Monday, June 04, 2007

After This Post They'll Be Saying Sola-Who?

The Undergroundlogician asked the following question re: 'Sola Scriptura' on my last post:

I'm looking for some topnotch questions that will stop them [anti-Catholic evangelicals] in their tracks.
I started a new thread so it would be on topic. Oh what fun for a wanna be Catholic apologist like me! Underground, let me just say if you've read Keating, Armstrong & Sungenis I'm not very confident that I could add much if anything to their work.

So the question is how do you stump someone who believes in sola scriptura? The easy answer is: you don't. There is not going to be any question that they don't have a ready made response for.

Catholic: The Bible can't be the only authority since it is a literal impossibility - a self referential paradox.

Protestant: I didn't say it was the only authority, just the only infallible authority.

Catholic: How did you find that out since even the authors of the Bible knew no such thing? (Ot at least they didn't mention it)

Protestant: Oh but they did. Second Timothy 3:16 says that 'All Scripture is God breathed'

Catholic: How do you know for certain what Scripture is without another source of authority?

Protestant: The Scriptures are self evident - written by an apostle or the disciple of an apostle.

Catholic: Even if I grant you that Scripture is self evident (pretending I know absolutely nothing about Church history) the verse says all Scripture is God breathed. Catholics agree. The verse does not say 'Only Scripture is infallible'.

I'm not really sure what their response is at this point. But it doesn't really matter, I'm sure you've heard all this before. It boils down to this, to anyone whom it is not already plainly obvious that sola scriptura is as wrong as it could be, I don't know of any way to make them understand. Even though all of those Catholic arguments are, by themselves, strong enough to defeat the doctrine, people still insist on trying to find some crazy loophole to make their way of life - not be wrong. It's human nature - especially when it comes to religion.

Back to the last question - this is simply a question of logic.

Given that all A is B, can C be B? So far as the rules are laid out, sure it can. Just because A is B doesn't mean C can't also be B. Protestants conclude that since A is B then C cannot be B. It's a logical fallacy in it's most basic form. But the thing is, if you have to explain that to someone... they're obviously still not going to get it. It's like arguing whether the vehicle parked out front is a car or a giraffe. If we don't instantly come to the same conclusion as to what that thing is, then there is a serious deficiency going on somewhere else and we're not going to come to a conclusion. I can't say, "look at the steering wheel!! Look at the wheels!! How can you say that is a giraffe?!" That won't work. If the person were capable of detecting those (what should be) obvious clues, they wouldn't have called it a giraffe in the first place.

Same thing with sola scriptura... It's very difficult to express the concepts of why sola scriptura to someone to whom they're not already extremely obvious. At least, that's been my experience.

Now here's the funny thing; not only do Catholics believe that All Scripture is God breathed ---- but we believe that ONLY Scripture is God breathed! We believe that Scripture is uniquely inspired in that it is God's very wording... God's breath. Tradition obviously isn't God breathed because there aren't exact wordings to the teachings of sacred tradition... Even when the Pope speaks ex-cathedra his words aren't God-breathed in the same way that Scripture is. They ARE infallible though - i.e. the Holy Spirit is keeping him from error.

The Holy Spirit also kept the Church from error - that is why Sacred tradition is infallible - because God would not let His Church apostatize.

If God DID only keep the Bible from error, and let other things (like His bride, and the entirety of Christianity for 1500 years) slip in to error, we'd certainly have no way of knowing. Since anyone who claimed "only the bible is infallible" could themselves by their own statement be wrong (and of course they are).

It's very hard for me to understand where Protestants are coming from on this issue because as soon as the question even entered my mind - 'where did the Bible come from?', I knew instantly that something was seriously wrong with the way I was taught even though it took me about 10 years to find out just what it was.

Now this issue of authority, Protestants say they believe in 'church authority' but just not infallible authority. Again we run into the same issue and its very cumbersome to explain the details of why anyone should recognize this statement as utterly false right at the get go...but I'll try.

First, Church authority condemned sola scriptura as soon as Martin Luther invented it - so right there, anyone who actually does believe in any kind of Church authority - fallible or not - would have to reject sola scriptura.

But we have two options at this point (and both of which are fundamental Protestant principles)

1. Claim the Church (in so far as whatever authority it has) has erred on this point (being that it is not infallible as Scripture alone is)
2. Redefine what 'Church' is (pretty soon we need to re-define what "is" is. Oh and by the way the Protestant who coined that clever loophole is in the process of redefining what 'church' is .... again.

Now if the Bible said "A is B" and the Church said "A is not B".... maybe we would have the slightest (and I do mean slightest) justification for entertaining the question that the Church was wrong and our private interpretation of Scripture (aided by the Holy Spirit and interpreted by other Scripture yada yada yada fill in the blank) was correct. But that's not even close to what we have so we needn't go down that road. What we have is the Bible saying "All A is B" and an individual (Luther, Calvin whoever) saying "therefore only A is C and since the Church says A, D & E are C, the Church is wrong and I am right" whereas the logic is simply not even on an elementary level.

Clearly, the question isn't whether the Church's authority is infallible here, it's who has the authority to interpret the Scriptures - me or the Church? My argument lacks some explanation... But this is already getting very tedious and ... I just can't spell out every small detail. Pretty soon I'll have to define every word that I write. On to the next step:

The next step is to redefine what 'Church' is. Let's make that C lower case... Since the Church teaches (and always has) a certain thing, the reformers decided to say "the Church isn't really the Church at all" and redefined it as the invisible body of all true believers everywhere. As comfortable as a thought as this may seem to me or you (however mistaken it is) we should keep in mind that this would be completely foreign to pre-reformation ears.

I think there is a sense in which this belief has merit to it. But to say that "the Church" is anything other than the (visibly) one, holy, Catholic (as opposed to Arian, Montanist, Donatist etc..) and apostolic Church is something that makes sense only to post-reformation Christians. (That doesn't make it wrong, just highly suspect to begin with).

But what I find interesting about this redefinition of 'Church' are its surprising parallels with Jesus' redefinition of Israel. The Protestants seem to have re-enacted the parable of the vineyard. In their mind, the Catholic Church had become the wicked tenants, and the Protestants were those to whom the vineyard had been given to once God's judgment was visited upon the ruling regime. Now, this concept deserves its own post (and it will get one) so I don't want to chase this rabbit too far, let's just leave it at this - Jesus was God and was vindicated (destruction of the temple in 70 AD) - Luther was a man and had the opposite of vindication, his heresy splintered into 33,000 (and counting) sects with significant variances in doctrine. Luther's doctrinal errors have been soundly refuted many times over - Jesus' words still stand. Etc.. Etc.. Like I said, I will post again on why this re-definition of 'Church' fails in several regards.

I didn't go into the 'Korban' rule - (the account where Jesus condemns the traditions of the Pharisees because they contradict Scripture) which is the only other passage that Protestants can really use in defense of sola scriptura... but here's James Akin's post on it.

I also didn't go into various Scriptures that point to other authoritative sources but an argument can be made from that angle as well.

I prefer Keating's method of "let's first agree that sola scriptura doesn't work as a doctrine... then we can look at what the Scriptures and the Church actually teach on the subject of authority"

Ok so to conclude, here are my basic points against sola scriptura

1. The bible does not reference itself (it can't since it was compiled hundreds of years after the last book was written)

2. Therefore the bible cannot possibly ever say that the bible is the only authority even if in a prophecy it would make little sense - "And I shall compile this and 72 errr 65 other books into one book and ye shall test everything by this collection of Holy Scriptures which alone shall be called infallible. Question ye not that it was compiled by ordinary men for their so called "Church" shall falleth by the wayside into apostasy shortly after they compileth it. But lo, I shall send a new hero like them of old. A man filled with the Holy Spirit. They shall call him Luther. He will correct all the errors of thy ways.. for a short while.. And then he too shall erreth on many things so I shall send another named Calvin... And he shall teach many.. But I will send more and more until enough schism reveals the truth. Then you shall know my true Church."
(Eh sorry I started having too much fun with that one)

3. "Scripture" is only known by the authority of the Church

a. Forget the "infallible authority" argument for a second, the Church - if it has ANY authority has unambiguously condemned sola scriptura..
b. You can't simply redefine what "church" is in order to weasel out of her authority.

4. Scripture without the Church is a fish out of water - it simply doesn't work.

Hope this made some sense...


undergroundlogician said...

I'm highlighting what you said in the following because I find them particularly useful:

If God DID only keep the Bible from error, and let other things (like His bride, and the entirety of Christianity for 1500 years) slip in to error, we'd certainly have no way of knowing. Since anyone who claimed "only the bible is infallible" could themselves by their own statement be wrong (and of course they are).

"And I shall compile this and 72 errr 65 other books into one book and ye shall test everything by this collection of Holy Scriptures which alone shall be called infallible. Question ye not that it was compiled by ordinary men for their so called "Church" shall falleth by the wayside into apostasy shortly after they compileth it. But lo, I shall send a new hero like them of old. A man filled with the Holy Spirit. They shall call him Luther. He will correct all the errors of thy ways.. for a short while.. And then he too shall erreth on many things so I shall send another named Calvin... And he shall teach many.. But I will send more and more until enough schism reveals the truth. Then you shall know my true Church."

I really liked the above statements, especially the mock scripture..."and LO," ROFL!!!!!

Your insights released a flood of thoughts. I agree with you about trying to explain this fallacy to a Protestant: it is of no avail; they have no formal logic training and they may even demonize logic as some of the Protestant Revolters did. They really don't care if it is, or they'll make a a similar counter claim that the RCC is Sola Ecclesia for the same reasons. How absurd.

I have a dear friend named Romy who gave me a pointer a long time ago that came to my mind while reading your post. He said, "If you can ask them a question that causes them to get confused and bogged down, you will have accomplished something. If they deviate from the question, keep on them with the same question until they fold. Or if they insist to not answer the question, ask if they are conceding the argument. The two most damaging questions you could ask them is:

'Since scripture is the only infallible authority, tell me, where does the Bible directly condemn Catholicism or directly promote your denomination? And, if it does not and the your condemnation of Catholicism and promotion of your denomination is not in Scripture, and if according to your definition of Sola Scriptura, your pronouncements against Catholicism or for your denomination could never be infallible, then where is the error in your presentation so that we may avoid it?'"

They'll never admit to error, for they have this idea that ideas and thoughts from scripture are true. They have an inconsistant idea of what infallibility is.

This is a great post. I found it very helpful. I think talking about this difficult subject and parsing out all it's quirks helps formulate an effective response.

Gretchen said...

Even when I was an evangelical I had a hard time believing in sola scriptura. If you read the Bible a lot (and I did) you either have to grapple with that doctrine or ignore what doesn't jive. I got tired of ignoring.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Underground - I'm glad it was of some use!

Gretchen - I know exactly what you mean, which is why I really have a hard time understanding Protestants who defend this belief.

undergroundlogician said...

Just so that you know, I'll be on Relevant Radio this Friday on the Drew Mariani Show. He's on from 3-6 pm CDT, but I'm not sure what time slot he'll have me. I'll let you know when exactly if you're interested.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Yea I'd be interested to hear it! Do they have a webcast?

Kenny Pearce said...

So, I don't want to say that you are distorting the Protestant view here, because I think some Protestants probably believe the very thing you are saying (you can find somebody who believes just about anything), but, firstly, I don't think you are working with the most plausible form of the doctrine. Secondly, most of your argument is spent refuting an argument which most Protestants would probably not use (at any rate I would never use such a ridiculous argument - but maybe that's because I spend a lot of time studying philosophy). Thirdly, you are assuming a very specific account of what the Church is, that would need both Biblical and historical arguments to back it up (if, for instance, we assume that the Eastern Orthodox Church is either identical with or a proper part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, then your argument will at least become much more difficult).

Your post is long enough that I'm not going to bother trying to answer every point of it, but I will try to support my three points:

Point 1: It is absolutley the case that a lesser authority can (epistemically) establish a greater authority. So a Protestant can still claim (and I do claim!) that it is by the tradition of the Church that we identify which books belong to the canon. Imagine the case where you know some person, Alice, who is an authority on some subject - say, economics. Everything Alice has ever told you about economics that you were able to independently verify has turned out right. Furthermore, you, a business owner, have put some things she has said which you couldn't verify by consulting some other source into practice and they've always panned out. Now imagine that nearly every time Alice tells you anything about economics, she begins it by saying, "Bob told me that..." Furthermore, on some occasions when she hasn't said that, upon pressing her or doing some independent investigation, you find that Bob said these things too. You will rightly conclude from your belief that Alice knows about economics that Bob knows more about economics than Alice, i.e. that Bob is a more authoritative source than Alice. Virtually every serious contender to be (part of) the true Church agrees that Scripture is inerrant and, all the way back to the earliest extra-Biblical Christian writings, the Church has appealed to the Scripture to support its positions. Furthermore, no one thinks that the Scripture derives its authority from the Church: rather, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox agree, the Church testifies to the Scripture.

Now, you've already got a uniqueness clause here. You think that all and only Scripture is God-breathed. You only need one further thing to make this a sola scriptura principle by my definition: you would have to say that it is more certain that the Scripture is inerrant (and that we have the correct canon) than that any particular hierarchy or organization is (part of) the true Church and, therefore, in those cases where the Scripture is clear, we should judge which church(es) is (are) the true one(s) on the basis of Scripture. Then you would be making the Church subject to the authority of Scripture, which would make this a sola scriptura principle.

Point 2: Of course that argument is ridiculous. Did one of the reformers say that? If so, was it Luther? I'm not a big Martin Luther fan. I'm sure Calvin never said any such ridiculous thing, and Zwingli probably didn't either. I certainly never said any such ridiculous thing. Of course, somebody somewhere probably thinks its true, but I'm on your side: let's attempt to show them their error.

Point 3: You assume throughout your discussion that the Church of Rome is strictly identical with the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (OHCA), which is the most important point at issue here. As you and I discussed previously, one doesn't get to be the OHCA in virtue of having "Catholic" in one's name. Now, it is my position that the OHCA is a spiritual community (the communion of saints, which includes both the living and the dead) which is manifested in history in the form of particular local congregations. I invite you to state explicitly what you think the OHCA is, and what makes the Church of Rome strictly identical with it (I assume you take the Church of Rome not to be merely a proper part). I would also be interested in a defense of your claims from Scripture. This comment is already too long, so I wouldn't have space to do more than a little proof-texting in favor of my view, so I won't bother. If there is interest I can post a real argument on my blog.

Also, I would be interested if you (or any of your readers) had comments on any of the arguments from George Berkeley I posted recently on related issues. I was not focusing on the arguments against Catholicism, but you can see the basic ideas of some of them, and I still have the book so if you want more context for some of the quotes let me know.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

I replied here:

undergroundlogician said...


I agree with you that a only a minority use the mentioned definition of Sola Scriptura. However, your "lesser authority can establish a greater authority" view doesn't apply; it is a false analogy. Also, it doesn't prove what you say it proves.

You see, we Catholics identify in the Word of God Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture and make the distinction only as means of understanding them. The really work as a unity. Bob and Alice are two separate individuals, and Alice mimics Bob in the advice given to your fictitious businessman. That is not how it works between Scripture and Tradition. Tradition declared what the New Testament Canon was not because the Scripture already identified itself to it; there is no inspired table of contents to inform Tradition what the NT Canon was. They operate as a unity to become together the Word of God.

Scripture, the entrusted tradition of teaching in the Church, the teachings, parables and sacred actions of Christ, the liturgy, the epistles and gospels, all embody the Tradition, and it was the Church that finally declared once for all the full Canon of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.

However, the argument remains the same, for the issue at hand is what does infallibility refers to; it is the incapability of Church binding the universal Church to error. The fact that you mention inerrancy muddies the water. This is not an issue between Catholics and Protestants, but between liberal and conservative Protestants regarding the nature of Scripture.

Again, the issue here is what has final binding and infallible authority. Protestants say only Scripture, Catholics say the Word of God in Scripture and Tradition as taught by the Magesterium, which is the Ecumenical Councils and the Pope with all the Bishops united with him. Yes it is true the argument is altered when Orthodox are addressed, but they too would utterly reject Sola Scriptura, even as you have defined it. So including the Orthodox is moot.

All in all, though most Protestants see the authoritative value of Tradition, Scripture is still supreme in that it is the only infallible authority, which entails that error can be found in Church authority and tradition. Catholics do not see it this way. Your notion shows a false separation again between Tradition and Scripture. All that we are saying is that the unity between Scripture and Tradition implies that infallible scripture requires an infallible teacher.

Kenny said...

underground: Actually, I agree with your point about the unity of Scripture and tradition, as I was just discussing again on my blog. My analogy was intended to be to Scripture and the Church, not Scripture and tradition.

It is not the case that "infallible scripture requires an infallible teacher." Why would it?

undergroundlogician said...


I don't mind the distinctions you make, since there is no other way to discuss them. However, separating them in the manner that you do with Scripture as only infallible begs the question; you assume SS while attempting to prove it.

As to the need for an infallible teacher...remember, without an infallible teacher, we can understand revelation in a flawed manner, even distort it to our destruction. It does no good for us for the Scriptures alone to be infallible if we cannot believe in key doctrines for our salvation to which they refer.

According to justice, our faith needs an error free object in which to adhere. Otherwise, if the Gospel to which we cling contains error, we in fact are holding to that which is not true, which will have devastating effects on us, depending on the nature of the falsity. If the Holy Spirit will lead us (the Church) into all truth, it is for our benefit that he does so.

Take Arianism for instance. The Arians were no intellectual slouches. They quoted Scripture and the fathers. Given this, who was to say they were wrong?

Thank God for Nicea and Constantinople, not to mention ALL of the Councils. If Jesus is not Divine, then how does this superhuman become an exemplar for us if he does not possess our nature, or vice versa? How is his sacrifice even applicable to us? Where is the propitiation for our sins if He doesn't represent us? He, in essence doesn't represent us. And as the old adage goes, stemming from the early Christological debates, what God does not assume, he cannot heal.

Look, we both believe that God can inspire, with His Holy Spirit, fallible and sinful men to write Scripture. Infallibility, which is the ability to prevent the Church from being bound to error, is a lesser gift only in that we are being prevented from believing error; there is NO new revelation being produced by this gift. So, if God can move men to write Scripture, it is highly plausible that he can also prevent the entire Church from being formally bound to error.

Perhaps GFF can do a post on how Protestants separate (there it is again, this oft used tactic of separation) Christ from the visible Church.