Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Distinction Between The Word Proclaimed and the Word Recorded

"While the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life" - St. Irenaeus of Lyons (I stole this quote from Jared's blog)

"For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God." - Romans 3:2

The central argument that Roman Catholicism (hereafter referred to simply as RC) bases its epistemology upon is the claim that Sola Scriptura cannot be true because the Church wrote the Bible. Thus, where the Reformers (and as aforequoted, St. Irenaeus) said that the Gospel made the Church, Tridentine RC taught the opposite. After all, how could we know the gospel if we didn't even have the New Testament canon?

1. Ontological Pre-eminance of the Word
The problem with this state of affairs is that it immediately assumes. First of all, the New Testament is a record of the teachings of Christ, his proclaimed word, through his apostles and messengers. The epistemological point must be stressed that the written record of Scripture is true and authoritative, because it faithfully represents objective events. In other words, the authority of the scriptural passage "whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mk.16:16) rests upon the fact that Christ historically and objectively said this in history first, and that the Bible records it secondly. It is not St. Mark's authority that we trust in when we read this, it is the authority of Christ. It is not the case that St. Mark wrote these words and authored these ideas, it is the fact that they are Christ's words and ideas. In modern terms, if St. Mark wrote this phrase in an essay submitted to me, he would have had to cite it, because it wasn't his idea (and he'd better do it Chicago Style!)

This is summed up nicely in the Belgic Confession, which states: "the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God". I.E. Even if no one wrote it down, the preaching of the apostles was the Word of God in oral form. In the same way that I can hum Bach's music without reading a music note, the Gospel was known in the Church even before the canon was decided, Nay! even before the Scripture was written.

This argument may sound familiar as it was used in a different form by St. Paul against the judaizers: "the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise." (Gal. 3:17). The "promise" or the gospel which Abraham believed in, justified him (Rm 4) and existed long before a New Testament, which leads us to the next point.

2. The Gospel According To Abraham.
The Old Testament, which St. Paul reminds us, was intrusted to the Jews, is the story of Israel. Christians since the 1st century argued after St. Paul, that the Christian Church, was the True Israel. The Old Testament was a Christian book, as the apostle reminds us that all scripture speaks of Him (Christ). Isaiah 53 is a clear example of the gospel in the Old Testament. Genesis 18 was a proof-text for the Trinity.

The idea that Christians needed the Magesterium to know the Gospel or that they needed the New Testament to know the Gospel, flies in the face of all this.


For these reasons, it is wrong to say that the Church makes the Gospel. The fact that Pope Damasus oversaw a Council in Rome (382) which declared the canon of scripture, no more creates the Scripture/Gospel, than me telling my friend what I read in class, creates the book I read. It's a subversive argument that makes man the master of God's Word. The Church is ministerial, it is the servant of the Gospel, not magisterial, the master of the Gospel.


  1. John the Baptist proclaimed and announced the Word incarnate, he in no way had authority over the Word, and was actually unworthy to even untie his sandals.

  2. Your first argument is interesting. It reminds me of my literary criticism class. I think any Catholic would agree with your statement. We know scripture to be the Word and the Word existed at the moment it was spoken by the Word made Flesh. What the Church declares is its validity. There are many other books claiming to be true gospels but both Protestants and Catholics alike reject them as not authentic. What stops these gospels from being accepted as the True Word? One can say consensus (since the majority of early Christians quoted from the four Gospels in the Canon) but that would be to concede to the logic of the Council of Rome which helped to declare that the Canon as it exists is truly Divinely inspired. As you know, the Church teaches that it is guided by the Holy Spirit to make such declarations. The guidance of councils by the Holy Spirit and the Divine inspiration of Sacred Scripture follow the same path of reason. If the claim can be made about Scripture then it can be made about the Church as well, especially if it claims to be instituted by Christ (we both know the "gates of hell" discourse). The Church as a collective of humans doesn't claim to have "made" scripture, it claims, as the Mystical Body of Christ, to have been guided by the Holy Spirit to define what is truly Divinely inspired. If this is rejected then we're left with judging the truth of Scripture by feeling alone and this ultimately leads to relativism. The Church is not the master of God's Word any more than it's the master of God Himself. The Church merely declares what is truly God's word for the benefit of the faithful (which has been a solid ground for Christian Tradition for almost 2000 years now) and in doing so serves God by doing His will on earth. If it weren't for the defining of the Canon, there would likely be far more disunity than there is today.