Skip to comments.Brief Reflections on the Trinity, the Canon of Scripture, and the Protestant idea of Sola Scriptura
Posted on 08/16/2006 7:47:20 PM PDT by Teˇfilo
Folks, I want to add some further, yet brief reflections that I think are connected to those I did about the Holy Trinity last week (here and here). I belief there are a few connections between the process which resulted in the Trinitarian settlement in the 5th century AD, the settlement of the Canon of Scripture, and the Protestant idea of sola scriptura. First, let's define a few key terms:
Once again, I don't delude myself into thinking that the few words of this essay will solve 500 years of Protestant controversy or over 1,000 years of anti-Trinitarian objections. All I can do is to witness to the soundness of Catholic teaching and to hope that someone, somewhere, would be moved by grace to accept this teaching and be thus empowered to attain eternal life.
- Sola scriptura is a Latin phrase meaning "Scripture Alone" and refers to the foundational Protestant tenets that the Bible, and the Bible alone is to be the sole rule of faith, belief, and discipline for the Church and that the traditional Catholic hermeneutical dialogue that existed between the reading of the Bible, the celebration of the Liturgy, and the living Magisterium of the Apostle's Successors in communion with the Successor of Peter, had to be deemphasized or rejected altogether.
- Tradition is the entire "set" of God's revelation or "self-disclosure," some of which was written down in Scripture, some of which was preserved in the liturgical and sacramental action of the early Church, and some of which was preserved in the hermeneutical method preserved by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church down to the present age.
- Hermeneutics is the name given to the science and art of textual interpretation, in other words, the study of all those elements found in any piece of literature that makes it intelligible to the reader. These elements include language, the messenger, the audience, literary devices, culture, worldview, etc.
- The Canon of Scripture refers to the authoritative list of books constituting the Christian Bible's Old and New Testament. The study of the Canon is the study of the Bible, but also the study of how the Bible came to be in its present form.
- The Holy Trinity is the foundational belief, still held by Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most Protestant Christians, stating that Three Persons, co-equal in dignity, share one single divine life or nature within the single, One God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Protestant apologists go to great lengths to defend Sola Scriptura, which is, after all, central to their conception of Christianity. Posts such as this one found in the Free Republic Religion board (Can traditions contradict God's completed Word? - Is the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Really Biblical?) offer a case in point.
In fact, what struck me about this post is the circular reasoning of its author. The author assumes the validity of sola scriptura and then proceeds to "prove" it through Scripture, while seeking to "debunk" Traditionrather, the author's own understanding of what Tradition is, which is another fallacy, a straw man argument. Implied the author own argumentation is the assumption that Scripture is a text book containing propositional arguments which can be lifted out of its literary context, stringed to other such "propositions" to build, or support, the Protestant conclusions in matters of faith and discipline.
The author falls in what I refer to as the problem of the interpreter. For Protestants, or at least to traditional Protestants who hold to the magisterial consensus of the classical Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, Melanchthon, etc.), the individual believer is to approach the Bible alone, alone. If the interpreter is docile to the promptings of the Holy Spiritthey reasonthe believer will attain a working knowledge of the Truth that will lead him or her to Salvation, quite apart from the teachings of the Roman Churchin this they all agreed. This is what is referred to in Protestantism as free examen.
In this scheme, the interpreter, prompted by the Holy Spirit and rightly guided by the Protestant foundational axioms, becomes an "honest broker" of salvific information to other believers and to the unbelieving masses, with no other agenda than self-perfection and the salvation of other fellow souls. In this purported state of grace and election, the Protestant believer becomes a true interpreter and prophet of God's Word. That's what Protestant apologists argue in principle. The reality has been quite another.
History shows that Protestantism has been unable to produce an interpreter free from bias, prejudice, and completely aloof from the historical process that could serve as a transparent prism for the Holy Spirit's communications. Most defenses I've seen of the classical Protestant tenets fail to examine the scope, focus, and limitations of the interpreter as he or she approaches alone Scripture Alone.
The ability and authority of the individual Protestant interpreter to bind his conscience and that of others to his interpretation of Scripture remains largely unexamined by Protestant apologists. It seems that in their rush to define themselves against the historical Church, the Reformersand their apologistsexacerbated the problem of interpretation by unwittingly multiplying authorities, believing their stance would facilitate the work of the Holy Spirit to explain and the individual interpreter's ability to receive from the Spirit binding interpretations of Scripture in matters of faith, morals, and discipline. Protestantism, in its revolt, compounded the problem without solving it. The immediate consequence could be seen in Protestantism' rich tendency to fracture and divide into sects that compete with each other for the souls of men.
In the end, the appeal that a Protestant interpreter of Scripture makes is not to Scripture alone, but to his ability to interpret Scripture rightly based upon questionable suppositions, strawmen, and circular reasoning.
The Canon of Scripture
Another matter contradicting the Protestant notion of Sola Scriptura is the origin of the Canon of the Bible. How do we know that the Bible is, well, the Bible? How do we know that the books we see in the Bible belong to it? How do we know that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NASB)?
The Canon of Scripture is not in the Bible. We don't know from the Bible which books belong to it and which do not. That information comes from outside the Bible, hence, the Bible cannot be the sole rule of faith, morals, and discipline for the Church. There is a preceding, discerning, and selective authority of the canon of Scripture: the Holy Spirit acting through a visible, historical, very human instrumentthe Church.
We know which books are inspired because of the Church. Lovingly, carefully, exactingly, the Church examined, listed, debated, and listed again the list of books through which God spoke to men. Hence, the Church's discernment and teaching powerher magisteriumform a more proximate rule of faith, so to speak, than Scripture.
So there is more than one rule of faith, one depending on the other to be certain, but both impossible to separate without ruining the other. The relationship between the Church and Scripture is symbiotic; though is true that Scripture judges the Church it is also true that the Church rightly interprets Scripture. Scripture can't stand separate from the Church.
How often are we confronted by Protestant apologists who are keen to separate us from the Catholic Church with the claim that Scripture judges the Church? Because they do not consider, as we have seen, the role of the interpreter, what they really mean in practice is that they, the interpreters, judge the Church.
Has Public Revelation Ended?
Similarly, Holy Scripture never unequivocally states that public Revelation from God, binding on the consciences of all His children, has ever ended. How do we know that Revelation, that is, God's self-disclosure in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, came to an end with the death of the last Apostle? We know because the Church tells us, because our ancestors in the faith believe it and the successors to the Apostles so declared it.
Based on Sola Scriptura, Protestants cannot close the canon! Oh, they can accept convention or the words of the Reformers to that effect, but the Reformers were sticking to the classical Catholic canon with little explanation as to the exact end of public revelation.
The fact that Sola Scriptura allows for open-ended revelation has not been ignored by myriads of sects, from Montanism way back in Tertullian's time to the ecstatic sects of the Middle Ages to Seventh-day Adventism and Mormonismthis last one even has three more books of "sacred scriptures" besides the Bible! But the contradiction has been passed in silence by Protestant apologists.
A Protestant, if he or she is consistent, can't criticize others who add their revelations to the Bible simply because the Bible is silent on the subject. The answer to this dilemma comes from outside the Bible, from the all-encompassing Tradition maintained, treasured, and explained in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Stay tuned for the conclusion!
***All I can do is to witness to the soundness of Catholic teaching and to hope that someone, somewhere, would be moved by grace to accept this teaching and be thus empowered to attain eternal life. ***
Are you saying that those who do not accept this Catholic teaching are not saved?
glad to be Catholic bump.
Nice bit of sophistry. Papism is undermined by the Pope's arrogation of Christ's office. Vicar of Christ indeed. Not to mention Mary-worship.
***Scripture can't stand separate from the Church. ***
If, as it says in John 1, that the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and the word IS scripture, then you are saying that Jesus can't stand separate from the church. Holy scripture is not Holy because the church says so, it is because God says so.
Well, in a way, He can't, since the Church is His spouse.
Ah, 16th century Kool Aid.
Believe whatever you wish!
The deeply ironic problem with "sola scriptura" is that "sola scriptura" ain't in "scriptura."
Nice bit of slander.
And a man can't stand on his own without his spouse? We are the bride of Christ, but aren't with him yet. He stands alone! Actually, he is sitting on his throne, not standing at all.
You seem to be under the erroneous impression that Mary worship is accepted.
Not yet it isn't...
*****The sign of Marys Assumption plays fundamental role in Christians journey and mission. "By contemplating Mary in her celestial glory," the Pontiff said in conclusion, "we understand that the earth is not our final homeland, that if we live constantly focused on that which is eternal, we can share one day that same glory. For this reason, despite our many daily challenges, we must not lose our serenity and peace. The luminous sign of the Assumption of our Lady in the heavens glows brighter than the sad shadows cast by sorrow and violence. We are certain that from high above Mary follows our steps with sweet trepidation. She brightens our life in its dark and stormy hours and reassures us with her maternal hand. Conscious of this, we continue confident along our path shaped by our Christian commitment wherever Providence takes us". *****
Where, exactly, is this found in the Bible? Mary's assumption? Her glorification? Mary follows our steps? This is your Pope speaking, not the Bible.
See my post below. Yes, Mary is worshipped, by the Pope.
Wish I was Catholic instead of Episcopalian BUMP!
Ah, it seems from you post that the office and person of the Pope is the locus of deception in the world for you. Your argumnent is overly simplistic, to say the least. What is taught by the Pope is not created by he himself, but by what was has been held for centuries, millenia even.
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