Thursday, October 6, 2011

Which Came First?

The chicken or the egg? Ok, so today's post will not be about that at all. Rather let's look at which came first the Church, or the Bible and how that informs how denominations view themselves in light of that.

According to the Catholic viewpoint, the Church, Christ's spotless bride came first. In fact Christ Himself instituted it by according Peter a share in the powers He Himself holds in Heaven. In Matt. 16:13-20 Jesus blesses Simon, changes his name and gives him the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Pretty weighty stuff, followed in a couple chapters by Christ conferring some of that same authority on the other eleven bishops (Matt. 18:18) of His church.

Christ before His death promised to send another (The Holy Spirit) to guide the church into all truth (Jn. 16:13). The Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles at Pentecost and they began to go out into the world preaching the Good News (Gospel) that the Messiah had come, been crucified and had risen again.

On that first Pentecost St. Peter urged repentance and baptism for the gathered crowd and 3,000 people were added that day(Acts 2:38-41).  

"Only five out of the twelve wrote down anything at all that has been preserved to us; and of that, not a line was penned till at least 10 years after the death of Christ, for Jesus Christ was crucified in 33 A.D., and the first of the New Testament books was not written till about 45 A.D. You see what follows? The Church and the Faith existed before the Bible." An important point as Henry Graham noted more than 100 years ago, in his collection of essays Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church:

"Thousands of people became Christians through the work of the Apostles and missionaries of Christ in various lands, and believed the whole truth of God as we believe it now, and became saints, before ever they saw or read, or could possibly see or read, a single sentence of inspired Scripture of the New Testament, for the simple reason that such Scripture did not then exist. How, then, did they become Christians? In the same way, of course, that Pagans become Catholics nowadays, by hearing the truth of God from the lips of Christ's missionaries."

Graham goes on to make the point that Neither St. Paul, nor any of the other writers of what became the New Testament would likely have felt all that great about their work being intended as the sole Regula Fide of Christianity (as the leaders of the Protestant Rebellion would attempt to make it 1500 years in the future.

"And we can imagine St Paul staring in amazement if he had been told that his Epistles, and St Peter's and St. John's, and the others would be tied up together and elevated into the position of a complete and exhaustive statement of the doctrines of Christianity, to be placed in each man's hand as an easy and infallible guide in faith and morals, independent of any living and teaching authority to interpret them...
No one would have been more shocked at the idea of his letters usurping the place of the authoritative teacher—the Church, than the great Apostle who himself said, 'How shall they hear without a preacher? how shall they preach unless they be sent? Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ...True, he [St. Paul] was an Apostle, and consequently inspired, and his letters are the written Word of God, and therefore are a final and decisive authority on the various points of which they treat, if properly understood; but that does not alter the fact that they nowhere claim to state the whole of Christian truth, or to be a complete guide of salvation to anyone; they already presuppose the knowledge of the Christian faith among those to whom they are addressed; they are written to believers, not to unbelievers; in one word, the Church existed and did its work before they were written, and it would still have done so, even though they had never been written at all."

Graham goes on to make the Catholic Church's point that the totality of Scriptures (particularly the New Testament) are Her book, to Her alone was it entrusted.

"What follows from this is self-evident. The same authority which made and collected and preserved these books alone has the right to claim them as her own, and to say what the meaning of them is. The Church of St. Paul and St. Peter and St. James in the first century was the same Church as that of the Council of Carthage and of St. Augustine in the fourth, and of the Council of Florence in the fifteenth, and the Vatican in the nineteenth—one and the same body—growing and developing, certainly, as every living thing must do, but still preserving its identity and remaining essentially the same body, as a man of 80 is the same person as he was at 40, and the same person at 40 as he was at 2."

"Rome claims that the Bible is her book; that she has preserved it and perpetuated it, and that she alone knows what it means; that nobody else has any right to it whatsoever, or any authority to declare what the true meaning of it is. She therefore has declared that the work of translating it from the original languages, and of explaining it, and of printing it and publishing it, belongs strictly to her alone; and that, if she cannot nowadays prevent those outside her fold from tampering with it and misusing it, at least she will take care that none of her own children abuse it or take liberties with it; and hence she forbids any private person to attempt to translate it into the common language without authority from ecclesiastical superiors, and also forbids the faithful to read any editions but such as are approved by the Bishops."

 Because of the facts of history (namely the Church existing before the writing, compiling and codifying of what Graham terms the Christian Scripture) we (Catholics) have two fountainheads of Divine Revelation (Scripture and Tradition). Neither one contradicts the other and neither one contains the totality of the other. As then Cardinal Ratzinger (now of course Pope Benedict XVI) notes in God's Word (pg. 71)

"We can further note that the New Testament Scriptures do not appear as one principle alongside apostolic tradition; still less (as is the case with us), do the New Testament Scriptures, together with the Old Testament, stand as one single entity “Scripture”, which could be contrasted with “tradition” as a second entity. Rather, the complex of New Testament event and reality appears together as a developing dual yet single principle, that of gospel; as such, it is contrasted, on the one hand, with the Old Testament and, on the other, with the specific events in the subsequent age of the Church."

So Catholics have as Pope Benedict pointed out a concept of "gospel" that encompasses not merely Scripture but also all of those things that weren't written down (Jn. 21:25). St. Paul speaks many times of these traditions and urges his charges in various letters to carry on those things.  

It wasn't until Martin Luther in the 1500's when those Traditions came under attack as somehow less than the true deposit of Faith (2nd Tim. 1:13-14). Luther and those who followed after him tried to divorce the book from the church "The pillar and foundation of the Truth" (1st Tim. 3:15). We can see how well that worked out for them by the sheer number of Protestant denominations all claiming they follow the Bible alone.

Pope Benedict answered the idea of Sola Scriptura in God's Word:

"Trent had established that the truth of the gospel was contained “in libris scriptis et sine scripto traditionibus”. That was (and is to this day) interpreted as meaning that Scripture does not contain the whole Veritas evangelii and that no sola scriptura principle is therefore possible, since part of the truth of revelation reaches us only through tradition." (Ratzinger pg. 48)
Beyond that however, we see in the disunity of Mainline Protestantism how Scripture is not perspicuous, especially given the wide ranging disagreements on things like infant baptism, communion, and the number of sacraments. 

As Graham noted the Protestant idea quickly devolves into absurdity: 

On the Catholic plan (so to call it) of salvation through the teaching of the Church, souls may be saved and people become saints, and believe and do all that Jesus Christ meant them to believe and do,—and, as a matter of fact, this has happened—in all countries and in all ages without either the written or the printed Bible, and both before and after its production. The Protestant theory, on the contrary, which stakes a man's salvation on the possession of the Bible, leads to the most flagrant absurdities, imputes to Almighty God a total indifference to the salvation of the countless souls that passed hence to eternity for 1500 years, and indeed ends logically in the blasphemous conclusion that our Blessed Lord failed to provide an adequate means of conveying to men in every age the knowledge of His truth.

Clearly the Church antedates the Bible and as such holds a certain authority regarding the Bible. None of this disputes the material sufficiency of the Scriptures if read without the aid of Holy Mother Church to effect salvation; however it is not the way that was intended in the Divine Plan.

As Pope Benedict points out after all:

"What kind of meaning does talk about “the sufficiency of Scripture” still have, then? Does it not threaten to become a dangerous self-deception, with which we deceive ourselves, first of all, and then others (or perhaps do not in fact deceive them!)?" (ibid. pg 49)

So if the church precedes the Bible, doesn't it then make sense to be in communion with the church that begat the bible; the one church appointed to preserve, protect and defend it as it were.


Chris (Longmont, CO) said...

I have been trying, for several years now, to comprehend the precepts of Protestantism (Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide).

Sola Fide kinda sorta makes sense to me ... but that isn't being discussed here.

Sola Scriptura, however, is one that I can't even grasp. This is one of the many arguments which stand Sola Scriptura on its head.

I like one of the Catholic Answers Hosts who takes the sentence "I did not say he stole the money" ... and depending on how it is read could mean many different things. Each of the following statements mean something different:

I did not say he stole the money.
I did not say he stole the money.
I did not say he stole the money.
I did not say he stole the money.
I did not say he stole the money.

How is it possible that we could read this simple phrase and not come up with different answers as to what was being said?

Michael said...

Sola Fide is nearly correct from a theological standpoint so it is so much easier to wrap a Catholic brain around.

Sola Scriptura however fails on its best day because the Bible was never meant to be the sole Regula Fide.

If you haven't read Benedict's book that I quoted from in this post, give it a look, some of it is a tad heavy, but a solid read.

Also check out

Brent does a solid job of dismantling the argument on his post.

Thanks for reading.