This is the second post on sola scriptura. The introduction is here and I’d recommend reading it first as I will continue discussion with that assumption.
If I had met a man (call him Bob) who denied the Mormon Church was legitimate, but who accepted the Book of Mormon as his infallible rule of faith, I would have laughed at him; any reasonable person would.
These were not books given to Bob from an angel or through inspiration. He simply took what someone else gave him. He apparently trusts their judgment well enough to give him a source of doctrine, but not good doctrine.
But isn’t that what Protestants have done with Catholicism? Haven’t we taken the Scriptures they gave us and then rejected their entire Church? We apparently trust them enough to give us an infallible source of doctrine, but do not trust them to teach infallible doctrine (or even sound doctrine).
At least Joseph Smith was smart enough to claim he had blatantly heavenly backing. He said an angel gave him the book. Protestants don’t even claim that! Yet we accept as infallible what the Catholic Church told us was infallible.
Isn’t this strange, or is it just me?
So where did we get the Bible in the first place? The fact is, the Catholic Church gave it to us. It’s very difficult to get away from this little, yet significant, detail.
In determining what Christianity is (not we want it to be, but what it IS), the Catholic Church says there are basically three authorities; Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium (the authority of the church). Protestants say there is only one; Scripture.
One big problem I’ve run into as a Protestant is the fact that the collection of the Bible itself is a product of tradition and church authority. How can we say the Bible is the sole authority when it required the authorities of tradition and the Magisterium to collect it and declare it infallible in the first place?
For about 300 years there was no official canon of Scripture. 300 years! Think about that. How did the people learn the Word of God? They learned it through the readings in the liturgy and it was explained to them by the Church.
So which books were read during the liturgy? There were certain books accepted by all. Tradition passed these universally accepted books down to us (such as the four Gospels). But there was a secondary class of books that was in disagreement. Some were read in the liturgy and sometimes considered Scripture but did not make it into the final collection, such as the Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, and the Letter of Clement to the Corinthians. Other writings were sometimes questioned and did not have universal acceptance and yet attained canonicity, such as Hebrews, II Peter, and Revelation.
It took a series of councils at Hippo and Carthage in the 390s and early 400s to make the final determination, which the Pope and the church at Rome approved. Not everyone got to determine for themselves, based on “what the Holy Spirit told them”, what the canon was. The authority of the Church proclaimed it for all. Once the decision on the canon was made, you were wrong to teach differently.
So we have our Scriptures today because the Catholic Church used tradition and its position of authority to collect them into an official canon. And then we Protestants claim the Bible as the sole authority and say tradition and authority are insignificant. Why would we do that? It’s like believing Fender guitars are the greatest but then saying the Fender company doesn’t know anything about engineering or music and ignoring the fact that they made the guitars in the first place. It’s a strange argument.
Many Catholics have pointed out this strange Protestant position, but G.K. Chesterton probably said it best in The Catholic Church and Conversion.
. . . I find it very difficult to take some of the Protestant propositions even seriously. What is any man who has been in the real outer world, for instance, to make of the everlasting cry that Catholic traditions are condemned by the Bible? It indicates a jumble of topsy-turvy tests and tail-foremost arguments, of which I never could at any time see the sense.
The ordinary sensible sceptic or pagan is standing in the street (in the supreme character of the man in the street) and he sees a procession go by of the priests of some strange cult, carrying their object of worship under a canopy, some of them wearing high head-dresses and carrying symbolical staffs, others carrying scrolls and sacred records, others carrying sacred images and lighted candles before them, others sacred relics in caskets or cases, and so on.
I can understand the spectator saying, “This is all hocus-pocus”; I can even understand him, in moments of irritation, breaking up the procession, throwing down the images, tearing up the scrolls, dancing on the priests and anything else that might express that general view. I can understand his saying, “Your croziers are bosh, your candles are bosh, your statues and scrolls and relics and all the rest of it are bosh.”
But in what conceivable frame of mind does he rush in to select one particular scroll of the scriptures of this one particular group (a scroll which had always belonged to them and been a part of their hocus-pocus, if it was hocus-pocus); why in the world should the man in the street say that one particular scroll was not bosh, but was the one and only truth by which all the other things were to be condemned? Why should it not be as superstitious to worship the scrolls as the statues, of that one particular procession? Why should it not be as reasonable to preserve the statues as the scrolls, by the tenets of that particular creed?
To say to the priests, “Your statues and scrolls are condemned by our common sense,” is sensible. To say, “Your statues are condemned by your scrolls, and we are going to worship one part of your procession and wreck the rest,” is not sensible from any standpoint, least of all that of the man in the street.
It’s a weird feeling to think that’s what I did with the Catholic Church and her Scriptures. I seem to have done the very thing I would have laughed at a Mormon for doing.
Fellow Protestants: If I’m wrong in this history, and the Catholic Church didn’t give us the Scriptures, then where did we get it and why do we believe it’s the infallible Word of God?
Disclaimer – This blog post is just that: a blog post with my personal thoughts. I am not a Catholic apologist or theologian. What I say here is not official doctrine of the Catholic Church. I am still learning and am susceptible to error. Don’t take anything here as Gospel. Don’t be stupid. Do your own research and learn for yourself what the Church teaches.
Catholics: if my understanding of Catholic doctrine needs adjustment, please point out my error.