The Sola Scriptura of Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo by BotticelliFor I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the MS. [manuscript] is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error. Far be such arrogance from that humble piety and just estimate of yourself which I know you to have, and without which assuredly you would not have said, “Would that I could receive your embrace, and that by converse we might aid each other in learning!”

[Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430), Letter LXXXII (82) to Jerome, “Letters of St. Augustin,” translated by J.G. Cunningham, in Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume 1, (Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., reprinted 2004), 350.]

June 15 is the feast day for St. Augustine of Hippo on the Eastern Orthodox church calendar. On the Roman Catholic church calendar, Augustine is commemorated on the anniversary of his death, August 28.

The Sola Scriptura of Thomas Aquinas

“The Glory of Thomas Aquinas,” by Benozzo GozzoliNevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities [i.e., philosophers who are able to know the truth by natural reason] as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron.)1: “Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.”

[Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274), Summa Theologica, First Part, Treatise on God, Question 1, “The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine,” Article 8, “Whether Sacred Doctrine is a Matter of Argument?”, Reply to Objection 2, in Robert Maynard Hutchins, ed., Great Books of the Western World, Volume 19, (Chicago, IL, USA: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1988), 8.]

ˆ 1There is a discrepancy in my sources for the precise reference of Epis. ad Hieron. (abbreviated Latin for “Epistle to Jerome”). The texts provided by both the Encylopædia Britannica and the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (to which the above bibliographic reference is linked) are based on the translation of the Summa by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Britannica’s revision (by Daniel J. Sullivan), however, has properly corrected the reference from Augustine’s 19th (xix) letter (which was not written to Jerome but to Gaius) to his 82nd (lxxxii). Cf. “Letters of St. Augustin,” translated by J.G. Cunningham, in Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume 1, (Peabody, MA, USA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., reprinted 2004), 350. ˆ