Sola Scriptura and the Icon

In a recent essay on sola scriptura I was informed that most of my disagreement with that notion was non-theological. That is it “attacked” a popular understanding of sola scriptura not one however held by theologians and experts. However in that disagreement there was one point that was noted as more “interesting” from a more sophisticated point of view. That was one in which I tried to exposit what Vladimir Lossky was trying to say in the introduction to The Meaning of Icons. This introduction I have in the past tried to read and understand once or twice before. However as one of the advantages of blogging, I am now inspired to put in a hard effort to unpack the short introduction … in this case with an eye to sola scriptura. Sola Scriptura is something which needs to be confronted as one examines the theology of icons. In order to better follow the thread of thought and not miss anything, I’m going to resort to the dreaded bullet list below the fold, one bullet for each paragraph. Each point will try to summarize the main point of successive paragraphs.

  • Lossky opens by noting that tradition is a word, like so many others, which has a lot of meanings, many of which have been subsumed by the secular/profane world for its own purposes. So we will have to be careful when unpacking what this might mean.
  • In past works, when we take the group of meanings of the word tradition it seems even en masse the collection of words fail to encompass the phrase “Tradition of the Church”.
  • We are faced with the necessity of drawing distinctions in our effort to reach the fullness of the meaning of Tradition especially from the first few centuries of the church. Distinguish and opposition are not the same thing. It is noted that the Reformation and Counter-Reformation fell into this error in putting Scripture and Tradition in opposition as two separate sources of Revelation, or “tacitly recognized in Tradition a realithy other than that of Scripture”.
  • In dividing Scripture and Tradition as in opposition, each must give to the other qualities it has in order that comparison might be made. For example to compare Scripture and Tradition in order to do the comparison Tradition is given qualities which belong to Scripture, i.e., text. It becomes “the ensemble of ‘other writings'”. Thus the canon of Scripture will be compares with various divisions of other writings, e.g., acts of the Ecumenical councils, writings of the Fathers, liturgy, iconography, devotional praxis, etc. But does this come closer to arriving at our original goal … unpacking and understanding what is meant by “Tradition of the Church”. Perhaps not.
  • Can we go further with a notion that instead of oppositional dialectic we instead turn to looking as the division between Tradition and Scripture as a division between written and oral? This method, if one recalls the opposition … asserts the primacy of Tradition. For oral traditions of the Apostles predated and was the source for New Testament writings. However via this method Scripture and Tradition may be affirmed yet not distinguished.
  • Another meaning for Tradition might be a distinguished following St. Basil by distinguishing dogma and kerygma. “Dogma” here was meant in a sense contrary to the modern meaning. Dogma in Basil’s age it was a teaching that was unpublished and secret. Preaching (kerygma) is the other word, which was the public teachings, acts, and doctrinal definitions of the Church. Lossky notes that dogma, in meaning secret, differs from the arcana of the Gnostics he meant those sacramantal activities which were not open to the uninitiate (the catechumate required a series of years of training and teaching before admission to the Eucharist, Baptism and other sacraments). Basil noted that sometimes secret teachings, dogma are required to become public for example to combat a particular heresy. This is taken and noted (itself from Scripture), pearls before swine et al.
  • This might be getting closer to what is meant by Tradition of the Church (and how it relates to Scripture). Examples of this release by Basil such as the sign of the Cross, eucharistic epiclesis, standing during prayer and during Pentecost, all make up a “sea” of traditions and practices too numerous to easily transcribe.
  • Here we might make note of the distinction between horizontal Tradition (that transmitted from Christ and the Apostles via oral means) with the vertical Tradition, that of the Spirit to members of the Church.

And this last point, is expounded on a bit, but the conclusion we arrive at in this opening inspection is that to strip Tradition of all that might be like Scripture, then Scripture is akin to the horizontal and Tradition the vertical, that is Word and Spirit … Scripture and Tradition. Sola Scriptura might then mean … Logos sans Spirit and a Trinitarian disaster. (Please note, that last sentence is my conclusion and … to be taken with a bigger grain of salt than the other).

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6 comments

  1. Clark Wilson says:

    Mark, could you please give this lazy person a link to the sola scriptura discussion you refer to in your first sentence?

  2. Mark says:

    Clark,
    Sure. It’s here.

  3. David Wright says:

    Hi. Thanks for this post. Even in a compressed way, you have enough thought here on scripture and tradition that I’m not sure where to begin interacting. I am still thinking about it.

    (I think I was the commenter from the first post to whom you are responding. I do hope my original comment(s) did not come across badly. E.g., I did not mean to suggest that your disagreement with sola scriptura was non-theological, just that the kind of sola scriptura being disagreed with was itself not adequately theological–a deficiency in popular self-understandings from within Protestantism or Evangelicalism).

  4. Mark says:

    David,
    If it helps, let me know what needs expanding. I’ll endeavor to do so (and although I’m traveling, I did bring the Lossky/Ousspensky Icon book with me so I can comply promptly).

    And your original comments were very helpful.

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