Yes, Athanasius Had the Right

August 12, 2009

James Swan was good enough to give a different perspective on whether the Reformers had the right to reform the Catholic Church (it was reposted on free republic with some interesting comments). He compares the right of Athanasius, who fought against the majority holding Arian opinion (that Christ was not fully God), with the right of the Reformers who also fought against a majority. He asks, “Did Athanasius Have the Right?” and supposes that if you answer in the affirmative then must also do so for the Reformers, assuming that their situations were the same because they both argued from Scripture against a majority. However, their situations were not the same. My answer is yes, Athanasius had the right. No, the Reformers did not.

The major differences between the case of Athanasius against the Arians and the case of the Reformers against the Catholic Church are as follows: Athanasius was an archbishop, an authority holding position in the Catholic Church, whereas the Reformers were not. His beliefs were orthodox and he was faithful to the teachings of the fathers, and the Reformers were not. He argued with an orthodox interpretation of the Scriptures, whereas the Reformers argued with new interpretations of the Scriptures, forsaking previous teachings and understanding.

Some people may object to my first reason, that Athanasius was an archbishop and so possessed “ordinary authority” to oppose the Arians, on the grounds that his opposition were also bishops, and there was also an Arian anti-pope installed in an attempt to force the Church into Arianism. However, the position of bishop is still that of authority, though some obtained it illegitimately and abused it. So how is a lay-person on the ground to know who to follow and who is right when leaders disagree? The next point is a good place to start:

Athanasius was orthodox in his beliefs and understanding, conforming to established doctrine. He believed that Christ was begotten not made, in one being with the Father, as had been professed and taught by the Apostles and their successors, and codified in the Nicene Creed. James Swan quotes James White’s article in which he states Athanasius went against the “established church”, but this is backwards. Athanasius conformed to the established church, and the Arians presented new doctrines to overturn established doctrine, though they at times may have outnumbered orthodox believers. The established church is not the same as the majority of the church. The orthodoxy of Athanasius’s beliefs were openly acknowledged by his opponents. In his History of the Arians, he writes about the Arians:

“[T]hey were not ashamed to say in their letters, ‘since Athanasius suffered, all jealousy has ceased, and let us henceforward receive Arius and his fellows;’ adding, in order to frighten their hearers, ‘because the Emperor has commanded it.’ Moreover, they were not ashamed to add, ‘for these men profess orthodox opinions;'”

In his Four Discourses Against the Arians, Athanasius disparages the Arian unorthodoxy as grounds in itself to dismiss their beliefs as heresy:

“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?'”

“Or how are they of the Catholic Church, who have shaken off the Apostolical faith, and become authors of fresh evils?”

It’s similar to what Tertullian says of heresies in relation to orthodoxy:

“[H]ow comes it to pass that the things of God were on their course before it was known to what God they belonged? That there were Christians before Christ was found? That there were heresies before true doctrine? Not so; for in all cases truth precedes its copy, the likeness succeeds the reality.”

The Reformers, unlike Athanasius, presented a gospel different than that taught by the Catholic Church, one that was news to the people of the day. They went against the established doctrine and so against orthodoxy. This demands much greater proof that they speak the truth. They must prove that God has sent them to change the gospel and reform His Church, a Church that He promised would not perish and paid for in His precious blood, sustained and guided by the Holy Spirit. How is such an extraordinary mission to be proved? Through miracles alone. It is not enough that they twist the bare letters of the Bible to fit their own meanings.

James Swan seems to think Scriptural support of their argument was sufficient for people to accept the authenticity of Athanasius (although I have already shown he has more to recommend him), and is also sufficient for us to accept the truth of the Reformed gospel. The Holy Scriptures are authoritative, yet sometimes both sides claim to derive their solution from Scriptures. Such was the case of Arianism. Athanasius bemoans the twisting of Scriptures that heretics use to “prove” Arianism, and in his discourses he painstakingly sets straight the orthodox interpretation of passages that had been misinterpreted by Arians. In other words, he is relying on the interpretation of Scriptures taught by the fathers of the Church since the Apostles. This is the much misunderstood importance of Tradition. It ultimately questions whether the gospel presented is the one preached from the beginning (1 John 2:24), despite supporting evidence that heretics and schismatics invariably give from the blessed and authoritative Scriptures.

Here are a few examples of Athanasius propounding the orthodox interpretation of Scriptures, and lamenting the twisting of Scriptures common to heretics:

“If then the use of certain phrases of divine Scripture changes, in their opinion, the blasphemy of the Thalia into reverent language, of course they ought also to deny Christ with the present Jews, when they see how they study the Law and the Prophets; perhaps too they will deny the Law and the Prophets like Manichees , because the latter read some portions of the Gospels. If such bewilderment and empty speaking be from ignorance, Scripture will teach them, that the devil, the author of heresies, because of the ill savour which attaches to evil, borrows Scripture language, as a cloak wherewith to sow the ground with his own poison also, and to seduce the simple.”

“And yet, needless though it be to refine upon these passages, considering their so clear and religious sense, and our own orthodox belief, yet that their irreligion may be shown here also, come let us shortly, as we have received from the fathers, expose their heterodoxy from the passage.”

“But since they allege the divine oracles and force on them a misinterpretation, according to their private sense , it becomes necessary to meet them just so far as to vindicate these passages, and to show that they bear an orthodox sense, and that our opponents are in error.”

In their works against heresies, Tertullian and Irenaeus also speak of the twisting of Scripture, showing by their testimony that it’s a trait common to heretics. Like Athanasius, they advise individuals to discern the true understanding of Scripture using the Catholic understanding of it, because that is consistent with the Apostolic Faith.

In Tertullian’s Perscription Against Heretics, he shows that orthodox Apostolic doctrine is the only true doctrine, and with it the only true understanding of Scripture, since heretics will always insist their interpretations are right:

“Truth is just as much opposed by an adulteration of [Scripture’s] meaning as it is by a corruption of its text… They rely on those [passages] which they have falsely put together, and which they have selected, because of their ambiguity…

It is indeed a necessary consequence that they should go so far as to say that adulterations of the Scriptures, and false expositions thereof, are rather introduced by ourselves, inasmuch as they, no less than we maintain that truth is on their side…

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures;… (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians? For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions

From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for no man knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles… If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches— those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth.”

Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies, like Tertullian and Athanasius, describes the adaptation of Scriptures to the heretic’s own ends, and the importance of adhering to the the truth of Apostolic churches and their correct understanding of Scripture to resist such falsehoods:

“[T]hey maintain that these are great, and wonderful, and hitherto unspeakable mysteries which it is their special function to develop; and so they proceed when they find anything in the multitude of things contained in the Scriptures which they can adopt and accommodate to their baseless speculations.” [Book 1, Chapter 1]

“And others of them, with great craftiness, adapted such parts of Scripture to their own figments, lead away captive from the truth those who do not retain a steadfast faith in one God, the Father Almighty, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” [Book 1, Chapter 3]

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures… For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world. 1 Corinthians 2:6 And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth…

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth… It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.” [Book 3, Chapter 2]

“Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth. And the heretics, indeed, who bring strange fire to the altar of God— namely, strange doctrines— shall be burned up by the fire from heaven, as were Nadab and Abiud. Leviticus 10:1-2 But such as rise up in opposition to the truth, and exhort others against the Church of God, [shall] remain among those in hell (apud inferos), being swallowed up by an earthquake, even as those who were with Chore, Dathan, and Abiron. Numbers 16:33 But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, [shall] receive from God the same punishment as Jeroboam did. 1 Kings 14:10

Such presbyters does the Church nourish… Of whom also did the Lord declare, Who then shall be a faithful steward (actor), good and wise, whom the Lord sets over His household, to give them their meat in due season?… Matthew 24:45-46 Paul then, teaching us where one may find such, says, God has placed in the Church, first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers. 1 Corinthians 12:28 Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles… For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things;… and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.” [Book 4, Chapter 26]

“He shall also judge those who give rise to schisms… For no reformation of so great importance can be effected by them, as will compensate for the mischief arising from their schism. He shall also judge all those who are beyond the pale of the truth, that is, who are outside the Church;…

True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy…” [Book 4, Chapter 33]

The idea that Athanasius was some kind of proto-Protestant, much like the idea that other Church Fathers are proto-Protestants, probably comes from his extensive use of the Scriptures. Yet we also see he is concerned with the teachings of the fathers and with orthodoxy. Sometimes these men often failed to use traditions and orthodoxy in their arguments against heretics and outsiders because heretics and outsiders do not value them. Which is why they were heretics. The Fathers could still use Scripture in their arguments, because many heretics still hold the Scriptures as authoritative. The Fathers often lamented their inability to use tradition, as seen by James White’s quote of Augustine “I must not press the authority of Nicea against you, nor you that of Ariminum against me; I do not acknowledge the one, as you do not the other; but let us come to ground that is common to both- the testimony of the Holy Scriptures.”. It does not mean they held no regard for traditions, just that they were often unable to use them against people with wonky ideas and those who despise authority (2 Peter 2:10). In this particular quote, the council of Ariminum was set up to overthrow Nicea, the established doctrine, and Ariminum was not approved by any valid pope and the decrees were annulled by Pope Liberius after he returned to his see, so of course Augustine wouldn’t recognize it’s authority. The fact the Arians felt the need to hold a council in order to impose their beliefs shows that councils were indeed important and the bishops held authority in determining doctrine.

There is one difference between Athanasius’s time and the Reformers time that some people might think justifies a reform against orthodoxy. At the Reformation, those on the side of orthodoxy had become corrupt and irreligious men, abusing their position, which led to a widespread devaluation of the Church heirarchy. In my initial post, I have already answered that this is not a sufficient excuse for Christians not to follow those God has placed in authority over them. We are called to discern truth using the foremost three rules of Faith – the Holy Scriptures, teachings of the fathers (Tradition), and the authorities of the Church (Magesterium) – but not to overturn all three rules in favor of our own perceived truth.

Is it too hard a thing to ask that we trust in God, though all men be false (Rom 3:3-4), and by trusting in Him believe He will guide His Church in all truth (John 16:13), that it is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim 3:15), that the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18)? But who thinks that God has abandoned His visible Church so that His flock scatter dangerously without seeing or knowing their Earthly shepherd, when God is most able to gather and lead them? If you say He is unwilling, you say He is not Love or Truth. He has preserved His Church, a much lesser thing than when He created it by the power of the cross. Who says He has let it fall denies the power of the cross. Who says a mere sinful man can destroy what God preserves doesn’t know the power of God.

Athanasius had the right to oppose Arianism, because he held ordinary authority in the Church as an archbishop, he retained the Faith given him by the fathers, and he used the orthodox understanding of the Holy Scriptures to show Christ revealed as both fully God and fully man. He had the three highest rules of Faith on his side: the Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magesterium. The Reformers fail on all three points. They did not hold an office worthy of their impertinence, they did not retain the faith given to them and instead overturned it, and they used new interpretations of the Holy Scriptures to form their arguments and beliefs. Their faith was a new invention, like Athanasius says, it was not given by the fathers, so is it not obviously a foreign heresy?


Did the Reformers Have Any Right?

August 5, 2009

Lately, I’ve been reading St. Francis de Sales’ defense of the Catholic Faith, The Catholic Controversy. I haven’t read the whole thing, but so far, I think it’s the best defense of the Faith ever given. Chris, who’s been reading it recently as well, agrees. Almost all modern Catholic apologetics repeat his reasonings, but without putting things quite as clearly as St. Francis does. It’s almost as if modern apologists have given ground and decided to only defend attacks from opposing apologists, arguing on their opponents’ terms and giving defense only from verses, instead of using reason to state their own case un-apologetically. St. Francis, however, uses reason as a guide and faith as a basis to point out the errors of the Reformation and the truth of the Catholic Faith. Of course, he uses the Bible abundantly, but to show Catholic traditions as the only ones consistent with Biblical Faith, not strictly deriving Catholic beliefs from passages. I’d like to see more of that these days.

One of the cases St. Francis makes against the Reformation is something that has been on my mind quite a lot lately. I’ve been wondering what right the Reformers had to do what they did. This line of thinking would never have occurred to me years ago, in my Protestant mind. In fact, I had many arguments with Chris where I flatly denied any worth of appeal to tradition, or history, or the validity of any beginnings of the Reformation. I adamantly insisted that the only thing that really mattered was whether or not the Reformers were right to leave the Church and reject the authority of the Pope, not whether they had the right. I steadfastly held to the idea that truth was a rare commodity, held by a few faithful, sought and not found for 1500 years. I thought my insistence that everyone throughout history could have been wrong was akin to believing truth was something that couldn’t be claimed by a majority. But now I believe there are earmarks on the truth, ways to recognize it, not by a majority like I thought Catholics were trying to do, but by the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary authorities that God has placed over us.

Chris eventually gave up even mentioning history, but obviously I somehow changed my mind. I think knowing more history changed my mind. Reading the Church Fathers and both Protestant and Catholic histories of the Reformation opened my eyes. I found out that I never really knew how things happened or why, I only had a vague outline of events in my mind, usually tainted by the agenda of the historian telling the tale. (Side note: read primary sources! You’ll find out whether Augustine believed in the Real Presence when you read his works.) It is important to know where ideas come from and with what authority people promote them. Recognizing God’s authority behind things is a vital way to recognize His truth. It’s not enough to say something with its truth recommended only by your repeated insistence: “I’m right!” More and more, it seems to me that’s the only thing the Reformers really had, insisting they were right where the Catholic authorities were wrong, leaving everyone else to decide for themselves if they agreed. And by what authority were the Reformers saying these things?

The Bible often commands us to submit to authorities (Rom 13:1, 1 Pet 2:13). Luther insisted this was only meant for secular authorities, but there are other verses that seem to be talking about Church authorities (Heb 13:17, 2 Pet 2:10) and verses where Jesus specifically mentions obeying those in authority over God’s people, those in the seat of Moses (Matt 23:1-3). Biblically, obeying authorities does extend to religious authorities, and it would seem Luther said it didn’t because that was the only interpretation he could make consistent with his personal desires, beliefs and actions. Since there are religious authorities we need to obey, we need to learn to recognize both ordinary religious authorities (priests and rabbis commissioned in the ordinary way of laying on of hands by those already in authority) and extraordinary religious authorities (like Moses, specifically commissioned by God Himself).

St. Francis makes clear arguments that the Reformers had neither ordinary nor extraordinary authority to do what they did. He calls this right a “mission” that Reformers could have obtained either from earthly authorities or directly from God. He denies the right of secular authorities to commission a religious mission, which I think none of us will argue with. He says it’s rather ridiculous for the Reformers to claim any ordinary authority on the basis of their priesthood, since they operate in disobedience to their bishops and have rejected the Catholic Church anyway. So the Reformers are left trying to claim an extraordinary mission that comes directly from God. Now here’s the interesting part:

Throughout the Bible, there are stories of men on a mission from God. Consider Moses. God speaks to Moses and sends him on a mission, and before even asking for the ability to speak that mission clearly, Moses requests “patents” proving that God has sent him. God sees this as good and gives Moses three different miracles to attest his authenticity. Miracles have always been proof that someone is sent by God. If anyone who has walked the Earth should be excused from this proof of authority, this patent of authenticity that they are sent from God, it would have been Jesus Christ Himself. Yet, even Christ said that if he had not performed miracles, the people would have been right not to believe in Him. He was accredited by God through His miracles (Acts 2:22).

The Reformers had no miracles, so they had no mission from God. In fact even if they did have miracles, those on extraordinary mission do not overthrow ordinary authorities, they fulfill and uphold them. They had no legitimate reason to overthrow the ordinary authorities because Catholic beliefs do not contradict the Bible, they are consistent with the Bible, just not the Reformer’s interpretation of it which they had no authority to promote. Using Biblical standards, it’s rather obvious that the Reformers were not sent by God.

It’s baffling, really, how men could have just decided that sola scriptura is the only rule of Faith, then based on that alone overturn 1500 years of traditions that did not contradict the Bible. Was it really Biblically necessary to cut the number of sacraments from seven to two? Of course not. But sola scriptura gave Reformers carte blanche to interpret everything themselves and start from scratch. Beliefs and practices began to boil down to the personal insistence “I’m right!” in their interpretation of the Bible, without consulting traditions or authorities. History meant nothing anymore, and perhaps that’s why you never hear modern apologists talk about whether the Reformers had the right to do what they did. There’s a disconnect with and almost an impertinent disdain for history in the world today.

Today, Protestants defend the Reformation principle of sola scriptura and reject any ultimate Earthly religious authorities by saying men are fallen, fallible, corrupt creatures. The Catholics steadfastly maintain that the faithlessness of man does not diminish the faithfulness of God, so the corruption of anyone anointed by God can’t negate their anointing. Judas was still an Apostle despite his undoubted reprobate status. He still did miracles in Christ’s name and was sent out as one of the twelve. David was still God’s chosen king despite his treachery concerning Bathsheba. God’s anointing remains, despite our sins. The corruption of men does not negate the status of Christ’s Church as His Spouse, nor does their fallibility equate with the fallibility of the Church as a whole, since we have Christ’s promise against its demise. The Protestant reasoning behind sola scriptura sounds to me like invented justification to follow our own judgment, driven by fear of corrupt men and lack of trust in God’s ability to lead His Church, even though the Bible commands us to obey authorities regardless of their quality. Ironically, when warned against men who will lead us astray from the gospel, it is those who despise authority we need to be wary of (2 Peter 2:10).

If anyone accuses me of trusting in potentially corrupt men, I must answer that the man I trust is Christ, and I believe His promise of faithfulness to His Church, believe that only men chosen by God are placed in authority, especially in His Church, and that as well as having His Word faithfully conveyed in the Bible, He is capable of having the Faith conveyed by His visible Bride. (St. Francis has some things to say on the visibility of the Church as well. Great book. You oughta read it.) There is no reason for me to believe that Christ has abandoned His Bride to the AntiChrist or demolished His Church. There is no man that has come along with a new mission since Christ and the Apostles. The Reformers had no right, and I can’t consider any of their proposed beliefs knowing that the men themselves were not sent by God. If I’m Christian, I’m Catholic.

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James Swan wrote Did Athanasius Have Any Right? in response to this post. I have heard many Protestant defenders say that Athanasius and the Reformers were doing the same thing and if you accept one you must accept the other. I wrote Yes, Athanasius Had the Right to show the difference between them.


The Church Fathers on Tradition

February 16, 2009

I have been asked to show the tradition of the Church Fathers as the infallible source of truth outside of the Scriptures. So I have compiled a lengthy list of quotes that demonstrate this tradition consisted of a living Church ruled by Apostolic successors, was to be believed and obeyed as if it was the voice of God itself, contained truth not found in Scripture but harmonious with it, and that Scriptures cannot be understood apart from this tradition. I would encourage everyone to read the complete works or at least chapters in the works pertaining to tradition, heretics, and Scriptures, especially Irenaeus’s Against Heresies and Tertullian’s The Prescription Against Heretics. Catholic teachings are not only consistent with the view of tradition as seen below, but are consistent with the view of Scripture as seen in Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Volume III. Although the sola scriptura may be consistent with the latter, it is decidedly not compatible with these views of tradition.

The following quotes define the tradition of which the Church Fathers speak as being the living Church, which transmitted Apostolic tradition through Apostolic succession. They assert this tradition as something to be obeyed as if you are obeying Christ himself.

Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honour of a bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: I say unto you, That you are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers. Since this, then, is founded on the divine law, I marvel that some, with daring temerity, have chosen to write to me as if they wrote in the name of the Church; when the Church is established in the bishop and the clergy, and all who stand fast in the faith.
[Cyprian, Letters, No. 33]

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to the perfect apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves.
[Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 3]

Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth.
[Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, Ch. 26]

In the same way all should respect the deacons as they would Jesus Christ, just as they respect the bishop as representing the Father and the priests as the council of God and the college of the Apostles. Apart from these there is nothing that can be called a Church.
[Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Trallians, Ch. 2]

Let all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father, and the priests, as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Apart from the bishop, let no one perform any of the functions that pertain to the Church. Let that Eucharist be held valid which is offered by the bishop or by one to whom the bishop has committed this charge. Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.
[Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch. 8]

The following shows that the Church Fathers indeed believed truth was transmitted through tradition, even truth beyond that found in Scripture and in every practice that was handed down through the succession of the apostles.

Therefore it is the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship. This is the fountain of truth, this is the abode of faith, this is the temple of God; into which if anyone shall not enter, or from which if any shall go out, he is estranged from the hope of life and eternal salvation.
[Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book 4, Ch. 30]

Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. Revelation 22:17 For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?
[Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 4]

I desire you therefore, in the first place, to hold fast this as the fundamental principle in the present discussion, that our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed to us a light yoke and an easy burden, as He declares in the Gospel: Matthew 11:30 in accordance with which He has bound His people under the new dispensation together in fellowship by sacraments, which are in number very few, in observance most easy, and in significance most excellent, as baptism solemnized in the name of the Trinity, the communion of His body and blood, and such other things as are prescribed in the canonical Scriptures, with the exception of those enactments which were a yoke of bondage to God’s ancient people, suited to their state of heart and to the times of the prophets, and which are found in the five books of Moses. As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful.
[Augustine, Letters, No. 54]

Here is an amusing and sarcastic exasperated exposition of Tertullian against heretics believing that they found the truth after error had been believed for an interval. It shows that tradition was used to determine truth, since truth was more likely transmitted closer to the Apostles time rather than later.

In whatever manner error came, it reigned of course only as long as there was an absence of heresies? Truth had to wait for certain Marcionites and Valentinians to set it free. During the interval the gospel was wrongly preached; men wrongly believed;… Else, if not wrongly done, and to no purpose, how comes it to pass that the things of God were on their course before it was known to what God they belonged? that there were Christians before Christ was found? that there were heresies before true doctrine? Not so; for in all cases truth precedes its copy, the likeness succeeds the reality.
[Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 29]

These quotes find the Church Fathers believed this tradition to be consistently and trust worthily transmitted through the Church. They are expounding the certainty of truth in tradition, that it will not go astray, and that we as Christians should trust it. In effect, they describe what may be seen as infallible Apostolic tradition.

From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for no man knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles, whom He sent forth to preach— that, of course, which He revealed to them. Now, what that was which they preached— in other words, what it was which Christ revealed to them— can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves, both vivâ voce, as the phrase is, and subsequently by their epistles. If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches— those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth.
[Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 21]

Grant, then, that all have erred; that the apostle was mistaken in giving his testimony; that the Holy Ghost had no such respect to any one (church) as to lead it into truth, although sent with this view by Christ, John 14:26 and for this asked of the Father that He might be the teacher of truth; John 15:26 grant, also, that He, the Steward of God, the Vicar of Christ, neglected His office, permitting the churches for a time to understand differently, (and) to believe differently, what He Himself was preaching by the apostles,— is it likely that so many churches, and they so great, should have gone astray into one and the same faith? No casualty distributed among many men issues in one and the same result. Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues. When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition. Can any one, then, be reckless enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition?
[Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 28]

But [it has, on the other hand, been shown], that the preaching of the Church is everywhere consistent, and continues in an even course, and receives testimony from the prophets, the apostles, and all the disciples— as I have proved— through [those in] the beginning, the middle, and the end, and through the entire dispensation of God, and that well-grounded system which tends to man’s salvation, namely, our faith; which, having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also.
[Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Ch. 24]

Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed the Churches; which fact I have in the third book taken all pains to demonstrate. It follows, then, as a matter of course, that these heretics aforementioned, since they are blind to the truth, and deviate from the [right] way, will walk in various roads; and therefore the footsteps of their doctrine are scattered here and there without agreement or connection. But the path of those belonging to the Church circumscribes the whole world, as possessing the sure tradition from the apostles, and gives unto us to see that the faith of all is one and the same, since all receive one and the same God the Father, and believe in the same dispensation regarding the incarnation of the Son of God, and are cognizant of the same gift of the Spirit, and are conversant with the same commandments, and preserve the same form of ecclesiastical constitution, and expect the same advent of the Lord, and await the same salvation of the complete man, that is, of the soul and body. And undoubtedly the preaching of the Church is true and steadfast, in which one and the same way of salvation is shown throughout the whole world.
[Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, Ch. 20]

These quotes shows the relationship between Scripture and tradition as seen by Tertullian. It seems to be the same as the relationship described in the modern Catholic Church. Not only are they harmonious, transmitting the same truth of salvation, but also Scripture is lame without the true rule of faith to interpret it. It’s interesting that when there was dispute in tradition, many of the Church Fathers (like Irenaeus in Against Heresies) resorted to the Scriptures as a common accepted rule of faith, but Tertullian rejected this method on the grounds that people with different traditions would have different interpretations of Scripture.

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures… “With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?” For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.
[Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 19]

Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, as many as walk according to the rule, which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures;
[Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 37]

Where diversity of doctrine is found, there, then, must the corruption both of the Scriptures and the expositions thereof be regarded as existing… What we are ourselves, that also the Scriptures are (and have been) from the beginning. Of them we have our being, before there was any other way, before they were interpolated by you… One man perverts the Scriptures with his hand, another their meaning by his exposition.
[Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 38]