Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why I cannot be a Protestant Christian (Part 1): Authority

I'm not doing this to be bitter or angry, Jared Nelson has advanced my faith probably more than any Christian I've ever met before, and I'm sure he'll have alot less purgatory time than I (barring indulgences) *joke. But in reading some of his latest posts I've realized that in the same way that he could never be a Roman Catholic I could never be a Protestant.

Sola Scriptura as Heretical Authority

"You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life... Yet you refuse to come to me to have life" - John 5:39-40

Here is an outline of Peter Kreeft's argument from "Catholic Christianity":

"a. No Christian before Luther ever taught it, for the first sixteen Christian centuries.
b. The first generation of Christians did not even have the New Testament.
c. Without the Catholic Church to interpret Scripture authoritatively, Protestantism has divided into more than twenty thousand different "churches" or denominations.
d. If Scripture is infallible, as traditional Protestants believe, then the Church must be infallible too, for a fallible cause cannot produce an infallible effect, and the Church produced the Bible. The Church (apostles and saints) wrote the New Testament, and the Church (subsequent bishops) defined it's canon.
e. Scripture itself calls the Church "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15)
f. And Scripture itself never teaches sola scriptura. thus sola scriptura is self-contradictory. If we are to believe only Scripture, we should not believe sola scriptura"

For these and other reasons I cannot except Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), as it is a Tradition of Men (Mk 7:7).

I have NEVER heard one good Protestant argument for Sola Scriptura, never. I'm actually sad, I've bought multiple books involving it's discussion. The most honest one I've read is "Christ and the Bible" by Wenham, an Anglican, who honestly says in the end that without the Roman Catholic Church we can't trust the bible - which of course is what St. Augustine said when he wrote: ""If you should find someone who does not yet believe in the gospel, what would you [Mani] answer him when he says, 'I do not believe'? Indeed, I would not believe in the gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not move me to do so" (Against the Letter of Mani Called 'The Foundation' 5:6).

Oral Tradition as Authoritative

"I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you" - 1 Corinthians 11:2

"...there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the Apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings" - St. Augustine (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23[31] [A.D. 400]).

This fact I was taught by Philip Wilson, the Acts of the Apostles contains the phrase 'Word of God' 12 times, now which passages of scripture are these phrases directed to you may ask? NONE, every time Word of God appears, it is in description of Apostolic Teaching. SOME of which is recorded in Scripture. However the dual natures of Christ, the Trinity, etc, is all in apostolic teaching. As Jared argues well in his post: that Authoritative Tradition is a doctrine of Scripture.

Nowhere does Christ say for the apostles to write down scripture, nowhere does he say that some day 'the bible' will come and it will be the Regula Fidei. You'd assume that Our Lord would at least allude to or mention it if he planned on it being the Centre (I'm Canadian it's not a typo) of our faith. Instead he tells the Apostles to teach, the apostles appoint bishops (Acts 1:20 "Let another take his [Judas'] position of bishop"). This is what the Word of God testifies to, a group of Bishops ruling, with St. Peter's successor holding Primacy.

Creeds as Authoritative
Ecumenical councils are seen as binding interpretations of Scripture and declarations of doctrine based on the bible as well as the Oral Tradition of the Church. Arguably, the greatest of the ecumenical councils and the most strategically important in the combat of heresies mentions nothing about Scripture. It's odd that once again the 'rule of faith' is overlooked. Certainly it is used, and each point is more or less based on Scripture, however the Creed itself says nothing about adhering to Scripture, and infallibly interprets many items of the faith which Protestantism denies: some phrases that come to mind are "One baptism for the remission of sins" and "one holy catholic and apostolic".

Magesterium as Authoritative

"if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. " - God the Holy Spirit (via St. Paul in 1 Tim 3:15)

"I believe that it is equally true that the authority of the Scriptures alone surpasses the united opinions of all men. But the controversy
here does not concern the value of the Scriptures: both parties accept and venerate the same books. The conflict concerns the meaning of the Scriptures. Now I hear the objection: "What need is there for interpretation when the Scripture is entirely clear?" But if it is so clear, why have such eminent men groped so blindly and for so many centuries in such an important matter, as our adversaries claim?" - Erasmus of Rotterdam

"The Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said (Against Heresies 1:10 [A.D. 189])." -St. Irenaeus

The problem is mentioned here where Protestantism is left 'groping in the dark' as St. Paul said for there are over 15 prominent interpretations / denominations and which is true. Catholics usually say there are 30000 denominations, but I would like to say that in reality there are about 10-20 main interpretations or systems. The problem is that there must be one, and only one can be accurate. Each Protestant System's interpretations (ex. Sola Fide) are foreign to the Early Church and thus I cannot accept them as Authoritative.

"speaking of this as he [St. Paul] does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures." -2 Peter 3:16

Ironically St. Irenaeus says that the heretics are the ones who back their opinions with faulty interpretations of Scripture and that the only true test of Orthodoxy is that of Apostolic Tradition and Apostolic Succession.


  1. On Sola Scriptura: what else is called God-breathed in Scripture?

  2. Not to hound you on this, but one must deal with the question of what happens when one in authority contradicts Scripture and the gospel or promotes heresy. Gal 2:11-14 says gospel wins out. Authority is good and biblical, but things have priorities and if someone in authority preaches another gospel, they are not to be followed or listened to (Gal 1:8). Popes have propogated heresy (Honorius) and while the rule of faith and creeds protect from heresy, brute authority cannot. Respecting the apostles does not mean following a Judas but following the One they follow.

  3. I don't know where Pope Leo taught heresy that meritted the Reformers rebellion. Indulgences you will say, but the Church has authority to serve sacraments and bind and loose. Obviously you don't accept the Matthew 16 interpretation, and again we're at square one where you can't prove your groundwork.

    "When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’" -John 20:22-23

    So I guess the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the bishops at the institution of the Sacrament of Penance, is called "God-Breathed".

    I greatly disagree with your interpretation of Galatians 2. I'm going to make a post about it to explain.

  4. Jared,

    To the Protestant mind, your objections make sense.

    To the Catholic mind, it does not. The Church can no more contradict Scripture than the Gospel of John can contradict the Gospel of Matthew.

  5. Of course the visible church can contradict Scripture and certainly the pope can. Honorius anyone? Monothelitist heresy sound familiar? The church condemned Honorius in a council for his heresy. Wait, the pope in authority did not speak for the true catholic faith? Of course, modern Catholics can use an achronistic new category of ex cathedra to read back into the affair to say that by Honorius supporting, writing letters and encouraging people to believe such a heresy he still was not "officially wrong" or something. The church at the time made no such distinction. One must deal with the fact that to be true to the catholic faith during his reign, one had to disagree with the Pope to be catholic. Hmmm...perhaps catholicism is about something other than authority.


  7. Ex Cathedra is not an "anachronistic new category" created to dismiss Protestants' arguments. This is a misunderstanding. It is a definition of what we believe. We do not believe that any Pope will always be right about anything at any time. To then bring up a case (Honorius) which does not in any way invalidate our belief and then complain that we use ex cathedra as some sort of tactic to get us out of trouble is a logical fallacy.

    With the case of Honorius or any other Pope you are therefore not attacking what we really believe: this is popularly known as the straw man fallacy. The case of Honorius poses no threat to Cathlic Teaching. Don't get upset when we point this fact out. It's a problem with your argument, not our belief. You can't attack us for a position that we in fact do not hold. That is the issue here, not some alleged cover up where we default to "it wasn't ex cathedra [a new category we are just making up so that Jared's arguments don't hurt us] so we're fine."