Skip to comments.Reformation Day – and What Led Me To Back to Catholicism
Posted on 10/28/2011 6:59:29 AM PDT by markomalley
October 31 is only three days away. For Protestants, it is Reformation Day, the date in 1517 on which Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to that famous door in Wittenberg, Germany. Since I returned to the Catholic Church in April 2007, each year the commemoration has become a time of reflection about my own journey and the puzzles that led me back to the Church of my youth.
One of those puzzles was the relationship between the Church, Tradition, and the canon of Scripture. As a Protestant, I claimed to reject the normative role that Tradition plays in the development of Christian doctrine. But at times I seemed to rely on it. For example, on the content of the biblical canon whether the Old Testament includes the deuterocanonical books (or Apocrypha), as the Catholic Church holds and Protestantism rejects. I would appeal to the exclusion of these books as canonical by the Jewish Council of Jamnia (A.D. 90-100) as well as doubts about those books raised by St. Jerome, translator of the Latin Vulgate, and a few other Church Fathers.
My reasoning, however, was extra-biblical. For it appealed to an authoritative leadership that has the power to recognize and certify books as canonical that were subsequently recognized as such by certain Fathers embedded in a tradition that, as a Protestant, I thought more authoritative than the tradition that certified what has come to be known as the Catholic canon. This latter tradition, rejected by Protestants, includes St. Augustine as well as the Council of Hippo (A.D. 393), the Third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397), the Fourth Council of Carthage (A.D. 419), and the Council of Florence (A.D. 1441).
But if, according to my Protestant self, a Jewish council and a few Church Fathers are the grounds on which I am justified in saying what is the proper scope of the Old Testament canon, then what of New Testament canonicity? So, ironically, given my Protestant understanding of ecclesiology, then the sort of authority and tradition that apparently provided me warrant to exclude the deuterocanonical books from Scripture binding magisterial authority with historical continuity is missing from the Church during the development of New Testament canonicity.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, maintains that this magisterial authority was in fact present in the early Church and thus gave its leadership the power to recognize and fix the New Testament canon. So, ironically, the Protestant case for a deuterocanonical-absent Old Testament canon depends on Catholic intuitions about a tradition of magisterial authority.
This led to two other tensions. First, in defense of the Protestant Old Testament canon, I argued, as noted above, that although some of the Churchs leading theologians and several regional councils accepted what is known today as the Catholic canon, others disagreed and embraced what is known today as the Protestant canon. It soon became clear to me that this did not help my case, since by employing this argumentative strategy, I conceded the central point of Catholicism: the Church is logically prior to the Scriptures. That is, if the Church, until the Council of Florences ecumenical declaration in 1441, can live with a certain degree of ambiguity about the content of the Old Testament canon, that means that sola scriptura was never a fundamental principle of authentic Christianity.
After all, if Scripture alone applies to the Bible as a whole, then we cannot know to which particular collection of books this principle applies until the Bibles content is settled. Thus, to concede an officially unsettled canon for Christianitys first fifteen centuries seems to make the Catholic argument that sola scriptura was a sixteenth-century invention and, therefore, not an essential Christian doctrine.
Second, because the list of canonical books is itself not found in Scripture as one can find the Ten Commandments or the names of Christs apostles any such list, whether Protestant or Catholic, would be an item of extra-biblical theological knowledge. Take, for example, a portion of the revised and expanded Evangelical Theological Society statement of faith suggested (and eventually rejected by the membership) by two ETS members following my return to the Catholic Church. It states that, this written word of God consists of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments and is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behavior.
But the belief that the Bible consists only of sixty-six books is not a claim of Scripture, since one cannot find the list in it, but a claim about Scripture as a whole. That is, the whole has a property i.e., consisting of sixty-six books, that is not found in any of the parts. In other words, if the sixty-six books are the supreme authority on matters of belief, and the number of books is a belief, and one cannot find that belief in any of the books, then the belief that Scripture consists of sixty-six particular books is an extra-biblical belief, an item of theological knowledge that is prima facie non-biblical.
For the Catholic, this is not a problem, since the Bible is the book of the Church, and thus there is an organic unity between the fixing of the canon and the development of doctrine and Christian practice.
Although I am forever indebted to my Evangelical brethren for instilling and nurturing in me a deep love of Scripture, it was that love that eventually led me to the Church that had the authority to distinguish Scripture from other things.
BB, I’d reply to your points about the author, but if you actually read and comprehend, you’d easily see your conclusions are errors bordering on the facetious.
As for “Holy Scripture IS the infallible authority” that’s been done to death.
Holy Scripture cannot be polled to authorize your interpretation over another. Your statement fails in performance. How is your understanding of scripture “authorized” by scripture? Only according to your opinion.
All that is left is you. Your authority over what is scripture and what scripture means. And you are fallible. This is your belief, this is what the writer is stating as your belief. Correctly.
Stapleton also charges that the Protestant is an authority unto himself, which authority he does not claim to be infallible, if he is sober and sane, (cp. XXIII) which is true in that, in keeping with his soberity and sanity, he does not claim assured infallibility (impossible to err) which Rome claims, in which she has infallibly defined herself as being assuredly infallible when speaking in accordance with her infallibly(?) defined subject and scope-based formula, thus rendering her decree that she is infallible to be infallible, as well as whatever else is may choose to thus teach. According to her decree, only her decree can be correct in any conflict, and her guarantee of infallibility does not necessarily extend to the arguments or reasoning behind such.
However, the evangelical believer may allow that he may speak infallible Scriptural truth, as even affirming there is a Creator must be allowed as being, but his claim to veracity depends upon the weight of its testimony, both in doctrinal conformity and the manner of attestation it affirms being given to truth claims, which Scripture is manifestly the standard for and for obedience. And which is what the Lord and His apostles appealed to in establishing their claims. (Mt. 22:29-46; Lk. 24:27,44; Jn. 5:36,39; Acts 2:33; 15:7-9,12; 17:2,11; 28:23; Rm. 1:2; 16:26; 15:19, etc.)
While the former (Christ) is infallible whatever He speaks on, being Deity and the source of Scripture, the latter did not claim they or the church would perpetually be infallible whenever their successors spoke to the church on faith and morals, and the conclusion that they were requires extrapolated such out of texts based upon a the faulty premise that being the instrument and steward of Divine revelation requires or confers such assured infallibility, and that an assuredly infallible magisterium is necessarily to establish Scripture as being such and to preserve Truth, but which would validate the conclusions of those who were these instruments and stewards (Rm. 3:2; 94) and who sat in the seat of Moses, (Mt. 23:2) rather than Truth being established according to Scriptural means, and thus Christianity ultimately required rejecting of the authority of those who supposed formal decent assured perpetual supreme spiritual authority, as the kingdom of God is not in word, as in self-proclamation, but in power. (1Cor. 4:20)
In addition, the premise of Stapleton is that Rome's magisterium eliminates the doubts, confusion and misunderstanding which inevitably results from individual interpretations, and provides the substitute for discerning truth by discover religious truths by examining both sides of the question (though Scripture is the standard, and formally or materially being the source of all religious truths), and where he must believe without the immediate help of reason.
However, as Stapleton allows, the decision to submit to Rome is based upon reason, and thus he makes an fallible decision to trust in an asserted assuredly infallible magisterium. And while Stapleton speaks of this as an alternative to reason in determining religious truths, yet the Catholic must engage in reasoning all the time, as even determining that a decree is an infallible one (is all of Trent infallible?) in order to give assent of faith (the highest level of submission) and what it all means requires the use of reason, as there is no infallible list of all such, and how many there are is a matter of varying interpretations, nor does having an infallible magisterium assure the understanding will be. Likewise, reasoning is required in understanding such things as the binding power of encyclicals and what they mean, as well as all non-fallible teachings (rightly understood as such) and the degree of dissent which is allowed for such.
In addition is the vast amount of things in which there is no official teaching, including interpretation of verses in Scripture, few of which are held as infallibly defined.
The living magisterium of the Catholic does help the laity to understand the above, but not comprehensively and often not without ambiguity and sometimes seemingly different interpretations, all of which requires reasoning to determine which is correct or how to reconcile them.
Thus both the Protestant and the Catholic make use of fallible human reasoning in order to place their faith in their respective supreme authorities, neither of which assure that the understanding of the reader will be infallible, although Scripture does provide for knowing such things as the certitude that one has eternal life (the present tense not being what Trent opposed) based upon examination of things which accompany salvation. (1Jn. 5:13; cf. Heb. 6:9)
And both classes have living magisteriums which set down core truths which must be believed, while allowing varying degrees of dissent in others, Rome having hers, and individual Protestant denominations typical having theirs. And while the variation of beliefs is greater in the latter class, especially broadly defined, the unity of Rome is not necessarily greater than any individual Protestant denomination, while among those who most strongly affirm the distinctive Protestant position of the supremacy of Scripture, and salvation by grace through faith (that works, versus earned by works), a greater manifest popular unity in fellowship and core truths and moral values may be seen.
Stapleton also states that his faith is based upon the gospel, and that faith in Rome is what is reasonable, based upon the premise that authority and transmission of religious truth requires assured infallibility, and that Rome has the marks of this, and unless we take the gospels from an authority whose infallibility is proven, then that belief is based on an assumption, which is to say the least doubtfully reasonable. (cp. XIX)
However, faith in Rome is based upon an assumption, that she is what she claims she is, and as mentioned before and expanded upon here, the premise that authority and transmission of religious truth requires assured infallibility is faulty, being unScriptural and unreasonably restrictive of the power of God. The teaching magisterium is provided by Scripture, but prior to their being a church of Rome, most of Scripture was already established as such and authoritative (Lk. 24:44) essentially due to its supernatural qualities, effects and attestation and Truth was preserved (among a relative remnant as usual). And in so doing God often raised up men from without the formal magisterium to reprove from Scripture those who effectively presumed supreme authority over it and contradicted it. While they could speak Truth on faith and morals, this was not guaranteed everytime they did so to Israel. And the authority of their reprovers was not dependent upon the official sanction of those who sat in the seat of Moses, even though they had a position of authority, but their authority was established by conformity with Scripture and the power of God. Thus the official magisterium killed prophets and the Pharisees had a problem with John the Baptist and the Lord Himself.
The authority of Moses himself was established by almighty God supernaturally affirming his Abrahamic faith in Him, and the Law which expanded upon it, and which became the manifest standard for obedience and testing truth claims and additional revelation. (Sola Scriptura is not opposed to the progressive writing of Scripture in principle, or oral transmission, as Scripture provides for but makes the veracity of all such subject to what is written such, while the formal sufficiency aspect pertains to a manifestly closed canon.)
While Scripture provides for transmission of truth by the magisterium via formal decent, supposing assured infallibility and perpetuity of that office based upon that is presumption, (Jn. 8:39-44) and thus Christ and the New Testament church was founded (or required) rejection of the supreme authority of those who sat in Moses' seat. For God can raise up children from stones, (Mt . 3:9) and make of them stones to build His church, as the real basis for authenticity under the New Covenant is not lineage, but Abrahamic faith in the gospel of grace, (Rm. 2:28,29) by which the church exists and has its members, (1Cor. 12:13) and through whom grace is conveyed and valid pastoral authority passed on. And who realize fellowship of the Spirit with those who likewise are born of Him and walk therein, and so preach Christ and not their church as an object of faith, though it is manifest by the effects of saving faith.
Thank you, Daniel. Very informative post, as usual.