Last week, a comment from “John the Curious Catholic” inspired me to post the following. He’s a Catholic examining Protestant theology; I wrote the following once to help a couple of Protestants who were examining the Roman Catholic teachings. John, feel free to correct or contend with whatever I may have misconstrued or treated too simplistically. All I know about the subject, I learned from the guy in the picture (R. C. Sproul). If you want more detailed info, consult his website, www.ligonier.org. But considering, this isn’t your first rodeo, you probably already have! At any rate, happy reading!
Detailing the Historic Errors of Roman Catholicism, Contrasted with the Historic and Scriptural Emphases of the Protestant Reformation
“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12)
” . . . the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whome the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19b-21)
The Word of Christ and Church Tradition
The Roman Catholic Church subscribes to the “Two Source” theory of revelati0n. This is the view that Church Tradition alongside Scripture serves as God’s means of revealing divine truth to the world. Church Tradition develops in many ways: Ecumenical and Catholic Councils, writings of the Church Fathers, “ex cathedra” (from the throne) pronouncements by Popes.
The Reformers had respect for all aspects of “Church Tradition” — they knew it has its place; however, they also knew that the authority of Scripture exceeds the authority of all other forms of Church authority. Creeds, Councils, Fathers, Popes, Bishops are all subject to Scripture, according to Protestant doctrine because God has “exalted above all things [his] name and [his] word” (Psalm 138:2). The Reformers’ work was to examine all these things in the light of Scripture, rejecting that which is not consistent with Scripture, maintaining that which is. Scripture alone was written by Christ’s Apostles and it is their writings which embodies the foundation of which Christ himself is the cornerstone. It is written in the Acts of the Apostles that the converts on the first Day of Pentecost following Christ’s ascension ” . . . devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching . . . ” Inasmuch as the Roman Catholic Church seeks divine revelation in the Word of Christ and postapostolic Church Tradition, they undermine their devotion to the Apostles’ teaching, whereas the Protestant Church obediently confesses that divine revelation is only found in the writings of the Apostles (meaning the New Testament) and Prophets (meaning the Old Testament). Their slogan for this biblical emphasis was, “SOLA SCRIPTURA,” that is, “Scripture Alone.”
Not only did the Roman Catholic Church undermine the authority of Scripture by Church Tradition (cf. Matthew 15:6b-7a), they also corrupted the Word of God by weaving into its contents apocryphal books which demonstrably lack the marks of inspiration borne by the canonical Old and New Testaments. While it is true that some early editions of the Authorized Version commissioned by King James I of England and produced by Anglican clergy and scholars contained the Apocrypha, they published them separately between the Testaments for use as informative intertestamental history, similar to our modern English translations which frequently contain articles detailing this very same information. The only difference between then and now is that then, they provided the original sources; now we merely condense this material in essay form. Furthermore, the 39 Articles of the Church of England explicitly deny the inspiration of the Apocryphal books.
The Vatican II document Dei Verbum has rather a lot to say about the nature of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and how they relate to each other.
“9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.(6)
10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort. (7)” See this document at http://www.vatican.va under “Archives” & “Vatican II”
Catholics appeal to various portions of the Scriptures for support for the beliefs in all the doctrines. At times, this is done in a simple way against an antagonist. For example, if Matthew 16:18-19 doesn’t mean what the Catholic Church believes it means, then what exactly does it mean? That is to say, it is the Catholic interpretation of that passage which makes the most prima facie sense of it (rather than leaving it shrouded in mystery), whether or not it is the correct interpretation. Or with regard to support for Purgatory from 1 Cor. 3? If the meaning of the passage is not that a man is “being saved, yet though as through fire” after death in order to “burn away” his worthless works, then what does that passage obviously mean? Again, the question can be put back to the interlocutor as a challenge, and it will be admitted that alternative views on the passage are not as prima facie true, whether or not the Catholic view is ultimately correct.
However, it would further be admitted by any honest Catholic that the doctrines do not necessarily jump off the page at you and bowl you over with their overwhelming clarity and obviousness. But, to claim that they are unreasonable by virtue of being contrary to the Scriptures would be too bold, I think. It is the first inclination of a Protestant to cry “unbiblical!” against a Catholic doctrine that they don’t hold to merely because of their particular tradition. That would be the most predictable response, but also the most unsuccessful. Is it really to be believed that a given Protestant has a better understanding of the Scriptures than did, say, Sts. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or any of the other doctores ecclesiae? There is much to be said for the Catholicity of the Church’s major teachers throughout its history.
Esentially, a good Roman Catholic looks at tradition as a guide, (although an inspired guide) as opposed to the ideas of the reformation. The guide is important to the Catholic because of the many different interpretations and interpreters that you may see in Protestantism, ie… Arminians, Calvinists, Paedobaptizers vs. Believers Baptism only, or effusion vs. immersion, or Baptist vs Lutheran, you get the point. The one thing is for sure for a good Roman Catholic, the scripture is not set against tradition, but tradition comes from the same deposit as Scripture. I have one former Fundamental Baptist friend who converted to Roman Catholicism, and he said the RC view of tradition is not almost, but exactly like the Fundamentalist view of Preservation.
Does this make sense?
John the Curious Catholic
You definitely confirm my assertion that Roman Catholic tradition is considered inspired along with Scripture. Indeed, both sides are naturally going to claim to be preserving the doctrine of the apostles; however, there is no promise of postapostolic inspiration.
The only thing the Bible calls inspired, “God-breathed” or the product of the breath of God is the written Word of God. Just as the Roman Catholics have a body of doctrine that they believe springs from Scripture and preserves the apostolic doctrine (in an inspired way), so do the Protestants believe that as they have compared the teachings of the Fathers and the medieval theologians with the Scriptures, retaining that which has Scriptural support, and rejecting that which fails the test of Scripture, they preserve more faithfully the doctrines of the apostles.
The difference is that the Protestant theologians do not presume to claim that their efforts to preserve apostolic doctrine is the product of the breath of God as the Roman Catholic Church does. Thus, even though Protestants have strong respect for the efforts of the theologians of the past, they must subject all theologians to the apostles. Yes, Protestants differ on many important doctrines. We do what we can with what we’ve got. But you cannot pretend that just because a Vatican II document makes sweeping claims of being inspired in the way they preserve the doctrines of the apostles, that the Roman Catholic Church is monolithic in its interepretation of Scripture and application of tradition. You simply remain under the same umbrella as the various factions differ among themselves.
Protestants enjoy a unity of faith in the catholic essentials of Christianity, even though they organize separately around their distinctives. Yes, some are more and less divisive in this operation, but then, I guarantee based on the facts of human nature, there are likewise equally divisive parties operating under the one, outward, Roman Catholic umbrella.
We Protestants, the honest ones, admit that none of us has a perfect grasp of Scripture; just as there is no such thing as perfectly unbiased journalism. Roman Catholics, in all there individual disagreements within the big tent of the Church, seem to use the claim of inspired tradition as a front to give the image of unity, as most journalists seem to claim to be perfectly unbiased.
Your comment about the similarities between Roman Catholic tradition and the Fundamentalist view of preservation (I assume you mean, Preservation of Scripture) is definitely true. I recall one of the last straws for me as a King James Onlyist, was in reading a biography of William Tyndale by David Daniell of the University of London.
“. . . that there was a language called Hebrew at all, or that it had any connection whatsoever with the Bible, would have been news to most of the ordinary population. Religion was in Latin; the Mass was in Latin; all the other services, like baptism, were in Latin; everything the priest did was in Latin; the Psalms in the Mass were in Latin; the Bible, when visible, was a big Latin volume; some priests, and most laymen, had only a few words of Lain, if that.” (David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography,copyright 1994, Yale University, p. 287)
In the margin, I wrote, “Just as modern anti-intellectual fundamentalists, for whom “religion was in [English];” for whom the fact that Hebrew and Greek retain any connection to the inspired Word of God is not only news, but apostacy.”
Fundamentalist KJVOnlyism and other Scripturally untenable positions are maintained by their strident separatism, pressuring their flocks to avoid too much interaction with those outside their traditions, lest they “swap fleas.” It’s much easier to maintain fundamentalist traditions by keeping one’s head planted squarely in the terra firma.
I say Amen to your former IFB friend on that point.
Thanks, and your points on post-apostolic tradition not being inspired is part of my problem with the RCC. The point is also well taken that there are fractions among RC’s as well. It is a myth to presume that all RCC’s enjoy unity without problems. However, one thing that I think even good Protestants can say is that they enjoy unity on main doctrinal issues. The Reformed Protestants have their creeds as do the RC’s. However, it seems odd to me to have a Church Body, place such emphasis on it’s own interpretations as being equal to the Text itself. This is my problem with the RCC. It seems to easy to say, “what we say is inspired, because tradition says it is.” Some apologetic RC’s are trying to water down the official view of tradition as just a sort of bevy of authority that we can look to. Obviously the official position is stronger than that, and interestingly enough, according to the tradition of the Church, tradition cannot be overturned, thus it would prove that it is in fact not on the same level as the Text. Intersting, that they can’t change, or they would have to change everything.
John the CC
“It seems too easy to say, ‘what we say is inspired, because tradition says it is.'”
There’s another parallel between fundamentalism and Romanism (if you’ll forgive my Protestant shorthand. Fundamentalists would rather use such circular logic in defending the idea that the Bible is the Word of God because . . . “the Bible teaches that it is God’s Word.”
If you go as far east as you can, eventually you’re back in the west again, if you know what I mean!
Fundamentalism even holds some views in common with theological liberalism for the same reason: if you try to get as far away from some undesirable movement, you eventually begin to adopt some of its flaws (RC, or liberalism).
To say Scripture is inspired or the product of the breath of God is to say simply that God is the ultimate source of the Bible. The process is not detailed. When men come along and correctly interpret what Scripture says, only then can we in any way ascribe God as its ultimate source, and likewise invest binding authority in the interpretation in an ecclesiastical, or denominational context. Incorrect interpretations certainly do not have their ultimate source in God, but rather in some unfortunate combination of the text of Scripture and the limited capacity of the interpreter, be he Church Father, Medieval theologian, Pope, Ecumenical Council of Bishops, Protestant Reformer, theologian, pastor or layman.
The fact that we all have limited capacities to interpret the text of Scripture argues for our need to respect the work of theologians of the past. It is unwise and unbiblical, however, to ascribe inspiration to, and invest implicit, unquestioning faith in, “Tradition.” It was an inspired writer, Luke, who said that Jews in Berea were noble for subjecting the words of a preacher to the text of Scripture. It just so happens that they were subjecting the word of an apostle to the text–and the text itself calls this noble? That’s pretty telling.
Again, it’s the text itself which records Paul’s correction of Peter in Galatians. This supposed first of the popes, was certainly not infallible and beyond criticism, now was he? I predict I’ve opened myself to correction on the basis of the fact that popes are only considered infallible when they speak “ex cathedra.” But may I defend myself by pointing out that the term infallible literally means that one is incapable of error? How can a man who is fallible in his behavior, speak infallibly when he’s operating in an official, ecclesiastical capacity? Do we just say, oh, the Holy Spirit infuses infallibility to the pope at that time and not at others? Yeah, that’s what a lot of fundamentalist preachers would have us believe about themselves.
Consider the following from the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter One on the Holy Scripture, points 7 and 10:
7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
(God has providentially left some more and some less capable in the due use of ordinary and extraordinary means, and so, many sincere, godly Christians may disagree on important doctrines which yet have no bearing on salvation, and be lead thereby to organize around common “secondary”distinctives and yet maintain true unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace with Christians of other “traditions”on the essential “catholic” doctrines of the historic, orthodox Christian Faith.)
10. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture.
The Captain said, “The fact that we all have limited capacities to interpret the text of Scripture argues for our need to respect the work of theologians of the past. It is unwise and unbiblical, however, to ascribe inspiration to, and invest implicit, unquestioning faith in, “Tradition.” It was an inspired writer, Luke, who said that Jews in Berea were noble for subjecting the words of a preacher to the text of Scripture. It just so happens that they were subjecting the word of an apostle to the text–and the text itself calls this noble? That’s pretty telling.”
Here is my comments about what the Captain said… “I’ll drink to that!” or how’s this, “Here Here!”
It seems to me that the Roman Church is saying, we don’t trust individual interpretation…(you’ll see them say that), so, trust this large group of individuals…(I’m sorry-huh?) So then they have to have these individuals have extra special prominence or (keys), so that there interpretations cannot be questioned. Keep it up Captain.
-To John the Curious Catholic- Can you say now, “Almost thou persuadest me?”
That’s my Gage!
And as great a point as that is, I kept worrying about being perried by the comment, “hey, Smartypants, earlier you criticized fundamentalists for asserting that the Bible is inspired on the basis of the fact that the Bible teaches that the Bible is inspired; now, you’re trying to tell me that the Bible alone is the final judge of all doctrine BECAUSE THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT THE BIBLE ALONE IS THE FINAL JUDGE OF ALL DOCTRINE?”
Man, talk about self-conscious!
Thanks for the cheers.