When I get busy and enfrazzled, I get behind on my blog-reading. So forgive me for reposting an entry that’s now a month and a half old. But Called to Communion, ever one of my favorite blogs, has offered a brilliant piece by Neal Judisch, a Catholic convert from the Reformed tradition, that says everything I’ve ever tried to say about church authority — toward sola scriptura, toward the Magisterium, most of all toward the epistemological trap that Protestants fall into regarding scriptural interpretation — only in a clearer, more robust, more comprehensive way than I ever could; every argument, tied neatly and powerfully together. And most important and thought-provoking of all — Judisch demonstrates how the Catholic Church’s position, seeming from the outside to place so much authority in the hands of men, is actually the far more humble and self-effacing position than sola scriptura, which places ultimate authority in one’s own individual interpretation and conscience.
Similar remarks apply, as we’ve also seen, to the question of “Tradition” and “Magisterium.” The idea of an authoritative tradition and ecclesial teaching organ had sounded uncomfortable to my Protestant ears, since it sounded as though Catholics didn’t think the Bible was enough, that the words of mere men had to be added so as to round off and complete what was apparently lacking in the very Word of God. Here again, I thought, the Catholics were detracting from Scripture and its Author by putting mere men on some sort of par with them, and the human element was being unduly exalted once more.
Yet from a Catholic perspective this gets things upside down. For the Protestant alternative is to say that since Scripture alone is infallible, that means the Church cannot claim such authority when it comes to Scriptural interpretation. At the same time, we know we cannot simply leave this task to each individual Christian, for neither the individual Christian nor the tradition to which he belongs can claim to possess some sort of authority that he refuses to attribute to the Church. So, we are left with the question of how we can know, how we can decide with confidence, which of the endlessly diverse and contradictory Christian traditions has things right – hardly a trivial matter, if it might mean heresy on the one hand or fidelity to the Faith on the other.
And such sums up the conflict over authority that brought me to Catholicism in the first place.
Read the rest: “The Audacity of Pope”
This article, as CtC always is, is meaty, lengthy, and will stretch your theological muscles — but I encourage everyone to read it, as I encourage anyone of a Reformed background to examine CtC and consider its arguments. I pray every day for the reunion of Christ’s Church, and CtC is the most powerful voice of Christian unity I know.