Friday, 10 December 2010

Chemnitz on Augustine on Scripture

Martin Chemnitz was a student of both Luther and the church fathers, and much of his scholarship was dedicated to showing that the Lutheran Reformation was not an innovation, as Luther's adversaries in the Roman church contended, but rather a renovation of the ancient catholic faith. To that end citations from his copious reading of the fathers are strewn throughout his writings. The greatest church father in Lutheran eyes was Augustine (after all, Luther had been an Augustinian friar), although they did not follow him slavishly, and were not afraid to criticise him occasionally, albeit respectfully.

Here are several citations Chemnitz drew from Augustine on the authority and sufficiency of holy scripture (for more citations from Augustine and other fathers, gathered from Chemnitz and my own reading of them, see Lutheran Catholicity (link provided in top right-hand column).

Firstly, by way of preamble, we cite Chemnitz on how the testimonies of the ancient church are to be received...
"...we love and venerate the testimonies of the ancient and purer church, by whose agreement we are both aided and confirmed; but our faith must rest on the word of God, not on human authority. Therefore we do bnot set the testimonies of the fathers over the scripture, but subordinate them to it."
Examination of the Council of Trent, I:150.

"The City of God believes the sacred Scriptures, both old and new, which we call canonical. From these the faith is conceived by which the righteous man lives, through which we walk without doubting as long as we sohourn away from the Lord."
Augustine, The City of God, Bk 19, ch 18, as cited in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, I:150 [italics mine].

"Let us not hear: This I say, this you say; but, thus says the Lord. Surely it is the books of the Lord on whose authority we both agree and which we both believe. There let us seek the church, there let us discuss our case."

"Let those things be removed from our midst which we quote against one another not from divine canonical books but from elsewhere. Someone may perhaps ask: Why do you want to remove these things from our midst? Because I do not want the holy church proved by human documents but by divine oracles."

"Whatever they may adduce, and wherever they may quote from, let us rather, if we are His sheep, hear the voice of our Shepherd. Therefore let us search for the church in the sacred canonical scriptures."
Augustine, The Unity of the Church, cited by Martin Chemnitz in Examination of the Council of Trent, I:157

All quotations from Chemnitz are taken from the English edition of the Examination... translated by Fred Kramer and published by Concordia Publishing House in 1971 (still in print; see link under 'Lutheran Publishers' in right hand column).

Martin Chemnitz is known among Lutherans as "The Second Martin", whose work of systematising Lutheran doctrine and later refuting the Roman Catholic attack on Reformation doctrine at The Council of Trent -not to mention his major role in promoting unity in Lutheranism through the Formula of Concord - was instrumental in the survival of the Lutheran Church.

Si Martinus non fuisset,
Martinus vix stetisset

If the second Martin had not come along,
the first Martin would not have survived.


Southern Cross said...

What would you reply to Roman Catholics who argue that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura can be conducive to internal strife, and lead to the splitting up of Protestantism into many sects? I am not indicting you, my sympathies are overwhelmingly Protestant, especially Lutheran and Calvinist, but I have seen that argument all too often used by Roman Catholics. More specifically, they refer to Sola Scriptura and the subordination of church authorities to Scriptures as paving the way for every individual's interpretation of Scriptures. I would like to have your opinion on this, if you would.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

This commonly made charge is really based on a fallacy, SC, and hence is a non-argument. As the old Latin maxim puts it - 'abusus non tollit usum', abuse does not invalidate proper use. I.e. the abuse of the sola scriptura principle by some cannot rightly be used as an argument against its proper use.

Time and space forbid me offering a more complete response now - I hope to discuss this charge in a future post, but in the meantime you may be helped by this article:, which outlines a defence against this and other charges made by RCs.

If one has certainty on the divine truth of sola scriptura (see the arguments in the dogmatics text books for that), then this RC objection will not trouble one.

Southern Cross said...

It is a worthy reply, thank you for the link and your help!

Pr Mark Henderson said...

You're most welcome, SC.
Do drop by the virtual 'old manse' again sometime.