Scripture and Holy Tradition

From time to time I get messages in my Email box from a forum site with which I have limited dealings.  This short missive appeared in my inbox this morning.

Welcome to the forum!!

While I do not pretend to answer your questions, the Apostolic Churches do not use the Bible–especially the New Testament–to challenge Church practice or theology. That is a position that comes from the 16th century Protestant Reformation. We see the Scripture as the “heart” of Tradition, which is the ongoing life of grace given by the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Seventh Ecumenical Council has defined how we go about using icons in our piety and worship. Beyond that, there are other, more learned members here who can answer your questions at length.

As far as the Holy Spirit speaking to and leading the Church into all truth, the Ecumenical Councils and lesser councils of the Church are lead when all the members of a council come to a unanimous decision or conclusion. That is how the books determined to be the New Testament canon were established, too.

After several deep breaths, I sat down to reply:

Dear Bob –

I thought it best to voice my concerns to you privately rather than in front of a newbie to the forum. You said ” the Apostolic Churches do not use the Bible–especially the New Testament–to challenge Church practice or theology.”

I’m sorry, but to me, having done some study in the past year of the history of the Christian faith and the developments of the Church which led to the schism and the development of new dogmas, I find this to be a hot, steaming pile of manure. If this were true, the teaching of Apokatastasis, that of Universal Restoration, would still be the main eschatology of the Church. For the first five hundred years of the united Church, this teaching was the main teaching of the Church, with the existence of four schools of theology who taught it, as opposed to one Latin school which taught eternal conscious torment, and one school which taught annihilation. The attack on Universal Restoration began with Augustine’s attacks on anthropology in which he described mankind as a “massa damnata,” a damned mass who are only evil and who richly deserve eternal torment. Augustine did not know Greek, yet had the audacity to create his own translation of the Scriptures and to make commentary on it. His errors set a foundation upon which other Latin and Roman Empire emperors built an edifice of condemnation and damnation rather than healing and restoration as known in the Eastern churches. And this all came because Augustine jettisoned tradition in favor of his own interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. He should have kept his mouth shut and not opposed the teaching of the Church in the tradition which was Universal Salvation as taught by the great men of the East such as St. Isaac of Syria, St. Gregory Nyssa, and others.

I also find that whenever a particular dogmatic statement is opposed or questioned, there has developed a practice of running to a particular interpretation of Scripture and mounting defense from that vantage point. This becomes particularly egregious when I point out the writings of men such as St. Gregory Nyssa in favor of Universal Salvation. The first thing that many (not all, but many) of my interlocutors do is to whip out some horrible mistranslation from the Greek in which they assume that eternal damnation is promised and then to try to club me over the head with it. Tradition over Scripture! HA! Not in the debates I have been in!!

Then there is the whole issue of the utter dishonesty of the translators of Scripture as well. Why do you think that men such as St. Isaac and St. Gregory could teach Apokatastasis with a straight face? Because in the original Greek – IT’S THERE!! The more I look at Western translations such as the KJV and the Douay-Rheims, the more appalled I am at the fact that either the translator was ignorant, having been trained by people who are ignorant, who were trained by people who were ignorant, or the translator had a specific bias which he was working under and an honest translation would destroy the dogma he cherished. Such an example would be from the Douay-Rheims in Matthew 3:2 where it says,  “Do penance, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Unfortunately, that ain’t what the Greek says. The word translated “penance” is “metanoia’ in the Greek, which means “change your mind.” It does not mean to whip yourself with a leather strap (strappado) as St. Peter Damian did in the eleventh century, advising others to do so as well. It has nothing to do with the penal ideas of penance found in the Latin Church, nor the whole juridical approach to salvation which is found there. This is a case of the Latin theological culture driving the interpretation, rather than the interpretation of the Scriptures ordering the ecclesial practice of the Church.

Then there enters the whole issue of “tradition” itself. Perhaps you could find for me that Holy Tradition in the Early Fathers of the Church in which they spoke of and taught such things as Indulgences, the Immaculate Conception, the Filioque Clause to the Creed, Papal Supremacy, dead bread in the Eucharist, (a scandal to the East in the 11th century), sprinkling as the norm for baptism, and eternal conscious hell. Don’t bother with rebuking me for the last one. I did my due diligence and found that the translations we have of the writings of the Early Fathers, who wrote in GREEK, were mutilated by those who translated them. The Fathers wrote about an “aionios kolasis which means “age-lasting chastisement” and does not mean “eternal punishment” as has been so widely mistranslated by Western translators.

No, Bob, honestly if I had not had a profound experience with Christ some 50 years ago which changed my life entirely, I would have long ago chucked the Christian religion as a religion of fools, liars, and con artists. My respect for the Church, per se, has hit an all-time low, which makes me understand the actions of the Reformers when they looked at a body that was full of fornicators, sodomites, liars, and thieves.  When Luther went to Rome, he expected to find a holy city. What he found appalled him and he went back to Germany deeply shaken.

I do not mean to offend, and not knowing you personally, I can imagine that you are far more devout to our Lord than I am on my best day. Nonetheless, what you wrote made the blood start to squirt out of my eyes. The writings of the Sacred Scriptures, properly interpreted, must be the foundation of our faith, else we do not know what we believe. Those who have ignored them have caused great harm to the Holy Tradition of the Church and to millions of people who have been affected by the behavior of people who acted upon the wrong interpretations of the Scriptures. Holy Tradition and Scripture cannot be separated. For instance, Holy Tradition teaches us that the Eucharist is the very Body and Blood of our Lord. This is backed by Scripture where our Lord says “This IS my Body….this IS my Blood.” Clever and devilish denials of such from Protestants are based in “sola scriptura,” yet how conveniently they ignore the Holy Tradition in which we see in the writings of the Fathers that the Real Presence is how they learned from the Apostles and how they properly interpreted the Scriptures.

Where is the Holy Tradition of three-fold immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for baptism?
Where is the Holy Tradition of giving communion to infants?
Where is the Holy Tradition of the Creed sans Filioque Clause?

All these and much more have been tossed aside rather than respected. And ultimately, until these issues are addressed by the Latin Church, along with some innovations by the Orthodox which also need correction, true union is not soon coming.

Thank you for letting me rant here. Again, my sincere apologies if I have caused personal offense, but these are my feelings on the matter. Holy Tradition has been tampered with, changed, and probably would not be recognizable as such by the Fathers of the first five centuries. Scripture and Holy Tradition must speak to and inform each other so that we have correct understanding in as much as we, as fallible human beings, can understand.

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