Wednesday, August 12, 2009

James Swan on Athanasius

Mr. Swan has an interesting commentary on Athanasius and various other things dealing with the Reformation and Catholicism. Below we will provide Mr. Swan's comments in italics and bold underlining. We will also respond to a portion of Mr. White's article.

It's sometimes argued the Reformers didn't have the right to call for the reform of the Roman church. How could a small minority challenge the authority of the established majority? Of course, there are many nuances and rabbit trails to meander down when one gets into this discussion- like did the reformers have miracles to prove their reform efforts? or who left who: did the reformers leave, or were they expelled? I'd like to bypass those topics for a bit, and apply what I'll dub, the rule of consistency.

Had the Reformers actually CALLED for the Reform of the Church and not adopted new theological doctrines never known to Christianity before then it would have been quite fine. But what we have from Luther to Calvin to Zwingli is a transformation of what Christianity was always about to what many have appropriately dubbed the DEFORMATION of Christianity. The outrage of the Reformation is not because of a "minority" challenging the larger group of Christians. Rather, the outrage stems from the fact that Christianity evolved in a different way. We would eventually see the rise of the man made tradition of Sola Scriptura. The teaching of sola fide as taught by the reformers, something completely alien to not only the Bible but the Early Church. Mr. Swan would have you believe that the Reformers "had the right to call for the reform of the Roman church."

But he fails to explain that the reformers so strongly opposed each other as well that you can't truly lump the Reformers together in a single aspect of their desired "reform".

Let's assume that the Reformers were wrong to go against the established church. The majority position was the Roman position at the time of the Reformation. What then do we do with Athanasius? I recently re-read Dr. White's article, What Really Happened at Nicea? The section most pertinent to this is about half way down entitled, "The Aftermath." Dr. White explains:

Again Mr. Swan is confused as to why the radical Reformation was out of line. This confusion, then, allows the Protestant mindset to compare Athanasius to that of the Reformation. The real winner is in the fact that Athanasius held to so many core teachings of the Catholic faith that the Protestant Reformers themselves would later abandon and speak strongly against!

We will move onwards to examine Mr. White's article that Mr. Swan has presented for us.

Modern Christians often have the impression that ancient councils held absolute sway, and when they made "the decision," the controversy ended. This is not true. Though Nicea is seen as one of the greatest of the councils, it had to fight hard for acceptance. The basis of its final victory was not the power of politics, nor the endorsement of established religion. There was one reason the Nicene definition prevailed: its fidelity to the testimony of the Scriptures.

To claim that the reason Nicaea eventually prevailed was because of the testimony of the Scriptures is straining it a tad bit. Of course, no Christian would argue that the Scriptures don't speak to the full truth of the deity of Christ. But most individuals who are actually familiar with Nicaea and the events that surrounded it and it's aftermath are well aware of the victory of the EXTRA BIBLICAL term HOMOOUSIOS. Of course, the reality that Christ was of the same substance of the Father can surely be found within the Sacred Scriptures, but is also well entrenched within the teaching of the Church from it's very inception. In fact, as Mr. White will later admit, Nicaea did not even touch upon the topic of the Canon. Therefore, the Nicene position prevailed because of it's "fidelity to the testimony of the Scriptures" and the constant teaching of the Fathers of the Church in safeguarding the Sacred Tradition that is so much a part of our faith.

During the six decades between the Council of Nicea and the Council of Constantinople in 381, Arianism experienced many victories. There were periods where Arian bishops constituted the majority of the visible ecclesiastical hierarchy. Primarily through the force of political power, Arian sympathizers soon took to undoing the condemnation of Arius and his theology. Eusebius of Nicomedia and others attempted to overturn Nicea, and for a number of decades it looked as if they might succeed. Constantine adopted a compromising position under the influence of various sources, including Eusebius of Caesarea and a politically worded "confession" from Arius. Constantine put little stock in the definition of Nicea itself: he was a politician to the last. Upon his death, his second son Constantius ruled in the East, and he gave great aid and comfort to Arianism. United by their rejection of the homoousion, semi-Arians and Arians worked to unseat a common enemy, almost always proceeding with political power on their side.

Under Constantius, council after council met in this location or that. So furious was the activity that one commentator wrote of the time, "The highways were covered with galloping bishops." Most importantly, regional councils meeting at Ariminum, Seleucia, and Sirmium presented Arian and semi-Arian creeds, and many leaders were coerced into subscribing to them. Even Liberius, bishop of Rome, having been banished from his see (position as bishop) and longing to return, was persuaded to give in and compromise on the matter.

During the course of the decades following Nicea, Athanasius, who had become bishop of Alexandria shortly after the council, was removed from his see five times, once by force of 5,000 soldiers coming in the front door while he escaped out the back! Hosius, now nearly 100 years old, was likewise forced by imperial threats to compromise and give place to Arian ideas. At the end of the sixth decade of the century, it looked as if Nicea would be defeated. Jerome would later describe this moment in history as the time when "the whole world groaned and was astonished to find itself Arian."

Yet, in the midst of this darkness, a lone voice remained strong. Arguing from Scripture, fearlessly reproaching error, writing from refuge in the desert, along the Nile, or in the crowded suburbs around Alexandria, Athanasius continued the fight. His unwillingness to give place- even when banished by the Emperor, disfellowshipped by the established church, and condemned by local councils and bishops alike- gave rise to the phrase, Athanasius contra mundum: "Athanasius against the world." Convinced that Scripture is "sufficient above all things," Athanasius acted as a true "Protestant" in his day. Athanasius protested against the consensus opinion of the established church, and did so because he was compelled by scriptural authority. Athanasius would have understood, on some of those long, lonely days of exile, what Wycliffe meant a thousand years later: "If we had a hundred popes, and if all the friars were cardinals, to the law of the gospel we should bow, more than all this multitude."

Movements that depend on political favor (rather than God's truth) eventually die, and this was true of Arianism. As soon as it looked as if the Arians had consolidated their hold on the Empire, they turned to internal fighting and quite literally destroyed each other. They had no one like a faithful Athanasius, and it was not long before the tide turned against them. By A.D. 381, the Council of Constantinople could meet and reaffirm, without hesitancy, the Nicene faith, complete with the homoousious clause. The full deity of Christ was affirmed, not because Nicea had said so, but because God had revealed it to be so. Nicea's authority rested upon the solid foundation of Scripture. A century after Nicea, we find the great bishop of Hippo, Augustine, writing to Maximin, an Arian, and saying: "I must not press the authority of Nicea against you, nor you that of Ariminum against me; I do not acknowledge the one, as you do not the other; but let us come to ground that is common to both- the testimony of the Holy Scriptures."

After Mr. White's article concludes, Mr. Swan comments:

I often wonder about those who attack the Reformers for standing against the majority, and how they explain Athanasius.

Athanasius was an Early Father who stood for the truth of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Athanasius, like Ireneaus, Martyr, Tertullian, and others...was a heresy hunter that stood for the truth of the Catholic faith. There is a huge difference in Athanasius and the Reformers who squabbled even amongst each other! Athanasius stood against what he perceived was a deviation from the TRUE faith. The testimony of the Scripture and the Early Fathers backed him up 100 percent!

Can we say the same of SOLA FIDE?


Where are these teachings in the Early Church? Where are these teachings in the Bible?

The Reformers did their best to act JUST like the Arians did. Would Athanasius have been proud of the Reformers changing the teachings of the Church that he so STRONGLY HELD TO--->

The Corporeal Presence of Christ in the Eucharist

The Intercession of the Saints

Veneration of Mary, and so much more could be brought up!

If anyone gives it a close look, they can see the Reformers for being SIMILAR to the Arians in the time of Athanasius. The Reformers were not similar in the sense of denying the DEITY OF CHRIST. But in the sense of going against the Scriptures and going against the testimony of the Fathers of the faith...the Reformers stand side by side with the Arians in deviating from eternal truths of the faith.

If we were to have witnessed Athanasius up close, would it appear that he was standing against the church?

Athanasius stood up against those that attempted to deviate from the faith of the CHURCH that Jesus Christ left us. Athanasius NEVER once stood up against the eternal truth of the Catholic faith that Christ left us.

By what authority did he do so? Did he have miracles to back up his "mission"? Did he have "ordinary" or "extraordinary" authority to stand against the majority? On what basis, during the time period in which he lived, could one have judged him to be a true or false reformer?

Athanasius had the same authority ALL of us have in today's day and age in the faith. He had the obligation, as a shepherd of the flock of Christ, to stand up for the Catholic faith and to defend it's teachings! It would have been easy to have judged him as a false reformer. Athanasius, was in fact, AGAINST REFORM in the Church! This is the very subject Mr. Swan mistakes in his article. ATHANASIUS was against the eternal truth of the WORD OF GOD being reformed by the Arians. Athanasius wanted the one truth FAITH preserved in it's entirety, and the honor and truth of CHRIST to be kept intact! He was hardly a reformer in the sense that Mr. White or Mr. Swan would like you to believe.

People rebel against authority all the time, be they Catholic or Protestant. The real question: is their rebellion supported by the infallible source of truth, the Sacred Scriptures? Consider my Protestant friends, the recent Harold Camping debate shows, particularly Day 2. The logic and exegesis of the Bible used by Mr. Camping was outrageous: it was pure gnosticism. We don't have to appeal to an infallible church or council to deem Mr. Camping heretical. The Bible itself, if allowed to be read like any document should be read, shows that Mr. Camping is in dire error.

That brings us to the utter failure of Protestantism. The beaten like a dead horse argument of

How does Mr. Swan know what the "Sacred" Scriptures are? Does the Bible itself notify him of the books that are to be in his Canon? Or is Mr. Swan relying on some OUTSIDE authority to define just what his traditional canon will be? Mr. Camping's teachings, we are told, are "pure gnosticism."

The one little detail that Mr. Swan fails to realize himself, is that at least GNOSTICISM predates the man made traditions of SOLA FIDE and SOLA SCRIPTURA. That's when you've got to really examine yourself. Mr. Swan doesn't need an infallible Church or Council to deem what his authority should be. It's the traditions of the Reformers for him. But which Reformers?

Mr. Swan goes on, examining a portion of a Catholic apologist's blog then commenting by saying

The Lord Jesus clearly held these men responsible for knowing and understanding the Scriptures. Were the Sadducees supposed to respond, "How could we? We did not have an infallible interpreter of the Bible!"

The problem herein lies in the fact that the Reformers, even if they wanted to deny any sort of hierarchy in the Church, they could have viewed the testimony of the Fathers and Councils and Church History as a whole. What would later come from the Reformation and beyond is simply a distortion of Christianity.

Mr. Swan further states

Take the sacraments for example. During the early centuries the church did not limit the number of sacraments to seven. There were more, or less. Some lists had less than seven, others had as many as thirty. It wasn't until the mid-13th century that the number was finally set at seven. How does one decide how many there are? From the Bible.

In the early centuries of the Christian Church the number surely is NOT limited to seven. There is a clear reason for this. Whereas we find the number at times shorter or at times inflated, a careful examination shows that the word Sacrament amongst the Fathers did NOT always mean what it means today. The terminology in usage of the time at times simply meant certain aspects of the Christian faith as well as other things, as many historians have noted. The fact that be pointed out, though, is that the early Church always recognized the grace that flowed from what were later officially set into 7 Sacraments. So it wasn't a later development. The reality of the 7 sacraments and the grace conveyed from them was ALWAYS taught in the Early Church. It was clear, though, that the term had a wide range of usage in the Early Church.

As to the insistence that the Reformers simply stated, "I'm right" "without consulting traditions or authorities" - this is simply historically untrue, say for someone like John Calvin. He had a decent grasp of church history. In Luther's case, he stated, "the sum of my argument is that whereas the words of men, and the use of the centuries, can be tolerated and endorsed, provided they do not conflict with the sacred Scriptures, nevertheless they do not make articles of faith, nor any necessary observances." This is a far cry from "History meant nothing anymore."

So Calvin had a DECENT grasp of Church history. We wonder how Mr. White, Swan's AOMIN boss would feel about such a comment. Mr. White is a Calvinist and we could only imagine him cringing at the thought that the creator of his religion was only DECENT in Church history. Of course, we wouldn't contend such a comment. Calvin was confused as to the issues of the Biblical canon as well as completely out in left field when it came to the Ignatian epistles, dismissing them all as trash.

If there is another infallible rule of faith besides the Scriptures that could've helped out Athanasius, where was it?

Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture. (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 6)

Athanasius comments on “BUT IF A COUNCIL BE NEEDED..”

Why would a council be needed when Scripture is SUFFICIENT above all things? Mr. Swan, like others at the AOMIN camp, seems to be confused on Athanasius and his theology.

Why did Athanasius have to struggle for his life against the church majority?

Mr. Swan's comments seem a tad bit misleading. He phrases such in order to try and harmonize the Reformation with Christianity's great battles for the faith. Unfortunately the difference is quite startling. Athanasius struggled against those that were trying to usurp the orthodox faith. The Reformation attempted to do exactly what the Arians were doing in principle. That is, USURP the orthodox Christian faith.

Why did he have to argue his position from Scripture? Why couldn't he have argued from some other infallible authority?

Athanasius never CONFINED himself SOLELY to Scripture. And as I pointed out to Mr. White before, the Arians were twisting and distorting the Biblical text beyond belief. It's logical that Athanasius would argue from the Scriptures against individuals DISTORTING the Sacred text of GOD. But still..we find Protestantism attempting their very best to adopt a few of the Fathers to help support their positions. It's unfortunate that the early Church was Catholic and didn't have an ounce of Protestantism running through it's veins.


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