. . . Furthermore, has the Church herself ever viewed her Founder [Christ] as one of the teachers of mankind? Has she ever considered His teachings as the essence of His work? No, with the utmost exertion of her theological strength, the Christian Church has defended as the greatest religious truth that Christ is the Only-begotten Son of God, One in essence with God the Father, Who became incarnate on earth. For that truth, the greatest Fathers of the Church labored to the point of blood. . . .
But was the Incarnation of the Only-begotten Son of God necessary only in order to write a book and entrust it to mankind? Was it absolutely essential for Him to be the Only-begotten Son of God just to write a book? If the Church insisted with such determination on the Divine dignity of her Founder, then obviously she did not regard writing to be the essence of His work. It was the Incarnation of the Son of God that was necessary for the salvation of mankind, and not a book. No book is able, nor could it ever have been able to save mankind. Christ is not the Teacher but precisely the Savior of mankind. . . .
Christ founded the Church. The Church existed even when there was not yet a single book of New Testament Scripture. . . . Thus, it would not be impertinent to say that it is not by Holy Scripture, as a book, that man is saved, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit, Who lives in the Church. The Church guides people to perfection. In the Church there are also other ways, other means to that effect, besides the books of Holy Scripture. . . .
It is possible to know the entire New Testament by heart, it is possible to know perfectly the entire teaching of the New Testament, and still be very, very far from salvation. For salvation it is necessary to be added to the Church, just as it is said in the Book of Acts that those who were being saved were added to the Church (cf. Acts 2:47; 5:13-14). This was when there were no Scriptures, but there was the Church, and there were those who were being saved. Why was it essential to be added to the Church? It is because special grace-bearing power is needed for salvation, and this power can only be possessed by those who participate in the life of the Church, in the life of the single and indivisible Body of Christ. The grace-filled power of the Holy Spirit acts in the Church in many different ways: in the Mysteries and rites of the Church, in common prayer and mutual love, in church services; and, as the divinely inspired Word of God, it also operates through the books of Holy Scripture. . . .
Thus, Holy Scripture is one of the manifestations of the common grace-filled life of the Church. Holy Scripture is the property of the Church, precious and priceless, but precisely the Church's property. Holy Scripture cannot be torn away from the overall life of the Church. Only the Church gives meaning to the existence of Scripture. . . .
Here St. John Chrysostom defends the necessity of studying Holy Scripture, but at the same time he says that if things were the way they should be, we would not need Holy Scripture; that with a pure life, instead of books, grace would serve the soul, and that this path of spiritual enlightenment is higher. God spoke with the patriarchs and the apostles without the assistance of Scripture. The need for Holy Scripture arose when some turned aside from true doctrine and others from purity of life. Scripture is then a second remedy. We even deserve reproach for being in need of Scripture. . . .
Perhaps the saddest thing in our times is the distortion of Christ and the Church. Christianity is seen not as the new life of saved humanity, united in the Church, but as the sum of certain theoretical and moral positions. They have begun now to talk too much and too often about Christian teachings and have begun to forget about Church life. . . .
If we have before us a teacher, then every word of his, every literary text in which his teaching is reflected in any way, must be accorded special significance. Something similar has happened with Holy Scripture. It was accorded special significance in itself and independently of the Church when the bright ideal of the Church grew dim. Holy Scripture has become the object of special attention and many-sided study since the time of the German Reformation, when the individual person was put in place of the Church and the door to rationalism was opened wide, thus deadening any authentic Church life. . . . Having lost the living Christ and authentic Church life, the Protestants began worshiping the book of the New Testament as if it were some sort of fetish. Go into a Protestant church of the extreme Protestant sects, and you will see rows of pews facing a pulpit with a Bible on it. In short, if you take the icon away from any classroom or auditorium, what you have is a Protestant church. For the Protestants it is as if the Gospel were the work of Christ the Teacher, which has to be studied in order to be a Christian. Thus, Protestantism tries to replace the entire deep river of grace-filled Church life with but a single current, taken separately and in isolation. Having rebelled against the pope (a man), the Protestants have made the Bible into a "paper pope," and the latter adulation is more bitter than the first.
. . . If the grace-filled aspect of Holy Scripture is obliterated outside the Church, then what remains? We are left with the Bible, books, a literary work, a literary memorial. In the Church Holy Scripture is not everything, but outside the Church there is no Holy Scripture, no Word of God at all; what remains of Holy Scripture is only the books. . . .
In defining the essence of Holy Scripture, we can now formulate the following proposition:
Holy Scripture is one of the aspects of the common grace-filled life of the Church, and outside the Church there cannot be any Holy Scripture in the true sense of the word. . . .
By living and being instructed within the Church, within which the Apostolic oral preaching is continued, a person is able to learn the dogmas of Christian Faith from the Ecumenical Church, and this is so not because the Church herself draws her dogmas from Scripture, but because she possesses them innately; if she, deliberating on a certain dogma, cites specific passages from the Bible, this is not done in order to deduce her dogmas, but solely for their confirmation. Therefore, whoever founds his faith upon Scripture alone, does not achieve the fullness of Faith and does not know its properties.
In complete accordance with this authoritative statement, we can reduce everything to faith in the Church. If a man believes in the Church, then for him the Holy Scripture receives its proper significance.
. . . Living within the Church means, first of all, to love, to live by love; and to live by love means to struggle against sinful self-love, from which people suffer a great deal. In particular, faith in the Church is a podvig [an ascetic feat, spiritual labor or, simply, Christian struggle] for the mind, because the Church demands its submission. To make one's reason submit to the Church is especially difficult, because this submission unfailingly affects one's whole life. With regard to the Church, the podvig of the mind is connected with the podvig of the will. Imagine for a moment that people completely submit to the Church. How many idols, how many gods and graven images must they cast down? Not only the Dnieper, but an entire sea would be needed to sink all those idols. And yet, not even one podvig of the mind comes easily to a man whose reason makes him proud. Bishop Theophan the Recluse says: "It is remarkable how Wisdom calls to herself the foolish: Whoso is foolish, let him turn aside to me (Prov. 9:4). Accordingly, the clever are barred from entering into the House of Wisdom, or the Holy Church. One must lay aside every kind of cleverness at the very entrance of this House. On the other hand, if all wisdom and knowledge are to be found within the House of Wisdom, then outside this House, outside the Holy Church, only foolishness, ignorance and blindness prevail. How wondrous is that which God has established! When you enter the Church, put aside your own mind, and you will become truly wise; cast away your self-centered activity, and you will become truly active; renounce your own self, and you will truly become master over yourself. Ah, if only the world could grasp this wisdom! But this is hidden from it. . . . "
The necessity of a Church approach to Scripture is revealed with particular clarity if we thoroughly examine the extreme lie inscribed on the banner of Protestantism, and then look at every kind of sectarianism and, generally speaking, human light-mindedness, in addition to freethinking, which is indissolubly connected to the latter. In principle Protestantism has rejected the necessity of Church standards in interpreting Scripture. I say "in principle," since in actual fact standards have been invented in the form of newly fabricated sectarian creeds. If Church standards are rejected, then man is left alone with Scripture, and in interpreting Scripture, each one is to be guided by his own so-called common sense, having put on his head beforehand the tiara of an infallible pope. . . .
Leave a man alone with Scripture, and Scripture loses any definite meaning and significance. There remains only one man, the whims and oddities of whose mind will be concealed by the authority of the Word of God. Without the Church and outside of the Church, he is inevitably in a state of hopeless wandering, even if he has in his hands the book of Holy Scripture. . . .
St. Irenaeus of Lyons calls Scripture the Tree of Paradise planted in the midst of the Church. For those expelled from Paradise, however, this tree can only be the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; and after partaking of it, they can be convinced only of the sad truth that they are naked. It is high time for all opponents of the Church to be persuaded of their shameful nakedness and ask the Church's forgiveness, just as the prodigal son asked his father's forgiveness! The absurd separation of Scripture from the Church has already produced its lethal fruit. . . .
Thus, the truth of the indissoluble bond between the Church and Holy Scripture is also affirmed in a negative way. A relationship with Scripture from outside the Church inevitably leads to absurdity and loss of Holy Scripture itself.
Without the Church, first of all, there is no undergirding whatsoever for the interpretation of Holy Scripture; it is not Scripture that teaches man, but on the contrary, man foists upon Scripture whatever content he desires.
Without the Church, secondly, every definite way to Christ and His teaching is lost, since Christ Himself never wrote anything and the Apostles can be suspected of inaccurately transmitting the teaching of Christ.
Without the Church, thirdly, the canon of Holy Books does not have any significance whatsoever, and all Protestants and sectarians faced with the question of why precisely these books are canonical can only be left with no answer or forced to restort to shameful words of craftiness, words of evil (Ps. 140:4). . . .
The truth we have sought to substantiate is not new, but it should be reiterated in the twentieth [!] century, because although it has been repeatedly verified by history, it is now quite often forgotten.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
"Holy Scripture and the Church"
In its current issue, The Orthodox Word translates "Holy Scripture and the Church," by New Hieromartyr Hilarion, Archbishop of Verey. St Hilarion died in a Soviet gulag in 1929, but before the Revolution, he was Professor of Holy Scripture (New Testament) in the Moscow Theological Academy. Disillusionment with sola scriptura had a lot to do with my spiritual search that ended up in Orthodoxy, and I can't state the issues any better than he does here. (As an extra aid to my humility, he wrote almost a century ago, long before anyone cared about being post-modern.) It's best to read the whole article, but I'm including a few excerpts below.