“The doctrine of Sola Scriptura overlooks – or at least grossly underemphasizes – the fact that the Church came before the Bible, and not the other way around. It was the Church, in effect, which wrote the Bible under the inspiration of Almighty God: the Israelites as the Old Testament Church (or “pre-Catholics”) and the early Catholics as the New Testament Church. (Ed. Hold onto your Bible, Martin. It’s a Catholic book!)
In the pages of the New Testament we note that Our Lord gives a certain primacy to the teaching authority of His Church and its proclamation in His name. For instance, in Matthew 28:20 we see Our Lord commissioning the Apostles to go and teach in His name, making disciples of all nations. In Mark 16:15 we note that the Apostles are commanded to go and preach to all the world. And in Luke 10:16 we see that whoever hears the seventy-two hears Our Lord. These facts are most telling, as nowhere do we see Our Lord commissioning His Apostles to evangelize the world by writing in His name. The emphasis is always on preaching the Gospel, not on printing and distributing it. (Ed. most everyone could hear, only 60-70% could read, at peak, most likely far less.)
Thus it follows that the leadership and teaching authority of the Church are indispensable elements in the means whereby the Gospel message is to reach the ends of the earth. Since the Church produced the scriptures, it is quite biblical, logical and reasonable to say that the Church alone has the authority to interpret properly and apply them. And if this is so, then by reason of its origin and nature, the Bible cannot serve as the only rule of faith for Christian believers. In other words, by producing the Scriptures, the Church does not eliminate the need for itself as teacher and interpreter of those Scriptures.
Moreover, is it not unreasonable to say that simply by putting Apostolic teaching into writing, the Church somehow made that written teaching superior to her oral teaching? Like the teaching organization Our Lord established, His Word is authoritative, but because the word is one form rather than another does not mean one form is to be subjugated to the other. Since God’s one Revelation is twofold in form, to deny the authority of one form would be to deny the authority of the other form as well. The forms of God’s Word are complementary, not competitive. Thus, if there is a need for the Scriptures, there is also a need for the teaching authority which produced them.”
-by Michael Sullivan From the Mar/Apr 2012 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
“Late one night, when St. Augustine was a youth, he and his buddies, “a group of bad youngsters,” stripped a pear tree of its fruit. They ate some of it but threw most of it to the pigs. The young Augustine didn’t steal the pears because he was hungry, or even because he desired them. He stole for the thrill of stealing. “Foul was the evil,” he said, “and I loved it.”
I had a similar experience when I was a boy: I tried to steal a toy gun even though I had $20 in my pocket—which at the time I considered a small fortune. A friend and I wandered around the toy department with a forced casualness. Our awkward movements caught the attention of a security guard, who caught us with our pockets full of loot. We didn’t steal because we couldn’t afford the toys nor because we really wanted them. We did it for the thrill. We wanted to do something evil.
If someone had asked me if I wanted to commit a sin, I would have said no. But the truth was that I was overpowered by the desire to do something wrong. The word for that is concupiscence.
When desire to do something wrong springs up within us— often without our consent—we have an opportunity to either give in or build virtue by reigning in the flesh with the will. The desire to commit a sin is not sinful in itself. The sin comes when we give our consent to the evil desire. Just as Adam and Eve didn’t sin until they chose the forbidden fruit, so with us, our temptations themselves are not sinful. This point is often misunderstood and is a major difference between Catholic and Protestant theology.
We Are Not Dung
Most Protestants consider concupiscence itself to be sinful. Martin Luther was tormented for many years by his inability to overcome his fallen nature. He found peace only in the thought that man is depraved and simply can’t avoid sin. He and other Protestant Reformers were convinced that even our good works are nothing but sin.
This doctrine is known as total depravity and is accepted by many Protestants.In this view human nature is steeped in sin, and man’s only hope for salvation is confessing his faith and believing in the Lord as his Savior. With faith, the “cloak of righteousness” covers over the filth of whatever sins may have corrupted the soul. Luther said Jesus covers up our sinfulness as snow covers a dunghill.
This is a far cry from the Catholic understanding of forgiveness, in which Jesus wipes the sin away completely through the sacrament of confession. Luther’s teachings skewed the traditional understanding of the relationship between faith and works:
“It does not matter what people do; it only matters what they believe. . . . God does not need our actions” (Luther’s Works, Erlangen, vol. 29, p. 126).
“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice: Sin must be committed. . . . Sin cannot tear you from Him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders” (A Letter from Luther to Melanchthon, n. 99, August 1, 1521).
Luther’s words are shocking for Catholics, as they undermine our understanding of free will. Gerard Wegemer, a professor of English at the University of Dallas and a prominent scholar of St. Thomas More, points out the dangers of such a position. Wegemer describes St Thomas More’s reaction to the works and teachings of the Reformers:
They deny free will and thus ascribe responsibility for evil to God, not to His creatures. At the same time, the “one special thing” they use to spice everything else is a doctrine of liberty that teaches that “having faith, they need nothing else.” . . . Luther’s denial of free will “plainly sets forth all the world to wretched living.” After all, if the way we act is not within our control, what incentive is there to struggle against one’s passions and temptations? Furthermore, if our actions make no difference to God, why should they make any difference to us? More considers Luther’s denial of free will to be “the very worst and most mischievous heresy that was ever thought upon, and also the most mad” ( Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage, Scepter, 123–25).
Invitation to Hypocrisy
Luther’s denial of free will remains a stumbling block for many good Christians who strive for virtue and holiness. This basic misunderstanding is made especially harmful when coupled with the common “once saved, always saved” mentality. The danger of this belief is that it can give rise to a disconnect between how one lives and what one believes: If it is impossible for me to overcome sin, and through my faith I’m assured salvation, then what keeps me from living a blatantly duplicitous life? Our modern culture is rife with examples of Christians—Catholics included—who go to church every Sunday and yet live in a way that is incompatible with Christ’s teachings.
We are called to serve God with all our faculties, both natural and supernatural. We must use our free will to choose what is good and holy and avoid what is evil. If we don’t have authentic free will, as many Protestants have claimed, how can we possibly live an upright Christian life? How can we freely follow Jesus’ command in the New Testament when he quoted Deuteronomy, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37)? If all we do is fraught with sin, as the Reformers taught, why bother to strive for virtue? (Ed. lest we be tempted to think this line of reasoning just an intellectual exercise in the hypothetical, ask Dr. Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian minister, WHY he became Catholic? It was the practical reality of THIS reason and its effects in present day, real life!!!) 🙁
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, says: The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis [self-denial] and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes (no. 2015).
We have a fallen nature, but we are not snow-covered dung. Rather, as Paul said, we make up for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ (cf. Col. 1:24). So when we offer our struggles and good works to Christ, they multiply and unite with His and help to build up the body of Christ, the Church. The “dunghill” is in reality fertile soil. Our cooperation with God’s grace nurtures the soil to produce good fruit: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
By making use of the sacraments, prayerfully examining our consciences each day, and aggressively working to build virtue, 1 Cor 9:27, NOT “earning our way to Heaven”, but “exercising virtue”, ALL a gift of and TOTALLY DEPENDENT EVEN FOR EXISTENCE, OURS AND ITS, ON HIS GRACE, ALONE!!!, we can be assured that when we call upon Christ, He will aid us in our daily struggle for holiness so that we can say with Paul at the end of this life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).” (Ed. BOTTOM LINE: our salvation, our offering, our righteous sacrifice of any holy thing, isn’t pre-emptive salvation, but rather His Gift, the Cross, the Salvation He offers us!!! Praise Him, Church!!!! Praise Him!!!! “ALL salvation is by way of the Cross!!!” NOTHING ELSE!!!)
CUF President Mike Sullivan originally wrote this article for This Rock magazine in 2005.
Catholic theology, in contrast to Lutheran, holds that salvation by Jesus Christ involves a healing to whole, an intrinsic renewal towards completeness from the injury of Original Sin, our Fallen State.
Martin Luther (words in bold) was a preacher and a writer given over to strong hyperbole. No one, neither Catholic nor Protestant, debates this assertion, and so…
-by Dave Armstrong, raised as a Methodist in Detroit, Michigan, Armstrong converted to non-denominational, Arminian evangelicalism in 1977, with strong affinities to the Jesus Movement and Messianic Judaism, and then to Catholicism in 1990, largely as a result of reading Bl John Henry Cardinal Newman, CO,’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. He was received into the Catholic Church in February 1991 by Rev. John Hardon, SJ. Armstrong’s conversion story was one of eleven in Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Truth.
“Conceived in sorrow and corruption, the child sins in his mother’s womb. As he grows older, the innate element of corruption develops. Man has said to sin: ‘Thou art my father’—and every act he performs is an offense against God; and to the worms: ‘You are my brothers’—and he crawls like them in mire and corruption. He is a bad tree and cannot produce good fruit; a dunghill, and can only exhale foul odors. He is so thoroughly corrupted that it is absolutely impossible for him to produce good actions. Sin is his nature; he cannot help committing it. Man may do his best to be good, still his every action is unavoidably bad; he commits a sin as often as he draws his breath.-Martin Luther, #8: “Werke (Wittenberg Edition), Vol. III, p. 518.” This refers to the edition of Luther’s works, published in Wittenberg: 12 volumes in German (1539-1559) and seven volumes in Latin (1545-1558).
-from Rev John Hardon, SJ, “St. Peter Canisius on Christmas Joy”, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Vol. 48 – #3, December 1947, pp. 167-172)
The Catholic Church teaches man is made in God’s image, and though he is fallen, he is not worthless excrement. This was one of the novel, peculiar contributions of the so-called “Reformation,” to introduce this non-biblical motif into Christian theology (sadly one of several such unbiblical themes). Luther himself picked up on this passage in his Lectures on Galatians, from 1535:
“And with Paul let us confess that all our works and righteousness . . . are nothing but loss and refuse (Phil. 3:8). And let us tread underfoot and utterly abhor, as a polluted garment (Is. 64:6) and the deadly poison of the devil, all the power of free will, all the wisdom and righteousness of the world, all religious orders, all Masses, ceremonies, vows, fasts, hair shirts, and the like.”-Luther Werks, vol. 26, p. 41; translated by Jaroslav Pelikan
“It is not enough that this sin is forgiven through grace, for through our infirmity we fall right back into sin . . . the thing itself, which is truly sin and is remitted and forgiven by God, still remains in the flesh and is not completely dead . . . in the justified there are still remnants of sin, like lust and other vices. These the prophet sees in himself as dung or seed plots . . .
. . . God wants to wipe out the sins as far as the forgiveness of their guilt and their power are concerned, but not as far as the thing itself or the nature of the sin is concerned . . . Therefore, both statements are true: “No Christian has sin”; and “Every Christian has sin.”
. . . He is righteous and holy by an alien or foreign holiness – I call it this for the sake of instruction – that is, he is righteous by the mercy and grace of God.’-ibid, pp. 327-328
. . . it is great wisdom to know that we are nothing but sin . . . From such a root nothing good before God can come forth . . the whole nature corrupted by sin . . . -ibid,p. 307; Althaus – see source below – renders this as “there is simply nothing in us that is not sinful” – , p. 153
We say that the natural powers are corrupt in the extreme.-ibid,p. 308. . . it is a fictitious expression to speak of a “holy man,” just as it is a fictitious expression to speak of God’s falling into sin; for by the nature of things, this cannot be.
For this reason we must reject those very ancient and deep-rooted errors by which in monastic fashion we speak of Jerome or Paul as “holy.” In themselves they are sinners, and only God is holy, as the church sings. Those whom we call “holy” are made holy by an alien holiness, through Christ, by the holiness of free mercy. In this holiness the whole church of the faithful is the same, there is no difference . . . It does not matter that Peter and Paul did greater things than you or I . . . So you see nothing holy, nothing good in man, as the psalm says (Ps. 53:2,3), “God looks down from heaven upon the sons of men . . . There is none that does good, no, not one.” . . . Therefore let us keep quiet about holiness and holy people . . . everything that is ours is evil before God . . .-ibid, p. 325
. . . it is clear how we become righteous, namely, by the mere imputation of righteousness . . .-ibid, p. 326
. . . neither the tree nor the fruit of human nature is good, but that everything has been so deformed and destroyed by sin that there is nothing sound left in all of human nature. [expanding upon David’s statement of 51:4] “. . . I am completely evil. Before Thee this is my name, that I do evil, that I have sinned, that I am sinning, that I shall sin forever.”-ibid, p. 337
This glory of righteousness must be left to God alone.-ibid, p. 338
. . . that constant and innate sin in which we live and die.-ibid, p. 339
He [Paul} is talking [in 51:5] about the unformed seed itself and declaring that it is full of sin and a mass of perdition.-ibid, p. 348
(Luther thinks that procreation is intrinsically sinful (apparently because of universal lust): “. . . the sin there is in procreation . . . in this respect how is our nature better than that of the beasts? In this action there is no knowledge of God and no faith . . . God puts up with this sinful begetting for the sake of His creation . . . the procreation of children . . . cannot be without sin . . .” – p. 349 (This makes sense within his framework, since he thinks everything we do is tainted by sin.)
. . . we acknowledge that we are completely sinful, indeed that it was sin even when we were conceived and formed in our mother’s womb.-ibid, p. 352
Luther scholar Paul Althaus (The Theology of Martin Luther, translated by Robert C. Schultz, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), provides more examples of similar sentiments from Luther:
No one can be certain that he is not continually committing mortal sin, because of the most secret vice of pride.-ibid, p. 149
[Althaus writes: “The pope condemned this statement in his bull excommunicating Luther, and Luther states it even more sharply in his defense in 1521”]
I say now that no one should doubt that all our good works are mortal sins, if they are judged according to God’s judgment and severity and not accepted as good by grace alone.-ibid, p. 149; LW 32, 91
[Althaus: “This is due not to the character of good works as specific individual acts but to man’s pride which stains them all.”] A righteous man sins in all his good works. -ibid, p. 149; LW 32,83
A good work, even though well performed is a venial sin according to God’s merciful judgment, and a mortal sin according to God’s strict judgment.-ibid, p. 149; LW 32,86
Every good work is a sin unless it is forgiven by mercy.-ibid, p. 149; LW 32,209
. . . he never does good without its being corrupted . . . we always sin even when we do what is right; sometimes we sin more and sometimes we sin less, depending on how much our flesh assails us with its impure desires.-ibid, p. 152; LW 31,61
[Althaus writes on the same page: “This is true not only of man without Christ but also of the Christian man. For, although he has received the Spirit of God, he still remains ‘flesh’ which resists God’s will. For this reason he still sins even when he does what is right.”]
[possibly offensive language warning]
Moreover, Luther called himself “dung”:
Luther frequently called himself a piece of shit and in a part of his table talk of 1542-43 that fascinated Erickson, he said, “I am the ripe shit; so also is the world a wide asshole; then shall we soon part.”-in Richard Marius, Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death, Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 20; primary source, TR 5, no. 5537 — footnote on p. 491. Elsewhere I found further documentation: TR 5:222.14-15.19-20. LW 54:448. See Erickson’s alternate rendering, on p. 206 of his famous work, “Young Man Luther”.
Keeping all this in mind, as Luther’s conception of the total depravity of man and how he “frequently” described himself, let’s now look at how he comments upon Psalm 51:7, which refers to snow cleansing our sins:
How can we become “purer than snow” even though the remnants of sin always cling to us? I answer: I have always said that man is divided into spirit and flesh. Therefore, as far as the total man is concerned, there remains remnants of sin or, as Paul calls them (2 Cor. 7:1), “defilements of body and spirit.” . . . Still we have obtained Baptism, which is most pure; we have obtained the Word, which is most pure; and in the Word and Baptism we have by faith obtained the blood of Christ, which is surely most pure. According to this purity, which in spirit and faith we have from Christ and from the Sacraments that He instituted, the Christian is rightly said to be purer than snow . . . even though the defilements of spirit and flesh cling to him. These are concealed and covered by the cleanness and purity of Christ . . .
. . . if you look at a Christian without the righteousness and purity of Christ, as he is in himself, even though he be most holy, you will find not only no cleanness, but what I might call diabolical blackness. . . . Therefore if they ask: “Sin always clings to man; how, then, can he be washed so as to make him whiter than snow?” you reply: “We should look at a man, not as he is in himself, but as he is in Christ.-ibid, pp. 366-367
Thus we virtually have all the elements of the alleged “saying”: “snow-covered dunghill” in this one work alone: the commentary on Psalms 51. This is all the more so if we realize that Luther often equates “the flesh” with fallen man in and of himself (as Althaus elaborates at length, on pp. 153-155). On p. 327 Luther refers to “remnants of sin” in the flesh as “dung.” His treatment of man’s nature generally lends itself to the description of dung, as it is worthless, totally corrupt, and evil. Luther also pits man’s uncleanness and “diabolical blackness” over against the “cleanness” of baptism and justification; impurity to purity (with perhaps the Old Testament ritual cleanliness concerning dirt, dead bodies, menstruation, etc. in the back of his mind). This readily lends itself to the same interpretation. His comments on “snow” immediately above clearly fulfill the second component of the “saying”.
If we also add the direct reference to man as a “dunghill” (which I documented from Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.), then we have the entire conception, directly expressed in one place or another, if not one concise instance of a saying which encapsulates the thought.
As a clarification, to be fair to Luther (who is often pilloried, slandered, and misrepresented by Catholics, especially non-scholars on the Internet), and to accurately present his entire teaching, it is to be emphasized that, despite all this bad theology above (according to Catholic orthodoxy), Luther does accept the notion of progressive sanctification. He is not an antinomian; he does not condone or sanction sin on the grounds that it is absolutely unavoidable, or rendered ineffectual due to justification, or some sort of bogus “eternal security” based on a one-time justification. He only denies that such works play any role in justification or salvation, or that they can remove all sin before death. He denies entire sanctification. But then so do Catholics, in most cases (which is precisely why we believe in purgatory). Hence Luther wrote, in the same commentary:
Let us take care to be washed daily, to become purer day by day, so that daily the new man may arise and the old man may be crushed, not only for his death but also for our sanctification.-ibid, p. 330
. . . as long as we live, we all ask to be washed thoroughly. These are the two parts of justification . . . the second part is the conferring of the Holy Spirit with His gifts, who enlightens us against the defilements of spirit and flesh (2 Cor. 7:1) . . . Thus the true knowledge of God grows daily, together with other gifts. like chastity, obedience, and patience. Thus our body and its lusts are broken so that we do not obey them. Those who do not have this gift or do not use it this way, but fall into the uncleanness of either the flesh or the spirit, so that they approve of all doctrines without discrimination – they are dominated by the flesh, and they do not know the bath of the Holy Spirit for which David is asking here.-ibid, p. 331
In true theology, therefore, this is the first concern, that a man become good through the regeneration of the Spirit . . . Then it comes to pass that, as from a good tree, good fruits are also born . . . his own works, which ought to follow in regeneration. . . . These are the main works which testify that a tree has been changed from a barren tree to a fruitful one . . .-ibid, p. 385
Interestingly enough, I even managed to come across a “snow over refuse” analogy by Luther which has more to do with his belief in sanctification, than his Lutheran imputed justification doctrine:
We see grain sowed in the ground. Reason now asks: What happens to the grain in winter that has been sowed in the ground? Is it not a dead, moldy, decayed thing, covered with frost and snow? But in its own time it grows from that dead, moldy, decayed grain into a beautiful green stalk, which flourishes like a forest and produces a full, fat ear on which there are 20, 30, 40 kernels, and thereby finds life where only death existed earlier. Thus God has done with heaven, earth, sun and moon, and does every year with the grain in the field. He calls to that which is nothing that it should become something and does this contrary to all reason. Can He not also do something which serves to glorify the children of God, even though it is contrary to all reason? -Sermon on Our Blessed Hope, St. Louis Edition of Luther’s writings, IX: 930-957
p.s. above is Dave’s official Amazon avatar. However, I also fancy the below, obviously by a not overly zealous Catholic admirer. Flattery will get you everywhere!!! 🙂 It’s flattery, right? :/
“Biblical scholars tell us that the last book of the New Testament was not written until the end of the 1st century A.D., that is, until around the year 100 A.D. (9) This fact would leave roughly a 65-year gap between Our Lord’s Ascension into Heaven and the completion of the Bible as we know it. The question that begs to be asked, therefore, is this: “Who or what served as the final, infallible authority during that time?”
If the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura were true, then since the Church existed for a time without the entire written Word of God, there would have been situations and doctrinal issues which could not have been resolved with finality until all of the New Testament books were complete. The ship would have been left without a rudder, so to speak, at least for a time. But this goes contrary to the statements and promises that Our Lord made about His Church – particularly, “behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20) – not to mention that He told His disciples: “I will not leave you orphans.” (John 14:18).
This issue is of particular importance, as the first several decades of the Church’s existence were tumultuous. Persecutions had already begun, believers were being martyred, the new Faith was struggling to grow, and some false teachings had already appeared (cf. Galatians 1:6-9). If the Bible were the Christian’s only rule of faith, and since the Bible was not fully written – much less settled in terms of its canon – until 65 years after Christ’s Ascension, how did the early Church possibly deal with doctrinal questions without an authority on how to proceed?
Now the Protestant may be tempted to offer two possible responses: 1) that the Apostles were temporarily the final authority while the New Testament was being written, and 2) that the Holy Spirit was given to the Church and that His direct guidance is what bridged the time gap between Our Lord’s Ascension and the completion of the New Testament.
Regarding the first response, it is true that Jesus Christ invested the Apostles with His authority; however, the Bible nowhere indicates that this authority’s active role within the Church would cease with the death of the last Apostle. Quite the contrary, the Bible record is quite clear in that a) it nowhere says that once the last Apostle dies, the written form of God’s Word will become the final authority; and b) the Apostles clearly chose successors who, in turn, possessed the same authority to “bind and loose.” This is shown in the election of Matthias as a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Cf. Acts 1:15-26) and in St. Paul’s passing on his Apostolic Authority to Timothy and Titus (cf. 2 Timothy 1:6, and Titus 1:5). If anything, a Protestant only gives credence to the Catholic teaching by insisting on the authority of the Apostles.
Regarding the second response – that the Holy Spirit’s direct guidance bridged the time gap – the problem with such a position is that the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit Himself is an extra-Biblical (That is, “outside of the Bible”) source of authority. Naturally the Bible speaks very clearly of the Holy Spirit’s presence among the believers and His role in teaching the disciples “all truth,” but if the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit were, in fact, the ultimate authority during those 65 years, then the history of the Church would have known two successive ultimate authorities: first the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, with this guidance then being replaced by the Scriptures, which would have become sola, or the “only” ultimate authority. And if this situation of an extra-Biblical ultimate authority is permissible from a Protestant perspective, does this not open the door to the Catholic position, which says that the teaching authority of the Church is the direct ultimate authority – deriving her authority from Christ and her teaching from Scripture and Tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit.
The Catholic believes that Christ indeed did give the Holy Spirit to the Church and that the Holy Spirit has always been present in the Church, teaching it all truth (John 16:13) and continually safeguarding its doctrinal integrity, particularly through the office of the Pope. Thus the Gospel would still have been preached – authoritatively and infallibly – even if not a single verse of the New Testament had ever been written.”
(9) There are some Biblical scholars who maintain that 2 Peter was actually the last New Testament book written, dating it sometime in the earlier part of the 2nd century. Since there is not a consensus among scholars that this date is accurate, it is sufficient for our purposes here to accept the generally held view that all of the New testament books were complete with the composition of Revelation.
“…Of course, infallibility does not include a guarantee that any particular pope won’t “neglect” to teach the truth, or that he will be sinless, or that mere disciplinary decisions will be intelligently made. It would be nice if he were omniscient or impeccable, but his not being so will fail to bring about the destruction of the Church.
But he must be able to teach rightly, since instruction for the sake of salvation is a primary function of the Church. For men to be saved, they must know what is to be believed. They must have a perfectly steady rock to build upon and to trust as the source of solemn Christian teaching. And, Catholics have confidence in this NOT because it is necessarily ONLY Church teaching, and since the Church was founded and commissioned by Jesus Christ, but also because it was directly promised to us, His Church, by Jesus Christ, God Incarnate Himself, Jn 14:26, et al. And that’s why Church and then papal infallibility exists in matters of teaching Faith and Morals…” (Ed. keep in mind you practicalists, for two thousand years enemies of His Church have been trying to shoot holes in this one. They are all dead and long forgotten. His Church remains. Chew on that, and ask yourself why? St Thomas, the Apostle, pray for us!!!) 🙂
(Ed. I have always sympathized with the proposed convenience of having God’s entire will contained in one attractive, portable, right-weight book one could carry around, proudly, and wave under the noses of all others, and know that I, Matthew P. McCormick, could open my portable oracle of the Almighty and thunder down His Most Holy Will!!!! It’s…just…incorrect. That’s all, and I am not a biblical scholar by any stretch of hallucination. And, I need help from the many lives of the many people, present and past, to whom I am most deeply grateful and humbled by, truly, who have devoted and spent their entire lives in #study, #contemplation, #reflection, and #scholarship, to help biblical #knuckle-draggers, and #backsliding-Catholics, like me, to have a hope of understanding some of the obtuse two to six thousand year old texts translated from ancient languages, none of which I can write, or read, or am even at the most basic level, introduced to, and hopeless in terms of nuance, context, and meaning. I am grateful for the professionals. I am just a poor, in all ways, sinner who wants to go to Heaven. I hear it’s AWESOME. That’s all. Just simple me. I NEED help!!! So many others tell me ALL the time I do. I do.)
“The Bible says in 2 Tim. 3:17 that the man of God is “perfect, furnished to every good work.” As we noted above, this verse means only that the man of God is fully supplied with Scripture; it is not a guarantee that he automatically knows how to interpret it properly. This verse at most argues only for the material sufficiency of Scripture, a position which is held by some Catholic thinkers today.
“Material sufficiency” would mean that the Bible in some way contains all the truths that are necessary for the believer to know; in other words, the “materials” would thus be all present or at least implied. “Formal sufficiency,” on the other hand, would mean that the Bible would not only contain all the truths that are necessary, but that it would also present those truths in a perfectly clear and complete and readily understandable fashion. In other words, these truths would be in a useable form,” and consequently there would be no need for Sacred Tradition to clarify and complete them or for an infallible teaching authority to interpret them correctly or “rightly divide” God’s word.
Since the Catholic Church holds that the Bible is not sufficient in itself, it naturally teaches that the Bible needs an interpreter. The reason the Catholic Church so teaches is twofold: first, because Christ established a living Church to teach with His authority. He did not simply give His disciples a Bible, whole and entire, and tell them to go out and make copies of it for mass distribution and allow people to come to whatever interpretation they may. Second, the Bible itself states that it needs an interpreter.
Regarding the second point, we read in 2 Peter 3:16 that in St. Paul’s epistles there are “certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest [distort], as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.”
In this one verse we note three very important things about the Bible and its interpretation: a) the Bible contains passages which are not readily understandable or clear, a fact which demonstrates the need for an authoritative and infallible teacher to make the passages clear and understandable; (8) b) it is not only possible that people could “wrest” or distort the meaning of Scripture, but this was, in fact, being done from the very earliest days of the Church; and c) to distort the meaning of Scripture can result in one’s “destruction,” a disastrous fate indeed. It is obvious from these considerations that St. Peter did not believe the Bible to be the sole rule of faith. But there is more.
In Acts 8:26-40 we read the account of the deacon St. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. In this scenario, the Holy Spirit leads Philip to approach the Ethiopian when Philip learns that the Ethiopian is reading from the prophet Isaias, he asks him a very telling question: “Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest?” Even more telling is the answer given by the Ethiopian: “And how can I, unless some man show me?”
Whereas this St. Philip (known as “the Evangelist”) is not one of the twelve Apostles, he was nonetheless someone who was commissioned by the Apostles (cf. Acts 6:6) and who preached the Gospel with authority (cf. Acts 8:4-8). Consequently, his preaching would reflect legitimate Apostolic teaching. The point here is that the Ethiopian’s statement verifies the fact that the Bible is not sufficient in itself as a teacher of Christian doctrine, and people who hear the Word do need an authority to instruct them properly so that they may understand what the Bible says. If the Bible were indeed sufficient of itself, then the eunuch would not have been ignorant of the meaning of the passage from Isaias.
There is also 2 Peter 1:20, which states that “no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation.” Here we see the Bible itself stating in no uncertain terms that its prophecies are not a matter for which the individual is to arrive at his own interpretation. It is also most telling that this verse is preceded by a section on the Apostolic witness (verses 12-18) and followed by a section on false teachers (chapter 2, verses 1-10). St. Peter is obviously contrasting genuine, Apostolic teaching with false prophets and false teachers, and he makes reference to private interpretation as the pivotal point between the two. The clear implication is that private interpretation is one pathway whereby an individual turns from authentic teaching and begins to follow erroneous teaching.”
(8) The assertion by Protestants that the Bible is its own interpreter is nothing more than an exercise in futility. They claim that a person can correctly interpret any given Scripture by comparing it with what the rest of the Bible teaches. The problem with this line of reasoning can be readily demonstrated. Ask ten people to give their respective interpretations of a given Scripture passage, and you could get as many as ten different explanations. If the Bible were able to interpret itself, as Protestants claim, why do you not always obtain ten identical interpretations, even if you allow these people an ample amount of time to conduct study and research? And if this diversity of interpretation is true for a mere ten people, imagine the results, when you multiply that number by one hundred, or one thousand, or one million. History has already seen such a result, and its name is Protestantism.
“In Matthew 18:15-18 we see Christ instructing His disciples on how to correct a fellow believer. It is extremely telling in this instance that Our Lord identifies the Church rather than Scripture as the final authority to be appealed to. He Himself says that if an offending brother “will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican” (Matt. 18:17) – that is, as an outsider who is lost. Moreover, Our Lord then solemnly re-emphasizes the Church’s infallible teaching authority in verse 18 by repeating His earlier statement about the power to bind and loose (Matt. 16:18-19), directing it this time to the Apostles as a group (7) rather than just to Peter: “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” (Matt. 18:18).
Of course there are instances in the Bible where Our Lord does appeal to Scripture, but in these cases He, as one having authority, was teaching the Scriptures; He was not allowing the Scriptures to teach themselves. For example, He would respond to the Scribes and the Pharisees by using Scripture precisely because they often tried to trip Him up by using Scripture. In these instances, Our Lord often demonstrates how the Scribes and Pharisees had wrong interpretations, and hence He corrects them by properly interpreting Scripture.
His actions do not argue that Scripture should be sola, or an authority in itself and, in fact, the only Christian authority. Quite the contrary; whenever Christ refers His hearers to the Scriptures, He also provides His infallible, authoritative interpretation of them, demonstrating that the Scriptures do not interpret themselves.
The Catholic Church readily acknowledges the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. But the Catholic doctrine is that the immediate rule of faith for the Christian is the teaching authority of the Church – an authority to teach and interpret both Scripture and Tradition, as Matt. 18:17-18 shows.
It should also be noted that implicit (perhaps even explicit) in this passage from Matthew is the fact that the “Church” must have been a visible, tangible entity established in a hierarchical fashion. Otherwise, how would anyone have known to whom the wrongdoer should be referred? If the Protestant definition of “church” were correct, then the wrongdoer would have to “hear” each and every believer who existed, hoping that there would be unanimity among them regarding the issue at hand. The inherent absurdity of this scenario is readily apparent. The only way we can make sense of Our Lord’s statement here is to acknowledge that here was a definite organization, to which an appeal could be made and from which a decisive judgment could be had.”
(7) Catholic teaching states that “the body of bishops,” successors of the Apostles, also teach infallibly when they, in union with the Pope, “exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council.” (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #891). Also, “binding and loosing” is Rabbinical terminology, and it refers to the power to pronounce authoritative interpretations and teachings. Christ clearly intended, then, for His Apostles, under the leadership of Saint Peter (for Saint Peter alone received the power of the keys), to possess the authority to render these authoritative interpretations and teachings.
“It is very interesting to note that in I Timothy 3:15 we see, not the Bible, but the Church – that is, the living community of believers founded upon St. Peter and the Apostles and headed by their successors – called “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Of course, this passage is not meant in any way to diminish the importance of the Bible, but it is intending to show that Jesus Christ did establish an authoritative and teaching Church which was commissioned to teach “all nations.” (Matt. 28:19). Elsewhere this same Church received Christ’s promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18), that He would always be with it (Matt. 28:20), and that He would give it the Holy Spirit to teach it all truth. (John 16:13).
To the visible head of His Church, St. Peter, Our Lord said: “And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and, whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.” (Matt. 16:19). It is plainly evident from these passages that Our Lord emphasized the authority of His Church and the role it would have in safeguarding and defining the Deposit of Faith.
It is also evident from these passages that this same Church would be infallible, for if at any time in its history it would definitively teach error to the Church as a whole in matters of faith or morals – even temporarily – it would cease being this “pillar and ground of the truth.” Since a “ground” or foundation by its very nature is meant to be a permanent support, and since the above-mentioned passages do not allow for the possibility of the Church ever definitively teaching doctrinal or moral error, the only plausible conclusion is that Our Lord was very deliberate in establishing His Church and that He was referring to its infallibility when He called it the “pillar and ground of the truth.”
The Protestant, however, has a dilemma here by asserting the Bible to be the sole rule of faith for believers. In what capacity, then, is the Church the “pillar and ground of the truth” if it is not to serve as an infallible authority established by Christ? How can the Church be this “pillar and ground” if it has no tangible, practical ability to serve as an authority in the life of a Christian? The Protestant would effectively deny that the Church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” by denying that the Church has the authority to teach.
Also, Protestants understand the term “church” to mean something different from what the Catholic Church understands it to mean. Protestants see “the church” as an invisible entity, and for them it refers collectively to all Christian believers around the world who are united by faith in Christ, despite major variations in doctrine and denominational allegiance. Catholics, on the other hand, understand it to mean not only those true believers who are united as Christ’s Mystical Body, but we simultaneously understand it to refer to a visible, historical entity as well, namely, that one – and only that one – organization which can trace its lineage in an unbroken line back to the Apostles themselves: the Catholic Church. It is this Church and this Church alone which was established by Christ and which has maintained an absolute consistency in doctrine throughout its existence, and it is therefore this Church alone which can claim to be that very “pillar and ground of the truth.”
Protestantism, by comparison, has known a history of doctrinal vacillations and changes, and no two denominations completely agree – even on major doctrinal issues. Such shifting and changing could not possibly be considered a foundation or “ground of the truth.” When the foundation of a structure shifts or is improperly set, that structure’s very support is unreliable (cf. Matt. 7:26-27). Since in practice the beliefs of Protestantism have undergone change both within denominations and through the continued appearance of new denominations, these beliefs are like a foundation which shifts and moves. Such beliefs therefore cease to provide the support necessary to maintain the structure they uphold, and the integrity of that structure becomes compromised, Our Lord clearly did not intend for His followers to build their spiritual houses on such an unreliable foundation.”
(Editor’s note: a dear friend who converted to Catholicism, and holds an MA in Catholic theology posed the following question to me after I sent this post to him:
“From: your dear friend
Date: Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 7:23 AM
To: “Matthew P. McCormick” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Sola Scriptura?: Bible calls Church “Pillar & Ground of Truth” & not itself
Matthew, see below:
adjective -incapable of making mistakes or being wrong.
I believe Catholicism to be the true faith.
But how can he assert the Catholic Church is incapable of being wrong?
What about the 19th century when it denounced evolution? What about when the church held the earth was flat?
More recently, the Church has changed its teaching on a variety of things such as who gets to heaven, and on and on.
Finally, I though that Catholic doctrine held that Christians make up one universal church with Protestants and Eastern Orthodox believers simply not in communion with us. He seems to say that is not the case.
Do you agree?
Your dear friend”
“From: “Matthew P. McCormick” <email@example.com>
Date: Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 7:50 AM
To: my dear friend
Subject: Re: Sola Scriptura?: Bible calls Church “Pillar & Ground of Truth” & not itself
My dear friend, this is an amateur layman’s interpretation, my opinion, take it for what it’s worth. You could ask the author yourself, too. If you click on his name in the post it will take you to his Linkedin page. He should be easy to reach. You MAs in theology can hash it out from there. I’m only working on mine. “I just work here!” 🙂
This word is misinterpreted by everyone. I think there are two uses. One narrow and VERY specific, papal infallibility, and then the other MUCH broader and general. The first use is for doctrine which is forbidden to be contested. What almost everyone fails, and few Catholics care to distinguish, is what level of teaching authority of the Church is the Church teaching this in question teaching? Priestly celibacy is a discipline not doctrine. It could be easily changed. There are cultures that would tremble globally and others that wouldn’t even have a pulse about such a change. The last teaching, and ONLY one, I can think of right now, that exercised papal infallibility, is the Immaculate Conception, but as Joel points out, this has been an oral tradition from the beginning, and I believe him.
The second is the general infallibility guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. You can’t exactly have THE TRUE CHURCH which only has a variable probability of getting it right, now can you? Either, as I understand both Joel and the doctrine, you believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to help God’s instrument on earth “get it right”, or you don’t, which distinctly and directly implies doubt and a lack of faith in the promises of Christ? And, the Holy Spirit? This is how I understand what he is saying. You should check with Joel, too. Let me know what he says, please. Thank you for reading the stuff I send and your thoughtful question. It is how we reach that infallible Truth!! Always has been.
I hear what you are saying, but I would also recommend to you, even though highly impractical, to do scholarly research, or find someone who has on each of the positions below you claim the Catholic Church has held and qualify, precisely, in detail, what the Church’s position exactly was, and whether it declared each, even if as you describe, to the level of infallibility? I doubt, based on experience, you will find the convicting evidence you suggest? I doubt it. You must give the Curia credit for being universal and eternal masters of language and taking the charge of infallibility through the Holy Spirit most seriously. Any teaching, if there is any doubt, can’t hope to reach the level of doctrine, in my experience. The Curia really are superstars of language and thought, and would NEVER be careless with regard to doctrine, let alone any lesser degree of authoritative teaching, which is why I suggest scholarly research on your understandable, but albeit gross, albeit imprecise, albeit general myths you assert?
If you can find the citation where the Church says “whatevs”, let me know. I am not aware. The Church’s long standing doctrine of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” has NEVER CHANGED!!!! The big news from Vatican II was the Church, formally, and in writing, said, and I quote, “it is possible”, NOT normative, NOT usual, NOT to be expected by the rational person, but merely, “possible”, and did not indicate a likelihood, and certainly NOT a healthy or reliable one, for salvation to occur outside the Church; AND, ONLY under very specific and defined categories, I.e. baptism by blood, desire, water, invincible ignorance, i.e. unaware the Catholic Church exists, try and BET YOUR SOUL on THAT ONE!!!!, etc. Good luck!!! Many people misread, Gaudium et Spes, and think it says “whatevs”. Nothing could be further from the truth!!!
Simply being a Catholic is absolutely NO GUARANTEE of salvation. We never know in this life. We trust in our Lord’s promises & His mercy; faith, not de facto salvation. Only of the saints do we have some surety of their salvation and being in Heaven with Jesus, hence the miracles. Finally & frankly, that is merely what canonization does and means is to confirm and promulgate the formal earthly understanding of the FAR GREATER, more momentous, and of greater import fact, that these souls, truly, “have been made worthy of the promises of Christ!!!! Praise Him, Church!!!! Praise Him!!!!
Editor: it is also helpful to recall, I believe, that while notions of general illiteracy until recently are being contested, at best, ancient and medieval literacy rates are understood currently to never have risen above 30%-40%, at their peak.
Also, ancient Judaism held an oral Tradition in addition to Hebrew Scriptures, a continuity into orthodox Christianity. It was not until the Reformation this twinning had ever been challenged. Sola Scriptura is novel and unique.
“St. Paul both commends and commands the keeping of oral tradition. In 1 Corinthians 11:2, for instance, we read, “Now I praise you, brethren, that in all things you are mindful of me: and keep my ordinances as I have delivered them to you.” (4) St. Paul is obviously commending the keeping of oral tradition here, and it should be noted in particular that he extols the believers for having done so (“I praise you….”). Explicit in this passage is also the fact that the integrity of this Apostolic oral tradition has clearly been maintained, just as Our Lord promised it would be, through the safeguarding of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 16:3).
Perhaps the clearest Biblical support for oral tradition can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:14(15), where Christians are actually commanded: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.” This passage is significant in that a) it shows the existence of living traditions within the Apostolic teaching, b) it tells us unequivocally that believers are firmly grounded in the Faith by adhering to these traditions, and c) it clearly states that these traditions were both written and oral. Since the Bible distinctly states here that oral traditions – authentic and Apostolic in origin – are to be “held” as a valid component of the Deposit of Faith, by what reasoning or excuse do Protestants dismiss them? By what authority do they reject a clear-cut injunction of St. Paul?
Moreover, we must consider the text in this passage. The Greek word krateite, here translated “hold,” means “to be strong, mighty, to prevail.” (5) This language is rather emphatic, and it demonstrates the importance of maintaining these traditions. Of course one must differentiate between Tradition (upper-case “T”) that is part of divine Revelation, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, Church traditions (lower-case “t”) that, although good, have developed in the Church later and are not part of the Deposit of Faith.
An example of something that is part of Tradition would be infant Baptism; an example of a Church tradition would be the Church’s calendar of feast days of Saints. Anything that is part of Tradition is of divine origin and hence unchangeable, while Church traditions are changeable by the Church. Sacred Tradition serves as a rule of faith by showing what the Church has believed consistently through the centuries and how it is always understood any given portion of the Bible. One of the main ways in which Tradition has been passed down to us is in the doctrine contained in the ancient texts of the liturgy, the Church’s public worship.
It should be noted that Protestants accuse Catholics of promoting “unbiblical” or “novel” doctrines based on Tradition, asserting that such Tradition contains doctrines which are foreign to the Bible. However, this assertion is wholly untrue. The Catholic Church teaches that Sacred Tradition contains nothing whatsoever that is contrary to the Bible. Some Catholic thinkers would even say that there is nothing in Sacred Tradition which is not also found in Scripture, at least implicitly or in seminal form. Certainly the two are at least in perfect harmony and always support each other. For some doctrines, the Church draws more from Tradition than from Scripture for its understanding, but even those doctrines are often implied or hinted at in the Sacred Scripture. For example, the following are largely based on Sacred Tradition: infant Baptism, the canon of Scripture, the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sunday (rather than Saturday) as the Lord’s Day, and the Assumption of Our Lady.
Sacred Tradition complements our understanding of the Bible and is therefore not some extraneous source of Revelation which contains doctrines that are foreign to it. Quite the contrary: Sacred Tradition serves as the Church’s living memory, reminding her of what the faithful have constantly and consistently believed and how to properly understand and interpret the meaning of Biblical passages. (6) In a certain way, it is Sacred Tradition which says to the reader of the Bible “You have been reading a very important book which contains God’s revelation to man. Now let me explain to you how it has always been understood and practiced by believers from the very beginning.””
(4) The word translated as “ordinances” is also translated “teachings” or “traditions”; for example, the New International Version gives “teachings,” with a footnote: “Or traditions.”
(5) W. E. Vine [Protestant Author], Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing House, n.d.), p. 564., 1996, op. Cit.
(6) One example of this interpretive memory involves Revelation 12. The Early Church Fathers understood the “woman clothed with the sun” to be a reference to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For someone to assert that this doctrine did not exist until 1950 (the year Pope Pius XII formally defined the doctrine) represents ignorance of ecclesial history. Essentially, the belief was held from the beginning, but it was not formally defined until the 20th century. Bear in mind that the Church often did not have a need to define a doctrine formally until it was formally challenged by someone (usually a heretic). Such occasions gave rise to the need officially to define the “parameters” of the doctrine in question.
“Perhaps the most striking reason for rejecting this doctrine is that there is not one verse anywhere in the Bible in which it is taught, and it therefore becomes a self-refuting doctrine.
Protestants often point to verses such as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 or The Apocalypse (Revelation)22:18-19 in defense of Sola Scriptura, but close examination of these two passages easily demonstrates that they do not support the doctrine at all.
“In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we read, “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” There are five considerations which undermine the Sola Scriptura interpretation of this passage:
1) The Greek word ophelimos (“profitable”) used in verse 16 means “useful” not “sufficient.” An example of this difference would be to say that water is useful for our existence – even necessary – but it is not sufficient; that is, it is not the only thing we need to survive. We also need food, clothing, shelter, etc. Likewise, Scripture is useful in the life of the believer, but it was never meant to be the only source of Christian teaching, the only thing needed for believers.
2) The Greek word pasa, which is often rendered as “all,” actually means “every,” and it has the sense of referring to each and every one of the class denoted by the noun connected with it. (2) In other words, the Greek reads in a way which indicates that each and every “Scripture” is profitable. If the doctrine of Sola Scriptura were true, then based on Greek verse 16, each and every book of the Bible could stand on its own as the sole rule of faith, a position which is obviously absurd.
3) The “Scripture” that St. Paul is referring to here is the Old Testament, a fact which is made plain by his reference to the Scripture’s being known by Timothy from “infancy” (verse 15). The New Testament as we know it did not yet exist, or at best it was incomplete, so it simply could not have included in St. Paul’s understanding of what was meant by the term “scripture.” If we take St. Paul’s words at face value, Sola Scriptura would therefore mean that the Old Testament is the Christian’s sole rule of faith. This is a premise that all Christians would reject.
Protestants may respond to this issue by arguing that St. Paul is not here discussing the canon of the Bible (the authoritative list of which books are included in the Bible), but rather the nature of Scripture. While there is some validity to this assertion, the issue of canon is also relevant here, for the following reason: Before we can talk about the nature of Scripture as being theopneustos or “inspired” (literally, “God-breathed”), it is imperative that we identify with certainty those books we mean when we say “Scripture”; otherwise, the wrong writings may be labeled as “inspired.”
St. Paul’s words here obviously took on a new dimension when the New Testament was completed, as Christians eventually considered it, too, to be “Scripture.” It can be argued, then, that the Biblical canon is also the issue here, as St. Paul – writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – emphasizes the fact that all (and not just some) Scripture is inspired. The question that begs to be asked, however, is this: “How can we be sure we have all the correct writings?” obviously, we can only know the answer if we know what the canon of the Bible is. Such a question poses a problem for the Protestant, but not for the Catholic, as the latter has an infallible authority to answer it.
4) The Greek word artios, here translated “perfect,” may at first glance make it seem that the Scriptures are indeed all that is needed. “After all,” one may ask, “if the Scriptures make the man of God perfect, what else could be needed? Doesn’t the very word ‘perfect’ imply that nothing is lacking?”
Well, the difficulty with such an interpretation is that the text here does not say that it is solely by means of the Scriptures that the man of God is made “perfect.” The text – if anything – indicates precisely the opposite to be true, namely, that the Scriptures operate in conjunction with other things. Notice that it is not just anyone who is made perfect, but rather the “man of God” – which means a minister of Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 6:11), a clergyman.
The fact that this individual is a minister of Christ presupposes that he has already had training and teaching which prepared him to assume his office. This being the case, the Scriptures would be merely one item in a series of items which make this man of God “perfect.” The Scriptures may complete his list of necessary items or they may be one prominent item on the list, but surely they are not the only item on his list nor intended to be all that he needs.
By way of analogy, consider a medical doctor. In this context we might say something like, “The Physician’s Desk Reference [a standard medical reference book] makes our General Practitioner perfect, so that he may be ready to treat any medical situation.” Obviously such a statement does not mean that all a doctor needs is his PDR. It is neither the last item on his list or just one prominent item. The doctor also needs his stethoscope, his blood pressure gauge, his training, etc. These other items are presupposed by the fact that we are talking about a doctor rather than a non-medical person. So it would be incorrect to assume that if the PDR makes the doctor “perfect,” it is the only thing which makes him so.
Also, taking this word “perfect” as meaning “the only necessary item” results in a biblical contradiction, for in James 1:4 we read that patience – rather than the Scriptures – makes on perfect: “And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.” Now it is true that a different Greek word (teleios) is used here for “perfect,” but the fact remains that the basic meaning is the same. Now, if one rightly acknowledges that patience is clearly not the only thing a Christian needs in order to be perfect, then a consistent interpretive method would compel one to acknowledge likewise that the Scriptures are not the only think a “man of God” needs in order to be perfect.
5) The Greek word exartizo in verse 17, here translated “furnished” (other Bible versions read something like “fully equipped” or “thoroughly furnished”) is referred to by Protestants as “proof” of Sola Scriptura, since this word – again – may be taken as implying that nothing else is needed for the “man of God.” However, even though the man of God may be “furnished” or “thoroughly equipped,” this fact in and of itself does not guarantee that he knows how to interpret correctly and apply any given Scripture passage. The clergyman must also be taught how to correctly use the Scriptures, even though he may already be “furnished” with them.
Consider again a medical analogy. Picture a medical student at the beginning of internship. He might have at his disposal all the equipment necessary to perform an operation (i.e., he is “thoroughly equipped” or “furnished” for a surgical procedure), but until he spends time with the doctors, who are the resident authorities, observing their techniques, learning their skills, and practicing some procedures of his own, the surgical instruments at his disposal are essentially useless. In fact, if he does not learn how to use these instruments properly, they can actually become dangerous in his hands.
So it is with the “man of God” and the Scriptures. The Scriptures, like the surgical instruments, are life-giving only when properly used. When improperly used, the exact opposite results can occur. In one case they could bring physical ruin or even death; in the other case they could bring spiritual ruin or even spiritual death. Since the Bible admonishes us to handle rightly or rightly divide the word of truth (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15), it is therefore possible to handle incorrectly or wrongly divide it – much like an untrained medical student who incorrectly wields his surgical instruments.
Regarding The Apocalypse (Revelation) 22:18-19, there are two considerations which undermine the Sola Scriptura interpretation of these verses. The passage – almost the very last in the Bible – reads: “For I testify to every one that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book: If any man shall add to these things, God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from these things that are written in this book.”
1) When these verses say that nothing is to be added to or taken from the “words of the prophecy of this book,” they are not referring to Sacred Tradition being “added” to the Sacred Scripture. It is obvious from the context that the “book” being referred to here is Revelation or The Apocalypse and not the whole Bible. We know this because St. John says that anyone who is guilty of adding to “this book” will be cursed with the plagues” written in this book,” namely the plagues he described earlier in his own book, Revelation. To assert otherwise is to do violence to the text and to distort its plain meaning, especially since the Bible as we know it did not exist when this passage was written and therefore could not be what was meant. (3)
In defense of their interpretation of these verses, Protestants will often contend that God knew in advance what the canon of Scripture would be, with Revelation being the last book of the Bible, and thus He “sealed” that canon with the words of verses 18-19. But this interpretation involves reading a meaning into the text.
Furthermore, if such an assertion were true, how is it that the Christian knows unmistakably that Revelation 22:18-19 is “sealing” the canon unless an infallible teaching authority assures him that this is the correct interpretation of that verse? But if such an infallible authority exists, then the Sola Scriptura doctrine becomes ipso facto null and void. Circular.
2) The same admonition not to add or subtract words is used in Deuteronomy 4:2, which says, “You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it: keep the commandment of the Lord your God which I command you.” If we were to apply a parallel interpretation to this verse, then anything in the Bible beyond the decrees of the Old Testament law would be considered non-canonical or not authentic Scripture – including the New Testament! Once again, all Christians would reject this conclusion in no uncertain terms. The prohibition in Revelation 22:18-19 against “adding,” therefore, cannot mean that Christians are forbidden to look to anything outside the Bible for guidance.”
(2) W. E. Vine [Protestant Author], Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing House, n.d.), p. 387. Cf. St. Alphonsus Liguori, An Exposition and Defense of all the Points of Faith Discussed and Defined by the Sacred Council of Trent; along with a Refutation of the Errors of the Pretended Reformers, etc. (Dublin: James Duffy, 1846), p. 50.
(3) While all the books of the New Testament are considered to have been written by the time St. John finished The Apocalypse (Revelation), they were not formally identified as “the Bible” until much later on.
“”We believe in the Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety as the sole rule of faith for the Christian!”
You may have heard these words or something very similar to them from a Fundamentalist or Evangelical Protestant. They are, in essence, the meaning of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, or “Scripture alone,” which alleges that the Bible – as interpreted by the individual believer – is the only source of religious authority and is the Christian’s sole rule of faith or criterion regarding what is to be believed. By this doctrine, which is one of the foundational beliefs of Protestantism, a Protestant denies that there is any other source of religious authority or divine Revelation to humanity.
The Catholic, on the other hand, holds that the immediate or direct rule of faith is the teaching of the Church; the Church in turn takes her teaching from the divine Revelation – both the written Word, called Sacred Scripture, and the oral or unwritten Word, known as “Tradition.” The teaching authority or “Magisterium” of the Catholic Church (headed by the Pope), although not itself a source of divine Revelation, nevertheless has a God-given mission to interpret and teach both Scripture and Tradition. Scripture and Tradition are the sources of Christian doctrine, the Christian’s remote or indirect rule of faith
Obviously these two views on what constitutes the Christian’s rule of faith are opposed to each other, and anyone who sincerely seeks to follow Christ must be sure that he follows the one that is true.
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura originated with Martin Luther, the 16th-century German monk who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and started the Protestant “Reformation.” (1) in response to some abuses that had been occurring within the Catholic Church, Luther became a vocal opponent of certain practices.
As far as these abuses were concerned, they were real and Luther was justified in reacting. However, as a series of confrontations between him and the Church hierarchy developed, the issues became more centered on the question of Church authority and – from Luther’s perspective – whether or not the teaching of the Catholic Church was a legitimate rule of faith for Christians.
As the confrontations between Luther and the Church’s hierarchy ensued and tensions mounted, Luther accused the Catholic Church of having corrupted Christian doctrine and having distorted Biblical truths, and he more and more came to believe that the Bible, as interpreted by the individual believer, was the only true religious authority for a Christian. He eventually rejected Tradition as well as the teaching authority of the Catholic Church (with the Pope at its head) as having legitimate religious authority.
An honest inquirer must ask, then, whether Luther’s doctrine of “Scripture alone” was a genuine restoration of a Biblical truth or rather the promulgation of an individual’s personal views on Christian authority. Luther was clearly passionate about his beliefs, and he was successful in spreading them, but these facts in and of themselves do not guarantee that what he taught was correct. Since one’s spiritual well-being, and even one’s eternal destiny, is at stake, the Christian believer needs to be absolutely sure in this matter.
Following are twenty-one considerations which will help the reader scrutinize Luther’s doctrine of Sola Scriptura from Biblical, historical and logical bases and which show that it is not in fact a genuine Biblical truth, but rather a man-made doctrine.”
Love, Faith, and Works,
(1) To the Catholic mind, the Protestant Reformation was not a reform in the true sense of the word, the way Catholics understand the word, but rather it was a revolution – an upheaval of the legitimate, established religious and civil order of the day.
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine