom of the will. What is free will?” (2.2.4, pp. 258-261)

Calvin states that the "church fathers" speak "confusedly" on the matter of free will. This excerpt was  quoted negatively in a series at the "ORTHODOX-REFORMED BRIDGE" website. Their argument is that Calvin did not submit to the ECFs as they believe he should have. I'm no Calvinist, but Calvin was right to not hold them as "authorities" (even if I disagree with Calvin's view of the will here).

I disagree with Calvin and probably hold views in regard to the will closer to some (or many) of the so-called "Church Fathers," but that does not matter. Neither Calvin nor the CFs are "authoritative" on this or on any matter.

 Look at this excerpt from The Calvinist International in regard to the authority of scripture:

In today’s post, Melanchthon begins to marshal patristic support for his understanding of the relative weight of various authorities in theology. Melanchthon’s high view of both Scripture and patristic antiquity are clear in what follows from his use of Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Basil...

This is "confused."

To argue the authority of scripture, they resort to referring the authority of "the fathers" (patristic antiquity)? I find that somewhat comical. I have a "high view" some writing apart from scripture, but my trust in scripture as my authority doesn't come from their "authority." In fact, I recognize no other authority, for there is no other authority (an idea that got Luther condemned).

Calvin was right to disagree with Augustine on John 8 (although I tend to disagree with them both). At the end of the day, neither Calvin nor Augustine nor Michael are "authoritative." My presentation in my previous post refers to E.W. Bullinger's understanding of John 8:6, and while I have a "high view" of Dr. Bullinger's writings, I would NEVER suggest they are authoritative. 

This is not a matter of semantics, it is a very serious matter. This blog is built on this pillar:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

-2 Timothy 2:15

Many Orthodox sources claim that the "fathers" did not, nor could they, teach heresy. Now, if you believe as they believed, I could understand the "did not" position, but how could anyone hold to "could not" unless he held them as inspired? 

The "fathers" taught heresy. They had to because they contradicted each on other occasions just as the Roman popes have. Somebody has to be doctrinally wrong. 

The irony here is that I agree with the "fathers" (generally) on the role of the will, I also agree with some of them (to some degree) on the fate of the lost.

The mass of men (Christians) say there is to be an end to punishment and to those who are punished.—St. Basil the Great

There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments. -- Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

I am NOT a universalist and I don't believe in any degree of torture of the lost. These are not mutually exclusive ideas. On the latter point, clearly I find more in common with denying "endless torments" than with the "hellfire" preaching of many Evangelical preachers.

On the most important issues (redemption, scripture, etc.), I obviously find myself aligned with the Evangelicals. I am not seeking to bash anyone, only to say that none of us is infallible. The "fire and brimstone" Baptist preacher of old and the "fiery, physical" Purgatory of Aquinas are both abhorrent to me. But the latter is even more abhorrent for it touches on the finality of the Lord's death, burial, and resurrection and limits his offer of forgiveness.

Jerome taught even the redemption of Satan. Whereas I do not believe this is accurate, I would be more inclined to accept the idea than to consider the God of scripture as the eternal fiery torturer of the mass of humanity. 

I know that most persons understand by the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures. --St. Jerome

Jerome's conclusion is, at least, built on the forgiving and redeeming character of God. The fiery torment of his creation gives us quite the opposite picture of our loving Father and our gracious Savior. If one refuses the free gift of Life, he has refused to be reconciled to God. But God was already reconciled to the sinner through the cross! He is satisfied. He has no need to extend his wrath for eternity. His son suffered his wrath and took the penalty of death which sits on all of us (in Adam).

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 
-2 Cor 5:18-19

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
-1 Cor 15:21-22

Some of the "fathers" were essentially universalists. Just a few examples:

While the devil imagined that he got a hold of Christ, he really lost all of those he was keeping. 
--Chrysostom, 398 AD

Mankind, being reclaimed from their sins, are to be subjected to Christ in he fullness of the dispensation instituted for the salvation of all. 
--Didymus the Blind

The Son "breaking in pieces" His enemies is for the sake of remolding them, as a potter his own work; as Jeremiah 18;6 says: i.e., to restore them once again to their former state. 
--Eusebius of Caesarea

When death shall no longer exist, or the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then truly God will be all in all. 

All men are Christ's, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all? 
--Clement of Alexandria

The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) calls the teaching of universalism a "fad" and the result of modern thinking. I've been around the block a few times with the sacramentalist religions. To be sure, I am certain they have explanations for the opinions of some "church fathers" (one I read stated these men just loved people so much they held to universalism... they love more than God?). But we can escape all these issues if we seek God diligently in his word, rightly divided.

There is one authority, scripture. We approach it as broken beings, fallible, and humbled by our own sin. But if we seek the Lord with a pure heart, he will reveal his truth as he sees fit. Surely, there are those who are teachers among us, but all must be tested against the whole word of truth, rightly divided. 

Whether it is Calvin or the Orthodox themselves, many who look to the "church fathers" really don't look to the "church fathers." It is my prayer they all wake from that slumber and submit themselves to the scriptures alone. Read all you want, submit to none but that which was inspired by the Spirit for this age.