Now let’s look at tradition. When it comes to looking at Christian tradition the main two ways I will be doing this is by looking at a few quotes from a couple of different early Christians and referencing from traditions that are still alive today in Christianity. By quoting these early Christians I hope to present the truth that early Christians believed and valued tradition as totally necessary for practicing faithful Christianity. By referencing existing traditions and faiths such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, I hope to show that tradition is continually affirmed to be necessary in Christianity to this day. And as an obvious side note show that Sola Scriptura was not affirmed by the early church faithful and still to this day is not affirmed by the overwhelming majority of Christians.
I want to start out by quoting some well respected early Christians who affirmed that the necessity of tradition of the Apostles and that it was both written and unwritten. Before I do so I’d like to answer an important question. Does it really matter what early Christians thought about Christianity? I think it does. These people were the ones who the Apostles passed the baton to. These were the ones they wrote to. Some of these people lived during the times of the Apostles and others within 1 to 2 generations. These were the people who spoke the languages of the New Testament and were in the same cultural contexts as the Apostles. So I think their words are incredibly important.
Basil of Caesarea, De Spiritu Sancto 66
“Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the Apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay;—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
Origen De Principiis, Preface, 2
“Since many, however, of those who profess to believe in Christ differ from each other, not only in small and trifling matters, but also on subjects of the highest importance, as, e.g., regarding God, or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit; and not only regarding these, but also regarding others which are created existences, viz., the powers and the holy virtues; it seems on that account necessary first of all to fix a definite limit and to lay down an unmistakable rule regarding each one of these, and then to pass to the investigation of other points. For as we ceased to seek for truth (notwithstanding the professions of many among Greeks and Barbarians to make it known) among all who claimed it for erroneous opinions, after we had come to believe that Christ was the Son of God, and were persuaded that we must learn it from Himself; so, seeing there are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.”
John Chrysostom’s Homily on 2 Thessalonians Homily 4
“Hence it is manifest, that [the Apostles] did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther.”
Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 61.6.4
“(The Scriptures) need examination, and the perception to understand the force of each proposition. But Tradition must be used too, for not everything is available from the Sacred Scripture. thus the holy Apostles handed some things down in Scriptures but some in traditions.”
Augustine On Baptism, Against the Donatists Book II.12
“And this custom, coming, I suppose, from apostolic tradition (like many other things which are held to have been handed down under their actual sanction, because they are preserved throughout the whole Church, though they are not found either in their letters, or in the Councils of their successors) — this most wholesome custom.”
Irenaeus Against Heresies book 3, 2.2
“But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth.” Skipping a bit. It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.”
Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius Book 4.6
“Let our author, then, show this to begin with, that it is in vain that the Church has believed that the Only-begotten Son truly exists, not adopted by a Father falsely so called, but existing according to nature, by generation from Him Who is, not alienated from the essence of Him that begot Him. 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, handled on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them.”
“But with respect to the man for whose sake you enter on the discussion of the Scriptures, with the view of strengthening him when afflicted with doubts, (let me ask) will it be to the truth, or rather to heretical opinions that he will lean? Influenced by the very fact that he sees you have made no progress, whilst the other side is on an equal footing (with yourself) in denying and in defence, or at any rate on a like standing he will go away confirmed in his uncertainty by the discussion, not knowing which side to adjudge heretical. For, no doubt, they too are able to retort these things on us. It is indeed a necessary consequence that they should go so far as to say that adulterations of the Scriptures, and false expositions thereof, are rather introduced by ourselves, inasmuch as they, no less than we maintain that truth is on their side.”
Tertullian The Prescription against Heretics 18-19
“Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. But even if a discussion from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: “With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?” For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.”
Basil De Spiritu Sancto 25.
“The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of sound doctrine is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. So like the debtors — of course bona fide debtors — they clamour for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. But we will not slacken in our defense of the truth. We will not cowardly abandon the cause. The Lord has delivered to us as a necessary and saving doctrine that the Holy Spirit is to be ranked with the Father. Our opponents think differently, and see fit to divide and rend asunder, and relegate Him to the nature of a ministering spirit. Is it not then indisputable that they make their own blasphemy more authoritative than the law prescribed by the Lord?”