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!
Prove it. I suspect your understanding of "the communion of saints" is lacking.
Where there is proper expression and interpretation of the biblical texts, God be praised. It is His work, and it is precisely what He wants to do in our midst.
***"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***
If that isn't Mary worship, then nothing is. I don't contemplate Mary, I contemplate Jesus. If you want to contemplate a dead woman, fine. I will contemplate my living Lord. I will share in CHRIST'S GLORY, not Mary's.
If my argument is simplistic, then you should have no problem debating it.
Suspect away. You have no idea how much education I have, nor do you have any idea my walk with God. For you to make such an assumption is a demonstration of your "lack of understanding."
Could it be because most FR Catholics have no clue what sola scriptura actually meant to Protestants during the Reformation?
My last sentence refuted it.
What do you mean? There were Catholics on that thread.
Sola Scripture...Catholics are told they can't understand the bible on their own...You guys need your church to interpret it for you...Your church certainly took away any incentive for you to read or study the bible...You can't understand it anyway, so why bother...You can only repeat what they told you...
Your church cites a verse where an Ethiopian requests help in understanding the bible as proof that a 'majesterium' is needed to 'interpret the bible for you...
Yup...The Ethiopian needed help...What's more fascinating is the the Ethiopian was carrying around a copy of the scriptures...Copies must have been pretty plentiful back then...Plus,
The scripture reference is of course, the Crucifixion of Jesus...Since about 80% of the Old Testament is prophecy, it's no mystery to me why the Ethiopian, not yet being saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, could not understand the prophecy...
Bible believers aren't against teachers...Your church made that up...The bible is full of teachers...And contrary to what you've been taught, we bible believers rely on teachers...But you don't know what the difference is...
Very often in the bible, when the apostles or even Jesus was asked a question, the answer was, 'what do the scriptures say about it...That is the key...You interpret scripture with other scripture...I find it amusing that your church uses this verse to attack bible believers: 2Pe 1:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.
You know what's comical??? This verse applies to your magisterium as well...You go in there with a simple mind and a humble heart and ask God to show you something...And if you can get beyond the milk, He'll give you a little meat...And the interpretation is accomplished by, "What saith the scriptures..." And of course, being filled with the Holy Spirit is the #1 requirement to understanding the scripture...
Surely the Pope gave a public testimony at some time...Can you tell me, what did the Pope do to get filled with the Holy Spirit???
Precisely. Men shouldn't trust their own wisdom, but trust the authority that was founded to teach and guard the truth.
Your church certainly took away any incentive for you to read or study the bible...You can't understand it anyway, so why bother...You can only repeat what they told you...
Then why would a Catholic saint say, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ," and why would popes grant indulgences for the reading of Scripture?
***What is taught by the Pope is not created by he himself, but by what was has been held for centuries, millenia even.***
Is it taught by the Bible? Or is it a man made idea? What was taught by Popes of the past is not followed today. Why not? Where did God change?
Give me an example of an infallibly taught doctrine that is no longer taught.
I didn't do the assuming. You did when you claimed the Pope worshiped the Virgin Mary. You don't have any idea of the Pope's walk with God You still need to prove your claim.
Practice versus teaching. Indulgences are still given, though the practice (not teaching) of indulgence granted for monetary contributions to the Church are explicitly forbidden by the Council of Trent. The practice was an abuse.
If your Sola Scriptura is so darn great and perfect, why do so many of you disagree? Which one of you is right? Is it the Methodists, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Pentecostals, etc?
It's actually laughable how you make fun of the Pope when in fact each of you have set yourselves up as infallible little popes with your "Sola Scriptura allows me to interpret the Bible correctly!"
Look at what I posted. Those are his words. He is talking about glorifying Mary.
OOHH, ouch, I am wounded.
Any one can memorize the scripture...Doesn't mean you understand any of it...
and why would popes grant indulgences for the reading of Scripture?
I'd guess it's for the money...Your church still charges for the indulgances don't they...
So the Pope will knock off, what is it, 3 years of your stay in Purgatory if you read some of the bible???
Purgatory isn't in my bible...I don't believe in Purgatory...I think your church made it up to coerce money out of it's people and control it's members...
Let me give you an example...Paul says he is the greatest sinner of all...But then Paul says "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord"...
Paul didn't believe in Purgatory...None of the apostles spoke of Purgatory...Your church didn't teach Purgatory til at least the 4th century, maybe later...
Sure, your church says to reads scripture, as long as they can tell you what it means...
Was the practice taught? Was it encouraged? Did one person go away thinking he had done that which is right by the Lord because the Pope said it was right? Remember what Paul taught. That which I do, put into practice. If the Pope encouraged it, it was practiced, desired, and in ERROR.
What is the reason for indulgences? Forgiving of sins? Only Jesus can forgive a sin, not a Pope, not Mary, not a Saint, nobody but Jesus, and he don't need your money to do it.