Richard A. Muller on Sola Scriptura and the usefulness of tradition among the Reformers

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“[I]t ought to be noted that sola Scriptura was never meant as a denial of the usefulness of the Christian tradition as a subordinate norm in theology.  The views of the Reformers developed out of a debate in the late medieval theology over the relation of Scripture and tradition, one party viewing the two as coequal norms, the other party viewing Scripture as the absolute and therefore prior norm, but allowing tradition a derivative but important secondary role in doctrinal statement.  The Reformers and the Protestant orthodox held the latter view, on the assumption that tradition was a useful guide, that the trinitarian and christological statements of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon were expressions of biblical truth, and that the great teachers of the church provided valuable instruction in theology that always needed to be evaluated in the light of Scripture.  We encounter, particularly in the scholastic era of Protestantism, a profound interest in the patristic period and a critical, but often substantive, use of ideas and patterns enunciated by the medieval doctors.”

“[T]he debate was between two groups, both nurtured within the medieval church catholic, over the question of which group and, indeed, which view of the relationship of Scripture and tradition, represented the “ancient faith” and was, therefore, truly catholic.  As the Reformation passed over into the era of confessional orthodoxy, the positive reception of tradition by Protestants – noted by Congar in the case of Chemnitz, but easily documented from numerous other writers – became increasingly the trademark of a Protestant theology that claimed catholicity for itself.”

– Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. II, p. 346

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