St. Thomas Aquinas and Sola Scriptura:
"...only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith..." (Commentary on John 21)
|Thomas Aquinas and Sola Scriptura
The Protestant/evangelical/Reformed apologist Tim Enloe writes in a thread on Gary Hoge's EZBoard on some Latin from St. Thomas Aquinas,
<< Or maybe you'd prefer Aquinas in Latin, since the following citation has such an interesting little phrase about Scripture in it (I've bolded it for you) >>
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH:
This was answered a number of years ago in an article in Catholic Dossier (March/April 1996 issue) by an Aquinas expert, Dr. Ralph McInerny. The issue is available online here
The article in Catholic Dossier (March/April 1996) cites the passage from Aquinas above, and responds to its misapplication by the French Catholic theologian Florent Gaboriau, who suggested in a 1985 book (Theologie Nouvelle and repeated in an article in the Revue Thomiste) this makes the usual opposition of evangelical Protestants and Catholics on sola scriptura dubious --
Dr. Norman Geisler has used the same citation from St. Thomas I believe first in his evangelical book on Aquinas (1991) then repeated in his Forward to Elliot Miller/Ken Samples book on Catholic Mariology The Cult of the Virgin (Baker, 1992). Here is an excerpt from Geisler's Forward to the latter book:
A few years later Geisler/MacKenzie enlisted a few additional passages from Aquinas in their otherwise excellent Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Baker, 1995) to suggest Aquinas held to sola scriptura. These were all answered competently in Not By Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Queenship, 1997) edited by Robert Sungenis:
Ignoring this answer in Not By Scripture Alone, Webster/King in their large defense of sola scriptura titled Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (2001) again picked up these citations from Geisler (or possibly from the French theologian Gaboriau) and tried to use them to suggest St. Thomas Aquinas believed in sola scriptura (which they define as both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture). On Aquinas, William Webster states the following:
A paragraph from Geisler's book (Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical Appraisal) is then cited concerning Aquinas' view of the inspiration, inerrancy, and high authority of Scripture. Then Webster continues:
Is Webster representing accurately the full view of St. Thomas Aquinas? Let's look at this issue of "sola scriptura" in Aquinas (I will use his primary work the Summa Theologica).
First, what does it mean that "only canonical Scripture is a measure [or rule] of faith" (note the translation at the top and in Webster's footnote 293, page 197 reads: "A measure of faith" not "THE rule of faith"). What St. Thomas is doing is contrasting Scripture to other apocryphal or non-canonical writings (as noted by Catholic Dossier above). And Catholics/Orthodox today would agree. Aquinas was not opposing "the canonical Scriptures" against the Church or her tradition which he also affirmed was a measure, a rule for faith and practice. In other words, St. Thomas is not saying sacred tradition is not ALSO A rule for faith and practice. How do I know this? He says so below.
From something I posted to James White's old sola scriptura Email list (from June 1996). Anti-Catholic evangelical apologist Eric Svendsen was on that list, as well as Greg Krehbiel (at that time still Protestant)
FROM JAMES WHITE'S SOLA-L LIST 6/96
Eric Svendsen wrote --
ES> Paul tells us in 2 Thess 2:15 that his teaching was sometimes written and sometimes passed along orally: "Hold to the teachings we passed on to you whether by word of mouth or by letter." Yet, it was, in any case, the *same* message. No appeal can legitimately be made to this passage to introduce the notion of an on-going oral tradition that was to be held on par with (yet as different from) Paul's written instructions to the churches. >>
Greg Krehbiel responded --
GK> When I asked, last week, how you thought 1 Cor. 11:34 related to 2 Thes. 2:15, you replied in a very literal manner, as if I were claiming that the precise teachings alluded to in 1 Cor. 11 were in view in 2 Thes. 2. My point was that 1 Cor. 11 shows that some apostolic teachings go beyond what is written in Scripture, and that in 2 Thes. 2 Paul exerts us to hold fast to all the teachings, not just the written ones. >>
Here is something from St. Thomas Aquinas SUMMA THEOLOGICA that I found
ST Third Part, Question 64, Article 2 on "Whether the Sacraments are instituted by God alone?"
OBJECTION 1: For those things which God has instituted are delivered to us in Holy Scripture. But in the Sacraments certain things are done which are nowhere mentioned in Holy Scripture. For instance, the chrism with which men are confirmed, the oil with which the priests are anointed, and many others, both words and actions, which we employ in the Sacraments. Therefore, the Sacraments were not instituted by God alone.
REPLY 1: Human institutions observed in the Sacraments are not essential to the Sacrament, but belong to the solemnity which is added to the Sacraments in order to arouse devotion and reverence in the recipients. But those things that are essential to the Sacrament are instituted by Christ Himself, who is God and man.
And though they are not all handed down by the Scriptures, yet the Church holds them from the intimate tradition of the Apostles, according to the saying of the Apostle : 'THE REST I WILL SET IN ORDER WHEN I COME' (1 Cor 11:34).
Concerning 2 Thessalonians 2:15, I found the following from St. Thomas
ST Third Part, Question 25, Article 3 on Worship (veneration) of Images
OBJECTION 4: ....it seems that nothing should be done in the Divine worship that is not instituted by God; therefore the Apostle when about to hand down the doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Church, says: 'I HAVE RECEIVED OF THE LORD THAT WHICH I DELIVERED UNTO YOU' (1 Cor 11:23). But Scripture does not lay down anything concerning the adoration [i.e. veneration] of images.
REPLY 4: The Apostles, led by the inward stirring of the Holy Ghost, handed down to the churches certain instructions which they did not leave in writing, but which have been ordained in accordance with the observance of the Church as practiced by the faithful as time went on. Therefore the Apostle says: 'STAND FAST, AND HOLD THE TRADITIONS WHICH YOU HAVE LEARNED, WHETHER BY WORD' -- that is by word of mouth -- 'OR BY OUR EPISTLE' -- that is by word put into writing (2 Thess 2:15)....
On the relation of the Scripture to the Church, St. Thomas wrote [this one I got from Joe Gallegos, and it appears later in Not By Scripture Alone] --
ST II-II, Question 5, Article 3
The formal object of faith is Primary Truth as manifested in Holy Scripture and in the teaching of the Church which proceeds from the Primary Truth. Hence, he who does not embrace the teaching of the Church as a divine and infallible law does not possess the habit of faith.
Now of course you might disagree with these assertions but at least we have what this great Doctor of the Church believed. St. Thomas is well-respected among certain Reformed theologians as R.C. Sproul and John Gerstner -- See Thomas Aquinas : An Evangelical Appraisal by Norm Geisler (Baker Books, 1991). I also find it curious how Geisler tries to make it appear Aquinas believed in sola scriptura in his Roman Catholics and Evangelicals (Baker, 1995).
END of 6/96 Sola-L post
The full passage on the infallible nature of the Church's teaching office is below in a different English translation and can be found online at NewAdvent.org here
Objection 3. Further, just as man obeys God in believing the articles of faith, so does he also in keeping the commandments of the Law. Now a man can obey some commandments, and disobey others. Therefore he can believe some articles, and disbelieve others.
On the contrary, Just as mortal sin is contrary to charity, so is disbelief in one article of faith contrary to faith. Now charity does not remain in a man after one mortal sin. Therefore neither does faith, after a man disbelieves one article.
I answer that, Neither living nor lifeless faith remains in a heretic who disbelieves one article of faith.
The reason of this is that the species of every habit depends on the formal aspect of the object, without which the species of the habit cannot remain. Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. Even so, it is evident that a man whose mind holds a conclusion without knowing how it is proved, has not scientific knowledge, but merely an opinion about it. Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.
From St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Question 5, Article 3
So the great Angelic Doctor never separated the "Holy Writ" (the canonical Scriptures) from the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church -- in fact he says one who does not hold to the teaching of the Church as a divine and infallible rule does not have a true faith. Further we see in my two citations from the Summa Theologica that Aquinas indeed appealed to Apostolic Sacred Tradition as a rule for faith and practice (see above from ST, Third Part, q. 64 a. 2, his citing 1 Corinthians 11:34 and ST, Third Part q. 25 a. 3, his citing 2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Back to Apologetics Articles
Back to Home Page
About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links