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!
Because it wasn't raining??? It only takes a sprinkle :>)
If taken literally, that saying was broken by the early Christians VERY early on.
"And being let go, they came to their own company, and related all that the chief priests and ancients had said to them. Who having heard it, with one accord lifted up their voice to God, and said: Lord, thou art he that didst make heaven and earth, the sea, and all things that are in them. Who, by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, hast said: Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people meditate vain things?" (Acts 4: 23-25)
The last recourse in such a case is to make an Act of Contrition, which is often put in these words. "O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all of my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. But most of all because they offended Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen."
But, what if, while in your sin, a bullet came out of nowhere, smacked you in the head, and you died instantly? You had no chance to do anything, what then? Heaven? Or Purgatory? Or Hell?
If I am in grave sin, I will go to Hell.
Then you are not counting on Jesus to save you, you are counting on your action (the prayer) to save you. Jesus paid for all your sins. I truely believe that you believe in Jesus. Jesus has paid for your sins that you did, that you are doing, and that you will do. It is Jesus, and Jesus alone, that saves. He did it by being that perfect sacrifice on the cross. If you say that it is Jesus plus whatever you do, then it wasn't a PERFECT sacrifice, it was an almost perfect, or nearly perfect, or close but no cigar sacrifice.
One cannot say that prayer truthfully unless they are given the grace of contrition. The Sacrifice of the Cross IS a perfect sacrifice. But as Our Lord Himself said, only those who persevere to the end shall be saved. Only God can give us that perseverance, but we can certainly as for it.
Jerome used the Siniaticus and Vaticanus manuscripts to write the Latin Vulgate...Those two sets of manuscripts came out of Egypt and disagree with each other in over 3000 places...
The bible I believe came out of Antioch, Syria thru what's known as the Majority Texts...Their numbers are far greater than Jerome's manuscripts and they agree with each other over 95% of the time...These manuscripts do not have the word 'father' in Acts 4: 23-25...
That's a Catholic addition...
Do me a favor, I have to go, but think on what I have written to you. Think about all that Jesus' sacrifice means, and pray to God the Father for insight. Let the Holy Spirit dwell with you.
Good discussion, without namecalling...(it can get so nasty here) Thank you.
You've actually been a help, but in a way you wouldn't think of. God bless.
I realize what your church tells you but look at that verse very carefully...It is not speaking about the end of your life, or anyone's life for that matter...It is dealing with a period of time...And that period of time has nothing to do with you...
Honour thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment with a promise (Ephesian 6:2).
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar? (James 2:21)
No. I can't tell who is not saved. I am not God. All I can affirm is that those accept Catholic teaching and live it, are.
The basic point in my post is that, in the Protestant scheme, "biblical truth" is whatever the interpreter says it is. I know it is not a pallatable idea and I can see why you would find it shocking, uncomfortable, and challenging. The existence of thousands of Protestant sects prove my point.
It will remain so as long as you can't produce the chapter and verse where we can find a list of the closed biblical canon.
Scripture is holy because God says so, yes, but this only becomes meaningful when the Church proclaims it so. Without the Church's discernment and proclamation, there wouldn't be any "Scripture."
The Catholic Church as a human institution is not above criticism. But neither are her critics.
That would be somewhat bad if "the Church" were a reality completely external to me, but it isn't. I am in the Church, I believe with her; it is not "I and the Church believe" but "we in the Church believe."
The Protestant retort is that I need *you*, "Iscool," to interpret it for me. Because the Protestant claim is not a general claim made about a teaching church, but one made about the single, teaching individual.
I suppose you are "cool," but I don't need your help to interpret the Bible and see the Bible "your way." Thank you anyway, though!
You would have each man be a pope; nye, a prophet like Mohammed or Joseph Smith?
Fallible men like Martin Luther? Fact is that each Protestant church has a magister, and when a member decides to reject the infallibility of this magisterium , he seeks out another or becomes one himself. The only Reformer who really sought to reconstitute the catholic church on a proper footing was Calvin. But after the anti-pope of Geneva died, even his movement lost its center.
Protestants find no difficulty, however, in attending "Bible-believing" services where the pastor INTERPRETS passages of scripture as part of his sermon, and in fact tells the congregation that his interpretation is the correct one.
I would suggest that those who are concerned about the role of Mary and other aspects of the church enroll in an RCIA class at a large parish. Many of the questions would be answered, and there is no obligation to join the Church. We encourage this in my parish, so that people, even if they do not share our belief, can at least have the correct answer on what we do believe.