On Scripture, Tradition and the Church

St. Hilarion Troitsky 1886-1929

In defining the essence of Holy Scripture, we can now formulate the following proposition:

Holy Scripture is one of the aspects of the common grace-filled life of the Church, and outside the Church there cannot be any Holy Scripture in the true sense of the word.

If we establish this view of Holy Scripture, then we ought to express our disapproval of the outlook which prevails even in our [Orthodox] academic theology, according to which Holy Scripture is first and foremost a source of Church doctrine. It must be admitted that the question of the sources of doctrine is in an almost hopeless state in our philosophizing dogmatics. Two sources of doctrine are usually spoken of: Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. Both of these sources are necessary, although preference is often given to Holy Scripture. In disputes with sectarians and Protestants, much effort is made to prove that Holy Scripture alone is insufficient, that besides Scripture Holy Tradition is also needed. But if Holy Scripture is a source of doctrine, how do we extract the doctrine contained within this source? It is enough to remember Arianism and the First Ecumenical Council in order to realize that every heresy is based on Scripture. The question clearly arises: “How are we to understand Scripture so as to obtain from it true doctrine?” “It has to be understood in accordance with Tradition,” they respond to us. “Wonderful! And what sort of tradition should we accept?” “That which does not contradict Scripture.” What do we end up with? Scripture must be interpreted in accordance with Tradition, and Tradition must be verified by Scripture. We end up with circular logic, idem per idem, or, translated somewhat loosely into Russian, the story of the white calf. *

Church doctrine has but one Source: the Holy Spirit, Who lives within the Church, Whom Christ promised would guide the Church into all truth ( John 16:13). Thus, the Church possesses true doctrine not because she draws it from Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, but only because she is in fact the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, guided by the Holy Spirit. It is necessary to speak only about the Church. Both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition stand or fall together with the Church. A. S. Khomiakov wrote well in his Treatise on the Catechetical Exposition of the Teaching on the Church: “The Spirit of God, alive in the Church, guiding her and making her wise, is manifested in her in multiple forms: in Scripture, in Tradition, and in works; for the Church, performing the works of God, is the Church that preserves Tradition and wrote the Scripture. It is neither individuals nor a multitude of individuals in the Church that preserves Tradition and wrote Scripture, but the Spirit of God, alive in the sum of the Church. Therefore it is impossible and improper to search for the foundations of Tradition in Scripture, or for proofs of Scripture in Tradition, or for justifications of Scripture and Tradition in works. To one who lives outside of the Church neither Scripture, nor Tradition, nor works are comprehensible. To one, however, who remains within the Church and who is in communion with the Spirit of the Church, their unity is evident by the grace that lives in her.” (Holy Scripture and the Church)

* “Story of the white calf “: A Russian saying that usually designates the impossibility of drawing a logical conclusion from something.

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