It seems Mr. Sungenis doesn't want to wait a few weeks to get into the
debating mode. -) Well, that's OK. While Mr. Sungenis has, to my knowledge, only one
debate to do on Long Island, I have three, and so I will be rather brief, and to the
point, in this response. I am replying to all to whom Mr. Sungenis sent his note I did not
send my e-mail to anyone but Irishchico@aol.com. For some reason, he chose to share that
note with others, and so here again we have that strange cyber-occurrence of the sudden
impromptu e-mail list.
At 0722 PM 4/15/99 -0400,
>At the end of Mr. White's letter
Irishchico, he directed Irishchico to
>the following quote from Gregory of Nyssa in an attempt to convince
>that Gregory believed in sola
scriptura. Here is the extract of
>Mr. White cites
I think what Mr. Sungenis meant to say was that I was attempting to
convince my correspondent, not myself. Be that as it may, in actuality, the quote is in a
tagfile, and I pointed to it due to the comments of Mr. Betts regarding the historicity of
sola scriptura. Hence, I was responding to that allegation regarding the patristic witness
to the concept.
>Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-95) "...we make the Holy Scriptures the
>and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that,
>and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the
>intention of those writings." On the Soul And the Resurrection
Now, please note this is a script in a tagline stored in my e-mail
program. It is not an attempt to exhaustively discuss the passage. Many people have
similar quotations and the like in their e-mail programs. BTW, I did not take this from
the Eerdman's set. This is my own translation of the passage from the TLG CD-ROM, and the
last thing I was going to do was spend my time explaining to everyone what *that* is.
>This is typical of the sleight-of-hand Mr. White and his colleagues
>engaged. Notice that Mr. White does not give the exact place where one
>find this quote in "On the Soul and the Resurrection." For
those who are
>interested, it can be found in NPNF II, Vol. 5, page 439. Once you
>context, you'll know why Mr. White does not give the exact reference -
>because the context doesn't support what Mr. White is trying to say.
Now, please note the attitude of Mr.
Sungenis. It is his common tactic to
insert in the mind of his audience the idea that those with whom he disagrees are
dishonest and deceptive. Anyone who has read his books knows this is the case (and, I
note, you can read my own books and decide for yourself if I follow such a path). Here he
asserts that I did not give an exact location for a nefarious reason (rather than the real
reason, I was translating from the Greek in the TLG, hence, the exact reference would be
meaningless to most of my correspondents in a mere tagfile). Does he have any basis for
making this assertion? None. It is mere rhetoric, a plain attempt to engage in
argumentation. As such, it is a shame. I do hope Mr. Sungenis can restrain himself on May
6th, or, at the very least, that he does not go to the lengths of Dr. Sippo, whose
response goes a long way in demonstrating the fairness of his attitudes and actions.
It would have been easy for me, if I were interested in arguing on the
level Mr. Sungenis takes here (I confess I can't even begin to imagine behavior like Dr.
Sippo's), to take him to task with similar terminology when, in his book, _Not By Faith
Alone_, Mr. Sungenis wrote
We can also prove this point grammatically. In Romans 51 Paul begins by
declaring, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith..." As noted
above, this statement treats justification as a past event. In fact, the Greek verb in the
phrase, "having been justified," is a perfect passive Greek verb which
denotes a completed past event. Evangelical James White claims that such usage of
the past tense precludes entertaining the Catholic teaching that one must fulfill
"all conditions which are necessary for achieving justification" as quoted from
Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott. What White fails to tell his readers is that the same
verbal tense appears in reference to love when Paul says in verse 5, "God has
poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit." (p. 259).
Now, if I assumed the worst about my opponents and expressed that
assumption in my writings, such a passage would be a home run for me. You see, Mr.
Sungenis puts in print the assertion that I "fail to tell" my readers something
vitally important. We can see from his recent e-mail that indeed that is what he believes,
or, at least that he wishes to communicate to others. Of course, as Mr. Sungenis knows, I
didn't "fail" to tell my readers anything, since, as he's admitted, he is in
error regarding the grammatical form of dikaiothentes in Romans 51. Now, Mr. Sungenis
believes me in error regarding Gregory, but at least in this instance, it is a fact that
can be determined upon which Mr. Sungenis has erred. Dikaiothentes is an aorist
participle, not a perfect tense verb. Hence, the entire argument (in his entire book)
against one of the KEY passages in the Protestant presentation of justification is
entirely in error.
Now, if I were to take his position, I'd say, "Now, look at Mr.
Sungenis! He misleads his readers by giving them false and bogus information,
trying to deceive them about this divine truth! How common for the Catholic
apologist to twist the Scriptures!"
Now, such would preach well, but it is hardly fair, nor honest. Mr.
Sungenis mis-parsed a Greek verb. To my knowledge, he does not teach the language, hence,
if you are not in the subject with regularity, it is easy to make a mistake. Besides, it
would be silly of him to do something like that purposefully: he may not like me, but he's
surely got to believe I'd catch the error upon the first reading of his comments. Hence,
obviously, the error was unintentional on his part. He wasn't trying to purposefully
Now, why Mr. Sungenis cannot return the favor, but chooses the "let's
paint James White as a deceiver right from the start," is beyond me. It's
unfortunate, and may well bode of things to come.
>If you don't have
NPNF, here is what Gregory says before and after the
>Mr. White extracted
> "You are quite justified, she replied, in raising this question,
and it has
>ere this been discussed by many elsewhere; namely, what we are to
>the principle of desire and the principle of anger within us.....The
>generality of men still fluctuate in their opinions about this, which
>erroneous as they are numerous. As for ourselves, if the Gentile
>which deals methodically with all these points, were really adequate
>demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion
>soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker
>pleased, we are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming
>we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of
>tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone
>may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings. We must
>therefore neglect the Platonic chariot and the pair of horses of
>forces yoked to it, and their driver, whereby the philosopher
>these facts about the soul; we must neglect also all that is said by
>philosopher who succeeded him and who followed out probabilities by
>I have italicized the quote which Mr. White extracted from Gregory so
>you can contrast it with the context. Here's the $64,000 Is Gregory
>Scripture against Church authority or the Tradition of the Church? Do
>find one word about such entities in here? The answer is NO. Gregory
>pitting Scripture against speculative philosophy, which every Father
>When Gregory is arguing against Gentile philosophers and the like, he
>quotes Scripture, for the pagans will listen to little else,
>esoteric topics such as the soul.
That is a fascinating reading of the passage, but, I don't know how Mr.
Sungenis comes to his conclusions. Nor do I see how, or why, Mr. Sungenis misses the
import of Gregory's statement. Let's look at it. Mr. Sungenis inserts into the text issues
of "Church authority" and "Tradition of the Church." Where do these
terms appear in the text? Indeed, where did I say "here Gregory pits Scripture
against these concepts." See, Mr. Sungenis assumes the anachronistic existence
of what his modern Roman Catholic authorities teach him regarding such ideas as
"Tradition (with a capital T no less!) of the Church, and on that basis, misses the
whole point of Gregory's statement. I am reminded of the words of Ignatius of Loyola in
such instances as this
"That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with
the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes
appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it black." - [St. Ignatius
Loyola, "Rules for Thinking with the Church", Rule 13, (cited from Documents of
the Christian Church, pp. 364-365, ed. Henry Bettenson, New York
Be that as it may, I can assure Mr. Sungenis that I don't believe Gregory
was pitting the authority of Scripture against anything. His words are plain Scripture is
the kanoni and nomw of EVERY (pantos) dogmatos, according to Gregory. I ask you: does he
ever make such a statement concerning "Tradition"? Where is the parallel passage
affirming the authority of "oral tradition." There are none, and, as we shall
see, those offered by Mr. Sungenis don't even come close.
So I ask if indeed Gregory believed in sola ecclesia, why utter such
words? Would Robert Sungenis ever say to an audience, "we make Scripture the canon
and rule of EVERY dogma" and that we "approve that alone which may be made to
harmonize with the intention of those writings"? I'd like to hear that, because I
would then ask him to show me where such dogmas as the Bodily Assumption can fit in such a
Quite simply, the quote stands. Mr. Sungenis might well be charged with
the "sleight of hand" he accuses me of, since he does not, in fact, deal with
the text itself, nor does he show us how the context in the slightest changes the
application that I would see it having.
Now, given that Mr. Sungenis inserts the concept of "tradition"
into the discussion, I would like to introduce two quick quotes from Roman Catholics that
might be of interest to the less jaded reader:
When one hears today the call for a return to a
patristic interpretation of Scripture, there is often latent in it a recollection of
Church documents that spoke at times of the "unanimous consent of the Fathers"
as the guide for biblical interpretation.(fn. 23) But just what this would entail is far
from clear. For, as already mentioned, there were Church Fathers who did use a form of the
historical-critical method, suited to their own day, and advocated a literal
interpretation of Scripture, not the allegorical. But not all did so. Yet there was no
uniform or monolithic patristic interpretation, either in the Greek Church of the East,
Alexandrian or Antiochene, or in the Latin Church of the West. No one can ever tell us
where such a "unanimous consent of the fathers" is to be found, and Pius XII
finally thought it pertinent to call attention to the fact that there are but few texts
whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, "nor are those more
numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous." (fn. 24) Joseph
A. Fitzmyer, Scripture, The Soul of Theology (New York Paulist Press, 1994), p. 70.
To imagine that the Church, at a given moment in its history, could hold
as of a faith a point which had no statable support in Scripture, would amount to thinking
that an article of faith could exist without bearing any relation to the centre of
revelation, and thus attributing to the Church and its magisterium a gift equivalent to
the charism of revelation, unless we postulate, gratuitously, the existence of an esoteric
oral apostolic tradition, for which there exists no evidence whatsoever. It is an express
principle of Catholic teaching that the Church can only define what has been revealed;
faith can only have to do with what is formally guaranteed by God. Yves M.-J.
Tradition and Traditions An Historical and a Theological Essay (London Burns & Oates,
1966), p. 414.
Some might see something important in those quotes. Some might not. -)
>Now, contrast Mr. White's attempt to make Gregory a sola scriptura
Actually, I believe the text proves he was NOT a sola ecclesia man, which,
of course, is the only important thing, if you understand the actual debate.
>the occasion in which Gregory actually does talk about the Church and
>Tradition. For example Here's another quote from Gregory
>"And yet if those had been the more appropriate names, the Truth
>would not have been at a loss to discover them, nor those men either,
>successively devolved the preaching of the mystery, whether they were
>the first eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, or, as successors
>these, filled the whole world with the Evangelical doctrines, and
>various periods after this defined in a common assembly the
>raised about the doctrine; whose traditions are constantly preserved
>writing in the churches" (Against
Eunomius, I13, NPNF II, V50).
Again, one is not sure where Mr. Sungenis is going. I could use the same
tactic and speak about what Mr. Sungenis "doesn't want you to read" (doesn't
that kind of behavior get tiring?), but that accomplishes nothing. Here's what comes
before the quote just given
Such is his blasphemy systematized! May the Very God, Son of the Very God,
by the leading of the Holy Spirit, direct our discussion to the truth! We will repeat his
statements one by one. He asserts that the "whole account of his doctrines is summed
up in the Supreme and Absolute Being, and in another Being existing by reason of the
First, but after It though before all others, and in a third Being not ranking with either
of these but inferior to the one as to its cause, to the other as to the energy" The
first point, then, of the unfair dealings in this statement to be noticed is that in
professing to expound the mystery of the Faith, he corrects as it were the expressions in
the Gospel, and will not make use of the words by which our Lord in perfecting our faith
conveyed that mystery to us he suppresses the names of Father, Son and Holy
Ghost, and speaks of a Supreme and Absolute Being instead of the Father,
of another existing through it, but after it instead of the Son, and of
a third ranking with neither of these two instead of the Holy Ghost.
So please notice that the context has to do with the names Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost. Gregory insists that these names are part of the "mystery of the
Faith" and are "expressions in the Gospel" that were conveyed to us by our
Lord. Now, wherein are these words so communicated to us? In a nebulous, undefined
"tradition," or in the "Gospel," i.e., Matthew 2819, for example? So
what is Mr. Sungenis' claim? That if Gregory ever uses the word "tradition" that
this must mean that 1) he held to Sungenis' understanding of authority, and 2) that he was
investing this word with the modern Roman intention? What "tradition" is Gregory
referring to, Mr. Sungenis? Where has it been officially defined for you? If you can't
tell me, I can't see how your quotation is at all relevant to the task you pursue.
>Here's another "The doctrine of the true faith is clear in the
>tradition we receive, in accordance with the Lord's wish, in the bath
>new birth" (Epistles, 24; PG 461088D).
That's a fascinating quote, Bob. However, that epistle isn't in
You give the Migne reference. Do you have Migne, Bob? Did you translate this passage
yourself? If you have Sgreek.ttf, here is the reference
(O th=j u(giainou/shj pi/stewj lo/goj toi=j eu)gnwmo/nwj
ta\j qeopneu/stouj fwna\j paradexome/noij e)n tv= a(plo/thti
th\n i)sxu\n e)/xei kai\ ou)demia=j lo/gou perinoi/aj ei)j para/-
stasin th=j a)lhqei/aj prosdei=tai, au)to/qen w)\n lhpto\j kai\
safh\j e)k th=j prw/thj parado/sewj, h(\n e)k th=j tou= kuri/ou
fwnh=j parela/bomen e)n t%= loutr%= th=j paliggenesi/aj to\
th=j swthri/aj musth/rion parado/ntoj
Possibly the term "theopneustos" should have caught your
attention? If it didn't, the context should have:
fhsi/, maqhteu/sate pa/nta ta\
e)/qnh, bapti/zontej au)tou\j
ei)j to\ o)/noma tou= patro\j
kai\ tou= ui(ou= kai\ tou= a(gi/ou pneu/-
matoj, dida/skontej threi=n pa/nta
o(/sa e)neteila/mhn u(mi=n
And what is the "tradition" to which Gregory refers, Bob?
Matthew 2819. There's your "tradition" a direct quotation of the Scriptures. Art
Sippo spoke of attention to context: tell us honestly, Mr. Sungenis was this a reference
you gleaned from a secondary source, and had you ever even checked the context? Yes or no?
In reality, it is a strong affirmation of the accuracy of my own citation of Gregory, for
it again affirms, clearly, the superiority of his view of Scripture, and even identifies
his "tradition" with a Scriptural passage! Thank you for bringing up this
>Here's more. In Mr. White's book Sola Scriptura The
Protestant Position on
>the Bible, which he recommended that John Betts read,
Well, Bob, thank you for the compliment, but, it's not my book. Don
Kistler edited it, and I wrote one chapter.
>Mr. White says the
>following about a quote from Basil, which, unbeknownst to Mr. White,
>comes from Gregory of Nyssa
Again, I'm not sure why you think I was not aware of the issue of whether
this section of Basil is from him or Gregory. Have you ever even bothered to ask me if I
am aware of that discussion? Anyone checking the reference, however, in the source I am
citing, will find it in Basil, not Gregory.
> Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that
>Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair
>the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and
>orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it
>certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which
>here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them.
>let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be
>doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will
>the vote of truth.
>First, I should reiterate that patristic scholars recognize the above
>as originating in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa, not Basil.
>I will deal with the citation as it appears in Basil in
>is that Mr. White chose this citation from Basil to prove that Basil
>in the doctrine of sola
scriptura, and indeed, a first reading of it
>give such an impression to the uniformed reader.
Actually, I cite the passage because of what it says, not because of what
I'd like anyone to believe about the beliefs of Basil or Gregory. The passage's import is
clear the deciding factor is not tradition, but God-inspired Scripture. That is a
distinctly "Protestant" concept. If you and I were to debate the Marian dogmas,
I'd challenge you on the same basis, and I really, really doubt you would defend them by
making statements such as those I cited.
>But let's look very closely
>at what Basil is saying. First, Basil states that his opponent's
>not to be regarded as the "rule of orthodoxy." Then he says,
"If custom is to
>be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for
>put forward on my side the custom which obtains here" showing
that it is his
>tradition [Basil's tradition] which is the correct tradition. Thus, on
>basis of tradition versus tradition, Basil declares himself the
Well, that's not even an accurate reading of his point. He is simply
saying that if they put forward their custom, Basil can put his forward as well. He makes
no statements like "I am the winner." Such is simply a very poor reading of the
>anything, he is establishing and defending the tradition of the
>demoting it. He reinforces his reliance on tradition by saying,
>reject this [the Church's tradition], we are clearly not bound to
Excuse me?! You are not serious here, are you, Mr.
Sungenis? I hope all
see who has to make insertions with brackets and who does not.
>Having said this, Basil now proceeds to Scripture and suggests that
>serve as the judge between them. Considering what Basil said above
>reliance on tradition, are we to assume that Basil is suddenly
>belief in Tradition in favor of Scripture? Not at all.
Sungenis, Basil nowhere said a word about his "reliance on
tradition." Note how tremendously inaccurately you must handle this text, even going
so far as to then anachronistically insert "belief in Tradition" (with capital
T) into your statements! This is a tremendous example of how Roman Catholic apologists
cannot allow the early Fathers to speak in the context in which they originally lived and
wrote. *I* can allow them to be who they were *you* must make them something else. A
tremendous example indeed.
>We must also add that in Basil's argument from Scripture with his
>he spends most of his time reasoning out conclusions from the
>incomplete information that Scripture contains. For example, in the
>Eustathius that the Mr White cited, Basil is trying to convince his
>of the divinity and personality of the Holy Spirit. For anyone
>Scripture, this is no small task, since Scripture's references to
>characteristics of the Holy Spirit are sparse at best.
Interestingly enough, I managed to fill an entire chapter with
exegetically sound arguments for the personality and deity of the Spirit (_The Forgotten
Trinity_, pp. 139-151), and I was being brief.
>Now, let's treat the passage as it originates in Gregory of Nyssa's
>Gregory's context is very similar to Basil's. He is in a battle with
>Pneumatomachi, who, based on their own tradition, accuse Gregory of
>"preaching three Gods" or "they allege that while we
confess three Persons we
>say that there is one goodness..."
(NPNF, Vol. 5, p. 326).
>states "But the ground of their complaint is that their custom
>admit this, and Scripture does not support it." Gregory then
gives the same
>reply that Basil gives. Since the Pneumatomachi will not listen to the
>Tradition or authority of the Church, Gregory goes to Scripture to
>case. As for Gregory's dedication to the Church and her Tradition he
> For it is enough for proof of our statement, that the tradition has
>come down to us from our Fathers, handed on, like some inheritance, by
>succession from the Apostles and the saints who came after them
Again, the accuracy of your use of scholarly sources is distressing, Mr.
Sungenis. A little context, perhaps? The section begins
Now seeing that the Church, according to the Divine teaching, believes the
Only-begotten to be verily God, and abhors the superstition of polytheism, and for this
cause does not admit the difference of essences, in order that the Godheads may not, by
divergence of essence, fall under the conception of number (for this is nothing else than
to introduce polytheism into our life) seeing, I say, that the Church teaches this
in plain language, that the Only-begotten is essentially God, very God of the essence of
the very God, how ought one who opposes her decisions to overthrow the preconceived
opinion? Should he not do so by establishing the opposing statement, demonstrating the
disputed point from some acknowledged principle? I think no sensible man would look for
anything else than this.
Now, I hope you are not suggesting that this "Divine teaching"
is extra-biblical since, obviously, truths such as these are pre-eminently
biblical. Then we come to the section you cited, partially, anyway:
But so long as his primary proposition remains unproved, it is idle to
dwell on those which are secondary. And let no one interrupt me, by saying that what we
confess should also be confirmed by constructive reasoning for it is enough for proof of
our statement, that the tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handed on, like
some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them.
They, on the other hand, who change their doctrines to this novelty, would need the
support of arguments in abundance, if they were about to bring over to their views, not
men light as dust, and unstable, but men of weight and steadiness but so long as their
statement is advanced without being established, and without being proved, who is so
foolish and so brutish as to account the teaching of the evangelists and apostles, and of
those who have successively shone like lights in the churches, of less force than this
Sungenis, if you wish to use such a passage to substantiate the
Roman Catholic view, you will have to demonstrate that what was handed on, in Gregory's
words, was, in some sense, relevant to your "Tradition," and I see nothing in
the text that would even begin to substantiate that position. What has handed on by the
Apostles, as he says, is the truth already stated that the monogenes is "essentially
God." That's biblical language, Mr. Sungenis, and has no more weight in establishing
your position than if I said, "My church is consistent in its beliefs and has stood
firm on biblical truths." How does that establish your "Tradition"? Would
you care, after explaining the above citation of Gregory, to expand upon this one as well?
>And what does Gregory think of his Church?
>"While the Church teaches that we must not divide our faith
>plurality of beings, but must recognize no difference of being in
>Subjects or Persons, whereas our opponents posit a variety and
>amongst them as Beings...." (Against
Eunomius, Book I, 19).
Again, I can only ask, "So?" The Church teaches faithfully what
is delivered to her by God in Scripture. I say to someone who asks about the Phoenix
Reformed Baptist Church, "The Church teaches that the Scriptures are sufficient
because they are God speaking to us, whereas our opponents wish to subjugate us to
external, and non-inspired, authorities." How is that different?
>In fact, you will NEVER find a statement in Gregory which pits the
>of the Church against the authority of Scripture.
Sungenis, that's a straw man, as I demonstrated above. I did not
suggest he did I suggested that he did not make the Church what you make it, and did not
hold to a view of "Tradition" with a capital T as you do. And, that has been
rather clearly demonstrated.
>In fact, you will NEVER
>find any Father who does it. The challenge for Mr. White is to find us
>passages. Let's cease with the passages that are constantly brought
>proof of sola scriptura which, when examined, merely extol the quality
>Scripture over against man and his ideas. Let's see if Mr. White can
>just one recognized Father who says that Scripture is the authority
>Church, that we are to subsume every belief under Scripture, no matter
>the Church teaches; or that Scripture is the authority over Tradition,
>what was passed down as apostolic tradition is not an authority as
>Scripture and should not necessarily be used to interpret Scripture.
>will do Mr. White. Until then, I suggest you remove Gregory of Nyssa
We have already seen that Gregory makes the Scriptures the
"kanoni" and "nomw" of every dogma. I challenge you, Mr.
show me one place where Gregory makes "Tradition" the canon and rule of ANY
dogma, let alone EVERY dogma. I look forward to seeing this.
Secondly, just as you raised a red herring at the end of the Papacy debate
in Boston, so you do here as well. You speak of your "Tradition," yet, you don't
even begin to attempt to show us this "Tradition" in the sources you've cited,
or mis-cited, as the case may be. But I shall provide you with at least one interesting
citation, at least taken in context, that you might find interesting
At the same time, as I have said already, it is to the canonical
Scriptures alone that I am bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow their
teaching, without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake or any
statement intended to mislead could find a place." (The Confessions of St. Augustine,
Letter LXXXII, Sec. 24)
Could you provide me a parallel passage from Augustine in which he says
that "it is to Tradition ALONE that I am bound to yield such implicit subjection as
to follow their teaching"? I look forward to seeing such a statement.
Thank you for taking the time to read all of this. I have been fascinated
to note that both Dr. Sippo and Mr. Betts have applauded wildly the "brilliant"
effort you put forth. Yet, I don't get the feeling that either of them took even a few
moments to check your work, as I did. Amazing how something can *look* so good and yet be
so fundamentally *flawed* when you actually take the time to do a little homework! This
has been, indeed, a learning experience---hopefully for us all.
Mr. Sungenis replied the next day. If you are
interested, here's that interchange: click here.