Saturday, October 31, 2009

Luther and Tradition / Sola Scriptura vs. Biblicism

"In preparation for the council that would eventually become the Council of Trent, Luther published in 1539 On the Councils and the Church. There he mocked the papacy and magisterium as 'masters' of the law, works, and sanctity but not Scripture. Even in the midst of satire, he was careful to note that he did not pretend to read Scripture by himself or as if no one had read it before him:

For I know that none of them attempted to read a book of Holy Scripture in school, or to use the writings of the fathers as an aid, as I did. Let them take a book of Holy Scripture and seek out the glosses of the fathers; then they will share the experience I had when I worked on the letter to the Hebrews with St. Chrysostom's glosses, the letter to Titus and the letter to the Galatians with the help of St. Jerome, Genesis with the help of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, the Psalter with all the writers available, and so on. I have read more than they think, and have worked my way through all the books; this makes them appear impudent indeed who imagine that I did not read the fathers and who want to recommend them to me as something precious, the very thing that I was forced to devaluate twenty years ago when I read the Scriptures.

This passage is telling about his mature view of extrabiblical authority. Luther read Sripture with the fathers, but he was not enslaved to them. He understood that councils and the fathers often contradicted one another. This passage is especially fascinating because of the period to which he refers was that in which he was reaching his mature Protestant views on the doctrine of justification. In other words, Luther did not reach his doctrine of justification by simply reading Scripture. Rather, he reached it by reading Scripture in dialogue with the Christian tradition."

- R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession, ch. 1, pp. 23-24

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