Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Protestant Reformation’s 500th Birthday

Interpretation of the Holy Scriptures in Protestantism is a mess.  One group or person claims a passage means one thing, while others see a different meaning and separate from the aforementioned.  It has been like this since the Protestant Reformation began.  A fine ensample of this mindset in action deals with the so-called Apocryphal books (which the Orthodox accept as fully canonical).

Notably, the Geneva Bible was the first to produce an English Old Testament translation entirely from the Hebrew text. Like its predecessors, it included the Apocrypha. In fact, the King James Bible of 1611 also incorporated the Apocrypha, including the Story of Susanna, the History of the Destruction of Bel and the Dragon (both additions to Daniel), and the Prayer of Manasseh.

In short, none of the major Bible translations that emerged during the German, Swiss, or English reformations produced a Bible of simply 66 books. It is true that beyond the 66 books the other 7 (or more) were viewed as deuterocanonical, hence the term apocrypha, but nonetheless, they were still seen as having some authority.

So when and where does the Protestant Bible of 66 books show up? This practice was not standardized until 1825 when the British and Foreign Bible Society, in essence, threw down the gauntlet and said, “These 66 books and no others.” But this was not the Bible of Luther, Calvin, Knox, or even the Wesleys, who used the Authorized Version. Protestants had long treated the extra books as, at best, deuterocanonical. Some had even called them non-canonical, and there were some precedents for printing a Bible without these books. For example, there was a minority edition of the Great Bible from after 1549 that did not include the Apocrypha, and a 1575 edition of the Bishop’s Bible also excluded those books. The 1599 and 1640 printings of the Geneva Bible left them out as well. But in any event, these books had not been treated as canonical by many Protestants.

The Orthodox take a different approach to understanding the Bible.  Rather than depending on an academic study of it using the discursive reason alone, the Orthodox would say that true knowledge of the Scriptures increases only with an increase in one’s holiness.  This is not the legalistic, accountancy holiness of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, in which mankind’s sin debt is put on the balance sheet against the infinite merits of Christ, but real holiness, real union with God.

St Symeon the New Theologian (+1022) teaches,

Be assured, my brethren, that nothing is so conducive for saving us as the following of the divine precepts of the Savior.  Nevertheless we shall need many tears, much fear, much patience and persistent prayer, if the full meaning of even one single saying of the Master is to be revealed to us, in order that we may know the great mystery hidden in small words, and lay down our lives unto death even for a single dot of God’s commandments (Symeon the New Theologian: The Discourses, trans. deCatanzaro, Paulist Press, 1980, pgs. 67-8).

St Athanasius the Great (+373) says also in the final section of The Incarnation of the Word,

But for the searching and right understanding of the Scriptures there is need of a good life and a pure soul, and for Christian virtue to guide the mind to grasp, so far as human nature can, the truth concerning God the Word. One cannot possibly understand the teaching of the saints unless one has a pure mind and is trying to imitate their life. Anyone who wants to look at sunlight naturally wipes his eye clear first, in order to make, at any rate, some approximation to the purity of that on which he looks; and a person wishing to see a city or country goes to the place in order to do so. Similarly, anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds. Thus united to them in the fellowship of life, he will both understand the things revealed to them by God and, thenceforth escaping the peril that threatens sinners in the judgment, will receive that which is laid up for the saints in the kingdom of heaven. Of that reward it is written: "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared" (1 Cor. 2. 9) for them that live a godly life and love the God and Father in Christ Jesus our Lord, through Whom and with Whom be to the Father Himself, with the Son Himself, in the Holy Spirit, honour and might and glory to ages of ages. Amen.

Understanding the Bible is no easy thing.  But many Southerners don’t know any better.  They think the only alternatives are the Roman Catholic papal dictatorship and the Protestant ‘freedom’/anarchy of sola Scriptura.  So many in the South are understandably lauding the Reformation as the better choice of the two:

But the South has always been a land very friendly toward tradition, which will lead her, if she lets it, back to the Orthodox Church of her Western European and African forebears.  The Reformation, on the other hand, is the very negation of tradition, as even their hymn-writing testifies:

Dr Clark Carlton, a good Southerner himself, delves more deeply into this theme in his book on Protestantism:

But if Dixie stubbornly insists on following the Reformation way, she will end up just like Western Europe, ravaged so badly first by Roman Catholicism and then Protestantism, where only a few tattered shreds of Christianity remain.


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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