Category Archives: Five Solas

What is Sola Scriptura?

Sola-Scriptura

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-by Joel Peters

“”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,
Matthew

(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.

Five Solas: An Examination

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Let us examine, in thoughtful and respectful detail, the Five Solas of Protestantism, and examine them logically, against the facts.  The Catholic practices they object towards are derived from two thousand years of Catholic practice, and, granted, would too make an excellent series of posts, albeit a long one.   Coming, eventually.

But, rather than have an answer to which no questions have been posed, “the most boring answer in the world” a person I am aware of is wont to say, let us examine first the objections, and then to wit what is being objected towards.  Deal?  Deal.  🙂

Of the Five Solas, the last three, sola Christus, sola gratia, sola Dei gloria, relate to the first one, Sola Fide.  Defeat the sola fide, and one has defeated four of the five, in fact.  So, there are REALLY only two solas.  Let us first attend to the second sola, Sola Scriptura, in effort to reap the most gain from the most modest effort.

What are the Catholic objections to Sola Scriptura?  There are several, in summary:

1. The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not taught anywhere in the Bible.

2. The Bible Indicates that In Addition to the Written Word, we are to accept Oral Tradition.

3. The Bible Calls the Church and not the Bible the “Pillar and Ground of the Truth.”

4. Christ tells us to submit to the Authority of the Church.

5. Scripture itself states that it is insufficient of itself as a teacher, but rather needs an interpreter.

6. The first Christians did not have a Bible.

7. The Church produced the Bible not vice-versa.

8. The idea of the Scriptures’ Authority existing apart from the authority of the Teaching Church is utterly foreign to the Early Church.

9. Heresiarchs and heretical movements based their doctrines on Scripture interpreted apart from Tradition and the Magisterium.

10. The Canon of the Bible was not settled until the 4th Century.

11. An “Extra-Biblical” Authority Identified the Canon of the Bible.

12. The Belief that Scripture is “Self-Authenticating” Does Not Hold Up under Examination.

13. None of the Original Biblical Manuscripts is Extant.

14. The Biblical Manuscripts Contain Thousands of Variations.

15. There Are Hundreds of Bible Versions.

16. The Bible Was Not Available to Individual Believers until the 15th Century.

17. The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Did Not Exist Prior to the 14th Century.

18. The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Produces Bad Fruit, Namely, Division and Disunity.

19. The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Does Not Allow for a Final, Definitive Interpretation of any given Passage of Scripture.

20. The Protestant Bible Is Missing 7 Entire Books.

21. The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Had its Source in Luther’s Own Emotional Problems.

Let us examine each of these in just a little detail, and the logical structure crumbles, rather quickly, respectfully.

Love,
Matthew

Reformation: Myths & Revolution

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There’s a popular version of the Protestant Reformation that goes something like this: By the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church had become thoroughly corrupted. Its doctrines were tainted by superstitions and false “traditions of men”; its leaders were depraved, forsaking the gospel to indulge their worldly greed and lust; and its practices kept Catholics living in ignorance and fear.

Only the heroism of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the story continues, was able to break the Catholic Church’s grip on power and lead the Christian world out of medieval darkness into the light of true biblical faith.

Chances are you’ve heard this story before. But it’s just a big myth, says historian Steve Weidenkopf.  We recently sat down with Professor Weidenkopf to dig even deeper into this tumultuous time in the history of the Church.

Q. You refer to a period that most people know of as the Protestant Reformation as the Protestant Revolution. Can you explain?

A.  We must recall that the history taught in our country is presented primarily through an English-Protestant perspective. That perspective presents the events of the sixteenth century in the guise of a “reformation.” This false narrative, which is extremely prevalent even among Catholics, paints the Catholic Church of the sixteenth century as an evil, oppressive, power-hungry monolith that was bent on the destruction of religious freedom. Its leaders were motivated by greed and maintained their power through the creation of superstitious practices that played on the ignorance of the masses. The heroic actions of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the false narrative maintains, freed the Christian Faith from popery and made the Scriptures accessible to all Christians. In reality, Luther and Calvin were not interested in the authentic reform of the Church but desired her complete destruction. Authentic Church reform involves the correction of abuses, the restoration of good habits, and the maintenance of the foundational aspects of the Church, such as its hierarchical structure and sacramental constitution. Any movement that seeks to destroy the Church—its organization, its sacraments, its way of life—and replace it with something new and not in conformity with apostolic tradition and history is a revolution, not a reformation. Studying the writings and lives of Luther and Calvin reveals that these men were not reformers but revolutionaries who sought the abolition of the Mass and other sacraments and the destruction of the Church’s apostolic foundations.

Q. Luther seemed to be a polarizing figure. What was happening at this time and place in history that made his teachings so attractive to so many people?

A. There is no doubt the Church was in need of reform in the sixteenth century. Many ecclesiastical abuses needed to be corrected, such as simony (the buying and selling of Church offices), nepotism, absenteeism (bishops not living in their dioceses), pluralism (bishops holding more than one diocese), and immoral clergy. Many within the Church urged the papacy to implement a comprehensive reform, and some popes attempted to do so. As an example, Pope Julius II called the Fifth Lateran Council to address these ecclesiastical abuses, but it completed its work only seven months before Luther’s 95 Theses, which was not enough time to implement its reform decrees throughout the Church. Additionally, the popes of the early sixteenth century, known as the “Renaissance Popes,” were more concerned with being secular princes than universal shepherds. The papacy suffered a significant loss of prestige during the fifteenth century, when the popes lived in Avignon, France, for seventy years. Their return to Rome was then marked by a forty-year schism (known as the Great Western Schism) of anti-popes. These papal problems, along with the ecclesiastical abuses, produced a sense of disunity in Christendom that was ripe for rebellion. Other factors that attracted people to Luther’s revolution included the political constitution of Germany, which was a collection of hundreds of small independent territories nominally controlled by the Holy Roman Emperor. A rising German nationalist movement contributed animosity toward Rome (primarily due to the heavy taxes inflicted upon German dioceses by the papacy). So, political and religious conditions were suitable for a revolution against the Church.

Q.  Do you think that reform in the Church was a resultant by-product of the Protestant Reformation/Revolution, and that some of the abuses that were pointed out resulted in reform in a positive direction?

A. Another term often used to describe the actions of the Church in the middle and late sixteenth century is the “Counter-Reformation.” Again, our history is told primarily through an English-Protestant perspective, and that term clearly illustrates that viewpoint. The very words imply the Protestant movement was an authentic reform that the Church then had to “counter” with her own reform. A more appropriate term, and one favored by many Catholic historians, is the “Catholic Reformation.” The Church did reform herself, primarily through the Council of Trent, the establishment of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), and the pontificates of Pope Paul III and Pope St. Pius V. The Church was on the path of reform before Luther and Calvin and would have ended the rampant ecclesiastical abuses without the Protestant Revolution. But I do think it’s fair to say the actions of Luther and Calvin focused the Church’s attention on the need for reform and provided a sense of urgency.

Q. The number of Protestant denominations is now very large and getting larger. Is it fair to say that the Protestant Revolution continues even today? If so, why?

A.  I think that’s a fair statement. The fundamental nature of Protestantism centers religious authority in the individual instead of in the Church (or, more specifically, the magisterium). The insistence on individual interpretation of the Scriptures, which is a foundational tenet of Protestantism, means there will always be competing and contrasting teachings embraced by rival groups.

Q. How soon after the teachings of Luther and Calvin were formulated did other Protestant denominations begin to branch off because of doctrinal differences?

A. Differences among Protestants were present at the very beginning of the movement. Both Luther and Calvin dealt with severe critics of their teachings as well as splinter groups that advocated a radical departure from the Protestant Revolution. Luther debated the Swiss revolutionary Ulrich Zwingli at the Colloquy of Marburg in 1529, only twelve years after the publication of his 95 Theses. Zwingli disagreed with Luther on the nature of the Eucharist and other teachings, and both men detested each other. The Anabaptists violently captured the city of Muenster in 1534, where they destroyed the city’s Catholic churches, established a commune, and engaged in polygamy. Based on its interpretation of Scripture, this group rejected the validity of infant baptism in opposition to the teachings of Luther and the Church. John Calvin famously ordered the execution of the Spaniard Michael Servetus, who vehemently disagreed with Calvin’s teachings contained in his book The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Protestantism is a revolutionary movement, and like most such movements in history it spawned violence, destruction, and disunity, which have greatly impacted Church and European history for the past five hundred years.

Q. Besides being one of the fathers of the Reformation, is it fair to say that Luther was also the father of anti-Catholic rhetoric?

A. Actually, anti-Catholic rhetoric is as old as the Church itself. One can find clear examples of it in the early Church in the writings of various pagan Roman authors who wrote anti-Catholic tracts and pamphlets urging Romans not to convert to the Faith. Earlier “proto-Protestants” such as John Wyclif in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia attacked the Church and her teachings with vitriol. Luther, however, took anti-Catholic rhetoric to a new level in his writings when he referred to the Church as the “whore of Babylon” and the pope as the “anti-Christ.” Luther’s writings are full of hateful, sarcastic, and venomous attacks against the sacramental nature of the Church, her hierarchical organization, many of her pious practices, and even her embrace of Aristotelian philosophy in the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas. In fact, Luther called for the ban of Aristotle’s works in his 1520 treatise An Appeal to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, writing that the “blind heathen” [Aristotle] was sent by God as “a plague” on the Church “on account of our sins.”

In The Real Story of the Reformation, Weidenkopf dismantles the mythical narrative about the two pivotal figures of the Protestant Reformation—or rather, Revolution, because what they wrought was not a reform of the Church but a radical break from it. He replaces that narrative with a true account of Luther and Calvin’s ideas, their actions and character, and their disastrous legacy for the modern world.”

Love,
Matthew

Sola fides? Are you Saved? I’m working on it. I hope so.

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Phil 2:12

-by Patricia May, Arkansas Catholic, 3/26/11

“Many Catholics, especially those living in the South, have heard the question posed by Protestants. Unprepared by the Church to properly answer, they often shrug off the question or walk away.

But Catholics should not only respond, they ought to engage their questioners in discussion. That’s the position of Dr. C. Colt Anderson, dean of Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C., and the featured speaker March 10 at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish’s third annual theology lecture.

Originally from Georgia, Anderson said he’s faced the question. He asked the audience of mostly college students to answer, “Are you saved?” “Working on it,” responded one listener. A pretty good answer, Anderson acknowledged. Better, he said, is the response: “I hope so.”

Catholic doctrine supplies the proper foundation for response, Anderson said, and Catholics should be confident answering. “We can say we have hope, strong hope (that we’re saved), but we can’t know for sure.”

To believe one is saved is to risk a potentially dangerous smugness. “If we knew for sure (that we’re saved), it could lead to spiritual self-satisfaction … the equivalent of spiritual death,” Anderson explained. That’s because God expects us to continually grow. “We’re called to grow into being like Christ.”

He continued, “Ask yourself: Am I more faithful now than I was a year ago? Do I have more hope? Am I more loving now than I was?” Catholics must constantly be increasing in faith, hope and love, Anderson said.

“It’s not enough to think kind thoughts about hungry people. We must do something for them,” he explained.

Anderson cited references from the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation, in his explanations. “Why don’t we make the effort to engage people about what we consider (to be) important?” He challenged listeners that, if they really believe in the possibility of eternal damnation as well as Christ’s admonition to love your neighbor, “You can’t just walk away from the question.”

To show they really care, Catholics “should try to help them.” They should explain that each person is given a gift of grace from God along with the freedom to accept it (and to love and grow in that grace), or to reject it. But, “How often do we fail to share our faith?”

And what about loving all people?

“We have to love the worst people. … We should love racists … violent people … greedy people because Christ came and loved all of us,” Anderson continued.

Just as individuals have different talents and gifts, so may the graces they receive differ, Anderson said. As an example, he noted that St. Francis of Assisi called himself the worst sinner in the world. A follower disagreed, pointing out the good Francis had done. The Italian saint demurred, saying that if the worst sinner got the grace I’ve got, he would have done a better job with it.

“Good things come from God. Sins are ours, but we don’t want to give them up,” Anderson continued.

Faith alone is not enough to save us, Anderson said. The gifts of faith, hope and love reflect the triad of the Trinity, he said, and “The Scriptures are on our side.” St. James said “Faith without works is dead.”

Asked for his thoughts on purgatory, Anderson said he doesn’t know what purgatory is, but it may be a place where “unfinished business has to be dealt with.” Sins are forgiven but there may still be lasting damage from those sins that must be addressed.

“You’re given absolution from your sins but you’ve done damage. … Some effort has to be made … Unfinished business has to be dealt with before you get into heaven,” he said.

Traditionally, Catholics have been taught to pray for the dead in purgatory — until now. “We haven’t taught this generation to pray for us,” he said.

But, Anderson said he’ll pray for people he thinks may be in purgatory. After all, “It doesn’t do any harm to pray.”

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-Michaelangelo’s “Last Judgment”, Sistine Chapel

Love,
Matthew