Local News: This Tuesday's Mission Mississippi Prayer Breakfast will be held September 17 from 6:45am to 7:45am at Mission First (275 Roseneath). For more information, contact Cecelia Norwood at (601) 608-0061or e-mail Lthigpen@fbcj.org. The purpose of Mission Mississippi's bi-weekly prayer breakfasts is to foster greater unity in the Body of Christ across racial and denominational lines. To learn more, go to www.missionmississippi.org.
Interviewer: Dr. Luther, thank you for joining us today. Our discussion topic is ancient Christian writers. You, with your background as an Augustinian monk, are no doubt very well read in classic Christian writings. Who are some of your favorite ancient Christian writers?
Luther: I much like the hymns and spiritual songs of Prudentius. He was the best of the Christian poets. Lyra's Commentaries upon the Bible are worthy of all praise. I will order them diligently to be read, for they are exceeding good, especially on the historical part of the Old Testament. Lyra is very profitable to him that is well versed in the New Testament.
Interviewer: It’s been said that you have been critical of the works of John Chrysostom, one of the most revered medieval church fathers.
Luther: I will not presume to criticize too closely the writings of the Fathers, seeing they are received at the church, and have great applause. If I lambasted them, I should be held an apostate. Still, whoever reads Chrysostom will find he often gets off track in his Biblical commentaries, saying little about the text itself. When I was expounding the Epistle to the Hebrews, and turned to what Chrysostom had written thereupon, I found it unhelpful.
Interviewer: In your disputes with your opponents over the doctrine of justification by faith alone, you and other Reformers have often appealed to the fact that your teaching is not your own, but that which was taught by the apostles and by the early church.
Luther: What the Reformation has done is not introduce a new, novel teaching into the church, but rather more fully expound on a doctrine that many of the early church fathers touched on, but didn’t put enough emphasis on.
Interviewer: You have been known to be critical of some of the Church Fathers regarding their treatment (or lack thereof) of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Some argue that because the Church Fathers didn’t emphasize the doctrine in the manner that you do, this shows that the doctrine, as it is taught by you, is an innovation, unknown to the Fathers.
Luther: It is true that the more I read the books of the Fathers, the more I find myself offended; for they were but men, and, to speak the truth, with all their repute and authority, undervalued the books and writings of the sacred apostles of Christ. There is great darkness in the books of the Fathers concerning Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. If the article of justification be darkened, it is impossible to smother the grossest errors of mankind. Even Augustine himself wrote nothing to the purpose concerning justification by faith. I can find no exposition upon the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, wherein anything is taught pure and rightly.
Interview: Do you believe St. Augustine would agree with your books on the subject of justification, or would he side with your opponents?
Luther: Don’t get me wrong. Augustine was the ablest and purest of all the doctors, but he could not of himself bring back things to their original condition. He often complains that the bishops, with their traditions and ordinances, troubled the church more than did the ancient Pharisees with their laws. He by no means would feel at home in the Western Church as it now is.
Interviewer: Do you believe the churches of the Reformation are preaching the faith “once for all delivered to the saints”, the faith that meets the historical test of orthodoxy—that which has been believed in all places and all times by all Christians?
Luther: I believe that in all ages there has been a remnant faithful to the true teaching of the gospel. If we are persecuted as a minority in our own day, this doesn’t mean we are preaching our own ideas or a newly invented version of Christianity. Nothing I have written on the subject of justification contradicts the apostles and it is they, not the Church Fathers of the post-apostolic age, who must be hailed as the highest authority.
Interviewer: Are there any other Church Fathers you’d care to say anything about?
Luther: If the master of sentences, Peter Lombard, had wholly given himself to the study of the Holy Scriptures, he would have indeed been a great and a leading doctor of the church. Unfortunately, he introduced into his books unprofitable questions, sophisticating and mingling all together. Still, he was a very diligent man, and of a high understanding; he wrote many excellent things. Another writer that comes to mind is Gabriel Biel who wrote a book upon the canon in the mass, which at I held for the best when I first discovered it. My heart bled when I read it. Scotus wrote very well upon the Magister sententiarum, and diligently essayed to teach upon those matters. Occam was an able and sensible man.
Interviewer: Do you have any comments on St. Jerome, the great Latin translator of the Bible?
Luther: St Jerome wrote commentaries on Matthew, the Epistles to Galatians and Titus, but they are very cold commentaries. He speaks not of Christ, as he truly is, but merely carries his name in his mouth. His church history works are more tolerable, but not the best. Epiphanius compiled a history of the church long before Jerome. Though lesser known, his writings are good and profitable, and, if separated from dissentious agruments, worth printing. Jerome should really not be numbered among the teachers of the church, for he was a heretic; yet I believe that he did have faith in Christ was saved.
Interviewer: Some might argue that by such complaints against the Church Fathers you would disturb the faith of some, causing them to put little stock in the writings of revered theologians.
Luther: I highly esteem many of the writings of the Church Fathers, but it is not for the reason that many others do. I am not prejudiced in favor of the Fathers as if what they wrote must be true simply by virtue of the fact that it was written by Church Fathers. I affirm much of what they wrote because it is in conformity with Scripture, not because I believe they always, as a matter of course, properly interpreted Scripture. For instance, Ambrose wrote six books upon the first book of Moses, but they are very poor.
Interviewer: In other words, you are advocating that the Church Fathers be held to the same standard as any Christian teacher today. Affirm them when they affirm the true teaching of Scripture, but don’t affirm them when they err.
Luther: Yes. The Church Fathers themselves didn’t regard themselves as being above error. They knew they were but men, liable to err. They would be the first to caution readers to take their works with a grain of salt. In reading them critically, I’m not setting myself above them. I’m merely trying to be a critical thinker after the manner that St. Paul had in mind when he said that in a church service while one is expounding on the Word, the others should “judge” or discern whether or not what’s being preached is true.
Interviewer: Dr. Luther, thank you for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure, as usual.
Luther: Thank you very much.