Monday, January 26, 2015

The Duty of a Christian Theologian

I found myself drawn (perhaps by the Holy Spirit) to read on the Councils of the Church this morning. And in Philip Schaff's introduction to the Council of Nicea, I found these instructive words for anyone who is seeking to pass on the Faith to another, whether it is a pastor to his parish, a parent to their child, or a friend to another friend:

The editor... ventures to call the attention of the reader to the fact that in this, as in every other of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the question the Fathers considered was not what they supposed Holy Scripture might mean, nor what they, from a priori priori arguments, thought would be consistent with the mind of God, but something entirely different, to wit, what they had received. They understood their position to be that of witnesses, not that of exegetes. They recognized but one duty resting upon them in this respect — to hand down to other faithful men that good thing the Church had received according to the command of God. The first requirement was not learning, but honesty. The question they were called upon to answer was not, What do I think probable, or even certain, from Holy Scripture? but, What have I been taught, what has been entrusted to me to hand down to others? When the time came, in the Fourth Council, to examine the Tome of Pope St. Leo, the question was not whether it could be proved to the satisfaction of the assembled fathers from Holy Scripture, but whether it was the traditional faith of the Church. It was not the doctrine of Leo in the fifth century, but the doctrine of Peter in the first, and of the Church since then, that they desired to believe and to teach, and so, when they had studied the Tome, they cried out:“This is the faith of the Fathers! This is the faith of the Apostles! ... Peter hath thus spoken by Leo! The Apostles thus taught! Cyril thus taught!” etc.  (Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., The Seven Ecumenical Councils (NPNF-2 XIV; Accordance electronic ed. 14 vols.; New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1890), n.p.)

Though the appeal to tradition will make any Reformation Christian (like myself) uncomfortable, there is an ad fontes quality to this that I appreciate.  Even our exegesis of Scripture should be colored by the question:  "What was the faith of the apostles?"  It is not merely a question of "What do I think this means?" We are aiming to understand the living faith in the Living God, not merely to understand a document.  

"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3)


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