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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sola Scriptura: Formal versus Material Sufficiency

There is a very critical distinction which Catholics must always keep in mind when discussing the topic of Sola Scriptura. This distinction determines whether the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is true or not. The distinction is "material" versus "formal" sufficiency of Scripture.

On his wonderful blog, Dr Michael Liccione was having a discussion with a Protestant systematic theology professor on this very subject. The Protestant professor succinctly explained the difference between the two understandings of Scripture (highlights by me):
The difference here is between a blueprint to make a building, and the bricks of which the building is made. A merely materially sufficient Scripture is like a pile of bricks that can build anything from a cathedral to a tool shed, but the bricks themselves possess no inherent intelligibility (formal sufficiency) in one direction for another. The intelligibility derives from outside the bricks. Conversely, a blueprint is inherently intelligible, and thus has not material but formal sufficiency to create a specific building, whether cathedral or tool shed.

In terms of development, the claim that Scripture is materially sufficient presumes that the intelligibility of revelation derives from elsewhere than Scripture itself. A definitive magisterium (or external tradition) is necessary to decide what to do with the bricks. Without the magisterium it is impossible to know whether the bricks were intended to be a cathedral or a tool shed.
The distinction here makes all the difference in the world. From a Protestant point of view, anything less than formal sufficiency is unacceptable and will render Sola Scriptura impossible. On the flip side, the Catholic has no problem affirming the material sufficiency of Scripture (i.e. all necessary information is at least implicit in Scripture), since it in no way rules out the need for a Magisterium - and indeed demands one!

This is important to keep in mind because it makes the Protestant task of proving Sola Scriptura from the Bible more difficult and uncomfortable. It is not enough for the Protestant to point to a text that says how good or useful or inspired Scripture is, since the material sufficiency gladly embraces all this. The Protestant must show that Scripture formally and clearly lays out Christian teaching in such a way that no Magisterium or Tradition is needed, and in fact must show that the Magisterium and Tradition dont exist in the first place (or wont exist at some future date).

What is also important to point out is that the great majority of Scripture is not written down in any "blueprint" sense such that the Inspired human writer was laying down a systematic treatment of doctrines. In other words, the Bible is not written like a text book or even a 'do it yourself' self-help book. This is a major difficulty for the Protestant seeking to prove formal sufficiency.

Take the example of Baptism: If Scripture were formally sufficient, it would have to lay out in a very systematic manner what effects Baptism has on the individual, whether it is required, who can be Baptized, and how to Baptize. Contrary to the formal approach, what happens in real life and throughout history is that theologians of both the Protestant and Catholic camps have had to "derive" various doctrines like Baptism piece by piece, starting with the explicit references to baptism, then any allusions to it, and then the support of related doctrines, all to come to their final conclusions on Baptism. As everyone is aware, there is no such systematic treatment of Scripture on this teaching - and as everyone is equally aware, Protestants have disagreements on every one of those facets mentioned (e.g. whether infants can be baptized).
Given this very solid example against the notion of formal sufficiency, we can have great confidence that no specific passage will ever teach formal sufficiency (since the Scriptures cannot contradict or mislead).

Probably the most famous - and most important - example that contradicts formal sufficiency is all the heresy surrounding the Trinity. As Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong explains: "The [Trinity] can be proven from Scripture, indeed (material sufficiency), but Scripture Alone as a principle was not formally sufficient to prevent the Arian crisis from occurring. In other words, the decisive factor in these controversies was the appeal to apostolic succession and Tradition, which showed that the Church had always been trinitarian."

Other examples (among many) that contradict the notion of formal sufficiency are especially those texts discussing interpretation of OT prophecy, which the NT shows was very often missed by the Jews who knew the OT quite well. The Road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-27), the Bereans (Acts 17:1-5,10-12), and Apollos (Acts 18:24-26) demonstrate the problem quite well.

One last important thing to note (as apologists like Mark Shea and Dave Armstrong point out) is that when one affirms the material sufficiency of Scripture, there is no "fear" of "undermining" the authority of Scripture or "subordinating" the authority of Scripture with Tradition or Magisterium - fears which Protestants regularly inject in such discussions. The reason why there is no such "fear" from the Catholic end is because material sufficiency by *nature* means Tradition and Magisterium are necessary to arrange the "bricks" in the right order to form the right structure. That "fear" can only exist if the Protestant can demonstrate formal sufficiency to be true - and until then is fallaciously fear mongering.

42 comments:

Gerry Soliman said...

Hi Nick.

I would like to ask three things:

1. What is really the official Vatican view of the Scriptures, is it partim-partim or material sufficiency?

2. For what basis do you say that Magisterium and Traditions are needed?

3. How does an individual know that the Magisterium and Tradition is correct to interpret or give light to Scripture?

Thanks.

Nick said...

Hi Gerry,

1) I don't know if there is an official view; but I don't believe there is the 'sharp' distinction between partim/material that is often made out to be.

I've not seen anything distinctly partim in Trent or anywhere else. As an example of the type of stuff I have seen taught, here is a quote from Pope Leo XIII from Providentissimus Deus:

"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 Saviour of the world than is to be found in the whole range of the Bible."

This would lean far closer to material than partim - but again, I don't think such a sharp distinction is a proper framework by which the Church thinks or teaches in.

2) The Magisterium and Traditions are needed for many reasons, some of which are: (a) settling or clarifying disputes, (b) additional testimony to a given teaching, (c) a way of expressing the faith that goes beyond the written text.

3) I think I can give two answers to this:

(a) As my article noted, since material sufficiency is at most what the Scripture itself testifies to, that demands a Magisterium and Tradition by the very *nature* of what material sufficiency means.

(b) Scripture itself is tradition, but it has the unique quality of being written down tradition. Thus when this is recognized, one would be truncating the full tradition of the Gospel by only recognizing that which is written down. In other words, one could say "all Scripture is tradition, but not all tradition is Scripture."

Gerry Soliman said...

Thanks for clarifying No. 1. Yes, there is no sharp distinction as both end up seeking an authoritative interpretation from your magisterium.

As to No. 2, what I meant was is there a rule or principle that says we need a magisterium or tradition? If so, where is this rule/principle found?

As to No. 3, what I meant was given that I don't have the ability to rightfully interpret the Scripture then I consulted the magisterium or oral tradition, how do I know that they are right?

Thanks.

Nick said...

Hi,

You said: "is there a rule or principle that says we need a magisterium or tradition? If so, where is this rule/principle found?"

Yes, the principle is taught directly in Scripture itself, e.g. if a dispute arises "tell it to the Church" (Mt 18), and "hold firm to the traditions you were taught", etc. It's taught indirectly by the fact Scripture is, at most, materially sufficient.


You asked: "what I meant was given that I don't have the ability to rightfully interpret the Scripture then I consulted the magisterium or oral tradition, how do I know that they are right?"

Who said you cannot "rightfully" interpret? You cannot "authoritatively" interpret, that is, claim your interpretation is above the Magisterium's interpretation.

Asking "how do I know they are right" is like asking Jesus "how do I know you are right on anything you teach?" He's right because He's Jesus! The Magisterium is right because it's instituted and guided by Jesus!

David Waltz said...

Hi Nick,

Concerning Vatican II's position on Scripture and Tradition, I think you will find the comments from a few Catholic scholars I quoted (including the current Pope) interesting:

http://articulifidei.blogspot.com/2009/01/catholics-and-material-sufficiency-of.html


Grace and peace,

David

Russell said...

Hello Nick,

About this “Sacred Tradition,” can anyone (Catholic or otherwise) tell us exactly what it consists of? Precisely, what ARE its full contents? It seems to me that no one has a meaningful definition of it, nor an objective list of what belongs in it. Yet, Catholics are quick to ascribe infallibility to such a nebulous creature.

It’s funny, but Catholics often criticize Protestants for not having certainty on the canon, yet, Catholics can’t even tell us exactly what their own Tradition is. So, before we can move on and determine whether Tradition is equal to Scripture, we must first find out what it consists of. And I’m not talking about giving *examples* of Tradition, but rather, its full contents. The Catholic Church claims to have it, so show it to us.

If Catholics can’t provide this information, then “Sacred Tradition” is merely a subjective entity… it’s whatever the Catholic Church WANTS it to be.

Nick said...

Hi Russell,

I think the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a good answer to your question:

77 "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority."35 Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time."36

78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes."37 "The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer."38
http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p1s1c2a2.htm

Tradition is the passing on of the Apostles' teachings, whether expressed in scriptures, orally, liturgically, or in daily living.

That's the basic answer, but it will sound strange to you since this is not how you're approaching the situation. You're essentially conflating the entirety of the Apostles teaching and living into merely what was written, which is false historically (and Scripturally) and a minimalist approach to the Faith in which the Apostles said "Here's a book, see you all later. Good luck."

The fact the Bible isn't written to be formally sufficient demonstrates the fallacious approach to Tradition you're suggesting.

For example, a core part of expressing the Apostolic teaching of Christ's Redemptive work is the Liturgy, which is not expressed in terms of a list of doctrinal propositions, but rather a worship format. When the Sign of the Cross is made, that is expressing the doctrine of the Trinity in a oral manner.

You're approaching the Christian faith as purely academic in nature, with a list of doctrines to believe and memorize in order to pass an bar exam. This is incorrect.

This is precisely why no Christians, not even Protestants, have formalized lists of every single aspect or doctrine of the faith. To ask for the full contents of Tradition in the manner you're demanding is akin to asking you extract from Scripture a formalized list of *all* it's doctrines.

Your lack of a formalized list of all Christian doctrines extracted from Scripture is no more "nebulous" than the lack of a formalized list of all Christian doctrines extracted from Tradition. That's simply not how the Faith is passed down.

When you speak of "before we can move on and determine whether Tradition is equal to Scripture," you're betraying the fact implicit in this demand is the unproven (and in fact false) assumption that Scripture is formally sufficient. It's a tradition of men that Scripture is formally sufficient, but most Protestants are blind to this detail. It stems from an anti-Sacramental and agnostic/skeptical approach to the Faith in which the Church is reduced to a man made gathering of like minded men rather than a Providentially guided succession of teachers.

This can be highlighted with one simple question to you Russell, and any other Protestant:
Is the Christian Faith taught and passed on by sending someone alone into the room with a Bible, and after studying that Bible coming out fully aware of what Christianity is and believes? If not, why?

I await your answer to that question.

Russell said...

Hi Nick,

(Part 1 of 2)

I don’t have a problem with tradition, as long as it doesn’t override or contradict Scripture (Matthew 15:1-9). But if you’re going to present it as a rule of faith, we need to be able to know what it is. Phrases like “all that she herself is, all that she believes” and “the practice and life of the Church” are so broad and so vague that they are meaningless (and circular!).

You said:

“The fact the Bible isn't written to be formally sufficient demonstrates the fallacious approach to Tradition you're suggesting.”

I would say that this “fact” is simply begging the question. I don’t buy the argument that Scripture is “insufficient” in any sense as a rule of faith. And what’s “fallacious” about asking you to clearly identify your rule of faith? This doesn’t make sense. Just because the Bible is not “systematic” enough for some, and has to be studied, doesn’t mean that I can’t ask what the contents of Tradition are. And I think the question deserves an honest and straightforward answer.

You said:

“You're approaching the Christian faith as purely academic in nature, with a list of doctrines to believe and memorize in order to pass an bar exam. This is incorrect.”

Why is wanting to know the boundaries of Tradition “purely academic”? It seems that no one is allowed to ask what it really is. If Tradition is that subjective, then no one could ever possibly be accused of “adding” to or “removing” from it. It ends up being whatever the Catholic Church WANTS it to be.

Let me give an analogy. Let’s say I have a box which I claimed contained things with special powers. And our conversation went something like this:

Russell: Yeah, Nick, special powers!
Nick: What’s in it?
R: Well… there’s a pencil and a rock… and a stapler…a flashlight… there’s a bunch of stuff in here, all with special powers!
N: What else?
R: Well, I can’t show you everything, but there’s a lot of cool stuff… and you REALLY NEED this.
N: Russell, if I really need it and it’s that important, why can’t you show it to me?
R: Quit being such a minimalist, Nick. You act as though this is some kind of bar exam or something! Shame on you! Why do you need to know what’s in it? Your approach to my box with special powers is purely academic. You also have to consider the way the box was handled by those great men who came before us, and how it affected their lives… etc., etc.

Yes, I’m exaggerating (just a little), but that’s pretty much what I hear you saying. I believe the Catholic definition of Tradition is way too broad to be meaningful. But the bottom line is, we must not attribute infallibility to a standard whose contents are so vague and boundary-less.

Russell said...

Nick,

(Part 2 of 2)

Concerning the terms “material sufficiency” and “formal sufficiency,” I think this is simply hairsplitting. The terms are certainly not biblical, and this distinction is often used by Catholics to minimize Scripture. So, what happens if the Catholic Church interprets a Bible passage for the Catholic by using Tradition, and he STILL doesn’t understand, does this mean that Tradition is ALSO in the “wrong form” (“formally insufficient”)?

You said:

“Tradition is the passing on of the Apostles' teachings, whether expressed in scriptures, orally, liturgically, or in daily living.”

But, are all these things on the same level as Scripture? Is the “ritual of the liturgy” or one’s “daily living” infallible? Nick, with all due respect, you are the one who is “conflating”… you are conflating the fallible and the infallible here.

You said:

“For example, a core part of expressing the Apostolic teaching of Christ's Redemptive work is the Liturgy, which is not expressed in terms of a list of doctrinal propositions…”

Ok, so how do you determine its boundaries? And can you answer this without circular reasoning (e.g., “Because the Catholic Church says so”)?

You said:

“Your lack of a formalized list of all Christian doctrines extracted from Scripture is no more ‘nebulous’ than the lack of a formalized list of all Christian doctrines extracted from Tradition. That's simply not how the Faith is passed down.”

The faith has to come from some kind of objective standard before it can be passed down. (Most) Protestants derive their beliefs from such a standard (Scripture) whose full contents and boundaries ARE known… unlike Catholic Tradition. If a standard’s contents are not clear, they are nebulous. “Nebulous” means lacking definite form or limits; vague. I think this describes Sacred Tradition quite well.

You asked the question:

“Is the Christian Faith taught and passed on by sending someone alone into the room with a Bible, and after studying that Bible coming out fully aware of what Christianity is and believes? If not, why?”

Of course not, Nick. But that’s not what Sola Scriptura teaches. Sola Scriptura does not mean that teachers are not needed in the church. Church leaders (and all members) do indeed have an important role. Sola Scriptura does not mean that one must isolate himself from the rest of the Christian world. Your question misrepresents Sola Scriptura.

Exactly, what is Sacred Tradition? This is a valid question, but for all practical purposes, it remains unanswered.

Jae said...

"I don’t have a problem with tradition, as long as it doesn’t override or contradict Scripture"

But the real question is, WHO has the authority to say that it OVERRIDE or contradict Scripture?

Same problem with sola scriptura, since nobody's interpretation is higher than anybody and when a dispute arises between 2 abiding christians, who is going to decide and a make a judgment of who got it right and wrong? The Bible can't do that then WHO?

Nick said...

Hi Russell,

It seems Google's new (stupid) Spam filter caught your post your 2of2; but I got it out.

You said: "I don’t have a problem with tradition, as long as it doesn’t override or contradict Scripture"

As Jae said, that's an implicit magisterial claim on your part, since Material Sufficiency properly defined would never have tradition contradict Scripture. Again, you're approaching this as if SS is true, as if the Bible were Formally Sufficient - which is but an assumption on your part that you then use to "judge" my position as inadequate.

Those statements I gave are broad, but they are not so vague as to be meaningless. I could say all knowledge is in Scripture, which can be taken as broad and vague if there is no accompanying formalized list or inspired index.


You said: "I would say that this “fact” is simply begging the question."

It's not begging the question since I proved in my original article that Scripture teaches Material Sufficiency at most.

You asked: "And what’s “fallacious” about asking you to clearly identify your rule of faith?"

That's not what I was saying was fallacious. What the fallacious approach was you assuming in your first response Formal Sufficiency so as to subordinate Tradition. (Whereas Material Sufficiency keeps Tradition on the same plane by definition)

And this misunderstanding spills over into your demand that Tradition be presented in some fashion, particularly systematic/formalized, when that's not the nature of how Tradition is passed on. As I said, one of the ways Tradition is passed on is through Liturgy, but this is something easier to describe by experiencing it rather than writing it out. This is especially hard to explain to Protestants who don't have any notion of Liturgy and who's worship services consist of a lecture from Scripture and some songs. As I said above, when the Liturgy starts off making the Sign of the Cross, invoking the Trinity, it is saying and professing a lot right there. In Scripture, the Trinitarian Formula is given but once in Matthew's Epilogue - yet it is the most *central* formula of Christendom. Tradition via Liturgy emphasizes this in a way Scripture does not. If one were going by Scripture Alone, the Trinitarian Formula would only be invoked at Baptism, if that.

Other important Apostolic Teaching emphasized in Liturgy is the priesthood, Sacrifice of Mass, Altar, etc. This is not something to be written down but LIVED.

You said: "Why is wanting to know the boundaries of Tradition “purely academic”?"

You're misunderstanding my comments. What is purely academic is approaching Tradition as something it is *not* - namely a exhaustive and formalized list of beliefs.

Nick said...

You said: "Let me give an analogy. Let’s say I have a box which I claimed contained things with special powers. And our conversation went something like this:"

Your conversation is giving off the impression I'm hiding something from you, when I'm not. A better example is that in that box there is something called "Liturgy" - yet the Protestant has no good grasp on what "Liturgy" is. I'm not hiding something, the Protestant just doesn't really 'get' what I'm showing. The main reason why they don't is that they're assuming one of the objects in the box like the Pencil is all there is to passing on Apostolic Teaching (i.e. assuming Formal Sufficiency) such as to effectively make them "blind" to what else is there.


You said: "Concerning the terms “material sufficiency” and “formal sufficiency,” I think this is simply hairsplitting. The terms are certainly not biblical, and this distinction is often used by Catholics to minimize Scripture."

The distinction is very real and critical. To approach the Bible as pre-bound book of numerous INDIVIDUAL books as a stand alone users guide is a pretty big assumption to start one's theology with. There is nothing hairsplitting with pointing out the Bible simply isn't compiled in that way.


You said: So, what happens if the Catholic Church interprets a Bible passage for the Catholic by using Tradition, and he STILL doesn’t understand...

You're confusing two different ideas of "understand" here. Someone who only knows English is not going to understand Greek characters - which is not the same as authoritatively laying out a precept (e.g. "If anyone says X, let him be anathema"). Further, any misunderstandings can be cleared up by further decree, which is not a deficiency in the source but but in the audience (e.g. uneducated).

You said: "But, are all these things on the same level as Scripture?"

Yes, they are, and they all work together. For example, Liturgy includes in it readings from Scripture.

You said: "Ok, so how do you determine its boundaries?"

You determine the boundaries by what is being expressed in the liturgy. For example, the priesthood and altar are 'boundaries' in that they express the FRAMEWORK of a Sacrifice.


You said: "The faith has to come from some kind of objective standard before it can be passed down."

Things like Liturgy are objective standards - but their very existence is foreign to you. It's like trying to explain to an African tribesman what a cellphone is when all he knows about is hand delivered mail.


You said: "Of course not, Nick. But that’s not what Sola Scriptura teaches. Sola Scriptura does not mean that teachers are not needed in the church."

You just disproved Formal Sufficiency. The Bible is not clear and systematic enough for someone to go it alone and come to right conclusions on Christology and Trinity and such.

JoeyHenry said...

Haven't read everything but this caught my attention:

R: "Of course not, Nick. But that’s not what Sola Scriptura teaches. Sola Scriptura does not mean that teachers are not needed in the church."

N: "You just disproved Formal Sufficiency. The Bible is not clear and systematic enough for someone to go it alone and come to right conclusions on Christology and Trinity and such."

J: "I think N's understanding of Formal Sufficiency needs to be defined. Correct me if I am wrong but it seems to be like this:

a. X is the authority.
b. Someone fails to derive the right conclusions on Christology and the Trinity on X.
c. Thus, X is not formally sufficient

If you think about it, whether X consists of Scripture alone or other authorities, there can never be a case of "formally sufficient" since to be "formally sufficient" means that all who should go to X should arrive at the same conclusion as everybody else. But even if you add all the extras of Romanism (Magisterium and Tradition), there is always "someone" looking at the same X who does not arive at the same conclusion as everybody else who looked at X.

Therefore, N's understanding of "formal sufficiency" is in itself a nebulous. It doesn't exist even in his own arena replete with all the magical powers of Tradition and Magisterium."

Nick said...

Joey,

I think the Protestant theology professor I quoted at the beginning explains the distinction the best:

"The difference here is between a blueprint to make a building, and the bricks of which the building is made. A merely materially sufficient Scripture is like a pile of bricks that can build anything from a cathedral to a tool shed, but the bricks themselves possess no inherent intelligibility (formal sufficiency) in one direction for another. The intelligibility derives from outside the bricks. Conversely, a blueprint is inherently intelligible, and thus has not material but formal sufficiency to create a specific building, whether cathedral or tool shed."

Going by your a,b,c syllogism, the point is that Scripture doesn't lay out Christology and other important Trinitarian matters in any direct and systematic manner. All the "bricks" are there for these dogmas, but they only come together properly by an outside authority. In other words, you have to know what you're looking for and how to piece things together, since the Bible doesn't do that.

As for your example of someone looking at X and not coming to the same conclusion as everyone else, that really depends on the situation. There is a level of intelligibility to which both Protestants and Catholics agree is not necessary, and what matters is it is sufficiently intelligible. For example, if we take the command to Baptize in the Name of the Father, and Son and Holy Spirit, people could come to different conclusions on how to properly pronounce the words, but the command itself is sufficiently 'plain English'.

It also needs to take care to properly distinguish the source of the information from the one taking in the information. For example, if someone cannot read, it is not the fault of the Bible that they don't understand what is written. On the flip side, if the Bible only gives bits and pieces of a given doctrine, scattered throughout it, it is not the (literate) individual's fault for not coming to the correct view on that doctrine from simply reading Scripture. In the first situation, the "deficiency" was with the individual, in the second situation, the "deficiency" is with the Source.

Russell said...

Hello Jae,

You said:

“But the real question is, WHO has the authority to say that it OVERRIDE or contradict Scripture?”

Has it really come down to this, Jae? Are you saying that without the Catholic Church, no one can use basic reasoning and common sense to determine if one statement contradicts another statement? Should we all be so hopelessly dependent on an “infallible Magisterium” that we cannot recognize when someone is overriding another statement with his own?

I’m not denying the biblical role of the church in settling disputes. I’m saying that an infallible authority is not required in order to determine if something contradicts Scripture.

Jae, how would you answer your own question? By your own reasoning, wouldn’t you have to be an authority yourself, in the first place, to authoritatively determine who has this authority?

You see, we can all play the “by whose authority” game, but it doesn’t get us anywhere.

Russell said...

Nick,

I’m sorry, but I don’t find your arguments convincing.

By your own admission, you can’t tell me what Tradition is. You claimed that it is something that has to be “lived” and “experienced.” If Protestantism came up with such a vague and subjective explanation (of a RULE OF FAITH, no less!), Catholics would be laughing us out of town.

Also, the original analogy that you shared about the bricks and the blueprint is disturbing to me, and at the very least, misleading. It seems to assume that God did a sloppy job and just “threw together” the Bible at random, without particular form (like a pile of bricks). And it seems that only the Catholic Church can mold this dead mass of “material” into something useful… whether into a quaint “tool shed” or a sublime “cathedral,” whatever the Church wishes. According to this view, the Bible seems to be at the mercy of the Catholic Church, since the Bible “possess(es) no inherent intelligibility” in itself. This is bordering on blasphemy. Compare this to what God says about Scripture throughout its pages.

I wouldn’t dare say these kinds of things about the Bible, and I would never say that it is “insufficient” in any way as a Rule of Faith.

One last thing… this Tradition is supposedly infallible, but, it can’t be, because on many topics it contradicts the very Scriptures that it is supposed to be complementing.

Nick said...

Russell,

I'm not sure what more I can tell you. You don't seem to understand my point at all, and this is because you're trying to make Tradition something it is not.

When I said lived and experienced, I was not speaking subjectively. I was speaking in terms of things like Liturgy, which cannot be confined to writing. When the Liturgy is focused on the Sacrifice of the Mass and Christ's Real Presence, that is Tradition right there passing on two important teachings without having them be confined to writing.

I need to reiterate here that the problem is Tradition doesn't act as you're assuming it should act. Go back to your own analogy about the tool box - the problem is not that I'm holding back information, but rather that the object in the box called "Liturgy" is something you don't properly grasp.


As for the brick analogy, I didn't come up with it (a Protestant seminary professor did), but I agree with it. The point was *never* that God did a sloppy job or threw together the Bible randomly - nobody is saying that. The issue is whether the nature of Scripture is or ever was that of a "stand alone users guide" - which is what is being denied.

The example of Baptism highlights this, as I noted at the start. The Bible doesn't speak randomly about Baptism or present it as God throwing the doctrine together...but the way Baptism is presented, it is done only with snapshots, and these must be taken together and formulated systematically since the Bible doesn't do this. The Protestant (or any seeker) is not going to be able to approach the Scriptures on the topic of Baptism without having to do a lot of systematic theology in order to arrange the snapshots properly. If the Bible had an entire chapter devoted to systematically explaining Baptism, then the Protestant wouldn't have to do that independent homework.

This is not to say there is a problem with the Bible, only to say that the Bible was never written to act in that manner. That's where Tradition and Magisterium comes in - which is what Material Sufficiency demands.

For you to say "I would never say that it is “insufficient” in any way as a Rule of Faith." is to take on a seriously oversimplified view of Christian history. Consider simply the issue of "This is my Body" - the dispute largely centers on who has the authority to say whether this is literal or figurative. Those who say figurative are those who approach the issue with a largely anti-Sacramental bias, while those who say it is literal approach with a long line of historical and liturgical 'bias'. To say the Scripture itself sufficiently answers the question, in a formalized systematic sense, is betraying the facts.

You said: "One last thing… this Tradition is supposedly infallible, but, it can’t be, because on many topics it contradicts the very Scriptures that it is supposed to be complementing."

The fallacy here, as Jae pointed out, is you not recongizing this is a magisterial claim on your own part. What is a "contradiction" to your magisterium is not a contradiction to the Catholic magisterium.

Jae said...

Since, Prots can't and don't claim they infallibly interpret Scripture because of using fallible human mind. . How can we be sure my fallible interpretations of the infallible body are correct?

The best Prots could say and believe is they arrived at a reasonable and confident conclusions about christian doctrinal issues without an infallible interpreter.
So finally, is this the certainty of the truth of the protestant "faith"? That Revealed Divine (Christian) doctrines are to be ascertain and establish by confident guessing?

And what is the infallible source of truth (Bible) for if one couldn't able to make an infallible interpretation from it then??? It is like drinking the purest water (infallible Bible) from a soiled cup (fallible interpretation),

It just defeats the purpose.

Nick said...

Jae and others,

Check out my latest Sola Scriptura article on William Webster.

Russell said...

Hello Jae,

You said:

“It is like drinking the purest water (infallible Bible) from a soiled cup (fallible interpretation)”

Jae, we ALL have “soiled cups,” but we don’t need infallible certainty to be saved and to live for God. But we *can* have *sufficient* certainty… which is in no way reduced to “confident guessing.”

Catholics often try to present a false dilemma by saying that either:

1) We must have infallible certainty, or
2) We will inevitably be wrong.

But a person can be *right* without being infallible.

For more info on this, you can click on my name above to access my blog. There, you can see the article, “Dialogue on Bible Interpretation,” which I hope will clarify things.

Spoils23m said...

Russell,

Could you do me a quick favor and give us the official list of the teachings of Scripture?

Also. If I believe that the Bible does not *assert* the *concept* that the Scriptures are the "sole infallible rule of faith..." what should I think about SS?

In Christ,
Chris

Russell said...

Hello Chris,

Thanks for your question.

You asked for the official list of the teachings of Scripture. Well, all of its teachings are contained in (and limited to) its books (66 for the Protestant / 73 for the Catholic). In either case, the number of these books serves as its boundary. Though we may not agree on the number, this boundary is definite and clear for both of us. This has been my point all along. The content of Scripture has clear parameters, but the content of “Sacred Tradition” has no definite and clear parameters. Yet, Catholics still want to attach “infallibility” to it.

Concerning your other question, if the Bible does not teach Sola Scriptura, then there is no valid reason to believe it is a biblical doctrine or principle. But, of course, I believe that it DOES teach Sola Scriptura, and I have biblical reasons for believing that.

Spoils23m said...

Hello Russell!!

Thanks for your question.

You're more than welcome, mate! :)

You asked for the official list of the teachings of Scripture.

I did as for the official list of the teachings of Scripture!!

Well, all of its teachings are contained in (and limited to) its books (66 for the Protestant / 73 for the Catholic). In either case, the number of these books serves as its boundary.

The boundary (boundaries really) of the canon (differing canons really) which Christians (Roman and otherwise) in communion with the Pope of Rome and Christians affiliated with various Protestant communities have decided to recognize as the Holy Writ, no? Not some kind of doctrinal "boundary," I hope since I don't believe that the Holy Writ (in any canon recognized by any Christian communion [of which I am currently aware]) asserts the concept that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith, but... ;)

Though we may not agree on the number, this boundary is definite and clear for both of us. This has been my point all along.

We don't agree on the number... perhaps the Bible can clear up this issue of canon for us? ;)

Seriously though... what boundary? The doctrinal/rule of faith boundary? I, for one, haven't ever seen convincing proof that this teaching is asserted in either canon we spoken about so... I don't plan on agreeing to your boundary idea unless I am convinced that we're only speaking about the canon and not about the 'sole rule of faith' since there are distinct topics.

The content of Scripture has clear parameters, but the content of “Sacred Tradition” has no definite and clear parameters.

Is the guidance of the Holy Spirit a clear enough parameter? ;)

Yet, Catholics still want to attach “infallibility” to it.

Well... the Holy Spirit is incapable of error, IMHO. ;)

Concerning your other question, if the Bible does not teach Sola Scriptura, then there is no valid reason to believe it is a biblical doctrine or principle.

I am glad to hear that you think so. :)

But, of course, I believe that it DOES teach Sola Scriptura, and I have biblical reasons for believing that.

I am sure that you do!! I would love to see biblical reasons that didn't make deductions based on going logically beyond the statements made in the Bible about the nature of the Scriptures... or biblical reasons that presuppose SS from the very start. I would be utterly refreshing to see evidence offered from the pages of Scripture alone where it's obvious that the the concept that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith is being plainly asserted... without any questionable deductions... presuppositions, etc...

I hope that you are well!!

Blessings!

Spoils23m said...

Russell,

I posted something just a couple of minutes ago as a response to your response to me... I don't see it popping up on Nick's main page as a recent comment yet... Can you see it?

Nick said...

Hi Russell,

I don't see what significant advantage "boundaries" give you if you still cannot come up with a list of doctrines, much less the canon itself.

Anyway, on another blog I made a short post that Protestants here might be interested in:

--------------------------------

Here are three popular Protestant apologists quotes which are easily available online:

James White: The main element of [Catholic apologist] Mr. Ray’s misrepresentation of sola scriptura can be seen in just this: the doctrine speaks of a rule of faith that exists. What do I mean by this? One will search high and low for any reference in any standard Protestant confession of faith that says, “There has never been a time when God’s Word was proclaimed and transmitted orally.” You will never find anyone saying, “During times of enscripturation—that is, when new revelation was being given—sola scriptura was operational.” Protestants do not assert that sola scriptura is a valid concept during times of revelation. How could it be, since the rule of faith to which it points was at that very time coming into being? One must have an existing rule of faith to say it is “sufficient.” It is a canard to point to times of revelation and say, “See, sola scriptura doesn’t work there!” Of course it doesn’t. Who said it did?

William Webster: The sixteenth century Reformation was responsible for restoring to the Church the principle of sola Scriptura, a principle that had been operative within the Church from the very beginning of the post apostolic age.
Initially the apostles taught orally, but with the close of the apostolic age, all special revelation that God wanted preserved for man was codified in the written Scriptures. Sola Scriptura is the teaching, founded on the Scriptures themselves, that there is only one special revelation from God that man possesses today, the written Scriptures or the Bible.

Joe Mizzi: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) is the doctrine that the Holy Bible, being the Word of God, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice for Christians in the post-apostolic age.

Each of these quotes agrees: Sola Scriptura was not practiced by Christ nor the Apostles nor Apostolic Christians. This means any Scriptural text appealed to to teach Sola Scriptura cannot (logically) be teaching the doctrine, since it was functionally impossible at the time. The rule of faith didn’t (fully) exist yet. The notion that all inspired oral teachings would one day be confined to Scripture is likewise a (dogmatic) claim not taught in Scripture itself.

Starting at this point, I don’t see how Sola Scriptura has a chance.

Jae said...

Here's a real problem for protestantism which I quoted from Jason a former protestant in Called to Communion blog which i found very compelling:

"....as a fellow Protestant who has not yet (emphasis on the yet) became Catholic, I have a question for you (reformed). ....You appeal to an example in Scripture to prove your case. Now lets see the problem with this, being fellow Protestants with, I would suppose, a similar background. Excommunicating a person or group from the Church, or Body of Christ, is an act of Church authority that the Church leadership is granted from Christ. We see Paul commanding the Church leaders of Corinth to do exactly this to a certain man in 1 Corinthians. Now, the Protestant view of Church, in regard to both its leadership and its personal members, neither subjects have the gift of infallibility in interpreting Scripture, which is the Protestants only infallible source of divine revelation. As other articles on this site have pointed out, “All appeals to Scripture are an appeal to an interpretation of Scripture.” Here lies the problem. Since, to a Protestant, no Church leader or group of leaders possess, as a divine gift from the Holy Spirit, infallibility when interpreting Scriptures, it is intrinsic to our Church “worldview” that whatever our church leaders teach or whatever “authority” they exercise might not be the correct interpretation of Scripture. Since there is no judge to decide which is the correct interpretation of Scripture amongst competing interpretations. It cannot be Scripture for that is the subject matter. I mean, there is no guarantee that a Protestant Church leader has not “missed” something in the scriptures that some future Biblical scholar might uncover. I mean this is basically what we have in Protestantism, a leadership’s understanding of dogma depending on a war between scholars. The laymen has to become a scholar himself. Its imperative, in the Protestant Church view. If my Pastor, at my Protestant Church, encourages me to confess a certain doctrine, I am discouraged from confessing it based on his authority. I have to become the judge of what he says in order to confess it. So once again, even the ability to understand the Gospel (which you say the Catholic adds to), in Protestantism, depends on the laymen becoming just as scholarly as the leadership, and just as much their judge as they are mine. So, in Protestantism, how could there ever be a right situation, given the possibility of doctrinal error, for the Protestant leadership, or even myself, to ever have the authority to judge that an individual or group should be anathematized? The Protestant view of the Church can never allow it. And this is a problem."

Further reading: cut and paste the link.

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/

Gerry Soliman said...

@ Jae

You quoted:

"Here lies the problem. Since, to a Protestant, no Church leader or group of leaders possess, as a divine gift from the Holy Spirit, infallibility when interpreting Scriptures, it is intrinsic to our Church “worldview” that whatever our church leaders teach or whatever “authority” they exercise might not be the correct interpretation of Scripture. Since there is no judge to decide which is the correct interpretation of Scripture amongst competing interpretations."

I would like to ask just one question:

Given that there is a necessity of an infallible body to correctly interpret the Scriptures, how do you know that your church is that infallible body?

What I mean is, what makes you choose your church as the true infallible interpreter, that is the Roman Catholic church, over the other churches that claims to be true such us the Eastern Orthodox, the LDS, the Watchtower etc.?

Thank you.

Gerry Soliman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Russell said...

Hi Chris,

You asked what “boundary” I was speaking of. I was referring to the limits of the contents of Catholic Tradition. In other words, what is the “canon” of Tradition? And how do we know the limits, or boundaries of what it teaches? How do you prove if someone is “adding” an unauthorized teaching to it?

I know you would be able to tell me what your canon of Scripture is. Why not the canon of Tradition?

Chris, you also mentioned “questionable deductions” when reading from Scripture. Well, I agree that we shouldn’t use *questionable* deductions. But we can’t rule out deducing things from the Scriptures, since many things that we believe must be received by deduction. There is nothing wrong with that. I know that the exact words, “The Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church today” are not in the Bible. But I believe that we CAN deduce Sola Scriptura from its pages, just as we can deduce other important teachings, like the Trinity, and the incarnation, etc., etc. There are many, many things in Scripture that can and must be ascertained by deduction, things that may not be precisely worded as we word them today, yet the concepts are there.

Russell said...

Hello Nick,

You said:

“I don't see what significant advantage ‘boundaries’ give you if you still cannot come up with a list of doctrines, much less the canon itself.”

Nick, I’m not the one who is having trouble with my canon. I know what the boundaries (canon) of my rule of faith are. Catholics are the ones having a hard time with determining the boundaries for the canon of their own Tradition.

Concerning Sola Scriptura not being operative when revelation was still being given, I agree. But I don’t see a problem with this. There are a number of “transitions” found in Scripture, and Sola Scriptura is only one such transition.

And I also believe that the context of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 points to this particular transition in a simple and straightforward way.

But then again, we already had this discussion...

Spoils23m said...

Greetings Russell!

I just wanted to continue our little conversation. :)

You wrote:
You asked what 'boundary' I was speaking of. I was referring to the limits of the contents of Catholic Tradition. In other words, what is the 'canon' of Tradition? And how do we know the limits, or boundaries of what it teaches? How do you prove if someone is 'adding' an unauthorized teaching to it?

I am not sure I see the same need that you do to have a "list" of Holy Tradition. Especially since part of having a living/teaching Magisterium is their ability to interpret things for us *today*. Of course, as Catholic I believe (as I alluded to before) that the Holy Spirit is guiding the entire process... it's a matter of faith for me.

You wrote:
I know you would be able to tell me what your canon of Scripture is. Why not the canon of Tradition?

Yes, as a Catholic I can tell you with certitude what the canon of Scripture is. How, as a Catholic, do you think I can do that?

Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are related, mate, but... that doesn't mean that they are the same.

Your question doesn't made sense to me. I tried to illustrate this to you by asking you to give me the list of all of the teachings of Scripture, but you haven't really dealt with that...

I didn't say one should use any deductions when interpreting the Bible... I just have a problem with deductions that I would call "questionable."

For instance... saying that the Bible calls Scripture "theopneustos" in II Tim. 3:16 and that nowhere else in the Bible is anything else called "theopneustos" equals the Bible teaching that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith is a deduction that I would call questionable. It doesn't follow logically... one who uses a line of "reasoning" like this is usually *presupposing* SS, not proving it.

By the by, I never said that I wanted you to find me those exact words in Scripture... I wanted proof of the concept being asserted. You can read back to check if you like. :)

I hope that you are well.

<')))><

Nick said...

Hi Russell,

You said: I’m not the one who is having trouble with my canon. I know what the boundaries (canon) of my rule of faith are. Catholics are the ones having a hard time with determining the boundaries for the canon of their own Tradition.

At the risk of both of us repeating ourself, I'd simply point out you're approaching this wrongly and with a double standard. As Spoils has noted, the canon of tradition is found in the Magisterium and it's teaching throughout history, with a classic example of the canon of Scripture itself. Tradition is not in "page and list" format you're looking for or expecting to see.

Your demand that it conform itself to such a thing is a double standard since you yourself "refuse to" (I say "refuse to" not to suggest you're doing it for any ill reason) create such an "itemized list" of Christian doctrines from your source of authority, the Bible.


You said: "Concerning Sola Scriptura not being operative when revelation was still being given, I agree. But I don’t see a problem with this. There are a number of “transitions” found in Scripture, and Sola Scriptura is only one such transition."

You might not see the problem, but it's there, and it's pretty serious. You claim there are a number of such "transitions" *found in Scripture* and that SS *is one such 'transition' found in Scripture. The question is: where is this transition found in Scripture? If you can't find it, then you're position is instantly self-refuting.

To say 2 Timothy 3:16-17 proves this transition is not only a leap of logic, it betrays the fact this passage applied immediately and thus no "transition" time applied.

I cannot believe for a second that God would establish his Church on such manifestly shaky reasoning and arguments, and especially Scriptural "support" (if such can be called "support").

Russell said...

Hi Chris,

You said:
“Of course, as Catholic I believe (as I alluded to before) that the Holy Spirit is guiding the entire process... it's a matter of faith for me.”

The Holy Spirit is indeed infallible, but I don’t see Him guaranteeing infallibility to anyone or any group in the post-apostolic church.

You wrote:

“Yes, as a Catholic I can tell you with certitude what the canon of Scripture is. How, as a Catholic, do you think I can do that?”

My point was, and still is, that you’re able to SHOW me one facet of your rule of faith (the canon of Scripture), but not the OTHER (the canon of Tradition). Why should anyone believe that this “other” one (that you can’t show me) is infallible? The claims of “Infallible Tradition” tend to lose their impact when you can’t show what that Tradition is.

You said:

“Your question doesn't made sense to me. I tried to illustrate this to you by asking you to give me the list of all of the teachings of Scripture, but you haven't really dealt with that...”

Chris, I could attempt to give you a list of all the teachings in the Bible, but I would most likely miss something, somewhere in there. But that’s not the point. The point is, I know WHERE to find its teachings… in the 66 books of the Bible. Canon arguments aside, the boundaries (i.e., the framework) of my rule of faith rest within the pages of those books. But where is the (complete) canon of Tradition?

Catholics can use all the fancy, eloquent, and articulate arguments they want, but the bottom line is (by their own admission), they can’t tell us what “Sacred Tradition” is, nor where to find it all. I’m asking a very simple and straightforward question, but they can only dance around this question while claiming that I’m either ignorant of Catholic teaching… or I’m asking the wrong question… that mine is a fallacious and anti-sacramental approach, etc., etc.

Tradition is supposedly something that needs to be “lived” or “experienced”.… But how can one know if he is “living” it or “experiencing” it correctly? How can one OBEY Tradition if he can’t identify it? And, can you answer this without circular reasoning… without saying, “Because the infallible Magisterium teaches that”? If not, I’d rather stick to a rule of faith that’s more objective and identifiable.

Concerning the argument that since only Scripture is called “theopneustos”, then ONLY Scripture is God-breathed: I agree that this does not necessarily follow. But this fact certainly does not help your case in any way. This particular argument, by itself, doesn’t prove Sola Scriptura, but it is a major part of the overall evidence for it. I believe the “concept” is certainly there when taking the evidence as a whole.

By the way, I like your “fish”: <’)))><

Russell said...

Nick,

You said:

“As Spoils has noted, the canon of tradition is found in the Magisterium and it’s teaching throughout history…”

First, this is very circular. It is the same old “Catholic Tradition is true because the Catholic Church says it’s true” mentality. Second, as I told Chris (Spoils) above, I see no biblical reason to believe that any person or group in the post-apostolic church would have the gift of infallibility. So, the whole Catholic concept of “Infallible Tradition” is built on a foundation of shifting sand.

You said:

“To say 2 Timothy 3:16-17 proves this transition is not only a leap of logic, it betrays the fact this passage applied immediately and thus no ‘transition’ time applied.”

The simple truth is that the Apostle Paul is pouring out his heart in an urgent message, knowing that he was near martyrdom, probably writing his last message to a trusted (spiritual) son, Timothy. The context is that difficult times are coming upon the church (3:1), with deception getting worse and worse (3:13). Paul offers a solution to this deception, a rule of faith, which leads to salvation (3:15). He mentions only Scripture in this context, and that it is indeed inspired (3:16), but he doesn’t stop there. He tells us that this inspired rule of faith will also equip us for “every good work” (3:17). He then charges Timothy to “preach the Word” (4:1-2), pointing back to the same language that he was using when referring to Scripture in 3:16 (terms like “reprove”, “rebuke”, “instruction”, and “doctrine” found in verses 4:2-3).

Paul knew that new divine revelation would some day cease. And although Sola Scriptura was not yet operating (i.e., the church was still receiving new revelation), Paul offers ONLY Scripture as the solution and rule of faith in this critical context. So he must have been, in fact, looking forward to a transition... from “oral plus written” to “written only.”

It seems unthinkable, in light of the urgency of Paul’s appeal, that he would omit the mention of “Oral Tradition” in this context, if it were all that the Catholic Church says it is.

Your “applied immediately” argument is also invalid. Things like circumcision and dietary laws also “applied immediately,” yet they were to go through a transition later on.

Jae said...

Russell said, "But we *can* have *sufficient* certainty… which is in no way reduced to “confident guessing."

The "confident guessing" stuff was an answer of a very prominent Reformed apologist about how they arrived at Biblical interpretations since they didn't accept CERTAINTY CLAUSE which would entail an infallible entity besides the fact they admitted and asserted that humans are not innerrant.

So, for you it is sufficienct "CERTAINTY" meaning being CERTAIN....that's equal to 100% assured, indisputable beyond error and infallibly believing in something, that sounds like an infallible interpreter to me, don't you gree?

Nick said...

Russ,

You said: First, this is very circular. It is the same old “Catholic Tradition is true because the Catholic Church says it’s true” mentality.

This is not circular, and I'll prove it very easily by analogy:
“Catholic Tradition is true because *Jesus* says it’s true”
Is this circular? Better not be.
The issue is not whether this is a fallacious system (because it is actually logically sound), but whether the Catholic Church really speaks in Christ's name.


You said: Second, I see no biblical reason to believe that any person or group in the post-apostolic church would have the gift of infallibility.

I can think of at least three good reasons: (1) the Bible is not formally sufficient; (2) passages like Matthew 18 "tell it to the church" would be impossible if no authoritative Church existed after the Apostles; (3) the Church is the (Mystical) Body of Christ as Paul explicitly says, which means it's necessarily indefectible and acts with Christ's authority.


You said: "Paul knew that new divine revelation would some day cease. And although Sola Scriptura was not yet operating (i.e., the church was still receiving new revelation), Paul offers ONLY Scripture as the solution and rule of faith in this critical context. So he must have been, in fact, looking forward to a transition... from “oral plus written” to “written only.”"

This is the double fallacy of special pleading as well as anachronism. By your own admission, Sola Scriptura was "not yet operating," so any instructions the Apostles gave couldn't have been instructing them to engage in SS.
To say Paul "must have been looking forward to a transition" is admitting you don't really know what Paul's thought was and at most are assuming what Paul "must have been" thinking.

Your (Sola Scriptura) position is bankrupt logically and Scripturally, so if you're going to criticize the Catholic position, you must *first* find a coherent and Biblical hill to 'attack' from.

Russ, buddy, I'm asking you to stop and think about your own position. Put me aside and convince *yourself* that Sola Scriptura has good solid Biblical footing. As I keep showing, there's not a leg for SS to stand on and it's grasping at straws. Is this really how the foundational doctrine of Christianity, after the Trinity, is supposed to be testified to by the Apostles...in virtual silence? And the "strongest" proof being put forward is an anachronistic interpretation of private (not public) correspondence from Paul to Timothy?

Lastly, if you're really concerned about Paul's final thoughts, addressing the most important issues before departing, I can't think of anywhere more relevant than Acts 20:28ff
"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears."

Paul is speaking to bishops here to guard and pass on what they've been authoritatively entrusted to do. Paul says nothing about turning to Scripture here, which would be the absolute ideal place if Sola Scriptura was as important and critical as Protestantism suggests. Even in spite of the wolves that appear, there is no total apostasy foretold, because the Holy Spirit will guide the Church.

Russell said...

Hi Nick,

I, too, do not want us to keep repeating ourselves, so I’ll try to be brief.

You said:

“Catholic Tradition is true because *Jesus* says it’s true”

Nick, did you get this information from the “material sufficiency” part of revelation (the Bible) or from the “formal sufficiency” part (Tradition)?

In Scripture, Jesus said absolutely nothing about “Catholic Tradition,” or anything near this. So, this must come from Tradition. Therefore, it is indeed circular: “Catholic Tradition is true because the Catholic Church’s Tradition teaches that *Jesus* says it’s true.”

I certainly disagree with your 3 reasons that the church today has infallibility. You said:

1) “the Bible is not formally sufficient”

This is simply an opinion, a distinction fabricated by men, but absent from the Bible. I will let *someone else* stand before the Creator, the Author of Scripture, and tell Him that His Sacred Word, His Revelation to mankind given for the sake of man’s salvation, is in the “wrong form,” that it is somehow “insufficient.”

2) “passages like Matthew 18 ‘tell it to the church’ would be impossible if no authoritative Church existed after the Apostles”

Going to the church to settle disputes in no way proves that the church is infallible.

3) “the Church is the (Mystical) Body of Christ as Paul explicitly says, which means it's necessarily indefectible and acts with Christ's authority”

The church is indeed the body of Christ, but the Catholic Church of which you are a member has done some “interesting” things (to put it politely) in the past, things that do not reflect infallibility.

Nick, you also accused me of special pleading concerning my understanding of 2 Timothy. But I find it ironic that, according to at least one source (Wikipedia) that defines the term, we are given some interesting *examples* of special pleading, like:

1) “claiming that vocabulary is owned by a distinct community with sole rights to assess meaning and application”

This sure sounds a lot like the Catholic Church, which claims that she is the *sole authentic interpreter* of Scripture and Tradition (CCC #100)

2) “claims to data that are inherently unverifiable, perhaps because too remote or impossible to define clearly”

Like Tradition…

3) “assertion that the opponent lacks the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view”

So often we hear Catholics accuse Protestants (who DO understand the Catholic view, but just disagree) of not being able to understand Catholicism.

You said:

“Lastly, if you're really concerned about Paul's final thoughts, addressing the most important issues before departing, I can't think of anywhere more relevant than Acts 20:28ff”

Nick, I’m glad you mentioned that passage, because I believe that in 2 Timothy 3 and Acts 20:28ff, the problem and the remedy in both contexts parallel very nicely. The problem in both contexts is false doctrine and deception. And the remedy in both contexts is the Word of God. In Acts 20, you quoted 28 thru 31, but go down to the very next verse:

32 “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

Again, in this passage in Acts, the solution to the problem is “the word of His grace,” i.e., the Word of God. I believe you just reinforced my point here.

Nick, I don’t want to hog the discussion nor be redundant, so I will bow out now and give you the last word. I do want to thank you for being a gentleman all through this discussion. I appreciate the time and space you’ve given me, and I also appreciate the others who participated.

Feel free to visit my blog and to comment. The same goes for everyone else who visits here. And I pray for grace, truth, and light for every one of us. Thanks again.

In His Name,
Russell

Nick said...

Russell,

You said: In Scripture, Jesus said absolutely nothing about “Catholic Tradition,” or anything near this. So, this must come from Tradition.

I would disagree with this claim, but even if I were wrong, it wouldn't necessarily need to come from Scripture since Sola Scriptura isn't true.


You said: [The formal/material distinction] is simply an opinion, a distinction fabricated by men, but absent from the Bible.

The distinction only comes from the fact Protestants invented Sola Scriptura, i.e. claiming formal sufficiency. Catholics denied this. The problem with your approach is that it unfairly presumes Sola Scriptura is true, even given the status of "untouchable", but doesn't actual prove it. On the flip side, I've shown why "material sufficiency" is the most Scripture can convey.


You said: Going to the church to settle disputes in no way proves that the church is infallible.

It would necessitate that, since the Church would have to be able to authoritatively settle doctrinal disputes. If the Church were merely a panel of fallible men, then Christ's teaching would be put in the dubious position of either (a) possibly binding errant doctrine, or (b) making the Church's authoritative claims no better than any other panel of humans.


You said: "The church is indeed the body of Christ, but the Catholic Church of which you are a member has done some “interesting” things (to put it politely) in the past, things that do not reflect infallibility."

This is along the lines of the ad hominem fallacy. That the Church is Christ's Body makes it indefectible by definition.


You said: Nick, you also accused me of special pleading concerning my understanding of 2 Timothy. But I find it ironic that, according to at least one source (Wikipedia) that defines the term, we are given some interesting *examples* of special pleading, like:

Special pleading means focusing only on data helpful to your cause while ignoring data harmful to your cause. In the case of Sola Scriptura, you've admitted it wasn't operable during that time, yet you none the less presuppose it is a true doctrine and demand we do so likewise without good biblical evidence. The examples you gave from wiki are true under certain circumstances, but not all.


You said: "Again, in this passage in Acts, the solution to the problem is “the word of His grace,” i.e., the Word of God. I believe you just reinforced my point here."

You're incorrectly assuming that "Word of God" means "the Bible," when that's not true. That phrase only means "The Bible" in a minority of cases.

I am glad we had a good discussion here, I would just (again) ask you to realize that by your own admission the doctrine of Sola Scriptura didn't apply during the Apostolic age, and there are no clear cut Scriptural texts teaching the doctrine. No Catholic or Protestant should be forced to make a blind leap in accepting such a doctrine.

Jae said...

Gerry said, "What I mean is, what makes you choose your church as the true infallible interpreter, that is the Roman Catholic church, over the other churches that claims to be true such us the Eastern Orthodox, the LDS, the Watchtower etc.?"

Well, besides the fact that Jesus gave the four "marks" of His universal Church, a purely invisible universal church would be unable to speak her mind (i.e., teach on matters of faith and morals), or regulate her life (i.e., set down norms for sacramental celebrations, proclaim what is truth regarding current, modern challenges of the time viz. artificial contraception, gay-marriage, cloning stem cell etc. and other communal practices). Yet, it seems clear from Matthew 16 (and other passages) that the church that Christ founded would be able to do these things. If a visible, and visibly unified, universal church has never existed, then it is difficult to make sense of Christ’s promises. If such a church did exist, but has subsequently been destroyed, well, forget about difficulty of making sense–Our Lord would have manifestly broken his promises. But that is not possible.

This "Church" spoken by Christ Himself in Matthew and Paul have ordained bishops, priests and deacons who have an "OFFICE" - that should survived even when the current occupant dies and must and should be traced all the way back to the original Apostles themselves as spoken by the early Church Fathers. Its like the "office" of the President that must be traced back to Mr. George Washinton.

Good references, (Lists of Popes):

Encyclopedia Brittannica, World Atlas, Oxford Dictionary, Irenaues' writings and Early Church Fathers by Jurgens.

Peace.

Gerry Soliman said...

@Jae,

You said: "Yet, it seems clear from Matthew 16 (and other passages) that the church that Christ founded would be able to do these things."

It's very ironic that you point to me the Scriptures whereas you asserted the fact that I am not infallible to interpret them.

You also mentioned the four marks of the church. Are you sure that these marks are acceptable to all or just to some. If it's just for some then there is a possibility that it is self-serving. And what is your basis for this four marks? I hope you would not refer to the Scriptures since you asserted that people are not infallible.

So if I cannot rely on my own interpretation, how do you suppose I can identify the true church?

Thanks.

Brian said...

@Gerry

You said, "So if I cannot rely on my own interpretation, how do you suppose I can identify the true church?"

You are approaching this from a modern perspective. If you were living in the first few centuries of the Chruch, this question would seem out of place. The Church is identified with those who are teaching with the authority passed on to them by the apostles. This authority was passed on from generation to generation and was the key to defining and fighting against heretical beliefs, as well as defining the canon. You find the Church by locating those who had this authority passed on to them in an unbroken line of succession from the 1st century.

Do you contend that the earliest Christians did not believe that there were identifiable people who had authority?

Kerberos said...

"Probably the most famous - and most important - example that contradicts formal sufficiency is all the heresy surrounding the Trinity."

## How about:

The New Testament ?

ISTM one could - if so inclined - build a very strong case for sinfulness of accepting the NT books as inspired Holy Writ. Jesus gave us a NT, in His Body & Blood (Matthew 26:26) - so the written NT is obviously the first indication of the Church's rejection of the sufficiency of Christ. As one of these (uninspired) books says, "Many are called but few are chosen" - the fewness of the saved being proved by the fact that hardly any Christians reject the heresy of having an NT Jesus did not command the Church to have.

And so on, in a similar vein :) There is absolutely nothing but wishful thinking to suggest that the NT is Holy Writ - *unless* Protestants adopt the Church's Holy Writ. All the arguments they make for rejecting the Deuterocanonical books, are equally valid against the NT. They don't notice the contradictions & errors in the NT, because their tradition regards the NT as inerrant & inspired Holy Writ.

This, IMO, is a serious difficulty for the Fundamentalist understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture.

The example of Trinitarian errors makes the same point, but in a different way.

Nice weblog - keep it up :)