Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Case Against Sola Scriptura Part II: Misunderstandings on Sacred Tradition

            In the previous segment, I outlined the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura as best as I could, and raised some initial objections to the position. Faced with these objections, the Protestant offers a wide variety of responses. Some of these demonstrate a lack of familiarity and understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches about the Scriptures.

            Some of this, while regrettable, is understandable. There are those Catholics who, while meaning well, they do not prepare sufficiently when it comes to the Catholic faith. Going forth speaking, they introduce misunderstandings and confusions about what the Catholic Church teaches. I will do my best to avoid this pitfall. My defenses will be based upon what the Popes and Councils of the Church have taught us.

            As mentioned in my first work, the Catholic responds to the Protestant teaching by referencing St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, which tells us to “stand fast to the traditions you have received from us, whether by word of mouth or letter.” The Protestant will typically counter as Evangelical Protestant James R. White does. In a completely fictional dialogue, Dr. White engages his critics:(“I” being Dr. White, Paul being the fictional rejecter of Sola Scriptura):

            I would normally say Dr. White is shadow-boxing, landing great rhetorical flourishes on a straw man. Yet a lot of stock apologetics tracts give precisely these kind of arguments. While one can still fault someone who should know better (As Dr. White always pains to point out, he seeks only the top Catholic apologists to engage), one must still fault individual Catholics who makes claims which clearly are not that of the Church.

Let me guess what you have heard,” I said to the couple. “This passage is normally cited in the context of insisting that there is more to God’s revelation than ‘just’ Scripture. In fact, it is normally used to prove that this is a command that we Protestants are refusing to obey.”

“Yes, that’s exactly how it has been presented to us.”

Paul looked nervously at his open Bible.

“Indeed, and it is a command. The errant assumption, however, is that this passage is talking about written ‘tradition,’ that being Scripture, and then some kind of ‘oral tradition,’ that being...well, we normally are not told exactly what that is, but it sounds vague enough to cover whatever Rome has in mind.” A general chuckle went around the room. “But just a few observations show us just how far off base this use of the passage is. First, the implicit assumption in the Roman use of this verse is that the substance of this ‘oral tradition’ differs from that in the written tradition. However, upon what basis are we to make this assumption? (Sola Scriptura in Dialogue),

            For starters, there is no implicit assumption that the oral need differ from the written in substance. The Catholic Church has never stated such. In the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council states the following:

This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down…. 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.

            Simply put, there is nothing in the formal teachings of the Church which state that what is contained within Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture differ from each other. The Protestant apologist then asks “well that is if you hold to the material sufficiency view of Scripture. What about the partim-partim view, before Vatican II?” Such a view has a misunderstanding of what the Church has taught. There were those who believed that in divine revelation, it was revealed part in Scripture, part in Tradition. The Council of Trent says nothing of this. Indeed, what they say is in essence what Vatican II said. According to Trent, Jesus Christ:

First promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament--seeing that one God is the author of both --as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. (Council of Trent, 4th Session)

            One can talk about the manner in which the Gospel is given, through word or epistle. What we do know is what the Popes and Councils have taught us. Pope Leo XIII made this clear in his papal encyclical Providentimus Deus when he stated:

Let all, therefore, especially the novices of the ecclesiastical army, understand how deeply the sacred Books should be esteemed, and with what eagerness and reverence they should approach this great arsenal of heavenly arms. For those whose duty it is to handle Catholic doctrine before the learned or the unlearned will nowhere find more ample matter or more abundant exhortation, whether on the subject of God, the supreme Good and the all-perfect Being, or of the works which display His Glory and His love. Nowhere is there anything more full or more express on the subject of the Savior of the world than is to be found in the whole range of the Bible.

           In short, this is a clever objection by the Protestant. It is also a very clever straw man. Whether or not individuals make these bad arguments, regrettable as they are, is besides the point. The Church nowhere treats the concept of Sacred Tradition as some juridical chapter and verse concept. While it is up to the individual Catholic to become informed about the Faith, the Protestant should know where to look for our teachings. As we see, one of the primary rhetorical flourishes against the Catholic case is just that, a rhetorical flourish. One more will be examined, before we Catholics can return to the offensive and go after the false doctrine of sola scriptura.

1 comment:

  1. I can't remember who said it, but I've heard it summed up beautifully as Scripture and Tradition compliment each other in that what is not as clear in one is clear in the other, and on major doctrines both are basically clear. In this way neither is dispensable, and thus there is no "sola scriptura".


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