Protestantism as a Negative: No Reason for Being in Itself?

The more I read of Protestant apologetics, the more I am convinced that Protestantism exists only as a rejection of the Catholic Church. It is wholly a negative; it has nothing substantive or positive to say in support of itself. When it comes down to the issues that define the Protestant tradition, the venerated “five solas,” Protestantism was born as a polemic against Catholicism, and even today, 500 years later, has no reason for being in itself apart from that polemic.

Sola Scriptura, now a major motion picture!

That’s why Protestant apologists appear to rail so desperately against Catholic claims. I have yet to read a work of Protestant apologetics that can stand for itself, apart from its opposition to Catholic claims. This book, Sola Scriptura, is a case in point. I have not read more than a paragraph or two that sought to support the doctrine by anything more than a negative reference to Catholic doctrine. “Protestantism is true because Catholics say this and this is not true.” Solaalone — the very notion implies a rejection, “and not something else.”

Catholic apologetics, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal. It is by definition positive, and even in reference to Protestant claims, it presents a positive case from Scripture and Tradition why Catholicism is true. It can support itself in most cases without even referencing the Protestant claim: “Catholicism is true because Scripture teaches this and the Church has always held this to be true.” With regard to sola scriptura, it is not incumbent upon the Catholic apologist to prove that Scripture is not an authority, since it most certainly is the highest authority! (in contrast to the Protestant apologist, who seeks to prove that Tradition is not an authority). All one must show is that Scripture is not the only authority, and one can do that simply by pointing out the many reasons why Tradition is authoritative.

Titian, Pentecost

Pentecost (c. 1545), by Titian.

I am often critical of Protestant doctrine, it’s true, but in that criticism, I offer something better; I don’t outright declare Protestantism false, since in most cases, it contains something of the truth. A cursory search of my blog turns up fewer than thirty posts in which I’ve even used the word “false,” out of some 230. Sola scriptura is not a bad doctrine in itself: holding Scripture as a high authority is a wonderful thing! It is only wrong-headed it that it limits God and redacts His revelation.

Where Protestants and Catholics agree, in the great positive that is Christ Jesus, we have no meaningful dispute at all. Jesus saves! It is by His grace alone, not by anything we must do, that we are saved! Our sins are forgiven, and the bonds of sin and death are broken! We have eternal life in Him, by His grace and overwhelming love and mercy! It is only where Protestants seek to stir up dispute — that salvation is by faith alone (in rejection of something or another Catholics supposedly believe, or do not in fact believe) that we have dispute.

It often seems to me, in reading Protestant apologetics, that these people are scared out of their minds. They see the mass defections from Protestantism and fear down to their marrow that they have no reason for being at all: that especially at this generation, as more and more people are finding the truth of the Catholic Church, their longstanding polemic is finding fewer and fewer footholds. I am frequently flabbergasted by the extent to which these Protestant apologists — invariably, and I mean no offense, old men, in contrast to the many, many, young and vibrant Catholic apologists — spew thorough and apparently willful misunderstandings and wanton misrepresentations of Catholic positions, statements so fundamentally wrong that I can only think they have been told otherwise hundreds of times and yet stubbornly cling to their flawed understandings.

sinking ship

I have recently come across a prominent anti-Catholic Protestant apologist (I will not name him, lest I steer more traffic his way) who prints flat-out lies and fabrications about the Catholic Church, factual errors that are so demonstrably false that the quickest google could disprove them — and he does so willfully; when confronted with his errors (and I have confronted him), he refuses to correct them. I think, in this digital age, it’s above all the easy access to the truth that is responsible for so many crossing the Tiber: the oft-repeated falsehoods about the Catholic Church can no longer stand up to simple scrutiny, and yet the old Protestant apologists continue to hurl them, railing desperately from their sinking ships.

Defending Sola Scriptura: A Challenge

(I’m going to attempt to write the post I tried to write yesterday before I lost it to a tangent.)

Recently I’ve been talking to Protestants, especially those who present themselves as being of an apologetic bent, and asking them to defend the principles of the Reformation. St. Peter exhorts us to “always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you … with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). I make every effort to ready myself to defend the beliefs I hold dear, both the Christian faith as a whole and Catholic doctrines in particular — so I figured Reformed believers ought to be willing to do the same for their own fundamental principles. So I ask them, as gently and reverently as I can, to defend the solassola scriptura in particular, which has by far been the most destructive.

John Calvin

John Calvin (1509-1564)

But what I’ve gotten is silence. Nine times out of ten, when I ask someone to defend sola scriptura, they shut down whatever discussion we are having and give no reply. I grant that many people may be wary of getting wrapped up in a fruitless and unpleasant debate, but these same people generally do not hesitate to criticize Catholic positions, or to outright denounce the Catholic Church as “apostate” or “un-Christian.”

I have yet to hear what I consider an adequate defense of sola scriptura. By “adequate,” I don’t mean “convincing,” since I think that would be an awfully high standard to set; but what I mean is thorough — covering all the bases; answering the particular questions I have posed that I think must be answered in order for sola scriptura to be a valid doctrinal position. One person has tried, and I do appreciate the patience he has shown me, but I am still waiting for an answer to my questions. Sola scriptura appears increasingly like The Emperor’s New Clothes — the doctrine that all Protestants give lip service to, but no one dares to look at very closely or question, lest anyone realize that they are in fact parading around naked.

Sola Scriptura, now a major motion picture!

Per the advice of a new friend, I picked up what was supposed to be a thorough defense of the doctrine of sola scriptura, by the foremost Reformed minds and scholars and apologists: Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, which boasts contributions from R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, James White, W. Robert Godfrey, and more. Finally, I thought, I’m going to get that adequate defense I’ve been looking for, to demonstrate that sola scriptura is not just an empty fallacy but a respectable and defensible position. I don’t know why I got my hopes up. I guess I expected better of these people. I haven’t been so let down by a book in years.

Someone in the know, is there actual, academic material written on this subject? Can you point me in its direction? Because this book is not what it purports to be. Rather than a positive defense of sola scriptura — which, I’ll grant, it does attempt to give in some measure — it is mostly an anti-Catholic polemic, spending as much time presenting why Rome is wrong and why you don’t want to go there as it spends presenting an actual case for sola scriptura. I expected higher especially of Robert Godfrey, who purports himself to be a professor of church history. Here is someone, surely, I thought, who knows the truth of the history of the Church and will not be prone to such utter nonsense and misunderstanding of Catholic history and doctrine as is so typical among Reformed people. But if anyone could have woven a whole fabric of all the many, various, uneducated misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Roman doctrines and positions — he says that we worship statues! that we re-sacrifice Christ at every Mass! — that is what he presents in the first chapter of the book alone.

This, too, is turning into a rambling screed, and that is not what I intended it to be. Without further ado, I want to present the following challenge.

The Challenge

Bible

I would like someone — anyone — you can even collaborate — to present answers to the following questions. It is simple enough to cull together a few Scriptures that supposedly support sola scriptura, and call that a defense — but no Scripture actually says what proponents of sola scriptura teach. I am looking for more practical answers. If sola scriptura is true, then the following questions will have answers:

  1. When was the doctrine of sola scriptura taught in the Early Church, and by whom? Did Jesus teach it? Did the Apostles? Is it something Christians were supposed to have figured out for themselves by Scripture alone? If the doctrine was part of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, how would it have been presented? “After we are gone, your only authority and rule of faith is to be Scripture”? “You are not to accept any doctrine not found in Scripture”? If that is to be our rule of faith, why isn’t it in Scripture?

  2. How did the historical transition come about, from the situation during the lifetimes of the Apostles, in which believers were to accept both the oral teaching of the Apostles and their written word (2 Thessalonians 2:15), to the purported situation Protestants maintain existed, in which Scripture alone was to be the authority? As per 1, is this something believers were taught to expect? Was there a perceived difference between doctrine that was written by the Apostles and doctrine that was received orally from the Apostles? And what about the content of that oral teaching that was not contained in Scripture? Protestants will argue that anything not contained in Scripture was not necessary for salvation — but even that being so, did early Christians see a distinction between apostolic teachings that were necessary and teachings that were unnecessary? Were some teachings of the Apostles understood to be extraneous and no longer worthy of being passed on or believed? When are Christians supposed to have learned to reject teachings not found in Scripture?

  3. Robert Godfrey complains in the first chapter of the book (page 7) about Catholic doctrines that “contradict Scripture” — naming first and foremost that Catholic tradition teaches that bishop and presbyter are two separate offices, in plain contradiction to Titus 1:5–7. But this charge in itself undermines his whole argument, or else denounces as unfaithful the earliest generations of Christians. If the earliest Christians were supposed to have held firmly to the word of Scripture and accepted no doctrine that contradicted it — if they understood Scripture to be an infallible and immutable rule of faith — then why, from only the second generation of Christians (Ignatius of Antioch, ca. A.D. 107), do we find firm declarations of this very “unscriptural” doctrine? Were early Christians so quick to deviate from the faith handed to them by the Apostles themselves, to which they were exhorted to hold fast and for which they saw their teachers go to their deaths? Were they so willing to go to their own deaths for a faith they felt they could alter as it fit them? Are such really the kind of people you propose our Christian faith is built upon?

  4. St. John Chrysostom

    St. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407).

  5. James White devotes an impressive chapter to culling many quotations from the Church Fathers that appear to endorse a doctrine of sola scriptura. But an appeal to these Church Fathers and a claim that they themselves held sola scriptura runs into an immediate and insurmountable problem: If the Church Fathers held a doctrine of sola scriptura, why did they, every one of them, accept and teach the myriad “unscriptural” doctrines from tradition that Protestants today want to reject? Why did every one of these faithful Christians — or even a single one of them — not immediately, vociferously, and unceasingly denounce these accretions of tradition, these “unscriptural” and un-Christian “inventions,” until they were rooted from the Church? The men we acclaim as Church Fathers were most of them bishops who held and taught apostolic succession, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, the necessity of good works for salvation, a sacerdotal priesthood, the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary — and that’s just the beginning of the list. Could these men have held sola scriptura if they also held these “unscriptural” doctrines?

I had more, but that’s enough for starters.

Sola Scriptura and Authority: What authority does your interpretation of Scripture have?

Saints Peter and Paul, by El Greco

Saints Peter and Paul (between 1605 and 1608), by El Greco.

(I shouldn’t write much today. I stand poised to wrap up a draft of the last chapter of the thesis. But I know it’s been a little while and I wanted to share a little bit lest you forget about me. I have a bit of previously written material I may share over the next week or so.)

One thing in particular I’ve been thinking about lately is how knowledgeable Protestants can tenably defend their doctrines; how anyone, reading the writings of the Church Fathers, can honestly contend that the tenets of the Reformation were anything but a sixteenth-century invention, a novel interpretation of Scripture unsupported by any authority other than the interpretation of the Reformers — but trumpeted as “the authority of Scripture.” I’ve got news for you: despite your constant assertions to the contrary, your interpretation of Scripture has no inherent authority; it has only the authority you yourself give it and others might or might not accord it. If it did have a universal and absolute authority — if your interpretation of Scripture could be equated with Scripture itself — then it could not but be universally recognized, and could not fail to settle every doctrinal dispute and end every schism. If Scripture could indeed speak for itself, with a clear and perspicuous voice, then it would indeed be the ultimate authority, for it is God Himself speaking.

Gutenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible, the first printed Bible. (Wikipedia)

But Scripture does not speak for itself; it does not edit itself; it does not translate itself; it does not interpret itself. Any reading of Scripture involves the apprehension and comprehension of the human mind; and any reading of Scripture in English involves reading what has already been apprehended and comprehended and reproduced by quite a few people before it came to you. As it stands, under the doctrine of sola scriptura, no matter how one formulates it, the authority of Scripture must always stand upon the authority of someone’s interpretation — be it your own, your pastor’s, your presbytery’s, your church’s, or the Reformers’. The question necessarily becomes not what authority Scripture has but what authority your interpretation has.

St. Thomas Aquinas (Crivelli)

St. Thomas Aquinas (15th century), by Carlo Crivelli. (Wikimedia)

So it is also in the Catholic understanding also, of course: our understanding is built on an interpretation, also. We ask, too, what authority our interpretation has; and rather than looking to ourselves, or to any single man or group of men, we look to the amassed weight of the whole of the Christian tradition, to the interpretations of those who first received Scripture, who understood it in its time and context, and to the many pastors and teachers and exegetes and theologians who have taught on it, thought on it, commented on it, and carried it forward through time to us. This tradition has authority in itself, supported by the very pillars of history. But even beyond that, we look to the voice of the combined Church, to the agreement of the whole people of God, and to the consensus of her bishops, invested with the authority of the Apostles from Christ Himself: to the Church to whom He promised the Holy Spirit, Who would lead her into all truth (John 16:13), to the Magisterium, which speaks with His authority (Luke 10:16).

This screed is not what I set out to write today. Oops. But sola scriptura and the question of authority has certainly been at the forefront of my thought recently, and I expect to be writing a bit more on it in the near future.

What Sacred Tradition Is and Is Not: 7 Answers to Common Misconceptions

Saints Peter and Paul, by El Greco

Saints Peter and Paul (between 1605 and 1608), by El Greco.

This started out as a response to someone’s blog, but I got carried away. Here are some answers to some common misunderstandings regarding the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church, especially with reference to the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Pardon me for just dumping it here with so little introduction or conclusion, but I hope it will be helpful to someone.

1. Sacred Tradition — including Sacred Scripture — started out as oral tradition.

Of course, all Christian teaching started out as oral tradition. Until the Gospels were written, decades following Christ’s Ascension, the sayings and teachings and doings of Jesus were transmitted solely by word of mouth. Over the course of the first century, that was recorded in the books of Sacred Scripture we now call the New Testament. As you admit yourself, not everything Jesus did was recorded. There’s no doubt that not everything Paul preached was recorded; he often refers in his letters to teachings he gave in person, the content of which we are left to infer. Paul was a gifted writer, but we have from him only a handful of letters written for specific purposes, handling local business or offering correction or rebuke to specific situations and problems. None of the authors of the New Testament set out to write a compendium of the Christian faith or a catechism for teaching everything there was to know.

You believe, as the Catholic Church affirms, that Sacred Scripture is the heart of Divine Revelation, the very, infallible, written Word of God. But what do you suppose happened to all the stories of the other things Jesus said and taught and did, all the other things that Paul and the Apostles taught? Did people just forget them? And did these things somehow become less valid or less real because they weren’t written down? Everything that came from the mouth of Jesus was the Word of God. Did it cease to be the Word of God, cease to be Divine Revelation, because it was among those “many other signs Jesus did”?

Codex Vaticanus

A leaf from Codex Vaticanus, one of the earliest extant manuscripts of the Greek New Testament.

2. Sacred Tradition is the Word of God.

No, of course it didn’t, and the early Christians did not forget. They cherished every word that issued from the mouth of God through Christ, every word taught to them by the Apostles. Did the words of Jesus cease to be Divine Revelation because it was the Apostles repeating them and teaching them? Did they cease to be Divine Revelation after the Apostles died, and their disciples taught them to the next generation of Christians? No, the Word of God spoken orally was and still is just as much the Word of God as the Word of God written in Scripture — just as much as when we memorize and recite Scripture, we are speaking the Word of God. Memorizing and reciting the teachings of Jesus taught from one generation of Christians to the next is no less the Word of God — in fact, we depend upon it. You do, too. This is how the teachings of Jesus were transmitted for the generation or two before they became Scripture. Proclaiming the Gospels as the Word of God depends on the oral tradition of Christ’s teachings being and remaining the Word of God.

You believe that at the death of the Apostle, Divine Revelation was closed. We, the Catholic Church, go even further than that: Jesus Himself, the Word spoken by God, was the ultimate revelation. The New Testament is the New Testament not just because it was written by the Apostles, not even solely because it was inspired by Holy Spirit (which it was), but because it records the words and teachings of Jesus, the words of Divine Revelation Himself. What distinguishes the documents accepted into the New Testament canon as Scripture, versus the ones from only a generation later, such as the Didache or the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians (1 Clement) — which were both among those documents considered for inclusion in the New Testament — was the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but also the fact that the canonical books were written by the Apostles or their associates, witnesses to the life of Christ Himself, or who were taught immediately by such witnesses — and above all that they consisted almost purely of the word and teachings of Jesus carried on and taught by the Apostles.

But did the words of the Word of God cease to be Divine Revelation because they weren’t written in Scripture? Did they cease to be the Word of God at the death of the last Apostle? Why the arbitrary cutoff at the death of the Apostles?

St. Thomas the Apostle

St. Thomas the Apostle.

3. Sacred Tradition was all most of the Apostles left us.

Most of the Apostles were too busy preaching to the ends of the earth to do much writing. That in itself, by the way, is an argument against sola scriptura: if the Apostles had any anticipation that only their written teachings would remain the Word of God after their deaths, wouldn’t you think they’d have done a lot more writing? What about St. Bartholomew, who preached in Armenia, or St. Thomas, who brought the Gospel all the way to India? Or St. James the Greater, who is traditionally held to have preached in Spain? Would they have given their lives as martyrs for the Lord so eagerly, never having written down their teachings, if they believed that all their preaching and suffering was worth smack — that after they died, their teachings would bring no one else to salvation, their deaths would turn no hearts, but that their mission fields would have to wait for someone else to write and compile and disseminate the New Testament? In any case, most of the Apostles, common men of Galilee, were probably barely literate if at all, as were the people they preached to.

But as for the rest of the Word of God — that that didn’t get written in Scripture: People didn’t just forget it, or dismiss it as no longer necessary now that they had the New Testament, which was “sufficient to lead a person to eternal life.” They didn’t decide, at the death of the last Apostle, that “nothing else was needed” and that the other teachings they had received from the Apostles and their followers were extraneous and no longer to be preserved or believed. Yeah, that story about St. Veronica wiping the bloody face of the suffering Savior? That’s not in Scripture; we don’t need that anymore. That liturgy you’ve been developing? No longer necessary; we have the New Testament now. Early Christians were even more excited than you are to preserve the Word of God, to learn and pass on the teachings of their Savior, the Son of God! They received no instruction from Scripture that they should discard and no longer believe the rest of the deposit of faith they had received. Not only did they receive no such instruction, but the fact is plain that they did not, since without a doubt these traditions continued to be transmitted by the earliest Christians. And if you suppose they had received such teaching to reject unwritten traditions about our Lord from the mouths of the Apostles themselves — then the idea of sola scriptura depends on an extrascriptural tradition and is self-contradictory.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine (c. 1645-1650), Philippe de Champaigne.

4. Sacred Tradition didn’t stay “oral tradition.”

Many Protestants speak of Catholic “traditions” — as you do above — as if the teachings of the Catholic Church consist of and depend solely on “oral traditions,” the kind of folklore American Indians tell around a powwow — passed down from pope to pope for 2,000 years like a tragic game of telephone. Protestant critics complain that “tradition” is something nebulous and undefined that Catholics can say is whatever they want it to be. “You made that up!” “No I didn’t, it came from tradition!”

But that is a fundamental misunderstanding. I’ve been writing about the first generations of Christians who faithfully preserved and passed down the words and teachings of Jesus, eventually recording them in Scripture. I’ve shown, I hope, that the other teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, those that were passed down (that’s all “tradition” means, by the way, is “that which is passed down”), didn’t cease to be Divine Revelation just because it was spoken and not written. They didn’t forget — it was crucial not to forget. Paul exhorted Timothy, “What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2) — and that’s exactly what the early Christians did. They taught to others these teachings, and ensured that they were passed on intact, just as carefully — even more carefully — than the bards passing on the epics of Homer, who memorized the whole of those vast poems and carried them for centuries.

But unlike Homer, the Church didn’t have to carry them for centuries. Over the first few centuries, thankfully, the Christian faith found its way to learned and literate men who, bit by bit, set these remaining teachings of Jesus and the Apostles — the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) — to writing. We call these men the Church Fathers.

St. Cyprian of Carthage

St. Cyprian of Carthage

5. Sacred Tradition is just as much Divine Revelation as Sacred Scripture — but not the same.

I’ve often heard it charged from Protestants that the Catholic Church “places Scripture and Tradition on the same level” or “equal authority.” Well, in a sense, yes. But I would dispute the claim that the two have “equal authority” — as if the two are “equal” to each other. They are not. Both Scripture and Tradition form one deposit of faith, but the two have very different characters.

Sacred Scripture is, the Catholic Church teaches and affirms just as much as any “Bible Christian,” the very written Word of God, inspired (“breathed out”) by the Holy Spirit. As such, it is infallible, inerrant, and indisputable in matters of faith, doctrine, and morals. God has spoken. We do not believe that Scripture is “perspicuous” or “self-interpreting” — a ridiculous claim to anybody who has spent time or energy laboring in scriptural translation or textual criticism or exegesis. Scripture is thousands of years old, written in languages and idioms no one speaks anymore, in ancient cultures and contexts very different than our own. The act of translation is itself an act of interpretation, so anyone claiming that their English Bible is “self-interpreting” is already mistaken.

Sacred Tradition, on the other hand — not “oral traditions” — is a very different animal. The writings of the Church Fathers are not infallible; they are not even inspired. The Church Fathers are not Sacred Tradition, but they do contain Sacred Tradition. They contain Divine Revelation not as Sacred Scripture — which is “pure silver, seven times refined” (Psalm 11:7), the pure, unadulterated Word of God — but more as unrefined silver ore — which contains pure silver, but also a lot of dirt and rock. The Church Fathers record the precious teachings of Jesus and the Apostles that they received from their teachers, who received them from their teachers, who received them from the Apostles themselves (in some cases, as with St. Clement of Rome or St. Ignatius of Antioch or St. Irenaeus of Lyons, as close as a generation away) — but they also have a lot to say that is merely their opinion or reflection. And sometimes they are plain wrong. Sometimes, many times, the Church Fathers even disagree with each other! But it is the things they agree upon, the core of apostolic teachings, that we receive as Sacred Tradition.

It is only the pure silver that is absolute and authoritative. If we could obtain the pure, undiluted Sacred Tradition in the form that came directly from the mouth of Jesus, it would be just as absolutely authoritative and divinely inspired as Scripture — since Scripture, too, originated as words from the mouth of Jesus. But the dirty ore of the Church Fathers is not that. The Sacred Tradition contained especially in the Church Fathers, but also in the ancient liturgy of the Church, in the pronouncements of Church councils, or even in the works of other writers, has to be refined in order to be authoritative. In the sense that Sacred Tradition comes from the exact same source as Scripture, the very words of Jesus — it is absolutely equal in authority. But practically speaking, since we don’t have that pure Tradition, it functions as a secondary authority — no less authoritative, but dependent on and supported by Scripture — which Tradition also supports.

Guido Reni, Assumption of the Virgin (1580)

Assumption of the Virgin (1580), by Guido Reni.

6. Sacred Tradition cannot contradict Scripture.

Protestants complain that Catholic Tradition “contradicts Scripture.” Such is, to begin with, patently impossible: if the two come from the same source, how can they contradict? Catholic teaching does not contradict Scripture. Perhaps it contradicts Protestant interpretations of Scripture — but such interpretations have little grounding in history or tradition. The fact is, even speaking practically, the Church Fathers, as the earliest recipients of Scripture and Tradition and of all Christian teaching, know how to interpret Scripture and Tradition in light of each other better than anyone else. Catholic teaching, coming both from Scripture and from the Tradition received from the Church Fathers, is in agreement with the Church Fathers: both what they believed, and how they interpreted Scripture. If these ancient interpretations contradict Protestant interpretations, then the Protestants have a much greater problem of contradiction than Catholics do.

It is the Magisterium of the Church — the teaching authority — that puts the pieces together; that reads and interprets Scripture authoritatively, and that gleans and refines from the Church Fathers and other sources the silver of Tradition. Protestants often complain that this places the Magisterium “above the authority of Scripture,” but such is also impossible. The Magisterium is constrained by what Scripture and Tradition say — what we have received in the deposit of faith. The Magisterium is not free to “make stuff up,” or pull Blessed Virgins out of hats, or any other such. Everything the Magisterium pronounces must be contained in Scripture and Tradition and in accord with both. The Magisterium cannot pronounce, say, that adultery is now perfectly moral and legal and okay in God’s sight, since such plainly contradicts the direct word of Scripture, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and since this contradicts the unbroken teaching of the Church for 2,000 years.

What about some of the doctrines that Protestants claim “contradict Scripture”? What about the big one, the veneration of Mary? First, Scripture plainly demonstrates the beginnings of devotion to the mother of our Lord: “My soul magnifies the Lord, / and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, / for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. / For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:46–48) — by all appearances an early liturgical prayer or hymn, which we today call the Magnificat. There is nothing in Scripture to demonstrate that we shouldn’t honor our Lord’s mother, for Jesus Himself loved her and honored her. And as for pulling Virgins out of hats — the tradition of honor given to Mary dates to the earliest centuries of the Church, found among the earliest Church Fathers and ecclesiastical writers. There is nothing in the Church’s doctrines regarding Jesus and Mary that isn’t well attested to in the writings of Tradition. The Church doesn’t “make stuff up.”

Pope Paul VI

Pope Paul VI, who re-called the Second Vatican Council following the death of Pope John XXIII in 1963.

7. Sacred Tradition is transparent and open.

I have heard Protestants complain that the Tradition of the Church is something closed and unknown, a well-guarded secret that only the prelates of the Church are privy to, with the result that the Church can proclaim anything as “Tradition” that she wishes, and no one will be the wiser. But such, again, is patently false. Every bit of the body of material that comprises Sacred Tradition is readily available, much of it online. I have never seen an organization go to greater lengths to be open and transparent as to the content and basis of its doctrines. Front and center, the Church publishes the Catechism of the Catholic Church in a dozen or so different languages, available free on the Vatican website, which not only lays out clearly and succinctly the doctrines of the Christian faith, but gives exhaustive references to Scripture, Church documents, and the Church Fathers to locate where and on what each doctrine is based. Many if not most of those Church documents (certainly the recent ones) are available for free on the Vatican website. Many of the most important writings of the Church Fathers are readily available online, both from Catholic and Protestant websites. (For what it’s worth, even New Advent, the Catholic site, reproduces a Protestant edition of the Church Fathers, the same one as on CCEL, since that is the most extensive English edition of the Church Fathers readily available in the public domain, and it’s generally a pretty fine one.) A distillation of the doctrinal sources of most important Catholic doctrines is readily available in the Enchiridion Symbolorum or Sources of Catholic Dogma. So, no, the idea that the Tradition of the Church is closed and unknown is without foundation.

Ending abruptly, because I don’t seem able to wind this down: I hope this clears up some confusion.

Is Infant Baptism an Unscriptural Practice? Part 1: Understanding Baptism

Infant baptism, in stained glass (From St. Peter's List).

Infant baptism, in stained glass (From St. Peter’s List).

So, my last post, in addition to being fascinating exegesis, had a point. I didn’t even realize the point at the time, but our dear brother Eugene has brought up an important question that just happens to fit with the direction I was moving in. May we thank the movement of the Holy Spirit! As it turns out (I didn’t intend it initially, but caught myself before I spent four hours writing a tome!), this is a topic worthy of more than one post, so here begins a series.

Many evangelical churches reject the practice of infant baptism (or “paedobaptism”) as an unscriptural practice, especially those who derive their thoughts on Baptism from the Anabaptist tradition — the Baptists today (who are more descendants of the Calvinist tradition than of the Anabaptists, except for this view), the Churches of Christ, and many others who have descended from the Second Great Awakening in America. I will argue, from Scripture, that the baptism of infants is not only scriptural, but an apostolic and essential Christian doctrine, taught and practiced since the earliest days of the Church.

Bible

This argument goes to the heart of our understanding of what Baptism even is: for according to one’s understanding, the baptism of infants either becomes critical or it becomes nonsensical. For many Protestants, understanding Baptism is reduced to only their personal interpretation of the Scriptures; but for a truthful view, we must look not only to the Scriptures, but to how the earliest Christians understood the Scriptures. This is not an argument about sola scriptura. Even proponents of that view must admit that Scripture is written in a language we don’t innately understand, in a culture very different from our own. How we understand the words of Scripture, in our language and in the context of our own culture, might be quite wrong, if we presume concepts and views that neither the biblical authors nor their recipients would have understood. The correct interpretation of Scripture, as even most learned Protestants have acknowledged, is to strive to understand as fully as possible the language and cultural context in which culture was written.

St. Irenaeus

St. Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 120–200).

And the way to do that is to look to writings outside Scripture. Hardcore proponents of sola scriptura recoil at the very idea; for it is “Scripture alone” that we need as our rule of faith. But consider even that statement: “Scripture alone is our sole rule of faith.” Even relying on Scripture as one’s sole rule — the authority on which matters of doctrine and practice are founded — does not dismiss the importance of other writings. Many Protestants read and reflect on the teachings and commentaries of the great Protestant leaders of the past — Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, and many others — drawing great inspiration and edification from them. Are they using their words as a “rule of faith”? No, they say, but merely as helps in understanding the rule of faith. And the matter of reading the writings of the Early Church is absolutely no different: Even if one does not accept that the Church Fathers speak with authority, their words can be a great help in understanding Scripture — for they were the earliest disciples of the Apostles; the ones to whom the Apostles themselves would have explained their writings. They are the ones in the best position to help us understand Scripture — both by speaking the language and understanding the culture in which Scripture was written, and by having received their understanding of Scripture from the Apostles themselves, or from the Apostles’ disciples; and they are the best ones to show us how the Early Church believed and how they put those beliefs into practice.

Believer's baptism

Beliver’s baptism (From here).

So, with these thoughts in mind, we will continue to the next leg of our journey: What is Baptism? The two major views that I will explore are the traditional, catholic understanding, which is my own: that Baptism was established by Christ a the Sacrament, an outward, physical action that represents and actually accomplishes an inward spiritual reality, by which He washes away our sins, infuses us with His sanctifying grace, regenerates us and gives us a new birth in Him, unites us with His Body the Church, and gives us the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and the view of many evangelical Christians, called “believers’ baptism” or “credobaptism”: that baptism is only a sign or ordinance that merely symbolizes the spiritual reality that our sins have been forgiven and that we are united to Christ; that it is only for believers, those who have actually come to a mature understanding and faith in Jesus Christ, as a public profession of their faith for them to make before God’s people, the Church. Stay tuned!

(See also the rest of my series on Baptism and on the Sacraments — which, I kind of petered out on; sorry. I will pick that up again after my thesis is in the can. I covered Baptism, Confirmation, and some on the Eucharist — but the Eucharist was a lot to chew!)

Whatever Happened to the Eucharist? Why Don’t Evangelical Protestants Celebrate It?

El Greco, The Last Supper (c.1598)

The Last Supper (c.1598), by El Greco. WikiPaintings.org)

The major topic that prompted me to delve into a series on the Sacraments was wondering why Evangelical Protestants* don’t celebrate them. How can a people who profess to base their faith on Scripture alone ignore the very things — in fact, some of the only things — that Jesus told us explicitly to do? Baptism and the Eucharist are the only two of the Seven Sacraments that Evangelical Protestants have preserved in any form — but even these are relegated to the status of marginal, symbolic acts in very many cases. I’ve already written a bit about Evangelicals and Baptism.

Now, in considering the Eucharist, the perfectionist and scholar in me wants to offer a thoroughly researched and documented treatise on the theology of the different Protestant interpretations of the Eucharist, but this topic is now pressing and I thought I would give you instead a few preliminary thoughts. The Wiki provides a decent overview if you like that kind of thing. (And good Lord I had no idea it was this complicated and fragmented and daunting.)

* I am going to start capitalizing “Evangelical Protestant” as a proper noun (even though it’s incorrect! incorrect! by the Chicago Manual of Style) to distinguish Evangelical Protestants, the ones I grew up with and complain about from time to time, from other kinds of Protestants to whom my criticisms might not apply, such as Lutherans. I do this for the sake of not confusing or alarming my dear friend.

Fra Angelio, Institution of the Eucharist (1442)

Institution of the Eucharist (1442), by Fra Angelio.

Compared to the rest of His teaching in the Gospels, Jesus gave us few direct, unambiguous commands. Among them are some of the last words he gave us before departing this earth: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mark 28:19) — an explicit imperative to baptize — and His words at the Last Supper: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). One would think that the Apostles and the Early Church would place great emphasis on these things. And in fact they did: they were the very basis of early Christian worship, as St. Justin testifies.

The Witness of the Apostolic Church in Scripture

One would also think that Evangelical Protestants, professing to live and worship by the Word of God in Scripture, would place great emphasis on celebrating these essential Christian sacraments. For coming to faith in Christ is always, as a rule, followed immediately by baptism in Scripture. Likewise for the Eucharist: for it is clear from Scripture that the Apostolic Church celebrated it frequently, if not at every gathering:

Dürer, Last Supper (1510)

Last Supper (1510), by Albrecht Dürer.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . . And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts. (Acts 2:42,46)

On the first day of the week [i.e. Sunday, the Lord’s Day], when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7)

The word translated “as often as” in 1 Corinthians 11:25–26 is simply ἐὰν (eàn), most literally ifif you take the cup, do this — whenever you take the cup — but implying that it is something that will be done. It only makes sense in the context as an implication that it will be done frequently:

“Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:25–26)

Most crucially, Jesus tells us that He is the Bread of Life (pun intended):

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst . . . . Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:35,55–56)

The gyrations to which Evangelical commentators must go in order to evade a sacramental interpretation of Baptism and the Eucharist in these passages is rather uncomfortable to see.

The Reality in Many Evangelical Churches

Grünewald, The Last Supper (Coburg Panel)

The Last Supper (Coburg Panel) (c.1500), by Matthias Grünewald. (WikiPaintings.org)

But as my new Protestant friends have just recently attested, and as I myself saw in my wanderings, many Evangelical churches seldom celebrate the Eucharist at all — as infrequently as once a month or even once a quarter. Some have even dispensed with it altogether. It blows my mind how the celebration that Scripture plainly indicates was the central act of early Christian worship can have become so irrelevant, to people claiming to follow in the same tradition — how far down and far away the acorn has fallen.

I struggle to understand it. I would be happy if the leadership of one of these churches stopped by and explained the reasoning. But the very idea of dispensing with the Eucharist must rest on the assumption that Baptism and the Eucharist aren’t sacraments at all, but merely symbols or “ordinances.” This idea certainly wasn’t present in the theology of the better-known and revered Protestant Reformers such as Luther and Calvin, who both fully affirmed the sacramentality of Baptism and the Eucharist, and the Presence (however that Presence is understood) of Christ in the Eucharist. It was Huldrych Zwingli who first rejected the idea of the Sacraments, though it’s unclear to me (as yet) how this idea made it into modern Evangelicalism, which largely flowed out of the Second Great Awakening. The rejection of sacramentality seems to have followed in the death of any sense of the sacred at all.

Tintoretto, The Last Supper (1594)

The Last Supper (1594), by Tintoretto.

These modern Evangelicals want to avoid any suggestion of doing something “religious” or “liturgical” or “ritualistic” or — God forbid — Catholic. The idea of “sacraments,” in the Evangelical mindset, suggests that some “works” other than mere belief in Christ is necessary for salvation. The notion that “faith alone” saves, taken in this sense, rejects any idea of sacramentality before it can even begin. If we assume from the get-go that nothing else is necessary for salvation — something Scripture never shows — then any other idea, even if plainly stated in Scripture, is short-circuited.

These churches make a token of practicing Baptism and the Eucharist occasionally, just because they are plainly commanded by Christ. But they have no real meaning or efficacy. If something is merely symbolic, it must be unimportant and unnecessary. It becomes a mere “symbolic act of obedience” — read, “We do this just because He said to do it.” If it doesn’t do anything — if it in itself isn’t necessary for salvation, and doesn’t further the Kingdom of God — then why should we bother doing it? I often get the feeling that these churches feel that the Eucharist is merely gets in the way of the more important work of the church, preaching and teaching and evangelizing.

Eucharistic adoration

Not that those things aren’t important. For how are the lost to hear the Gospel without a preacher (Romans 10:14)? But the Early Church, and the Church throughout history, has understood that, as St. Paul says, the Bread and the Cup are a participation — a communion — in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). Through the eating of His Body and the drinking of His Blood, we abide in Him and He in us (John 6:56). It is a “remembrance,” but it is a remembrance in the same way the Passover was a remembrance of the Old Covenant: a re-presentation, “as often as you take it,” of the salvific sacrifice of Christ, our Passover Lamb — the New Covenant that saves us and sets us free. How can anyone shuffle that off as merely a quarterly “symbolic act of obedience”?

The Rub with Protestant Theology: Why I teach what I teach

El Greco, Christ (1585)

El Greco, Christ (1585)

I’ve been mulling for the past hour or two, thinking of my new Christian friend and how she might take that last post, and I feel I should make a quick follow-up.

Why do I gripe so much about Protestant theology? Is it because I think it’s all wrong and that believing it means one is automatically damned? Not at all. Is it because I have some innate drive to prove myself “right” and prove everyone else “wrong”? I do fear there’s sometimes a trace of that, and it’s pride: Lord, have mercy. But no, there are two main reasons.

First, I see these doctrines — especially sola fide (justification by faith alone) and sola scriptura (by Scripture alone) — as the main obstacles standing between the reunion of all Christians; the main matters dividing us. I guess there’s not really any hope of my making an irrefutable case that will convince everybody and singlehandedly bring about reconciliation, but I hope that maybe I can convince one or two, who might go and spread the message.

Saints Peter and Paul, by El Greco

Saints Peter and Paul (between 1605 and 1608), by El Greco.

Second, and even more important: Though I don’t believe that all Protestant theology is irredeemably wrong — I affirm, with the Catholic Church, that many Protestant communities retain elements of Christ’s truth and sanctification — I do believe that some Protestant doctrines are very wrong, and even dangerous.

If you believe in Jesus Christ and all that Christians have traditionally believed, and strive to live your life for Him, then I don’t think there’s any major problem. I think, through the grace of God, He works salvation in the lives of Protestants, as long as they do the things Christians are supposed to do, as the Bible teaches: repent of their sins and turn to God, confess Christ is Lord, and live their lives according to the Gospel.

Bible

But there are some teachings that have the potential to lead people into serious error. What is meant to convey love and hope can be turned to weapons of the enemy. They can give false assurance that one is “saved” and has eternal security of that salvation, no matter how they live their lives or what sins they commit — when the Bible teaches repeatedly that those who continue in sinful lifestyles are not children of God (1 John 3:6, Galatians 5:21, Romans 2:8, etc.). God is just and faithful to always forgive our sins if we repent of them and ask forgiveness (1 John 1:9) — but if we keep on living that way, we are throwing away the grace that God has freely given (1 John 3:8–9).

Likewise, the teaching that man is “totally depraved” and “hopelessly sinful” — the false idea that no one can pursue righteousness — can easily lead to apathy and complacency in sin, or despair that one can’t ever be better. “God knows I’m a sinner, and he forgives me; there’s no way I can be righteous, so I guess this is okay” — that’s the trap I fell into for so long. We are called to pursue lives of holiness (1 Peter 1:14–16, Hebrews 12:14, Ephesians 4:17-24).

And that’s why I teach what I teach: to guide others to the truth, and to spare them from the many mistakes I’ve made, and that I see so many others making, that have the potential to lead them to destruction. And I want to always teach in love. I know I’m not always good at getting that across.

The Audacity of Pope: Everything I’ve ever tried to say about Church Authority

Pope

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 authoritytoward 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.

Missing Information: The Historical Limitations of Sola Scriptura

(This little essay originated as a comment in another blog just now, and I thought it might be worth sharing.)

Bible

As a historian — and this is one of the things that led me to Catholicism — I feel like it’s a fallacy of the doctrine of sola scriptura to presume that we have all the sources and aren’t missing any information. We have to remember that there were twenty, thirty, maybe forty years between the events of Christ’s earthly ministry and the writing of the earliest Gospel. For those decades, the Church wasn’t just sitting around waiting patiently for God to give them the New Testament so they could begin preaching the Gospel. The original mode of transmitting the Gospel was by oral preaching and teaching, by the Apostles going out into the world and spreading it by word of mouth. The churches they established were many and far-flung, but they were in touch with each other, by believers traveling among them, by the Apostles returning to visit the churches like Paul wrote about, bringing news and teaching.

We have to accept that we just don’t have all of that from Scripture. The writers of the New Testament didn’t record absolutely everything that happened or was going on between the churches. The Gospels, by their own admission, aren’t even a full account of everything Jesus said and did (John 21:25) — and such a thing isn’t even possible. No writer can record everything, not even a divine one — because He’s limited by the very earthly medium of paper and pen. The books of the New Testament very frequently refer to events we don’t know about and can only infer, to people we don’t know, even to letters we don’t have (1 Corinthians 5:9, 7:1).

Now, Protestants believe that everything they need for salvation is recorded in the Scriptures — and I like to think that God really did give them enough to get them into heaven, since He surely knew ahead of time that they were going to bolt. But that doesn’t mean that everything is in the Scriptures. On many points, the Bible is silent. That doesn’t mean, however, that there necessarily aren’t answers. The Tradition handed down by the Church — not vague, amorphous “traditions,” but historically documented testimony to the Church’s beliefs from the earliest ages — can shed light in many places, and complete our incomplete picture of the Early Church.

It’s very compelling to me to study the Bible and discover all I can about the people and places in it — but my salvation doesn’t hinge on which Mary was which or whether Jesus’s “brothers” were Apostles or even whether they were His brothers. Not even Tradition offers definite answers to many questions. Since I know I don’t have all the facts — not about the Early Church and certainly not about God — I’m content to just let some things be mysteries, things I wonder about but won’t know until I get to ask. I believe and have faith in the things I know for sure, and that’s that the Gospel is true and Jesus is my Savior.

The Roman Catholic Controversy: Catholic Epistemology

The Roman Catholic Controversy

This is the seventh post in my series on James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy. This post is the second part of my review of Chapter 6, “The Thousand Traditions.” Part One.

I should thank James White for introducing me to a new concept in the understanding of Catholicism, of which before I was unaware. His intentions in pointing it out, of course, were to expose a weakness in the foundations of the Catholic Church; but his demonstration has only served to further prove how solid that foundation is. He also alerted me to a position that opponents of the faith attempt to exploit, that to the unlearned might appear to be a weakness.

White challenges that there are two major positions Catholics hold with regard to the “nature, extent, and authority of tradition,” that are logically “completely at odds with each other” and “mutually exclusive.” In fact, the question relates to none of these things; rather, he admits, it pertains to the “sufficiency or insufficiency of Scripture.” At issue is Catholic epistemology: How Catholics know what we know. White does not call it thus here, but I believe he does in other places, and it is an appropriate term for the questions he asks and the charges he makes.

The question is relevant to White, because from his perspective, if Catholics can’t adequately explain the sources and transmission of their revelation, then they must not have any good reason for believing what they believe.  But he misrepresents the nature of the disagreement among Catholics. Both positions accept the authority of both Scripture and Tradition. Both positions hold that both Scripture and Tradition are real, finite bodies of received knowledge. Both positions hold that both Scripture and Tradition are essential elements of divine revelation on which Catholic dogma is founded. The disagreement does not call the “nature, extent, [or] authority” of Tradition into question; rather, it has everything to do with the “nature, extent, and authority” of Scripture. The underlying question is how we know what we know. There is no doubt that we know it.

The matter is only this: Does divine revelation exist partly in Scripture, and partly in Tradition?—that is, some Catholic doctrines are found in only Tradition that are not found at all in Scripture—or does the fullness of divine revelation exist both in Scripture and Tradition?—that is, all Catholic doctrines can be found in Scripture, even if only implicitly. The former view, which White calls the partim-partim view (Latin for partly … partly), holds that Scripture is materially insufficient—that it lacks essential material to present a full picture of God’s revelation. The latter view, which White calls the material sufficiency view, holds that Scripture is in fact materially sufficient—that it contains the full material of God’s revelation, even if some of it is only represented implicitly—but that Tradition is still necessary to discover and interpret the revelation in Scripture. Both views hold that we have received our doctrine from Scripture and Tradition. The only real difference is these positions’ view of Scripture; and White’s only real dispute with either of them is that neither holds Scripture to be solely sufficient. I will discuss these views in greater detail below [i.e. in the next post].

First I want to examine White’s charge that these views are “mutually exclusive,” that they create doctrinal confusion, and that they result in statements that are “often more liable . . . to various interpretations” than even the disparate interpretations of Protestants under sola scriptura. I fail to see how any point of this charge can be sustained—and in fact, White doesn’t sustain it; he does not mention this charge again after his introduction. These two views of Scripture are not “mutually exclusive” doctrinal positions that Catholics are expected to hold; they amount to only a minor theological question that in no way affects the outcome of Catholic doctrine. Whether one believes that Scripture supports all doctrine or not, all Catholics agree that between Scripture and Tradition, our doctrine is supported—and more important, proponents of either position can demonstrate this support in texts. There is no doctrinal confusion, since all doctrine is pronounced by the Magisterium, and the Magisterium speaks with one voice, regardless of the views of its individual members. The charge that this difference of opinion results in ambiguous statements that are open to various interpretations is empty, since the only authoritative interpretation is that of the Magisterium. If there is any ambiguity in interpretation, the Magisterium speaks again to clarify.

White attempts to make much of the point that the Tridentine Fathers—the Fathers of the Council of Trent—had a disagreement regarding these points. The original draft of the Decree concerning the Canonical Scriptures (which White never properly cites—I had to track it down myself) reads that revelation is passed on “partly in written books, partly in unwritten traditions,” supporting the partim-partim view. Upon debate, this was changed in the final draft to state that revelation is “contained in the written books and unwritten traditions”—allowing for the support of proponents of the material sufficiency view. This point is insignificant, and the fact that it was disputed is entirely irrelevant. The important fact is that the Magisterium reached an agreement and spoke with one voice to pronounce and clarify Catholic doctrine.

The Magisterium has agreed on Catholic doctrine and pronounced it with authority. Certainly if White means to charge that this doctrine is invalid because of a difference in theological opinion among the Magisterium’s members regarding the means of revelation, then Protestant doctrine suffers from an even greater problem, since the many disparate Protestant groups cannot agree on the content of doctrine let alone its means of revelation. This disagreement is analogous to the legal philosophies of strict constructionism versus loose constructionism among the members of the United States Supreme Court—that is, should the Constitution be interpreted strictly and literally by its letter, or should it be interpreted more loosely by the intent of its framers in the context of evolving legal and political situations? Regardless of what philosophy the individual justices of the court hold, once the court reaches a decision, its ruling is legally binding: when the court speaks, that is the law. Likewise, when the Magisterium speaks, that is doctrine.