Friday, June 16, 2017

The Early Church's Doctrine of Inspiration

  1. The ancient Church, with one unanimous voice, teaches that all the canonical writings of the Old and New Testaments ARE GIVEN BY THE HOLY SPIRIT of God; and it is on this sole foundation (and independently of the fragmentary information that human imperfection may acquire from them) that the Church founded her faith on the perfection of the Scriptures.
  2. The ancient Church, following out this first principle, no less firmly maintains the INFALLIBILITY of the Scriptures as their sufficiency and their plenitude. She attributes to their sacred authors not only axiopistia, to wit, a fully deserved credibility, but also autopistia, to wit, a right to be believed, independently of their circumstances or of their personal qualities, and on account of the infallible and celestial authority which caused them to speak.
  3. The ancient Church, viewing the whole Scripture as an utterance, on the part of God, addressed to man, and dictated by the Holy Ghost, has ever maintained that there is NOTHING ERRONEOUS, nothing useless, no thing superfluous there; and that in this divine work, as in that of creation, one may always recognise, amid the richest plenty, the greatest and the wisest economy. Every word there will be found to have its object, its point of view, its sphere of efficacy. It is in vigorously establishing and defending both these characters of the Scriptures, that the ancient Church has shown the elevated and profound idea she entertained of their divine inspiration.
  4. The ancient Church has always maintained that the doctrine of holy Scripture is the SAME THROUGHOUT, and that the Spirit of the Lord gives utterance in every part of it to one and the same testimony. She vigorously opposed that science, falsely so called (1 Tim. vi. 20), which even in the first ages of her history, had taken a regular shape in the doctrines of the Gnostics, and which, daring to impute imperfection to the Old Testament, made it appear that there were contradictions between one apostle and another apostle, where there were really none.
  5. The ancient Church thought that inspiration ought chiefly to be viewed, it is true, as a passive state, but as a state in which the human faculties, FAR FROM BEING EXTINGUISHED or set aside by the action of the Holy Ghost, were exalted by his virtue, and filled with his light. She has often compared the soul of the prophets and of the apostles to 'a stringed instrument, which the Holy Ghost put in motion, in order to draw out of it the divine harmonies of life.' -—(Athenagoras) 'What they had to do, was simply to submit themselves to the powerful action of the Holy Ghost, so that, touched by his celestial influence, the harp, though human, might reveal to us the knowledge of the mysteries of heaven.'— (Justin Martyr) But, in their view, this harp, entirely passive as it was as respects the action of God, was the heart of a man, the soul of a man, the under standing of a man, renewed by the Holy Ghost, and filled with divine life.
  6. The ancient Church, while it maintained that there was this continued action on the part of the Holy Ghost in the composition of the Scriptures, strenuously repelled the false notions which certain doctors, particularly among the Montanists, sought to propagate respecting the activity of the Spirit of God, and the passiveness of the spirit of man in divine inspiration; as if the prophet, ceasing to have the mastery of his senses, had been in the state which the pagans attributed to their sibyls. While the Cataphrygians held that an inspired man, under the powerful influence of the divine virtue, loses his senses, the ancient Church maintained, on the contrary, that the prophet DOES NOT SPEAK IN A STATE OF ECSTASY and that one may distinguish by this trait false prophets from the true. This was the doctrine held by Origen against Celsus (lib. vii. c. 4); as also of Miltiades, of Tertullian, of Epiphanius, of Chrysostom, of Basil, and of Jerome, against the Montanists.
  7. The ancient Church in her endeavours, by means of OTHER DEFINITIONS, which we shall not indicate here, to give greater clearness to the idea of divine inspiration, and to disentangle it from the difficulties with which it was sometimes obscured, still further showed how much she cherished this doctrine.
  8. The ancient Church thought that if the name of action on the part of God is to be applied to inspiration, it must be understood to extend to WORDS as well as to things.
  9. The ancient Church. by her constant MODE on QUOTING the Scriptures, in order to the establishment and defence of her doctrines; by her manner, too, of EXPOUNDING and COMMENTING on them; and, in fine, by the use which she recommends all Christians, with out exception, to make of them as a privilege and a duty; the ancient Church, by these three habitual practices, shows, still more strongly, if it be possible, than she could have done by direct declarations, how profoundly attached she was to the doctrine of a verbal inspiration.

And it is not only by her exposition of the Word that the ancient Church shows us to what point she held the entire inspiration of the Scriptures, as an in controvertible axiom; she will show you this still more strongly, if you will follow her while she is engaged IN RECONCILING THE apparent CONTRADICTIONS sometimes presented by the Gospel narratives. After having made an essay of some explanation, she does not insist upon it; but hastens to conclude, that whatever be its validity, there necessarily exists some method of reconciling those passages, and that the difficulty is only apparent, because the cause of that difficulty lies in our ignorance, and not in Scripture. “Whether it be so, or otherwise (she says with Julius Africanus), it matters not, the Gospel remains entirely true! This is her invariable conclusion as to the perfect solubility of all the difficulties that one can present to her in the Word of God.

  1. The ancient Church was so strongly attached to the doctrine of the personality of the Holy Spirit, and of his sovereign action in the composition of the whole Scriptures, that she made no difficulty in admitting at one and the same time the greatest VARIETY and the GREATEST LIBERTY in the phenomena, in the occasions, in the persons, in the characters, and in all the external circumstances, under the concurrence of which that work of God was accomplished. At the same time that she owned with St Paul, that in all the operations of this Spirit, it is one and the self-same Spirit that divideth to every man severally as he will (1 Cor. xii. 11), she equally admitted that in the work of divine inspiration, the divine causation was exercised amid a large amount of liberty, as respects human manifestations. And be it carefully remarked, that you will nowhere find, in the ancient Church, a certain class of doctors adopting one of these points of view (that of the divine causation and sovereignty), and another class of doctors attaching themselves exclusively to an other (that of human personality, and of the diversity of the writer's occasions, afl'ections, intelligence, style. and other circumstances). “If this were so," says Rudelbach, “one might justly accuse us of having ourselves forced the solution of the problem, instead of faithfully exhibiting the views of the ancient Church." But no; on the contrary, you will often see one and the same author exhibit, at once and without scruple, both of these points of view: the action of God and the personality of man. This is what we see, for example, abundantly in Jerome, who, even when speaking of the specialties of the sacred writers, never abandons the idea of a word introduced by God into their minds. This we farther remark in Irenæus, who, while he insists more than any one else on the action of God in the inspiration of the Scriptures, is the first of the fathers of the Church that relates in detail the personal circumstances of the Evangelists. This is what you will find again in St Augustine; this is what you will see even in the father of Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius of Caesarea, who gives so many details on the four authors of the Gospels, and who, nevertheless, professes the most rigorous principles on the plenary inspiration of the Canonical Scriptures.
  2. The ancient Church shows us more completely still, by two other traits, the idea she had formed of divine inspiration, by the care she took, on the one hand, TO FIX THE RELATIONS which the doctrine of divine inspiration bore to the doctrine of the gifts of grace; and, on the other, To EXHIBIT THE PROOFS of inspiration.
In fine, although the ancient Church presents this spontaneous and universal agreement in the doctrine of inspiration, we must not imagine that this great phenomenon is attached, as some have been fain to say, to some particular system of theology, or may he explained by that system. No more must we regard this wonderful agreement as the germ of a theory that was to establish it, at a later period in the Church. No. The very assertions of an opposite opinion which, from time to time, made themselves heard on the part of the heretics of the first centuries, and the NATURE OF THE REPLIES that were put forth by the ancient Church, clearly demonstrate, on the contrary, that this doctrine was deeply rooted in the Church’s conscience. Every time that the fathers, in defending any truth by passages from Scripture, succeeded so far as to drive their adversaries into the impossibility of defending themselves, otherwise than by denying the full inspiration of the divine testimonies, the Church thought the question was decided. The adversary was tried; he had no more to say for himself; he denied the Scripture to be the Word of God! What more remained to be done, but to compel him to look his own ill-favoured argument in the face, and to say to him, See what you have come to ! as one would bid a man who has disfigured himself, look at himself in a glass? And this the fathers did.

Such are facts of the case; such is the voice of the Church.

Louis Gaussen, Theopneustia, Chapter 3

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