Chapter II:46: The Use of the Fathers

Controversy is agitated with the Papists concerning the use and authority of the Fathers in the explaining of Sacred Scriptures and in matters of faith.  The Fathers, as it is well-known, are wont to be called the Doctors/Teachers of the Ancient Christian Church, who both in word and in writing set forth the doctrine of salvation, vindicating the same against the enemies of truth, and committed the history of the Church to writing so that posterity might ever remember; with the rationale for the name sought both from age, for they preceded our age by many years, indeed many centuries, and hence they are to be received as Fathers of great age; and from office and doctrine, for they begat children to God in the Church by inculcating doctrine in the disciples.  To what extent their age and succession is to be extended, all do not share one and the same opinion:  for some conclude it at the thousandth year or tenth Century after Christ, others at the sixth, yet others at the fifth or five hundredth year:  and the observation of DANÆUS and others is not able to be denied, who have observed that the doctrine and worship of Religion evidently declined in the East after CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA, but in the West after AUGUSTINE.  It is especially evident that after the six hundredth year the purity of doctrine and worship, with errors and superstitions increasing by the just judgment of God, suffered a great blemish:  and that the liberty of the ministry in preserving religion was less thereafter, with the tyranny of the Papacy in Boniface III established by the Emperor Phocas soon after the beginning of the Seventh Century.[1]  Just as the later Doctors of the Church also had less authority, because they were further removed from the age of the Apostles, and were not at all equal to their predecessors in zeal for piety and in the glory of doctrine.  Inquiry is made concerning the authority of these Fathers, with their age hardly determined with sufficient certainty, in matters of faith and interpretation of Scripture.  We highly value the authority of the orthodox Fathers, and we make use of the same as Witnesses, from whose writings both concerning history, and concerning the doctrine of the Ancient Church, and also concerning our agreement in matters of faith with the ancient Church, it is able everywhere to be evident:  nevertheless, we recognize that their authority is only human and Ecclesiastical, which is of no weight in matters of faith, except insofar as it agrees with Scripture; indeed, in the Interpretation of Scripture it stands highly prized, yet it obliges the assen of no one.

[1] Boniface III was elected in 606, but did not take up the office until 607 (and served less than a year).  He is significant in the annals of the Papacy in that, due to his relationship with the Byzantine Emperor Phocas, he was able to secure for the Bishop of Rome the title of Universal Bishop.

1 thought on “Chapter II:46: The Use of the Fathers

  1. Westminster Confession of Faith 1:10: ‘The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.’

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