Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (Volume IV)

St. Athanasius on Scripture, Tradition, and Catholic Doctrine

in reply to William Webster and David King

For discussion on Festal Letter 2.6 see also this St. Athanasius vs. William Webster

for comments, corrections, challenges, or if you wish to contribute, email me.

* = were completely ignored or left out of the Webster/King volumes

Source: NPNF Series II Volume IV online at


Preliminary Study of Scripture and Tradition in Athanasius

Preliminary Study of Catholic Doctrine in Athanasius (below)

From the intro to the teaching of Athanasius on the "Vehicles of Revelation: Scripture, Church, Tradition" --


"On the sufficiency of Scripture for the establishment of all necessary doctrine Athanasius insists repeatedly and emphatically (c. Gent. 1, de Incarn. 5, de Decr. 32, Vit. Ant. 16, &c., &c.); and he follows up precept by example. 'His works are a continuous appeal to Scripture.' There is no passage in his writings which recognises tradition as supplementing Scripture, i.e., as sanctioning articles of faith not contained in Scripture. 

*"Tradition is recognised as authoritative in two ways: (1) Negatively, in the sense that doctrines which are novel are prima facie condemned by the very fact (de Decr. 7, note 2, ib. 18, Orat. i. 8, 10, ii. 34, 40, de Syn.3, 6, 7, and Letter 59, ยง3); and (2) positively, as furnishing a guide to the sense of Scripture (see references in note on Orat. iii. 58, end of ch. xxix.). In other words, tradition with Athanasius is a formal, not a material, source of doctrine. His language exemplifies the necessity of distinguishing, in the case of strong patristic utterances on the authority of tradition, between different senses of the word. Often it means simply truth conveyed in Scripture, and in that sense 'handed down' from the first, as for example c. Apol. i. 22, 'the Gospel tradition,' and Letter 60. 6 (cf. Cypr. Ep. 74. 10, where Scripture is 'divinae traditionis caput et origo.').Moreover, tradition as distinct from Scripture is with Athanasius not a secret unwritten body of teaching handed down orally, but is to be found in the documents of antiquity and the writings of the Fathers, such as those to whom he appeals in de Decr., &c ....Connected with the function and authority of tradition is that of the Church....But Athanasius was far from undervaluing the evidence of the Church's tradition. The organ by which the tradition of the Church does its work is the teaching function of her officers, especially of the Episcopate (de Syn. 3, &c.). But to provide against erroneous teaching on the part of bishops, as well as to provide for the due administration of matters affecting the Church generally, and for ecclesiastical legislation, some authority beyond that of the individual bishop is necessary. This necessity is met, in the Church as conceived by Athanasius, in two ways, firstly by Councils, secondly in the pre-eminent authority of certain sees which exercise some sort of jurisdiction over their neighbours..."

from Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia or De Synodis
*3. What defect of teaching was there for religious truth in the Catholic Church, that they should enquire concerning faith now, and should prefix this year's Consulate to their profession of faith? For Ursacius and Valens and Germinius and their friends have done what never took place, never was heard of among Christians. After putting into writing what it pleased them to believe, they prefix to it the Consulate, and the month and the day of the current year; thereby to shew all sensible men, that their faith dates, not from of old, but now, from the reign of Constantius; for whatever they write has a view to their own heresy... (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 3)

 *4. The boldness then of their design shews how little they understand the subject; while the novelty of their phrase matches the Arian heresy. For thus they shew, when it was they began their own faith, and that from that same time present they would have it proclaimed. And as according to the Evangelist Luke, there 'was made a decree' (Luke ii. 1) concerning the taxing, and this decree before was not, but began from those days in which it was made by its framer, they also in like manner, by writing, 'The Faith is now published,' shewed that the sentiments of their heresy are novel, and were not before. But if they add 'of the Catholic Faith,' they fall before they know it into the extravagance of the Phrygians, and say with them, 'To us first was revealed,' and 'from us dates the Faith of Christians.' And as those inscribe it with the names of Maximilla and Montanus, so do these with 'Constantius, Master,' instead of Christ. If, however, as they would have it, the faith dates from the present Consulate, what will the Fathers do, and the blessed Martyrs? nay, what will they themselves do with their own catechumens, who departed to rest before this Consulate? how will they wake them up, that so they may obliterate their former lessons, and may sow in turn the seeming discoveries which they have now put into writing?  (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 4)

*7. Having therefore no reason on their side, but being in difficulty whichever way they turn, in spite of their pretences, they [the Arian heretics] have nothing left but to say; 'Forasmuch as we contradict our predecessors, and transgress the traditions of the Fathers, therefore we have thought good that a Council should meet; but again, whereas we fear lest, should it meet at one place, our pains will be thrown away, therefore we have thought good that it be divided into two; that so when we put forth our documents to these separate portions, we may overreach with more effect, with the threat of Constantius the patron of this irreligion, and may supersede the acts of Nicaea, under pretence of the simplicity of our own documents.' If they have not put this into words, yet this is the meaning of their deeds and their disturbances. Certainly, many and frequent as have been their speeches and writings in various Councils, never yet have they made mention of the Arian heresy as objectionable; but, if any present happened to accuse the heresies, they always took up the defence of the Arian, which the Nicene Council had anathematized; nay, rather, they cordially welcomed the professors of Arianism. This then is in itself a strong argument, that the aim of the present Councils was not truth, but the annulling of the acts of Nicaea; but the proceedings of them and their friends in the Councils themselves, make it equally clear that this was the case:-For now we must relate everything as it occurred. (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 7)

*14. The blessed Apostle approves of the Corinthians because, he says, 'ye remember me in all things, and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you' (1 Cor. xi. 2); but they [the Arian heretics], as entertaining such views of their predecessors, will have the daring to say just the reverse to their flocks: 'We praise you not for remembering your fathers, but rather we make much of you, when you hold not their traditions.' And let them go on to accuse their own unfortunate birth, and say, 'We are sprung not of religious men but of heretics.' For such language, as I said before, is consistent in those who barter their Fathers' fame and their own salvation for Arianism, and fear not the words of the divine proverb, 'There is a generation that curseth their father' (Prov. xxx. 11; Ex. xxi. 17), and the threat lying in the Law against such. They then, from zeal for the heresy, are of this obstinate temper; you, however, be not troubled at it, nor take their audacity for truth. For they dissent from each other, and, whereas they have revolted from their Fathers, are not of one and the same mind, but float about with various and discordant changes. And, as quarrelling with the Council of Nicaea, they have held many Councils themselves, and have published a faith in each of them, and have stood to none, nay, they will never do otherwise, for perversely seeking, they will never find that Wisdom which they hate. I have accordingly subjoined portions both of Arius's writings and of whatever else I could collect, of their publications in different Councils; whereby you will learn to your surprise with what object they stand out against an Ecumenical Council and their own Fathers without blushing. (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 14)

*For myself, I have written these brief remarks, from my feeling towards persons who were religious to Christ-ward; but were it possible to come by the Epistle which we are told that the former wrote, I consider we should find further grounds for the aforesaid proceeding of those blessed men. For it is right and meet thus to feel, and to maintain a good conscience toward the Fathers, if we be not spurious children, but have received the traditions from them, and the lessons of religion at their hands. (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 47)

*48. Such then, as we confess and believe, being the sense of the Fathers, proceed we even in their company to examine once more the matter, calmly and with a kindly sympathy, with reference to what has been said before, viz. whether the Bishops collected at Nicaea do not really prove to have thought aright. (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 48)

*54. This is why the Nicene Council was, correct in writing, what it was becoming to say, that the Son, begotten from the Father's essence, is coessential with Him. And if we too have been taught the same thing, let us not fight with shadows, especially as knowing, that they who have so defined, have made this confession of faith, not to misrepresent the truth, but as vindicating the truth and religiousness towards Christ, and also as destroying the blasphemies against Him of the Ario-maniacs. For this must be considered and noted carefully, that, in using unlike-in-essence, and other-in-essence, we signify not the true Son, but some one of the creatures, and an introduced and adopted Son, which pleases the heretics; but when we speak uncontroversially of the Coessential, we signify a genuine Son born of the Father; though at this Christ's enemies often burst with rage. What then I have learned myself, and have heard men of judgment say, I have written in few words; but do you, remaining on the foundation of the Apostles, and holding fast the traditions of the Fathers, pray that now at length all strife and rivalry may cease, and the futile questions of the heretics may be condemned, and all logomachy; and the guilty and murderous heresy of the Arians may disappear, and the truth may shine again in the hearts of all, so that all every where may 'say the same thing' (1 Cor. i. 10), and think the same thing, and that, no Arian contumelies remaining, it may be said and confessed in every Church, 'One Lord, one faith, one baptism' (Eph. iv. 5), in Christ Jesus our Lord, through whom to the Father be the glory and the strength, unto ages of ages. Amen. (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 54)

from Defense Against the Arians
*30. But now I am ignorant under what colour these proceedings have been carried on. In the first place, if the truth must be spoken, it was not right, when we had written to summon a council, that any persons should anticipate its decisions: and in the next place, it was not fitting that such novel proceedings should be adopted against the Church. For what canon of the Church, or what Apostolical tradition warrants this, that when a Church was at peace, and so many Bishops were in unanimity with Athanasius the Bishop of Alexandria, Gregory should be sent thither, a stranger to the city, not having been baptized there, nor known to the general body, and desired neither by Presbyters, nor Bishops, nor Laity-that he should be appointed at Antioch, and sent to Alexandria, accompanied not by presbyters, nor by deacons of the city, nor by bishops of Egypt, but by soldiers? for they who came hither complained that this was the case. (Defense Against the Arians, Intro 30)

*And why was nothing said to us concerning the Church of the Alexandrians in particular? Are you ignorant that the custom has been for word to be written first to us, and then for a just decision to be passed from this place? If then any such suspicion rested upon the Bishop there, notice thereof ought to have been sent to the Church of this place; whereas, after neglecting to inform us, and proceeding on their own authority as they pleased, now they desire to obtain our concurrence in their decisions, though we never condemned him. Not so have the constitutions of Paul [the Apostle], not so have the traditions of the Fathers directed; this is another form of procedure, a novel practice. I beseech you, readily bear with me: what I write is for the common good. For what we have received from the blessed Apostle Peter, that I signify to you; and I should not have written this, as deeming that these things were manifest unto all men, had not these proceedings so disturbed us. Bishops are forced away from their sees and driven into banishment, while others from different quarters are appointed in their place; others are treacherously assailed, so that the people have to grieve for those who are forcibly taken from them, while, as to those who are sent in their room, they are obliged to give over seeking the man whom they desire, and to receive those they do not. (Defense Against the Arians, Intro 35)

From Discourses Against the Arians (contains the use of term "scope")
*For who was ever yet a hearer of such a doctrines? or whence or from whom did the abettors and hirelings of the heresy gain it? who thus expounded to them when they were at school? who told them, 'Abandon the worship of the creation, and then draw near and worship a creature and a works?' But if they themselves own that they have heard it now for the first time, how can they deny that this heresy is foreign, and not from our fathers? But what is not from our fathers, but has come to light in this day, how can it be but that of which the blessed Paul has foretold, that 'in the latter times some shall depart from the sound faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, in the hypocrisy of liars; cauterized in their own conscience, and turning from the truth?' (Discourse Against the Arians 1.8)

9. For, behold, we take divine Scripture, and thence discourse with freedom of the religious Faith, and set it up as a light upon its candlestick, saying: --Very Son of the Father, natural and genuine, proper to His essence, Wisdom Only-begotten, and Very and Only Word of God is He; not a creature or work, but an offspring  proper to the Father's essence. Wherefore He is very God, existing one in essence with the very Father.... (Discourse Against the Arians 1.9)

10. Which of the two theologies sets forth our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Son of the Father, this which you vomited forth, or that which we have spoken and maintain from the Scriptures? If the Saviour be not God, nor Word, nor Son, you shall have leave to say what you will, and so shall the Gentiles, and the present Jews. But if He be Word of the Father and true Son, and God from God, and 'over all blessed for ever,' is it not becoming to obliterate and blot out those other phrases and that Arian Thalia, as but a pattern of evil, a store of all irreligion, into which, whoso falls, 'knoweth not that giants perish with her, and reacheth the depths of Hades?' This they know themselves, and in their craft they conceal it, not having the courage to speak out, but uttering something else. For if they speak, a condemnation will follow; and if they be suspected, proofs from Scripture will be cast at them from every side. Wherefore, in their craft, as children of this world, after feeding their so-called lamp from the wild olive, and fearing lest it should soon be quenched (for it is said, 'the light of the wicked shall be put out,') they hide it under the bushel of their hypocrisy, and make a different profession, and boast of patronage of friends and authority of Constantius, that what with their hypocrisy and their professions, those who come to them may be kept from seeing how foul their heresy is. Is it not detestable even in this, that it dares not speak out, but is kept hid by its own friends, and fostered as serpents are? *for from what sources have they got together these words? or from whom have they received what they venture to say? Not any one man can they specify who has supplied it. (Discourse Against the Arians 1.10)

*...for who hears of a son but conceives of that which is proper to the father's essence? who heard, in his first catechising, that God has a Son and has made all things by His proper Word, but understood it in that sense in which we now mean it? who on the rise of this odious heresy of the Arians, was not at once startled at what he heard, as strange, and a second sowing, besides that Word which had been sown from the beginning? For what is sown in every soul from the beginning is that God has a Son, the Word, the Wisdom, the Power, that is, His Image and Radiance; from which it at once follows that He is always; that He is from the Father; that He is like; that He is the eternal offspring of His essence; and there is no idea involved in these of creature or work... (Discourse Against the Arians 2.34)

*39. For where at all have they found in divine Scripture, or from whom have they heard, that there is another Word and another Wisdom besides this Son, that they should frame to themselves such a doctrine?(Discourse Against the Arians 2.39)

*40. Therefore, if neither in the divine oracles is found another wisdom besides this Son, nor from the fathers have we heard of any such, yet they have confessed and written of the Wisdom coexisting with the Father unoriginately, proper to Him, and the Framer of the world, this must be the Son who even according to them is eternally coexistent with the Father. (Discourse Against the Arians 2.40)

*10. However here too they introduce their private fictions, and contend that the Son and the Father are not in such wise 'one,' or 'like,' as the Church preaches, but, as they themselves would have it. For they say, since what the Father wills, the Son wills also, and is not contrary either in what He thinks or in what He judges, but is in all respects concordant with Him, declaring doctrines which are the same, and a word consistent and united with the Father's teaching, therefore it is that He and the Father are One; and some of them have dared to write as well as say this. Now what can be more unseemly or irrational than this? (Discourse Against the Arians 3.10)

Now what has been briefly said above may suffice to shew their misunderstanding of the passages they then alleged; and that of what they now allege from the Gospels they certainly give an unsound interpretation, we may easily see, if we now consider the scope of that faith which we Christians hold, and using it as a rule, apply ourselves, as the Apostle teaches, to the reading of inspired Scripture. For Christ's enemies, being ignorant of this scope, have wandered from the way of truth, and have stumbled on a stone of stumbling, thinking otherwise than they should think. (Discourses Against the Arians 3.28)

29. Now the scope and character of Holy Scripture, as we have often said, is this, --it contains a double account of the Saviour; that He was ever God, and is the Son, being the Father's Word and Radiance and Wisdom; and that afterwards for us He took flesh of a Virgin, Mary Bearer of God, and was made man. And this scope is to be found throughout inspired Scripture [i.e. Scripture as interpreted and read in and by the Church], as the Lord Himself has said, 'Search the Scriptures, for they are they which testify of Me.' But lest I should exceed in writing, by bringing together all the passages on the subject, let it suffice to mention as a specimen, first John saying, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...' (Discourses Against the Arians 3.29)

This then is what happens to God's enemies the Arians; for looking at what is human in the Saviour, they have judged Him a creature. Therefore they ought, looking also at the divine works of the Word, to deny the origination of His body, and henceforth to rank themselves with Manichees. But for them, learn they, however tardily, that 'the Word became flesh;' and let us, retaining the general scope of the faith, acknowledge that what they interpret ill, has a right interpretation. (Discourses Against the Arians 3.35)

*Had Christ's enemies thus dwelt on these thoughts, and recognised the ecclesiastical scope as an anchor for the faith, they would not have made shipwreck of the faith, nor been so shameless as to resist those who would fain recover them from their fall, and to deem those as enemies who are admonishing them to be religious. (Discourses Against the Arians 3.58)

From Defense of the Nicene Definition or De Decretis
*On this the Bishops, having negatived the terms they had invented, published against them the sound and ecclesiastical faith; and, as all subscribed it, Eusebius and his fellows subscribed it also in those very words, of which they are now complaining, I mean, "of the essence" and "one in essence," and that "the Son of God is neither creature or work, nor in the number of things originated, but that the Word is an offspring from the substance of the Father." And what is strange indeed, Eusebius of Caesarea in Palestine, who had denied the day before, but afterwards subscribed, sent to his Church a letter, saying that this was the Church's faith, and the tradition of the Fathers; and made a public profession that they were before in error, and were rashly contending against the truth. (De Decretis 3)

*4. Are they not then committing a crime, in their very thought to gainsay so great and ecumenical a Council? are they not in transgression, when they dare to confront that good definition against Arianism, acknowledged, as it is, by those who had in the first instance taught them irreligion? And supposing, even after subscription, Eusebius and his fellows did change again, and return like dogs to their own vomit of irreligion, do not the present gain-sayers deserve still greater detestation, because they thus sacrifice their souls' liberty to others; and are willing to take these persons as masters of their heresy, who are, as James has said, double-minded men, and unstable in all their ways, not having one opinion, but changing to and fro, and now recommending certain statements, but soon dishonouring them, and in turn recommending what just now they were blaming? But this, as the Shepherd has said, is "the child of the devil," and the note of hucksters rather than of doctors. For, what our Fathers have delivered, this is truly doctrine; and this is truly the token of doctors, to confess the same thing with each other, and to vary neither from themselves nor from their fathers; whereas they who have not this character are to be called not true doctors but evil. Thus the Greeks, as not witnessing to the same doctrines, but quarrelling one with another, have no truth of teaching; but the holy and veritable heralds of the truth agree together, and do not differ. For though they lived in different times, yet they one and all tend the same way, being prophets of the one God, and preaching the same Word harmoniously. (De Decretis 4)

*For who can even imagine that the radiance of light ever was not, so that he should dare to say that the Son was not always, or that the Son was not before His generation? or who is capable of separating the radiance from the sun, or to conceive of the fountain as ever void of life, that he should madly say, 'The Son is from nothing,' who says, 'I am the life,' or 'alien to the Father's essence,' who, says, 'He that hath seen Me, hath seen the: Father?' for the sacred writers wishing us thus to understand, have given these illustrations; and it is unseemly and most irreligious, when Scripture contains such images, to form ideas concerning our Lord from others which are neither in Scripture, nor have any religious bearing. (De Decretis 12)

*13. Therefore let them tell us, from what teacher or by what tradition they derived these notions concerning the Saviour? "We have read," they will say, "in the Proverbs, 'The Lord created me a beginning of His ways unto His works;'" this Eusebius and his fellows used to insist on, and you write me word, that the present men also, though overthrown and confuted by an abundance of arguments, still were putting about in every quarter this passage, and saying that the Son was one of the creatures, and reckoning Him with things originated. But they seem to me to have a wrong understanding of this passage also; for it has a religious and very orthodox sense, which had they understood, they would not have blasphemed the Lord of glory. (De Decretis 13)

*18. Now Eusebius and his fellows were at the former period examined at great length, and convicted themselves, as I said before; on this they subscribed; and after this change of mind they kept in quiet and retirement; but since the present party, in the fresh arrogance of irreligion, and in dizziness about the truth, are full set upon accusing the Council, let them tell us what are the sort of Scriptures from which they have learned, or who is the Saint [Saint = orthodox saint or Father] by whom they have been taught, that they have heaped together the phrases, 'out of nothing,' and 'He was not before His generation,' and 'once. He was not,' and 'alterable,' and 'pre-existence,' and 'at the will;' which are their fables in mockery of the Lord. (De Decretis 18)

 *See, we are proving that this view has been transmitted from father to father; but ye, O modern Jews and disciples of Caiaphas, how many fathers can ye assign to your phrases? Not one of the understanding and wise; for all abhor you, but the devil alone; none but he is your father in this apostasy, who both in the beginning sowed you with the seed of this irreligion, and now persuades you to slander the Ecumenical Council, for committing to writing, not your doctrines, but that which from the beginning those who were eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word have handed down to us. For the faith which the Council has confessed in writing, that is the faith of the Catholic Church; to assert this, the blessed Fathers so expressed themselves while condemning the Arian heresy; and this is a chief reason why these apply themselves to calumniate the Council. For it is not the terms which trouble them, but that those terms prove them to be heretics, and presumptuous beyond other heresies. (De Decretis 27)

from Life of Antony

But he, as though sailing from a foreign city to his own, spoke joyously, and exhorted them 'Not to grow idle in their labours, nor to become faint in their training, but to live as though dying daily. And as he had said before, zealously to guard the soul from foul thoughts, eagerly to imitate the Saints, and to have nought to do with the Meletian schismatics, for you know their wicked and profane character. Nor have any fellowship with the Arians, for their impiety is clear to all. Nor be disturbed if you see the judges protect them, for it shall cease, and their pomp is mortal and of short duration. Wherefore keep yourselves all the more untainted by them, and observe the traditions of the fathers, and chiefly the holy faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, which you have learned from the Scripture, and of which you have often been put in mind by me.' (Life of Antony 89)

from History of the Arians
*And many other things he [Gregory of Alexandria, Arian heretic] did, which exceed the power of language to describe, and which whoever should hear would think to be incredible. And the reason why he acted thus was, because he had not received his ordination according to ecclesiastical rule, nor had been called to be a Bishop by apostolical tradition; but had been sent out from court with military power and pomp, as one entrusted with a secular government. Wherefore he boasted rather to be the friend of Governors, than of Bishops and Monks. (History of the Arians II, 14)

*But the Bishop endeavoured to convince him, reasoning with him thus: 'How is it possible for me to do this against Athanasius? how can we condemn a man, whom not one Council only, but a second assembled from all parts of the world, has fairly acquitted, and whom the Church of the Romans dismissed in peace? who will approve of our conduct, if we reject in his absence one, whose presence amongst us we gladly welcomed, and admitted him to our communion? This is no Ecclesiastical Canon; nor have we had transmitted to us any such tradition from the Fathers, who in their turn received from the great and blessed Apostle Peter. But if the Emperor is really concerned for the peace of the Church, if he requires our letters respecting Athanasius to be reversed, let their proceedings both against him and against all the others be reversed also; and then let an Ecclesiastical Council be called at a distance from the Court, at which the Emperor shall not be present, nor any Count be admitted, nor magistrate to threaten us, but where only the fear of God and the Apostolical rule shall prevail; that so in the first place, the faith of the Church may be secure, as the Fathers defined it in the Council of Nicaea, and the supporters of the Arian doctrines may be cast out, and their heresy anathematized. (History of the Arians V, 36)

from Letters to the Bishops of Africa
*Now it would be proper to write this at greater length. But since we write to you who know, we have dictated it concisely, praying that among all the bond of peace might be preserved, and that all in the Catholic Church should say and hold the same thing. And we are not meaning to teach, but to put you in mind. Nor is it only ourselves that write, but all the bishops of Egypt and the Libyas, some ninety in number. For we all are of one mind in this, and we always sign for one another if any chance not to be present. Such being our state of mind, since we happened to be assembled, we wrote, both to our beloved Damasus, bishop of the Great Rome, giving an account of Auxentius who has intruded upon the church at Milan; namely that he not only shares the Arian heresy, but is also accused of many offences, which he committed with Gregory, the sharer of his impiety; and while expressing our surprise that so far he has not been deposed and expelled from the Church, we thanked [Damasus] for his piety and that of those who assembled at the Great Rome, in that by expelling Ursacius and Valens, and those who hold with them, they preserved the harmony of the Catholic Church. Which we pray may be preserved also among you, and therefore entreat you not to tolerate, as we said above, those who put forward a host of synods held concerning the Faith, at Ariminum, at Sirmium, in Isauria, in Thrace, those in Constantinople, and the many irregular ones in Antioch. But let the Faith confessed by the Fathers at Nicaea alone hold good among you, at which all the fathers, including those of the men who now are fighting against it, were present, as we said above, and signed: in order that of us too the Apostle may say, 'Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and as I handed the traditions to you, so ye hold them fast .' (To the Bishops of Africa 10)

from Festal Letters (see article at top for various meaning of "saints" in Athanasius)

For those who are thus disposed, and fashion themselves according to the Gospel, will be partakers of Christ, and imitators of apostolic conversation, on account of which they shall be deemed worthy of that praise from him, with which he praised the Corinthians, when he said, 'I praise you that in everything ye are mindful of me.' Afterwards, because there were men who used his words, but chose to hear them as suited their lusts, and dared to pervert them, as the followers of Hymenaeus and Alexander, and before them the Sadducees, who as he said, 'having made shipwreck of faith,' scoffed at the mystery of the resurrection, he immediately proceeded to say, 'And as I have delivered to you traditions, hold them fast.' That means, indeed, that we should think not otherwise than as the teacher has delivered. (Festal Letter 2.5)

6. For not only in outward form did those wicked men dissemble, putting on as the Lord says sheep's clothing, and appearing like unto whited sepulchres; but they took those divine words in their mouth, while they inwardly cherished evil intentions. And the first to put on this appearance was the serpent, the inventor of wickedness from the beginning-the devil,-who, in disguise, conversed with Eve, and forthwith deceived her. But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints [meaning orthodox saints or Fathers -- see article at top] have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power. Therefore Paul justly praises the Corinthians, because their opinions were in accordance with his traditions. And the Lord most righteously reproved the Jews, saying, 'Wherefore do ye also transgress the commandments of God on account of your traditions.' For they changed the commandments they received from God after their own understanding, preferring to observe the traditions of men. And about these, a little after, the blessed Paul again gave directions to the Galatians who were in danger thereof, writing to them, 'If any man preach to you aught else than that ye have received, let him be accursed.' (Festal Letter 2.6)

7. For there is no fellowship whatever between the words of the saints [specifically Luke handing down his narrations, but also believers in general, especially the orthodox Fathers -- see below] and the fancies of human invention; for the saints are the ministers of the truth, preaching the kingdom of heaven, but those who are borne in the opposite direction have nothing better than to eat, and think their end is that they shall cease to be, and they say, 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.' Therefore blessed Luke reproves the inventions of men, and hands down the narrations of the saints, saying in the beginning of the Gospel, 'Since many have presumed to write narrations of those events of which we are assured, as those who from the beginning were witnesses and ministers of the Word have delivered to us; it hath seemed good to me also, who have adhered to them all from the first, to write correctly in order to thee, O excellent Theophilus, that thou mayest know the truth concerning the things in which thou hast been instructed.' For as each of the saints has received, that they impart without alteration, for the confirmation of the doctrine of the mysteries. Of these the (divine) word would have us disciples, and these should of right be our teachers, and to them only is it necessary to give heed, for of them only is 'the word faithful and worthy of all acceptation;' these not being disciples because they heard from others, but being eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word, that which they had heard from Him have they handed down.

Now some have related the wonderful signs performed by our Saviour, and preached His eternal Godhead. And others have written of His being born in the flesh of the Virgin, and have proclaimed the festival of the holy passover, saying, 'Christ our Passover is sacrificed;' so that we, individually and collectively, and all the churches in the world may remember, as it is written, 'That Christ rose from the dead, of the seed of David, according to the Gospel.' And let us not forget that which Paul delivered, declaring it to the Corinthians; I mean His resurrection, whereby 'He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;' and raised us up together with Him, having loosed the bands of death, and vouchsafed a blessing instead of a curse, joy instead of grief, a feast instead of mourning, in this holy joy of Easter, which being continually in our hearts, we always rejoice, as Paul commanded; 'We pray without ceasing; in everything we give thanks.' So we are not remiss in giving notice of its seasons, as we have received from the Fathers. Again we write, again keeping to the apostolic traditions, we remind each other when we come together for prayer; and keeping the feast in common, with one mouth we truly give thanks to the Lord. Thus giving thanks unto Him, and being followers of the saints, 'we shall make our praise in the Lord all the day,' as the Psalmist says. So, when we rightly keep the feast, we shall be counted worthy of that joy which is in heaven.... (Festal Letter 2.7)

On the canon of Scripture

from Festal Letter 39 (cited mistakenly as 29 in Webster/King)

6. These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness [referring to the reading of Scripture in the Liturgy, where the godly doctrine was proclaimed from Scripture -- see below]. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these. For concerning these the Lord put to shame the Sadducees, and said, 'Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures.' And He reproved the Jews, saying, 'Search the Scriptures, for these are they that testify of Me.'

7. But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple. (Festal Letter 39.6,7)

[ on the canon of OT "...Then Isaiah, one book, then Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations..."and 27-book NT -- three divisions: canonical, those deuterocanonicals read for edification, and those Gnostic "apocryphal" writings, the "invention of heretics" ]

From the intro to the teaching of Athanasius on the "Vehicles of Revelation: Scripture, Church, Tradition" --


"Athansius enumerates, as 'outside the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us,' Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Esther, Judith, and Tobit, as well as what is called the Teaching of the Apostles and the Shepherd. In practice, however, he quotes several of the latter as 'Scripture' (Wisdom repeatedly so, see index to this vol.); 'The Shepherd' is 'most profitable,' and quoted for the Unity of the Creator (and cf. de Decr. 4), but not as 'Scripture;' the 'Didache' is not used by him unless the Syntagma (vide supra, p. lix.) be his genuine work. He also quotes 1 Esdras for the praise of Truth, and 2 Esdras once, as a 'prophet.' 'Daniel' includes Susanna and Bel and the Dragon."

The "Sufficiency of Scripture" in Athanasius and heretics use of Scripture

from Letters to the Bishops of Egypt

Such is the method of our adversary's operations; and of the like nature are all these inventions of heresies, each of which has for the father of its own device the devil, who changed and became a murderer and a liar from the beginning. But being ashamed to profess his hateful name, they usurp the glorious Name of our Saviour 'which is above every name,' and deck themselves out in the language of Scripture, speaking indeed the words, but stealing away the true meaning thereof; and so disguising by some artifice their false inventions, they also become the murderers of those whom they have led astray. (To the Bishops of Egypt 3)

And again, what is the Old Testament to the Jews, unless they acknowledge the Lord whose coming was expected according to it? For had they believed the writings of Moses, they would have believed the words of the Lord; for He said, 'He wrote of Me .' Moreover, what are the Scriptures to him of Samosata, who denies the Word of God and His incarnate Presence , which is signified and declared both in the Old and New Testament? And of what use are the Scriptures to the Arians also, and why do they bring them forward, men who say that the Word of God is a creature, and like the Gentiles 'serve the creature more than' God 'the Creator?' Thus each of these heresies, in respect of the peculiar impiety of its invention, has nothing in common with the Scriptures. And their advocates are aware of this, that the Scriptures are very much, or rather altogether, opposed to the doctrines of every one of them; but for the sake of deceiving the more simple sort (such as are those of whom it is written in the Proverbs, 'The simple believeth every word ),' they pretend like their 'father the devil ' to study and to quote the language of Scripture, in order that they may appear by their words to have a right belief, and so may persuade their wretched followers to believe what is contrary to the Scriptures. Assuredly in every one of these heresies the devil has thus disguised himself, and has suggested to them words full of craftiness. The Lord spake concerning them, that 'there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, so that they shall deceive many .' Accordingly the devil has come, speaking by each and saying, 'I am Christ, and the truth is with me;' and he has made them, one and all, to be liars like himself. And strange it is, that while all heresies are at variance with one another concerning the mischievous inventions which each has framed, they are united together only by the common purpose of lying . For they have one and the same father that has sown in them all the seeds, of falsehood. Wherefore the faithful Christian and true disciple of the Gospel, having grace to discern spiritual things, and having built the house of his faith upon a rock, stands continually firm and secure from their deceits. But the simple person, as I said before, that is not thoroughly grounded in knowledge, such an one, considering only the words that are spoken and not perceiving their meaning, is immediately drawn away by their wiles. Wherefore it is good and needful for us to pray that we may receive the gift of discerning spirits, so that every one may know, according to the precept of John, whom he ought to reject, and whom to receive as friends and of the same faith. Now one might write at great length concerning these things, if one desired to go rate details respecting them; for the impiety and perverseness of heresies will appear to be manifold and various, and the craft of the deceivers to be very terrible. But since holy Scripture is of all things most sufficient for us, therefore recommending to those who desire to know more of these matters, to read the Divine word, I now hasten to set before you that which most claims attention, and for the sake of which principally I have written these things. (To the Bishops of Egypt 4)

from Discourses Against the Arians

Wherefore, as saith the Saviour, in that they gather not with us, they scatter with the devil, and keep an eye on those who slumber, that, by this second sowing of their own mortal poison, they may have companions in death. But, whereas one heresy, and that the last, which has now risen as harbinger of Antichrist, the Arian, as it is called, considering that other heresies, her eider sisters, have been openly proscribed, in her craft and cunning, affects to array herself in Scripture language, like her father the devil, and is forcing her way back into the Church's paradise,-that with the pretence of Christianity, her smooth sophistry (for reason she has none) may deceive men into wrong thoughts of Christ,-nay, since she has already seduced certain of the foolish, not only to corrupt their ears, but even to take and eat with Eve, till in their ignorance which ensues they think bitter sweet, and admire this loathsome heresy, on this account I have thought it necessary, at your request, to unrip 'the folds of its breast-plate,' and to shew the ill savour of its folly. (Discourse Against the Arians I, 1)

from Life of Antony (Athanasius citing Antony)

16. One day when he had gone forth because all the monks had assembled to him and asked to hear words from him, he spoke to them in the Egyptian tongue as follows: 'The Scriptures are enough for instruction, but it is a good thing to encourage one another in the faith, and to stir up with words. Wherefore you, as children, carry that which you know to your father; and I as the elder share my knowledge and what experience has taught me with you... (Life of Antony 16)

From Defense of the Nicene Definition or De Decretis

32. But perhaps being refuted as touching the term Unoriginate also, they will say according to their evil nature, 'It behoved, as regards our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ also, to state from the Scriptures what is there written of Him, and not to introduce non-scriptural expressions.' Yes, it behoved, say I too; for the tokens of truth are more exact as drawn from Scripture, than from other sources; but the ill disposition and the versatile and crafty irreligion of Eusebius and his fellows, compelled the Bishops, as I said before, to publish more distinctly the terms which overthrew their irreligion; and what the Council did write has already been shewn to have an orthodox sense, while the Arians have been shewn to be corrupt in their phrases, and evil in their dispositions. The term Unoriginate, having its own sense, and admitting of a religious use, they nevertheless, according to their own idea, and as they will, use for the dishonour of the Saviour, all for the sake of contentiously maintaining, like giants, their fight with God. But as they did not escape condemnation when they, adduced these former phrases, so when they misconceive of the Unoriginated which in itself admits of being used well and religiously, they were detected, being disgraced before all,and their heresy everywhere proscribed. (De Decretis 32)

from Against the Heathen or Contra Gentes

The knowledge of our religion and of the truth of things is independently manifest rather than in need of human teachers, for almost day by day it asserts itself by facts, and manifests itself brighter than the sun by the doctrine of Christ. 2. Still, as you nevertheless desire to hear about it, Macarius, come let us as we may be able set forth a few points of the faith of Christ: able though you are to find it out from the divine oracles, but yet generously desiring to hear from others as well. 3. For although the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth,  --while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which a man will gain some knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures, and be able to learn what he wishes to know,-- still, as we have not at present in our hands the compositions of our teachers, we must communicate in writing to you what we learned from them,-the faith, namely, of Christ the Saviour; lest any should hold cheap the doctrine taught among us, or think faith. in Christ unreasonable. (Contra Gentes 1)

from Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia or De Synodis
*Without pre-fixing Consulate, month, and day, they wrote concerning Easter, 'It seemed good as follows,' for it did then seem good that there should be a general compliance; but about the faith they wrote not, 'It seemed good,' but, 'Thus believes the Catholic Church;' and thereupon they confessed how they believed, in order to shew that their own sentiments were not novel, but Apostolical; and what they wrote down was no discovery of theirs, but is the same as was taught by the Apostles. (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 5)

6. But the Councils which they are now setting in motion, what colourable pretext have they? If any new heresy has risen since the Arian, let them tell us the positions which it has devised, and who are its inventors? and in their own formula, let them anathematize the heresies antecedent to this Council of theirs, among which is the Arian, as the Nicene Fathers did, that it may appear that they too have some cogent reason for saying what is novel. But if no such event has happened, and they have it not to shew, but rather they themselves are uttering heresies, as holding Arius' irreligion, and are exposed day by day, and day by day shift their ground, what need is there of Councils, when the Nicene is sufficient, as against the Arian heresy, so against the rest, which it has condemned one and all by means of the sound faith? For even the notorious Aetius, who was surnamed godless, vaunts not of the discovering of any mania of his own, but under stress of weather has been wrecked upon Arianism, himself and the persons whom he has beguiled. Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture. (Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia 6)