Category Archives: Five Solas

Goldilocks, Antinomianism, & Legalism


-please click on the image for greater detail


-by Jimmy Akin

“Two terms that often appear in Protestant discussions of faith and works are legalism and antinomianism. The first is giving law too much emphasis, and the second is giving law too little emphasis.

The law in question is God’s law, and in the Bible, the most famous expression of God’s law, was given through Moses. It contains the Ten Commandments, as well as all the other regulations that were part of the Mosaic covenant.

This expression of God’s law became so prominent in Jewish thinking that it is referred to as “the Law of Moses” (Josh. 8:31; Luke 2:22; 1 Cor. 9:9; etc.) or even simply as “the Law” (Matt. 22:36; Luke 5:17; Rom. 2:12; etc.). The latter term also came to be applied to the first five books of the Bible—the Torah or Pentateuch—which contain this law. It is thus spoken of as “the Law,” in contrast to “the prophets,” which are the other major part of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17; Luke 16:16; Rom. 3:21; etc.).

Traditionally, Jewish theologians have divided the commandments of the law into two classes: those that require an action (“thou shalt”) and those that forbid an action (“thou shalt not”). However, Christian theologians have distinguished three types of commandments, based on the nature of what they require or forbid.

The first are moral commandments, which convey ethical principles (e.g., “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery”; Exod. 20:12-13). The second are ceremonial precepts that governed the ritual life of Israel (e.g., killing the Passover lamb or the distinction between clean and unclean foods; cf. Exod. 12; Lev. 11). The third type are often called the judicial or civil commands. These regulated the civil life of Israel. They include things like building codes (Deut. 22:8), penalties when one has committed theft (Lev. 6:5), and the establishment of safe zones where a person who has committed accidental homicide may flee (Num. 35:9-15).

Since the Law was given to the Jewish people, a key question for Christian theologians has been which of these commandments remain binding. One of the first controversies that faced the Church was whether Gentile converts to the Faith needed to be circumcised. The Church quickly determined that the answer was no (Acts 15; cf. Acts 10-11; Gal. 2). It was also established that Christians did not need to keep Jewish dietary laws or observe Jewish feast days (Col. 2:16; cf. Mark 7:19).

However, Jesus indicated that other commandments found in the Mosaic Law were binding, saying, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments,” and going on to explain, “You shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:17-19).

It thus appeared that certain commandments were binding on Christians, but others were not. Since the commandments that Jesus cited were moral in nature, whereas the ones Christians were not bound to observe were ceremonial, the solution adopted in Catholic circles was that it is God’s moral commandments that apply to all peoples.

Thus, Paul can speak of Gentiles who do not have the Law of Moses but who nevertheless “do by nature what the Law requires,” for “what the Law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:14-15). Since these moral commands are part of human nature, they constitute a “natural law” that all, including Christians, are bound to observe.

Christians are not bound to observe the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic Law. These requirements pointed forward to the coming of Christ but have now been superseded (Col. 2:17). In their place, Christ has given us other ceremonies, such as baptism, which replaces circumcision and is thus “the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11-12). Christians are thus bound not by the Law of Moses, but by “the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2).

At the time of the Reformation, some Protestants did not like the concept of natural law, which they thought violated the principle of sola scriptura by encouraging us to look to human nature to figure out moral questions. However, other Protestants retained natural-law reasoning.

All Protestants have held that Christians are bound to observe God’s moral commandments, and most have agreed that Christians are not bound to observe the ceremonial and civil precepts of the Mosaic Law. But not all agree.

For example, Seventh-Day Adventists have held that Christians are obliged to observe certain laws traditionally considered ceremonial, such as the requirement to keep the Jewish Sabbath (i.e., Saturday).

Similarly, some Reformed (Calvinist) Protestants have advocated a view known as Christian Reconstructionism or Theonomy, which holds that the civil law of modern societies should be informed by the civil commandments of the Mosaic Law. This includes the use of Mosaic penalties for various crimes, and some authors have advocated the use of the death penalty for adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, witchcraft, and belonging to a false religion.

In addition, there have been many disputes in Protestant circles about whether particular practices are compatible with God’s law—including ones mentioned in the Bible (e.g., drinking alcohol, dancing, gambling, wearing makeup) and others not mentioned (e.g., smoking).

When two groups of Protestants have different views of how God’s law should be applied, the group seen as requiring too much of Christians is likely to be accused of legalism, whereas the group seen as requiring too little is likely to be accused of antinomianism (from Greek roots meaning “against the law”).

In addition, these terms are applied to those who are seen as requiring too much or too little for salvation. Thus, those who think repentance from sin or baptism are required may be accused of teaching “works salvation” and legalism by those who do not, and the latter will be accused of antinomianism by those who do.”

Love,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura 2


-by Jimmy Akin

“One of the stickiest points in Catholic-Protestant debates is what is meant by the Protestant term sola scriptura, or “Scripture alone.”

Protestant apologists assert the doctrine but are often reluctant to offer a precise definition of it. Most will say that it does not mean certain things and will make a general stab at saying what it does mean, but I do not know of a Protestant apologist who has offered a complete and precise definition.

Thus, Catholic apologists are left in the unenviable position of critiquing an imprecise assertion. They commonly critique what they perceive most Protestants to mean by sola scriptura, which brings on nigh-inevitable charges of misrepresenting “the Protestant position.”

The problem is that there is no single Protestant position on sola scriptura. The term is used different ways, the details of which vary. But there seem to be two major ways the idea is interpreted.

Two Definitions

At times the phrase is taken to mean that we must be able to derive from Scripture alone all of the theological truths that God wished to reveal to mankind—and even all of the religious practices in which Christians should engage (i.e., that Scripture is “sufficient for faith and practice”).

Other times a more restricted claim is made: that we can derive from Scripture alone all of the truths that are needed for salvation.

When the doctrine of sola scriptura is not under cross-examination, though, a more robust understanding is employed, and Evangelical Christians are trained to ask reflexively for a biblical basis whenever any theological idea or religious practice is proposed. Thus when Evangelicals talk with Catholics, they identify a particular Catholic doctrine or practice they disapprove of and then ask, “Where’s that in the Bible?” For example, an Evangelical may select a topic such as purgatory (a theological belief) or praying to saints (a practice) and demand a biblical basis for it.

Necessary for Salvation

Note that, strictly speaking, neither of these appears to involve a truth that is necessary for salvation: God exists; God is a Trinity; Jesus is God the Son; Jesus died on a cross for our sins; and we need to repent, believe, and be baptized to be saved—in other words, truths connected directly with the gospel.

Purgatory is not connected with the gospel in that way. Neither is praying to saints. A Protestant asking for biblical bases for these would seem to be using a more expansive understanding of sola scriptura than just the idea that Scripture states or implies all truths necessary for salvation. He seems to be expecting Scripture to contain bases for all theological truths and religious practices.

If the same individual retreats, when sola scriptura is being questioned, to the more modest understanding of it, then it is fair for the Catholic to note the inconsistency and ask him to choose one understanding of the doctrine and stick with it.

If he chooses the more expansive understanding, then he endorses a position that is much more difficult to defend. As many works of Catholic apologetics have shown, nobody in the pages of Scripture itself operated on the principle that all belief and practice should be derivable from Scripture alone. It’s hard to find passages that could be construed as teaching this idea, and it is easy to find passages that indicate the contrary, such as Paul’s exhortation to his readers to heed all of the traditions they had received, whether they were written in his letters or conveyed orally (2 Thess. 2:15).

If, though, the Evangelical chooses the more modest interpretation of sola scriptura, then he will have to let go of many common Protestant objections to Catholicism. If only truths necessary for salvation have to be given a biblical basis, then he would not be able to object to purgatory or praying to saints or Marian doctrines or other Catholic beliefs and practices that have been criticized since the Reformation. He might still disagree with Catholics on these, but he would not be able to fault a Catholic for not providing a biblical basis for them.

Infallible Teachings

An Evangelical might say, “Wait a minute: If a Catholic denies the existence of purgatory, which the Church has taught infallibly, that would be a grave sin. If he did it with adequate knowledge and consent, his grave sin would become mortal, and he would lose his salvation. Thus, for a Catholic, things such as purgatory are necessary for salvation.”

It’s true that a Catholic would commit a mortal sin under the circumstances just named, but that does not make purgatory a truth “needed” for salvation. If you have mere moments to evangelize a dying man, there are certain things that he needs to be told for the sake of his salvation: the truths mentioned above about God, Jesus, and how to respond to God’s offer of salvation.

Purgatory is not one of those. Purgatory may be an imminent reality for the dying man, but it is not necessary for him to know about it in order to accept God’s offer of salvation. If he has a while to live, he should be taught the fullness of the faith, including purgatory. But if he is in danger of death, he most needs the core facts of the gospel.

Ya Gotta Have Faith

Purgatory and similar beliefs are related to salvation in a different way: The reason it would be sinful to deny them is that it involves a rejection of the virtue of faith. God has taught them and empowered the Church to propose them infallibly to the faithful. Because that has happened, our faith in the working of God demands that we give assent to them. To refuse to do so, with adequate knowledge and consent, is to reject faith in God. One might still believe in the existence of God—and any number of other individual teachings of the faith—but the virtue of faith that unites us to God is extinguished if we reject his authority to teach us in the manner of his choosing.

A parallel can be proposed in an Evangelical context: The Bible clearly teaches many things that are not directly required for salvation. For example, it teaches the existence of angels. The reality of angels is not itself something that you need to know to get into heaven.

If you have a short time to evangelize a dying man who, by some fluke, has never heard of angels, you don’t have to take time away from telling him about God to make sure he knows about angels. Angels may be about to escort him to the pearly gates, but he doesn’t need to know about them in advance. The existence of angels is thus something that Scripture teaches, but it is not a truth necessary for salvation.

But suppose the dying man knows that the Bible teaches the existence of angels but refuses to believe it. Suppose he also knows that God is the author of the Bible and that God teaches the existence of angels, yet he still refuses to believe it. Does that man have faith in God? He may acknowledge God’s existence, he may want to be saved by God, but classical Protestant theologians would not say that a man who acknowledges God’s existence but refuses to accept what he knows to be God’s word has faith in God—certainly not saving faith.

Modest Interpretation

The question for the Evangelical thus remains whether such beliefs require a biblical basis. If they do require one, then we arrive back at a hard-to-defend interpretation of sola scriptura whereby everything we are expected to believe must have a biblical basis.

But what if the Evangelical really were willing to stick with the more modest interpretation? Suppose he said, “Okay, I don’t agree with Catholics on teachings such as purgatory, but I recognize that they are not necessary for salvation, so I won’t demand that Catholics produce a biblical basis for them.”

He might also say, “In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, Paul makes it clear that a person can sin by violating his conscience even when he mistakenly believes he is required by God to do or not do something. Paul even speaks as if such individuals may not be saved. So I can acknowledge that a person who believes the Catholic Church has been authorized to teach infallibly for God would sin and jeopardize his salvation if he rejected the ‘infallible’ teachings of the Church, even if they are not necessary in themselves for salvation.

“I just want to maintain,” he might conclude, “that there must be a biblical basis for every teaching that is in itself necessary for salvation. That’s all I mean when I talk about sola scriptura. What would a Catholic say about that?”

A Catholic Perspective

I don’t know any Evangelicals who are this startlingly consistent in advocating the modest interpretation of sola scriptura.

A Catholic would not use the term sola scriptura—which is historically contentious and highly prone to misunderstanding—but he certainly can agree that the basic facts of the gospel and how to respond to it can be derived from Scripture. A Catholic would add that these facts need to be understood in the light of Sacred Tradition and that the Church’s intervention may be necessary to make sure they are understood correctly.

Indeed, Peter warns that “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:21) and says of Paul’s writings that “there are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (3:16). But despite these qualifications, the basic facts necessary for salvation can be given a biblical basis.

It would be interesting to know how far such an Evangelical would be willing to rethink matters: If he’s willing to confine sola scriptura to just the basic facts needed for salvation, then what principles are to be employed in determining the rest of his theology?

The Catholic Church has a few he might want to consider.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

The Magical, Amazing, Self-Reading, Self-Interpreting Bible!!!

“Owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation. Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally.” – St Vincent of Lérins (d. c.445), Commonitory; 2, 5-6.


-by Joseph Heschmeyer, a former lawyer and seminarian, he blogs at Shameless Popery.

“One of the most dangerous ideas of the Protestant Reformation is that Scripture is somehow self-interpreting. According to this view, Scripture is so clear that we don’t need an infallible Catholic Church. The idea originates with Luther, but Protestants often believe it’s something taught by Scripture itself. Professor John Gerstner (1914-1996) argued in favor of this view against Catholicism by saying:

First, Rome denies that the Bible is a self-interpreting revelation. The Bible declares itself to be self-explanatory. This is called the doctrine of the perspicuity of the Scriptures (the see-through-ableness of the Scripture). It may be understood in its own light. What is obscure in one passage will be clearer in another. What is incomplete here is completed there. What is a figure in one place is a commentary in another.

The claim that the Bible is “self-interpreting revelation” is not only unbiblical, but incoherent, like saying “the book reads itself.” Someone interprets the Bible. He may do that infallibly or fallibly, well or poorly, but the text doesn’t interpret itself.

We see this in action within Scripture. Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30). At St. Peter’s request, he then explains the parable’s meaning (vv. 36-43). The parable didn’t explain itself: Jesus explained it. Likewise, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus walks with two of his disciples and, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). St. Luke doesn’t say Scripture interpreted itself to the disciples. Jesus interpreted it.

Likewise, St. Philip was led by the Holy Spirit to an Ethiopian eunuch. “So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless some one guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:30-31). Notably, the man didn’t reply, “Of course I understand it! The book of Isaiah is self-interpreting.” Instead, someone (this time, Philip) explained its meaning.

This is the role of the Church, but it’s also the role of the theologian and the preacher. St. Paul tells St. Timothy to “attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:11). That is, he’s called to read Scripture and then to explain what it means, just as Jesus did in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-22).

So where does the Bible ever “declare itself to be self-explanatory,” or promise that “what is a figure in one place is a commentary in another”? Gerstner offers no citation for the simple reason that none exists. Even the idea that “what is obscure in one passage will be clearer in another” is question-begging, since Christians don’t agree about which passages are clear and which are obscure. As the Calvinist historian Alister McGrath explains:

Luther and Zwingli were unable to agree on the meaning of such phrases as “this is my body” (which Luther interpreted literally and Zwingli metaphorically) and “at the right hand of God” (which—with apparent inconsistency on both sides—Luther interpreted metaphorically and Zwingli literally). The exegetical optimism of the early Reformation may be regarded as foundering on this rock: Scripture, it seemed, was far from easy to interpret.

In response to the Catholic observation that Scripture needs interpretation, Gerstner says:

If the Bible must be interpreted by the Church in order to render its meaning certain, then the interpretation of the Church will have to be interpreted by another authority to make its meaning certain, and then there will need to be an interpreter of the interpreter, and so on ad infinitum.

If this were true, it would mean that no one could ever explain anything. That is, Gerstner isn’t so much arguing against Catholicism as he is arguing against communication and knowledge of the truth in general. If his argument were true, it would prove agnosticism, not Protestantism.

It’s also logically unsound. Certain passages of the Bible admit of multiple interpretations: they could mean A or B. If the Church clarifies, “It means A and not B,” that clarification doesn’t necessitate some further clarification—the argument simply doesn’t follow. If the Ethiopian needs Philip to explain Isaiah, it doesn’t follow that he must also need someone else to explain Philip, and so on ad infinitum.

But Gerstner gives his whole argument away immediately after this:

Our various Protestant church courts actually provide authoritative interpretations on most points when such decisions are necessary. But there is a difference between authoritative and infallible decisions. Compare, for example, the necessity for an authoritative interpretation of the Constitution. A Supreme Court performs that task. Yet what American believes the Supreme Court is infallible? Still, its decisions prevail as a matter of necessity. . . .

The Protestant church has provided for authority so that decisions can be rendered when necessary, but has avoided the error of investing this authority with infallibility. The Protestant church, not being infallible, can err, has erred, will err. There is one error, however, which it has not made and that is the greatest of them all—the error of thinking it cannot err.

So Gerstner actually recognizes the need for the Church to provide authoritative interpretations “when necessary.” The difference is simply that Protestant churches’ decisions can’t be trusted, because we don’t know if they’re erroneous, and they can err, have erred, and will err.

This is a remarkable concession for a few reasons. First, if Scripture is as clear and self-interpreting as Gerstner is claiming, why aren’t the Protestant teachings clear? How is it that there’s more than one Protestant denomination, and why isn’t each denomination sure that its own interpretation of Scripture is the right one? In one and the same argument, Gerstner is arguing that Scripture is so clear that there’s no need for an infallible Church to interpret it, but also that it’s so unclear that Protestants can’t escape from continually erring in interpreting it, and that the greatest error possible is thinking that we cannot err in our interpretation.

Second, the stakes here are higher than with the Supreme Court. The Constitution isn’t divinely inspired; Scripture is. If a denomination gets its “authoritative interpretation” wrong, it’s forcing its members to either go into schism or accept heresy, both of which are condemned in the New Testament. But since the “various Protestant church courts actually provide authoritative interpretations” that contradict one another and cannot be trusted as free from error, that’s precisely what Protestantism has to offer.

The fact that well-meaning and well read Protestants disagree with one another on the meaning of biblical passages should suffice to prove that Scripture isn’t self-interpreting. The fact that God gave us Scripture “to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15) should make Protestants care enough to find a Church capable of reliably interpreting what Scripture means without the constant danger that they might be endorsing heresy.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Biblical anarchy


-by Trent Horn

“Different Protestants have different definitions of sola scriptura, but at its core, every definition makes Scripture a Christian’s highest authority. In doing so, it leaves no room for a divinely appointed Magisterium or Church that can authoritatively declare what Christians are obliged or forbidden to believe. This is evident in things like the 1978 Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, a popular statement among conservative Evangelicals, which says, “We deny that Church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than scripture or equal to the authority of the Bible.”

But in practice, it is the authority of a person’s interpretation of the Bible that becomes the highest authority. This leads to what Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid called “a blueprint for anarchy.”

You get people like Matthew Vines, who earnestly contends that the Bible is divinely inspired and, when properly interpreted, does not condemn modern same-sex relationships. Or you get people like Brandan Robertson, who reject fundamental tenets of Christianity by saying Jesus committed the sin of racism when speaking to the Syrophoenician woman. And this isn’t just Robertson, either, as there are denominations like Christadelphians who believe that Jesus had a “sin nature.”

At this point, a Protestant could say: no matter how clearly you state things, you’re always going to have unsaved people twisting Scripture and misinterpreting it. When it comes to the claim that Jesus sinned, only a degenerate person trapped in the darkness of sin could fail to apply Hebrews 4:15’s clear teaching to the question: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”

Sola scriptura is defensible, these apologists claim, because incorrect interpretations of Scripture can always be refuted by the correct interpretation true Christians can always locate within the pages of holy writ. But this pushes the problem back and assumes that everyone will nicely go along with a uniform understanding of what Scripture even is.

For example, how could you respond to someone defending Jesus’ sinfulness who says he doesn’t believe that Hebrews is Scripture? After all, the letter is anonymous, and although it has been traditionally attributed to Paul, several Church fathers questioned its canonicity. The early Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea said, “Some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul.”

Even if Paul did write it, why believe that Paul’s words were divinely inspired? Pastor Robertson says there’s reason to doubt that, given that Paul was never one of Jesus’ disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Some Christians follow only the words of Jesus (similar to Bill Johnson’s Just Jesus movement). Others, like hyper-dispensationalists, take the opposite extreme and think Christians are bound to accept only some of Acts and the letters Paul wrote while he was in prison.

Without a Magisterium to appeal to, saying these views contradict Scripture assumes what the Protestant apologist is trying to prove—namely, which writings constitute Sacred Scripture. But because the Church has an authoritative teaching office, there is a way to set objective “ground rules” when it comes to understanding the meaning of Scripture.

A Protestant might offer three objections to this critique of sola scriptura. First, if the meaning of Scripture has been entrusted to the Church, then why hasn’t the pope or an ecumenical council infallibly defined every passage of Scripture and put all controversies to rest? For the same reason Protestants don’t have a divinely inspired biblical commentary: God chose not give this kind of revelation to the Church.

The Church hands on the Deposit of Faith, and, although a handful of biblical passages have been infallibly defined (such as John 3:5’s reference to water baptism), the Church allows biblical scholars a fair amount of latitude more generally when it comes to interpreting the Bible. The Church’s authority primarily presents itself in biblical interpretation by setting “guardrails” that make certain interpretations off-limits. For example, scholars might find new insights into the cultural interaction that took place between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, but they are prohibited from saying the interaction proves that Jesus is not fully divine or not free from sin.

Second, a Protestant might say the Catholic is kicking the can down the road: if there is “anarchy” when it comes to interpreting what the Bible says, then won’t a similar anarchy occur when people try to figure out what Church documents mean? In response, I would say this is a good reply to someone who says private interpretation can never be a part of the life of a Christian. That’s too narrow of a view, and the Catechism even says Christians must obey the dictates of a properly formed conscience (1790).

However, a more defensible position would be that interpretive clarity is at least far more feasible (or may even only be possible) through a living Magisterium. That’s because a Church that persists through history can teach doctrine through deliberate, repetitive acts that account for misunderstandings that arise in each generation. The static words of Scripture cannot articulate themselves anew for every generation.

Finally, a Protestant might point to the dissenters within the Catholic Church as evidence that having a Magisterium does not eliminate the problem of heresy. What about all the priests and lay people who argue for expanding the definition of marriage and the ordination of women? What good is a magisterium if it doesn’t prevent these voices from rising up in the Church?

Well, even when God directly spoke to his chosen people or his faithful angels, people rebelled. That’s the cost of giving creatures free will. But at least Catholic dissenters usually admit that what they’re peddling directly contradicts what the Church teaches. They may hope Catholic teaching will change in their favor, but they begrudgingly allow that their heresy is not Catholic teaching. A Protestant, on the other hand, who dissents from “traditional Christianity” can always say what he believes is what the highest authority in Protestantism has always taught, which others have simply failed to recognize.

So while dissenters and heretics will always afflict the body of Christ, Christ chose to protect his Church not by confining divine revelation to Scripture alone, but by instituting a Church. Jesus told his apostles, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16). The same principle animates the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Bible is NEVER sola


Oral Torah = Tradition


-by Douglas Beaumont, Catholic Answers, Dr. Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for many years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2014.

Most Protestants have no problem with God’s Revelation taking more than one form

It must be recognized that most Protestants do not have a problem with the idea that God’s revelation can take more than one form.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes, “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (1:19–20).

Paul seems to be echoing the Old Testament book of Wisdom, which says, “For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (13:5). All of this agrees with the psalmist, who declared that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).

Natural and Supernatural Revelation

Catholics and Protestants agree that God makes Himself known in ways outside of Scripture

So we see in Scripture itself that God reveals Himself (clearly and to all people) through his creation, apart from Scripture. Theologians call this kind of revelation natural (because it comes through nature) or general (because it is given to all people).

In contrast, revelation that is given by prophetic utterances or recorded in inspired writings is called supernatural (because it is direct communication from God) or special (because it is not available to all people without qualification).

Catholics and Protestants agree that these two modes of revelation are both legitimate and authoritative—at least in theory. In its two millennia on earth, the Catholic Church has developed many careful distinctions, one of them being to subdivide supernatural, public revelations into those originally written (Sacred Scripture) and unwritten (Sacred Tradition).

Catholics emphasize that all truth is “God’s truth” and therefore that no revelation can truly contradict another, whereas Protestants elevate the written form above the others. But Protestants will agree that God can and does reveal himself in ways outside the pages of the Bible.

In Principle Protestants Agree: God’s revelation comes to us in more than the written form.

The Importance of Interpretation

Language is a set of signs pointing to things in reality

An important thing to note here is that regardless of their source, written words need to be interpreted. Language is a set of signs (whether oral or written) pointing to things in reality. Therefore, our knowledge of reality will determine our interpretation of words.

When I say or write the word dog, English speakers will know what I mean because we have agreed that this word refers to the animal we all recognize as a dog.

That’s pretty straightforward, but language is not always that easy to understand. Dog can also refer to a person (usually, but not always, in a negative way) or it can be a word to modify a type of day in summer or express how tired I am. Aside from the challenge of words having multiple definitions, sometimes the same meaning is applied to distinct things in very specific ways.

For example, if I say, “My wife is a peach,” no one would suspect that I had married a fruit! Instinctively, they would compare what they know about peaches and women to what I had said and infer my actual meaning (“My wife is sweet”).

This is as true of the Bible as anything else. For example, the words of Scripture describe our planet as being circular (Isa. 40:22) and as having corners (Rev. 7:1). Because something cannot be both circular and cornered, it seems clear that one of these verses was meant to be taken metaphorically. But which one? One could argue from genre types or try to dig into the original Hebrew and Greek, but in our age it is much easier to consult natural revelation (simply look at the planet!).

Catholicism Affirms: God’s public, special revelation has come to us in written and unwritten form.

Love & His will, which is perfect,
Matthew

Christian accord, Acts 1:14 – Salvation

“All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).


-by Douglas Beaumont, Catholic Answers, Dr. Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in theology from North-West University and an M.A. in apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, where he taught for many years before coming into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2014.

Is “Faith Alone” enough?

The Protestant Reformation was launched when a Catholic priest named Martin Luther thought he’d discovered something in the Bible that the Church had been missing for centuries. That discovery was salvation by faith alone—that is, apart from doing good works. This core Reformation doctrine of sola fide is a major dividing line between Catholics and Protestants.

Just like sola scriptura, this doctrine ends up dividing Protestants from each other just as much (and sometimes even more) as it divides them from Catholics. Over the years, “faith alone” has come to mean different things to different Protestants.

There are some (known as Free Grace Protestants) who have taken the principle so far that they believe even apostates can be completely confident in their salvation. At the other end of the spectrum are legalistic or Fundamentalist groups that, while giving lip service to salvation by faith alone, nevertheless demand a severe lifestyle from their members.

Nor is the debate over salvation by faith alone limited to extreme fringe groups. In fact, it began in the sixteenth century and shows no signs of letting up in the twenty-first. A recent book from one of the most popular Evangelical publishers devoted over 300 pages to an academic debate between five scholars on the nature of justification (one was a Catholic)

And justification is only the beginning. Similar debate books have been written about sanctification, pluralism, eternal security, law and gospel, and other related topics. And so as we seek accord, we will look to see if the principles that allow Protestants who disagree over salvation nonetheless to identify with one another and to worship together might call for the embrace of Catholics as well.

Are You Saved?

Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification

Although Christians sometimes think of salvation in fairly simple terms (going to heaven instead of hell), anyone who spends much time thinking or talking about the subject will quickly discover that there are numerous shades of meaning.

Nearly all Christians, even those who speak of salvation as if it occurred whole and entire at a single point in time, with no potential to ever be lost, recognize that God’s work in people typically involves a process that is extended over time.

In the Evangelical tradition that I came from, we thought of salvation in three basic stages: 1) justification, which was the point at which someone received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and thus was guaranteed heaven, 2) sanctification, which was the process by which God transformed the individual’s life from one of sin to sainthood, and 3) glorification, which was the final, complete transformation into perfection that occurred once someone entered eternal life in heaven.

Stages of Salvation

Where we differ, where we agree

Although this threefold process is described differently among Protestant traditions, most affirm something like it. A critical feature of this theology is that during each stage, the causes of and effects on one’s salvation can differ. For example, whereas the initial stage of salvation (“ justification”) might be considered a one-way act of God based on faith alone, resulting in heaven or hell, the second stage (“sanctification”) may rely heavily on the actions of the individual and only affect one’s degree of reward or punishment.

The importance of these salvation “stages” is that although Protestants will often speak of salvation as a single moment in time with everlasting effects, most agree that there is more to the story. Sola fide, in most Protestant minds, refers only to one’s initial justification. This happens to coincide nicely with the Catholic view of baptism—it is entirely faith-based, distinct from a person’s works, and instantly brings us into a saving relationship with God.

For many Protestants, the parallels break down after that because the Church teaches that saving grace can be lost or increased via works (“faith working through love” per Galatians 5:6)—but there are Protestants who teach something similar to this as well. In the end, the differences some- times come down more to terminology and fine-grained distinctions than to entirely different salvation plans as is often believed.

Finding Common Ground

We often are not as far apart as we think

In Principle Protestants Agree: Salvation is in some sense a process involving various stages, each with different requirements and effects.

In Particular Catholicism Affirms: Salvation is an ongoing process with different requirements at different stages that can increase, decrease, eradicate, or regain God’s saving grace in our lives.”

Love, and Christian accord, harmony, peace, love, and deep, true affection,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura is unbiblical


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

During his four-year tour, he became involved in ministry with various Assemblies of God communities. Immediately after his tour of duty, Tim enrolled in Jimmy Swaggart Bible College and became a youth minister in an Assembly of God community. During his final year in the Marines, however, Tim met a Marine who really knew his faith and challenged Tim to study Catholicism from Catholic and historical sources. That encounter sparked a two-year search for the truth. Tim was determined to prove Catholicism wrong, but he ended up studying his way to the last place he thought he would ever end up: the Catholic Church!

He converted to Catholicism in 1988 and spent the following six years in formation for the priesthood, earning a degree in philosophy from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. He then studied theology on a graduate level at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for two years. Realizing that his calling was not to the priesthood, Tim left the seminary in 1994 and has been working in Catholic apologetics and evangelization ever since.

“Sola Scriptura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant. On a popular level, it simply meant, “If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!” And it seemed so simple. Unassailable. And yet, I do not recall ever hearing a detailed teaching explicating it. It was always a given. Unchallenged. Diving deeper into its meaning, especially when I was challenged to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism, I found there to be no book specifically on the topic and no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors.

Once I got past the superficial, I had to try to answer real questions like, what role does tradition play? How explicit does a doctrine have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? How many times does it have to be mentioned in Scripture before it would be dogmatic? Where does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How do we know what the canon of Scripture is using the principle of sola scriptura? Who is authorized to write Scripture in the first place? When was the canon closed? Or, the best question of all: where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible? These questions and more were left virtually unanswered or left to the varying opinions of various Bible teachers.

The Protestant Response

In answer to this last question, “Where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible?” most Protestants will immediately respond as I did, by simply citing II Tm. 3:16:

“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

“How can it get any plainer than that? Doesn’t that say the Bible is all we need?” Question answered.

The fact is: II Timothy 3—or any other text of Scripture—does not even hint at sola scriptura. It says Scripture is inspired and necessary to equip “the man of God,” but never does it say Scripture alone is all anyone needs. We’ll come back to this text in particular later. But in my experience as a Protestant, it was my attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism that led me to conclude: sola scriptura is 1) unreasonable 2) unbiblical and 3) unworkable.

Sola Scriptura is Unreasonable

When defending sola scriptura, the Protestant will predictably appeal to his sole authority—Scripture. This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of circular reasoning which betrays an essential problem with the doctrine itself. One cannot prove the inspiration of a text from the text itself. The Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Koran, and other books claim inspiration. This does not make them inspired. One must prove the point outside of the text itself to avoid the fallacy of circular reasoning.

Thus, the question remains: how do we know the various books of the Bible are inspired and therefore canonical? And remember: the Protestant must use the principle of sola scriptura in the process.

II Tim. 3:16 is not a valid response to the question. The problems are manifold. Beyond the fact of circular reasoning, for example, I would point out the fact that this verse says all Scripture is inspired tells us nothing of what the canon consists. Just recently, I was speaking with a Protestant inquirer about this issue and he saw my point. He then said words to the effect of, “I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth as Jesus said in Jn. 16:13. The Holy Spirit guided the early Christians and helped them to gather the canon of Scripture and declare it to be the inspired word of God. God would not leave us without his word to guide us.”

That answer is much more Catholic than Protestant! Yes, Jn. 16:13 does say the Spirit will lead the apostles—and by allusion, the Church—into all truth. But this verse has nothing to say about sola scriptura. Nor does it say a word about the nature or number of books in the canon. Catholics certainly agree that the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to canonize the Scriptures because the Catholic Church teaches that there is an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The obvious problem is my Protestant friend did not use sola scriptura as his guiding principle to arrive at his conclusion. How does, for example, Jn. 16:13 tell us that Hebrews was written by an apostolic writer and that it is inspired of God? We would ultimately have to rely on the infallibility of whoever “the Holy Spirit” is guiding to canonize the Bible so that they could not mishear what the Spirit was saying about which books of the Bible are truly inspired.

In order to put this argument of my friend into perspective, can you imagine if a Catholic made a similar claim to demonstrate, say, Mary to be the Mother of God? “We believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and guided the early Christians to declare this truth.” I can almost hear the response. “Show me in the Bible where Mary is the Mother of God! I don’t want to hear about God guiding the Church!” Wouldn’t the same question remain for the Protestant concerning the canon? “Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

The Protestant response at this point is often an attempt to use the same argument against the Catholic. “How do you know the Scriptures are inspired? Your reasoning is just as circular because you say the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so and then say the Scriptures are inspired and infallible because the Church says so!”

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular. We do not say “the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so, and the Scriptures are inspired because the infallible Church says so.” That would be a kind of circular reasoning. The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. The Church is infallible because Jesus said so.

Having said that, it is true that we know the Scriptures to be inspired because the Church has told us so. That is also an historical fact. However, this is not circular reasoning. When the Catholic approaches Scripture, he or she begins with the Bible as an historical document, not as inspired. As any reputable historian will tell you, the New Testament is the most accurate and verifiable historical document in all of ancient history. To deny the substance of the historical documents recorded therein would be absurd. However, one cannot deduce from this that they are inspired. There are many accurate historical documents that are not inspired. However, the Scriptures do give us accurate historical information whether one holds to their inspiration or not. Further, this testimony of the Bible is backed up by hundreds of works by early Christians and non-Christian writers like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and more. It is on this basis that we can say it is an historical fact that Jesus lived, died, and was reported to be resurrected from the dead by over 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these eyewitnesses went to their deaths testifying to the veracity of the Christ-event (see Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 21:18-19, 24-25, Acts 1:1-11, I Cr. 15:1-8).

Now, what do we find when we examine the historical record? Jesus Christ—as a matter of history–established a Church, not a book, to be the foundation of the Christian Faith (see Mt. 16:15-18; 18:15-18. Cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:10,20-21; 4:11-15; I Tm. 3:15; Hb. 13:7,17, etc.). He said of his Church, “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). The many books that comprise what we call the Bible never tell us crucial truths such as the fact that they are inspired, who can and cannot be the human authors of them, who authored them at all, or, as I said before, what the canon of Scripture is in the first place. And this is just to name a few examples. What is very clear historically is that Jesus established a kingdom with a hierarchy and authority to speak for him (see Lk. 20:29-32, Mt. 10:40, 28:18-20). It was members of this Kingdom—the Church—that would write the Scripture, preserve its many texts and eventually canonize it. The Scriptures cannot write or canonize themselves. To put it simply, reason clearly rejects sola scriptura as a self-refuting principle because one cannot determine what the “scriptura” is using the principle of sola scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical

Let us now consider the most common text used by Protestants to “prove” sola scriptura, II Tm. 3:16, which I quoted above:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The problem with using this text as such is threefold: 1. Strictly speaking, it does not speak of the New Testament at all. 2. It does not claim Scripture to be the sole rule of faith for Christians. 3. The Bible teaches oral Tradition to be on a par with and just as necessary as the written Tradition, or Scripture.

1. What’s Old is Not New

Let us examine the context of the passage by reading the two preceding verses:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood (italics added) you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, this passage does not refer to the New Testament at all. None of the New Testament books had been written when St. Timothy was a child! To claim this verse in order to authenticate a book, say, the book of Revelation, when it had most likely not even been written yet, is more than a stretch. That is going far beyond what the text actually claims.

2. The Trouble With Sola

As a Protestant, I was guilty of seeing more than one sola in Scripture that simply did not exist. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith. And we Catholics believe it. However, we do not believe in justification by faith alone because, among many other reasons, the Bible says, we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added). Analogously, when the Bible says Scripture is inspired and profitable for “the man of God,” to be “equipped for every good work,” we Catholics believe it. However, the text of II Tim. 3:16 never says Scripture alone. There is no sola to be found here either! Even if we granted II Tm. 3:16 was talking about all of Scripture, it never claims Scripture to be the sole rule of faith. A rule of faith, to be sure! But not the sole rule of faith.

James 1:4 illustrates clearly the problem with Protestant exegesis of II Tim. 3:16:

And let steadfastness (patience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we apply the same principle of exegesis to this text that the Protestant does to II Tm. 3:16 we would have to say that all we need is patience to be perfected. We don’t need faith, hope, charity, the Church, baptism, etc.

Of course, any Christian would immediately say this is absurd. And of course it is. But James’s emphasis on the central importance of patience is even stronger than St. Paul’s emphasis on Scripture. The key is to see that there is not a sola to be found in either text. Sola patientia would be just as much an error as is sola scriptura.

3. The Tradition of God is the Word of God

Not only is the Bible silent when it comes to sola scriptura, but Scripture is remarkably plain in teaching oral Tradition to be just as much the word of God as is Scripture. In what most scholars believe was the first book written in the New Testament, St. Paul said:

And we also thank God… that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… (I Thess. 2:13)

II Thess. 2:15 adds:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you have been taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

According to St. Paul, the spoken word from the apostles was just as much the word of God as was the later written word.

Sola Scriptura is Unworkable

When it comes to the tradition of Protestantism—sola scriptura—the silence of the text of Scripture is deafening. When it comes to the true authority of Scripture and Tradition, the Scriptures are clear. And when it comes to the teaching and governing authority of the Church, the biblical text is equally as clear:

If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone … But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you … If he refuses to listen … tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17)

According to Scripture, the Church—not the Bible alone—is the final court of appeal for the people of God in matters of faith and discipline. But isn’t it also telling that since the Reformation of just ca. 480 years ago—a reformation claiming sola scriptura as its formal principle—there are now over 33,000 denominations that have derived from it?

For 1,500 years, Christianity saw just a few enduring schisms (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Orthodox, and a very few others). Now in just 480 years we have this? I hardly think that when Jesus prophesied there would be “one shepherd and one fold” in Jn. 10:16, this is what he had in mind. It seems quite clear to me that not only is sola scriptura unreasonable and unbiblical, but it is unworkable. The proof is in the puddin’!”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Soli Deo gloria


-by Br Isaiah Beiter, OP

“Goodness is praised as beauty,” wrote a man long honored by the Church, East and West, though nobody is exactly sure who he is.

“Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,” wrote the apostle John.

“Soli Deo gloria”—“Glory to God alone,” cried the Reformers. And they were right, or sort of. In their desire to exalt the glory of God above all else, they were right. In their yearning to defend God’s glory from all dilution or fracture, they were right. But they were not right to forbid God from sharing His glory with His creation. Of course, I do not mean to say that this is exactly what they intended to do. But in understanding this last of the five Solae we should ask a broader question: “what is glory, and where do we find it?”

*

Let’s build the image from the ground up. When someone is good, then that person is worthy of praise. For him or her to receive praise, however, someone has to know this goodness and recognize it as good. For instance, before I praise the bravery of a soldier and the patience of a mother, I have to see them in action or at least hear about them. And if these people are especially good, beyond common experience, then probably a great many people will hear about them, and probably a great many people will see how good they are, and hopefully these people will say so. Imagine a news story about a local hero or praising a great teacher, for instance.

That loudness that belongs especially to good things, the splendor and renown that belongs to something praiseworthy, is called glory. The greater the good, the louder it is, and the louder it is, the more praiseworthy. The greater the good, the more glorious it is. This is how the Church has thought about glory. This is how the Scriptures speak, though with the nuances and poetry appropriate to each place.

So there are different kinds of glory just as there are different kinds of good. This is what the Reformers forgot in their zeal. In wanting to single out God for worship, we should never forget God’s love in sharing his goodness. God is infinite in His goodness. Creatures have a limited share. God is infinite in His glory. Creatures have a limited share in that, too. The Holy Trinity is glorified by worship and adoration, and long before the Protestant Reformation, the Church gave this worship the name latria. God can never be given too much glory. The highest of created persons, Mary and all the other saints, are glorified with a lesser honor, which the Church has named dulia. And traditionally, some saints are seen to be higher than others. Mary, the Mother of God, is the very highest. After her come the apostles, who were sent forth by Christ as the seeds of the Church.

These saints are honored, or given glory, because of a good that they have, the great good of grace, which is a share in God Himself! And lesser, simply human goods, like a great leader, can be glorious in their own small ways. All these goods, however small, are shares in God’s goodness. And all these goods, from the bottom to the top, are given by God. Jesus says to the Father, “The glory which Thou hast given me I have given to them” (John 17:22). Paul encourages us to seek this glory, speaking of God’s judgment: “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life” (Rom 2:6-7). So what is the vision of the world that we are left with?

*

The world is filled with the glory of God! This is because He chose to fill the world with His goodness. All of it is traced back to God, the source and the giver, as the finite is compared to the infinite. Glory belongs to God alone, but He chooses to share it with us. To declare that only God has glory, or to understand those three Latin words (Soli Deo gloria) in this way, is to make God more separate from His creatures than God Himself wishes to be. (Incarnation)

How beautiful is the sun, how splendorous, how good! It is too bright even to look upon. But it does not keep its light to itself. The sun shares its light with the moon. It is imitated by every twinkle of the stars. And the sun gives life to all below it. From the bottom to the top, the heavens and the earth shine with the light of the sun: truly, though not equally.  [Ed.  How much more the Divine?]

“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory,” wrote the apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:41).”

Praise Him!!!  Give Him GLORY!!!!!  Clap your hands!!!  Shout for joy!!!!  Let the seas and all within it thunder praise!!!

Love,
Matthew

Sola Fide & false idols


-by Br Ephrem Reese, OP

“When people speak of “faith alone,” it’s often taken for granted that faith is opposed to works. But the Council of Trent has dealt with this false dichotomy:

“Faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said that faith without works is dead and of no profit, and in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by charity. (From the Decree concerning Justification, chapter VII).”

So that opposition, faith versus works, is false. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:21-22).

How about a new conception of sola fide? Think, instead, this way: faith is opposed to idolatry. If we want to speak about “faith alone,” I suggest that we look to Abraham, the “father of faith.” While not directly addressing the “traditional” dispute about faith versus works, I think this may in fact reveal a deeper understanding in Scripture and the tradition.

Abraham’s father Terah, says a Jewish commentary on Genesis, made idols for a living. Sometimes he had to leave the boy Abraham in charge of the shop. Abraham would embarrass old men who came in to buy idols: “You are fifty years old and worship a one-day-old statue!”

Even better, though: when a woman came in to make an offering to the idols, Abraham took a club and smashed all of the idols but the biggest one, then put the club in its hands. He told Terah that they were fighting over who would eat the offering, and that the biggest one destroyed the rest. The real point, the rabbinic telling implies, is that Terah would have to admit that the idols were stupid and powerless, if he wanted to blame the iconoclasm on Abraham.

Idolatry is not just a Jewish concern—in the New Testament, “idol” and related words occur at least 33 times. Although this continues the Old Testament tradition, some new aspects appear. For example, idolatry is not just foolish and immoral, it also conceals demonic powers. This helps to explain some of the sexual immorality that was very clearly connected with, even institutionalized in, traditional cults.

Faithlessness in the invisible God leads directly to worship of what is more available, what is right in front of us, even if it’s a powerless piece of wood. Falling for the one who is there, rather than the One we truly love—you can see why the Bible compares idolatry to adultery (see Wisdom 14:12).

We believe in, even testify to, a God we do not see. It is necessary to turn away from what we see all around us (ahem, screens). “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”—this is the basic description of conversion of which St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians (1 Thess 1:9). When Paul went to Athens, the great scientific seedbed of geometry, philosophy, and democracy, “he was distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). His speech to the Athenians puts him squarely in the prophetic tradition of Israel: God made everything, and left His traces; He wants you to seek Him; do not be distracted by the shiny things that people put before you. Finally, there will be a judgment for those who live not by faith in what is unseen but by settling for what is “made by human design and skill” (cf. 17:24-31).

The great literary critic Northrop Frye noticed that the Jewish and Christian idea of revelation as something heard but not seen has a destructive dynamic. It crushes the tyranny of the visible. “The Word not only causes all images of gods to shrivel into nothingness, but continues to operate in society as an iconoclastic force…demolishing everything to which man is tempted to offer false homage.” Abraham knew about that. As Jesus says mysteriously, Abraham saw His(Jesus’) day, and rejoiced (Jn 8:56).

We don’t see many actual idols now. But if we look around, it’s not hard to see that people are sunk, bowed down, brought to their knees, in worship of what is seen. Abraham, dutiful son, was considerate enough to discreetly destroy the local idols. Faith cast out of him any fear of the powers of this world. For his faith, God made a promise to Abraham, freeing him “to worship Him without fear all the days of his life” (Luke 1:73-75).”

Love, faith, & hope,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura


-by Br Peter Gautsch, OP

“There’s a friar I’ve known for some time now who prays frequently for the unity of the Church, a matter which is clearly very close to his heart. I’ve often been moved by this. After all, St. Augustine says in his Rule that we are to be “of one heart and one mind, in God.” He was speaking about peaceableness among religious, but it’s also true in the broader realm of faith: our many hearts and minds, in all their happy diversity, should be as one in God, one in faith.

Which brings us to sola Scriptura.

What is it? In its strictest form, it’s the Protestant doctrine that Scripture is the only source and norm of Christian faith: “Scripture alone” has authority in matters of faith. In another form, both less fideistic and less true to its name, it’s the doctrine that Scripture is the final source and norm of Christian faith: there are other valid authorities, sure, but Scripture, and nothing else, tests and judges them.

But sola Scriptura has many problems, to put it mildly. One of them is that at least one of its inescapable consequences is directly opposed to what Scripture—and in this case, Jesus himself—exhorts: “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one” (Jn 17:22–23).

This prayer of our Lord, of course, has little to do with revelation itself and still less with where authority in matters of faith comes from. But it’s important to consider, because ultimately the doctrine of sola Scriptura necessarily excludes this unity that our Lord prayed for. This is because Scripture often doesn’t tell us how it ought to be interpreted, and, human nature being what it is, different people tend to arrive at incompatible interpretations which can’t all be true. The first form of sola Scriptura I mentioned above doesn’t appear to have anything like an adequate answer for this problem of multiple, personal interpretations. And the second form says that when there’s a conflict, we can consult other authorities, so long as Scripture has the final word. But even this only goes so far: some persons may accept the guidance of certain authorities, but other persons may reject them “on scriptural grounds.” So the problem persists, and sola Scriptura offers no real solution.

Now Sacred Scripture is the word of God in written form—on this all Christians agree. But as Catholics, we have a yet broader notion of revelation: in addition to revealing himself in the inspired books of Scripture, God also revealed Himself in his word of truth entrusted to the apostles and handed on by them to their successors throughout history, even to the present day—this is what we call Tradition (which is itself described in Scripture: e.g., Mt 28:18–20, Mk 3:13–19, Mk 16:15, Acts 2:42, Acts 10:34–43, 1 Cor 15:1–11, 2 Thess 2:15, 2 Tim 2:1–2, 2 Pt 1:19–21). Hence we always read Sacred Scripture in light of Tradition, and we read Tradition in light of Scripture. Scripture and Tradition, together, are the supreme rule of the Church’s faith—not just Scripture alone, in isolation—because they’re two modes of the one sacred deposit of the word of God that has been entrusted to the Church. Not only that, but Scripture and Tradition both show us that Christ, in instituting the apostles as the foundation stones of the Church (Eph 2:19–20, Rev 21:14) and giving them authority to teach in His name, instituted an authoritative interpreter of divine revelation. This is what we call the Magisterium, the living teaching office of the Church.

So what about that problem of interpretation? How do we deal with incompatible individual interpretations of Scripture? If it’s true that “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), then sola Scriptura can’t be true, because it doesn’t give us the tools to arrive—together, in unity—at that knowledge of the truth. Simply put, the Catholic Church’s more robust doctrine of divine revelation is the only way. Sometimes the full meaning of a passage of Sacred Scripture just isn’t apparent to us. Thankfully, God reveals Himself also in Tradition and has given the Magisterium authority to authentically interpret divine revelation, whether in written form (Scripture) or handed on verbally (Tradition). Of course, the idea here isn’t that we should approach the Bible like automatons, mindlessly complying with arbitrary directives from a distant, unseen authority—we should read Scripture and interpret it and hear God speaking to us through it! But we don’t have to go it alone: instead, keeping in mind the unity and coherence of the whole of Scripture and the unity and coherence of the truths of the faith, we look to Tradition (e.g., what the Fathers of the Church or the liturgy teach us about a passage of Scripture) and to the Magisterium (e.g., whether the Church has given an authoritative, authentic interpretation of a passage of Scripture), and we shape our reading accordingly. We can know what Scripture means because God Himself tells us—but He tells us not only in Scripture itself but also in Tradition and through the Magisterium. Each of the three needs the other two.

But sola Scriptura protests. When Tradition and the Magisterium are invited to the discussion to help our understanding, sola Scriptura stands in the door, blocking their entrance. As a result, individual interpretation carries the day. And individual interpreters, with no authoritative guide other than Scripture itself, remain at odds with one another. And unity of belief is still not realized.

Ecumenical dialogue often points out the important affirmations of faith that Catholics and Protestants share, and rightly so: we should rejoice that we believe together that Jesus Christ truly is the Lord, the incarnate Son of God; that by baptism we truly do become adopted children of God; that Sacred Scripture truly is the inspired word of God, set down in writing for the sake of our salvation; and so on. But we simply must recognize the disunity in our beliefs as well, because unless we recognize our disunity, we can’t pray for the unity that Christ Himself prayed for.

This real disunity that sadly exists between Catholics and our Protestant brothers and sisters (not to mention the disunity that exists between the various Protestant denominations) is in large part the fruit of sola Scriptura. We simply can’t be of one heart and one mind in God, truly, if we don’t believe the same things about God and His revelation of Himself to us. In revealing Himself and His plan for our salvation, “the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends and lives among them, so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself” (Dei Verbum 2). Christ’s prayer that we may be perfectly one shows us that He also wants us to have fellowship, unity, with one another—one heart and one mind, in God—as Scripture elsewhere instructs: “all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind” (1 Pt 3:8).”

Love & unity,
Matthew