The error of sola Scriptura
Protestants are the ones who object that Catholic doctrine is not based on Scripture! As a Protestant, however, I found no Scriptural basis for me to be the sole and final interpreter of Sacred Scripture. When I take on that role, I place myself outside the four corners of the Holy Bible. Our Lord did not set things up like that. And, when I looked around, there was only one church making the claim to faithfully and infallibly interpret Scripture. Remember the pillar and foundation of truth from my last post: “But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15*)
Houston, we have a problem
Somehow we grow up believing that because Martin Luther had some legitimate complaints about the practices of the church in the sixteenth century, everything that followed, to include separation from the one church, was justified. However, when a hundred churches teach a hundred different “truths” based on the same Bible, we have a problem. That problem stands against Saint Paul’s inspired words to young Timothy, himself learning to lead in the infant church of Christ. I learned that the Catholic Church alone has preserved, from that infant church to the present day, the deposit of faith once for all handed down to the saints. I discovered that the truths (less the errors; minus the negations) held by competing non-Catholic traditions have been held inviolate by the Catholic Church through the centuries, going back to the day of Pentecost.
Sola Scriptura, or Bible Alone, sounds good. But when that doctrine turns the one church of Jesus Christ into a thousand splinters, and those splinters dividing into hundreds and hundreds more, with no end in sight, we have a problem. One’s faith tradition, if it is truth, must withstand the scrutiny of Scripture, history, natural law, philosophy, reason and common sense. The problem I perceived required a hard look at the Catholic Church’s claims. After I took that hard, honest look, none were left standing in the ring, save the Catholic Church alone.
There is a sad genius to Sola Scriptura. It seems to cut off fair and honest examination of one’s faith tradition. One asserts, “My faith comes from the Bible alone.” But when challenged, that very doctrine sends the believer running back to his Bible alone, hiding behind his subjective interpretation of Scripture. In addition to its proven tendency to divide and not unify (based on 500 years of solid evidence), Sola Scriptura is a subjectively-circular and insulating system.
It has not always been so
Division and chaos do not come from the Lord. In the beginning, we see the Spirit of God sweeping over the face of the deep. The first three chapters of Genesis begin to reveal God’s light and life and love. What starts out as good, gets very good. Then, when our first parents fall, we glimpse in that early evangelium what will become better than very good. So great is His love and power and wisdom, to His eternal praise and glory, God will craft a remedy from our very fall. Somehow, some way, at some time, the seed of the woman would make things right. It would take millennia to develop; untold ages to unfold. Later, much later, the seed of the woman calls Himself “the truth”, promising to make all things new.
Let there be light
Salvation history, tracing long and storied lines of ancient Israel’s glory and shame, arrives at the fullness of time. At last, green wood from the root of Jesse. The angel Gabriel announces something startling to the young virgin: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” (Lk 1:31). Genesis chapter 3 continues taking dramatic shape. Notice how it happens. There is authority and clarity on the one hand; humility and faith on the other. Both sides of the equation are important. The Lord’s Word is delivered with authority and clarity. You will conceive. A son. You will give him a certain name. Note the clarity, without a hint of subjectivity; a real “Thus saith the Lord”. Then we see humility and faith: “Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’” (Lk 1:38).
The Annunciation came with authority and clarity. In response to Mary’s perfectly rational question, “the angel said to her in reply, ‘The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.’” (Lk 1:35). Without that objective, clear Word of God, there is no solid place for humility and the obedience of faith. “And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Cor. 14: 8). Thank God, the bugle sounded clearly, and the Virgin said Yes. Thank God, the Blessed Virgin became the Second Eve, and readied herself for battle. Thank the Lord, Mary gave her fiat, thus giving place for the long-promised seed; the long-awaited One who would save us from our sins.
The pillar and foundation of truth fits
As Protestants, we believed these great mysteries of God. We believed the Spirit hovered over the face of the deep in the beginning, bringing order from chaos. We believed the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Blessed Virgin causing what has never been done to become fact: The Word becomes flesh, entering space and time. We believed the Spirit of the Lord came down like a mighty rushing wind, with tongues as of fire, and the church was born. With that backdrop, I should not have been surprised to discover that God preserved and continues to preserve the faith once delivered. The Lord preserves the faith, not a hundred or a thousand competing and contradicting versions. On one side we see 500 years of division and subjectivity; on the other, amazing promises by Christ about the promised Holy Spirit and the church. The verdict easily comes down in favor of Christ and His promises.
500 years of evidence is enough
A hundred or a thousand contradictory statements of “truth”, coming from the same Bible, look nothing like the Holy Spirit hovering over the face of the deep, bringing light and life and love. The last 500 years stand over against the order-from-chaos-pattern of Genesis 1. We have seen what the Holy Spirit does in response to the Blessed Virgin’s fiat. Then our Lord makes great promises concerning the church, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, upon His return to the Father. We know there is one God. One faith. One Church. We know the Holy Spirit is not the author of confusion. Since 1517, there has been a steady drift toward ecclesial and doctrinal and moral chaos in the non-Catholic world. In my opinion, Sola Scriptura is largely to blame. It breeds subjectivity. It prevents unity. Sola Scriptura guarantees division and separation; often under the guise of protecting the truth.
Every point of difference becomes another point of subjectivity. Logically speaking, each point of theological difference, at least to the extent excluding counterbalancing truths, must lead some along right paths, and everyone else on wrong paths. I was no longer content with substantial agreement over a manmade list of alleged “essential” doctrines of the faith. I no longer trusted the scheme that cast all points of disagreement onto an unwritten, ever-growing, pile of “non-essentials”. I believe that scheme causes Bible-believing denominations to drift and stray and separate, having to constantly reform, rename and restart. From the beginning it was not so.
Sola Scriptura is not scriptural
Sola Scriptura, as the sole infallible rule of faith and morals, is not found in the Bible. You won’t find it in the Old Testament. Our Lord never taught it. Nor is it found in the New Testament. Consider two representative Bible verses used by proponents of Sola Scriptura. Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul.” (NIV). Yes, of course it is. Every good Catholic agrees the law of the Lord is perfect. There are many verses in Scripture declaring God’s Word to be perfect and powerful, alive and effective, etc. Stack them all up. But they don’t prove Sola Scriptura. If anything, such verses beg for an infallible interpreter so that this perfect law of the Lord is not left up to “me and my Bible.”
The primary Scriptural “proof” for Sola Scriptura seems to be 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (NIV). I found the doctrine more than merely absent from this passage. Rather, in light of 500 years of evidence, the text actually disproves Sola Scriptura.
Another look at the Sacraments
My previous posts focus on Baptism and Holy Communion. They provide points of reference, though we could use others. Disagreements among non-Catholics over these sacraments commanded by our Lord are too many and too deep for this blog. They are treated elsewhere by others. As an example, Sola Scripture does not lead to the Baptist’s bread of communion being merely a “symbolic act”. The Baptist must deny the plain language of John chapter 6. Nor can the Presbyterian, using the Bible alone, find the negative qualifiers (“not after a corporal and carnal manner”) when insisting on the negation of Holy Communion. The Baptists might teach that negative spirituality. The Presbyterians might reach sacrament-denying conclusions. However, they cannot do so under the guise of Sola Scripture. Scripture does not employ “symbolic act” terminology in reference to Baptism or Holy Communion. Sacred Scripture does not provide the corporal-negation-tradition urged by a man, John Calvin. Flowing not from Scripture alone, these sacrament-denying ideas are western traditions of men and less than 500 years old.
The alleged “proof texts” from Second Timothy declare all Scripture to be useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Yes, of course, and every faithful Catholic would agree. The passage, however, says more, to the undoing of Sola Scriptura: “. . . so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Scripture is useful for all these works, but not divorced from the Magisterium of the Church. A pastor (“servant of God”) accomplishes a “good work” by faithfully teaching his flock what Baptism means, who might be baptized, and when. To teach other than the truth is not a good work. Likewise, a pastor accomplishes a “good work” by faithfully teaching what Holy Communion means, who may partake and when. To get it wrong, even if his heart is in the right place, is not a good work. How can it be said that Protestant pastors are thoroughly equipped by Scripture alone when they differ so wildly concerning the only two Protestant sacraments?
They seem like essentials to our Lord
On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Just before He ascended, our Lord commanded that the Apostles go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. How is it possible that there are so many significantly-different Protestant and non-denominational interpretations over those two key doctrines? If Sola Scriptura is a true doctrine, why is Scripture alone not sufficient to correct the myriad and conflicting non-Catholic teachings on Baptism and Holy Communion? There is no good answer. Scripture alone is not sufficient to equip non-Catholic pastors to truthfully teach the sacraments.
As I worked my way through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I was amazed at how the Church handles the truth of Sacred Scripture. No square pegs in round holes. While He walked the earth, our Lord taught with authority. The Magisterium of the Church teaches with authority.
Sola Scriptura fell and I crossed the Rubicon. I had seen too much. Authority compelled me to take an honest look across the Tiber. I was not quite ready, needing help from Blessed John Henry Newman. However, in the Catechism, and later in the Church, I found truth and goodness and beauty.
AS FOR ME, I KNOW THAT MY VINDICATOR LIVES, AND THAT HE WILL AT LAST STAND FORTH UPON THE DUST. THIS WILL HAPPEN WHEN MY SKIN HAS BEEN STRIPPED OFF, AND FROM MY FLESH I WILL SEE GOD: I WILL SEE FOR MYSELF, MY OWN EYES, NOT ANOTHER’S, WILL BEHOLD HIM: MY INMOST BEING IS CONSUMED WITH LONGING. JOB 19:25-27
*All Scripture from New American Bible Revised Edition, unless otherwise noted.