Saint Ambrose (c. 340-397) against Sola Scriptura


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Protestant apologists, in approaching this subject, very often argue as follows:

Father X of the Church believes in sola Scriptura, because, look, see! : he praise Scripture in this place and that, and another over there, and says that Christians should read the Bible to learn theology! He therefore clearly agrees with the formal Protestant principle of sola Scriptura! Who could doubt this?

But it is fallacious and illogical through and through. The proper approach to this and what an Church father believed is:

Sola Scriptura (as classically defined by Protestants) means that Scripture is the the only ultimate infallible standard and source and standard (rule of faith) for Christian doctrine and faith. It follows from this that neither the Church, nor the Ecumenical Councils, nor the Popes, nor the sacred apostolic tradition, nor the apostolic succession are infallible sources of authority. They are generally respected by thoughtful Protestants and regarded as authoritative to some extent, but not infallibly so.

We must therefore seek whether the Father of the Church X think scripture is formally sufficient for authority (not just materially sufficient, which we agree with) without the necessary help from Tradition and the Church, or if he does not do so, as stated in other statements. A thinker’s statements about Christian authority must be evaluated in the context of all his thinking in this area, rather than pulling out pieces of it and then claiming that they “prove” something that they do not prove. Actually not at all.

In other words, even if we find a quote where a father seems (at first glance) state something that looks like sola Scriptura (since he writes on the Bible without immediate reference to the Church or to Tradition), we must examine what he thinks of the (obligatory?, infallible?) authority of Tradition, of the Church (y including ecumenical councils) and apostolic succession, because the question at hand (what is the rule of faith?) has to do with the relationship of all these things (all except Scripture being non-infallible, according to sola Scriptura).

For this reason, their beliefs regarding all of these other elements have to examine, in order to fully understand how they view their relationship to each other, and whether or not they adhere to sola Scriptura. as a rule of faith. If they hold to the infallible authority of anything other than Scripture, they do not not believe in sola Scriptura.

The Protestant always places the Bible above Church and Tradition, and denies that the latter two can be infallible. Catholics and Orthodox believe in a three-legged stool, where, in practice, Church and Tradition have equal authority with Scripture, as they are the necessary framework and grid of interpretation through which the Scripture can be correctly interpreted in an orthodox sense.

With this in mind, we proceed to determine whether Saint Ambrose believed in sola Scriptura, or the rule of Catholic faith.

The church

Seeing therefore that the men who do not agree among themselves all have the same conspired against the Church of God, I will call those to whom I have to answer by the common name of heretics. (Exhibition of Christian Faith, Bk. I, Chapter 6, Article 46)

[T]they become entangled in the difficulties raised by the Manicheans,. . . Corn this teaching that the Church condemns. (Exhibition of Christian Faith, Bk. III, chapter 6, article 42)

Sacred tradition

For otherwise they would have no feeling against their works, if they did not judge that they do not have the faith which is in them, this faith established by the tradition of our ancestors, which the devils themselves cannot deny, but the Arians do. (Letter 22 to his sister, 19)

Apostolic succession

the Arians, then, say that Christ is different from the Father; we deny it. . . . However, I would not want Your Sacred Majesty to rely on the discussion and our dispute. We ask ourselves to the scriptures, of apostles, prophets, Christ. (Exhibition of Christian Faith, Bk. I, Chapter 6, Article 43)

Our predecessors have preserved the explanation received from the apostles,. . . (On the Holy Spirit, Bk. I, chapter 13, article 158)

[I]t is established that it is the heritage of apostolic faith from the fact that the apostles are described as having obeyed the Holy Spirit. (On the Holy Spirit, Bk. II, Chapter 13, Article 142)

It’s the heritage of apostolic faith and devotion, which can also be observed in the Acts of the Apostles. (On the Holy Spirit, Bk. II, Chapter 13, Article 145)

Likewise, it seemed impossible that sins could be forgiven by repentance, but Christ gave this power to his apostles, which was passed on to the priestly office. (Regarding repentance, Bk. II, Chapter 2, Article 12)


From the Acts of the Councils, I’ll let that one be my main guide Who three hundred and eighteen priests [at the Council of Nicaea: 325 AD], named, so to speak, after the judgment of Abraham, made (so to speak) a high trophy to proclaim their victory over the infidels all over the world, prevailing by this courage of Faith, where all were in agreement. In truth, as it seems to me, we can see the hand of God,. . . (Exhibition of Christian Faith, Bk. I, Prologue, section 5)

When this letter was read before the Council meeting in Nicaea, the Fathers put this word in their exposition of the Faith, because they saw that it intimidated their adversaries; so that they could take the sword which their adversaries had drawn, to cut down the head of the own blasphemous heresy of these opponents. (Exhibition of Christian Faith, Bk. III, Chapter 15, Article 125)

The most severe ground was taken by the Novatians, who were successively condemned by many councils,. . . (Regarding repentance, Bk. Introduction)

. . . the rule of the Council of Nicaea, from which neither death nor sword can untie me,. . . (Letter 21 to the Emperor and to Blessed Augustus, Valentinian, 14)

If anything needs to be discussed, I learned to discuss it in church like those who came before me. If a conference is to be held on faith, there must be a gathering of bishops, as was done under Constantine, the prince of august memory, who did not promulgate any law in advance, but left the decision to the bishops. . . . certainly the greatest number in Ariminum approved the faith of the Council of Nicaea and condemned the Arian propositions. (Letter 21 to the Emperor and to Blessed Augustus, Valentinian, 15)

[T]he Fathers in the Council of Nicaea added that none of those who have contracted a second marriage should be admitted to the clergy. (Letter 63 to the church of Vercellæ, 64)

Petrine Primacy / Papacy

He said to Peter: I prayed for you so that your faith does not fail. Luke 22:32 To the same Apostle, once again, when he said once: You are Christ, the Son of the living God, He answered: You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build My Church, and I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 16:18 Could he not therefore strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on his own authority, he gave the kingdom, which he called the rock, thus declaring it the foundation of the Church? (Exhibition of Christian Faith, Bk. IV, Chapter 5, Article 57)

Paul was also not inferior to rock, although the latter was the foundation of the Church,. . . (On the Holy Spirit, Bk. II, Chapter 13, Article 158)


Related reading

For many safer sola Scriptura: see my Bible, Tradition, Canon and “Sola Scriptura” web page.

For the documentation of many more Church Fathers who rejected sola Scriptura, see the “Bible” section of my Church Fathers webpage.


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Summary: I prove that Saint Ambrose did not believe in the Protestant rule of faith: sola Scriptura, and that he accepted the infallible authority of the Church and of Tradition.


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