Monday, August 27, 2007

Sola Scriptura - No Divine Table of Contents

From a former evangelical turned Catholic (h/t Pro Ecclesia) -

Soli Scriptura Not Self-Evident, but Sacred Tradition is an Historic Fact

I will offer a legal objection to soli scriptura. In a court of law, a piece of paper is only considered a page of a contract, will, or mortgage if it is obviously such, that is, it must fit logically with the rest of the document by page numbers, reference, handwriting, notations, notarizations, etc. Collections of documents not obviously of the same source and time must be incorporated by reference or authenticated by someone who knows them, i.e., the secretary of state, the county clerk, the attorney of record, the treasurer of a corporation, or a council of bishops. The Bible is not a self-authenticating document; more specifically, what we call the New Testament was not given an official “table of contents” until the Council of Hippo in 393.

The Protestant doctrine of soli scriptura presupposes about the Bible what lawyers call res ipsa locquitur: “The thing speaks for itself.” The doctrine of res ipsa locquitur allows a court to lower the standard of proof for causation in extreme cases, such as a plane crash. If you are suing an airline for wrongful death after a plane crash, the court does not require you to prove every step of how the airline pilot or mechanic committed some error or negligent act because “the thing,” that is, the wreckage, “speaks for itself.”

If you ask a Protestant how he knows the thirty-nine books of the Protestant Old Testament and twenty-seven books of the New Testament are God’s Word, he will not likely give you a convincing answer because he will generally argue that the Bible is self-authenticating, or that it was self-evident to almost all Christians during the first five centuries of the Church as to which writings were divinely inspired, even though debate on the canon continued into the 6th century. However, if the New Testament were a contract or a will, it would require authentication to be valid under law. Soli scriptura cannot stand upon res ipsa locquitur. The Bible simply is not a self-defining collection of documents.
This is an excerpt from part 7 of his conversion story. I recommend giving the whole thing a read.


Joe said...

So, in other words, some human court has a right to deny the Almighty His right to speak in the way He sees fit?

When God first spoke those words "Let there be..." prior to anyone existing, who was there to declare that this indeed was the true Word of God under law and therefore may be permitted to go forth and produce that for which it was sent?

The Word of God may be self-authenticated because only God can reveal and authenticate Himself.

He revealed Himself through His prophets and apostles. He then authenticated these resultant writings through miraculous signs and wonders....

Hebrews 2:3-4

"how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by those who heard Him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with different kinds of miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?"

Confirmed "unto us" by "those who heard them." And just in case the apostles' bare word was not enough, "God also bearing witness."

Protestants believe in "God also bearing witness" wheras you would so no, it is illegal for God to do this and we must have a Pope to do this for us. We don't care that God confirmed it to the first Christians. He broke the law!!! To the magesterium for confirmation.

Isn't the Scripture quite clear?


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Joe - first of all, you should take your argument up with him not me.

Second of all - you might not want to take up any argument with him until you fully understand what he's saying which I don't think that you do.

Joe said...

Would you explain to me what it is that I don't understand?

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

If you're really interested to hear why I think that, I'll do my best - or at least a start:

you said: "So, in other words, some human court has a right to deny the Almighty His right to speak in the way He sees fit?"

I think this is entirely missing the point. He's not saying that god doesn't have the right to speak in a certain way. What happened is that God DIDN'T speak in a certain way to the issue at hand (the canon). We're saying - yes we all believe in the inerrancy of Scripture - but what is Scripture? How do we know? There is no divine table of contents. We know by the authority of the Church. Each individual book was written as a stand alone document at various times and by various authors. It would necessarily take an authoritative body to declare that they were all part of one collection - an infallible book.

I think you are setting up a false dichotomy - [you either believe in God or the pope] but the two aren't contradictory (or if they are, please demonstrate).

"The Word of God may be self-authenticated because only God can reveal and authenticate Himself."

It is true, it takes divinity to be infallible - it also takes infallibility to pronounce something infallible (with any credibility). So for example I can say "My blog is infallible" but it doesn't really work because I'm not infallible myself. Or I could say "the declaration of Independence is infallible" but again, the source is fallible so the statement could also be fallible.

From this, you have deduced that only God Himself (not working through any one or any thing) could be capable of authenticating Himself or an infallible collection of documents that He inspired. We again find ourselves at the definition of Church.

Church is the body of Christ - mystically united to our Lord as such and has therefore partaken of His divinity. The Church, as an institution, is divine in her authority in that she acts on behalf of her Master - Christ. Therefore it is perfectly valid and reasonable (in fact inevitable) that the Church and none other would declare the canon infallibly.

One cannot be certain of the infallibility of the canon without being certain of the infallibility of the institution which selected it.

The words of Scripture do not derive their authority by the Church - instead by her Lord - the Holy Spirit. We do not follow the Scriptures because the Church said - 'Follow them ' as Augustine says, we know the Scriptures because the Church said "here they are".

To say that the canon is self authenticating is but to expose one's own glorious lack of reasoning and or historical background. It is beyond dispute that even with the Church's infallible declarations on the subject, there have been and continue to be huge controversies over which books to include.

You say that the DC books are not inspired Scripture. I consider you a fallible source so your opinion on the subject holds no weight with me. The Church says they are inspired. You consider the Church a fallible source and therefore her opinion holds no weight with you. But which of us is more likely to be mistaken?

Thos said...

Okay, who knows how to conjugate in latin - "soli" scriptura? I'm just curious! I'm used to Loquitur. I love lawyers. He wasn't using a human court to judge the Bible's admissibility. Rather, he was implicitly observing that the underlying rationale used to safeguard courts from bogus documents is all the more appropriate when dealing with documents with such incredible binding moral force (I think).

japhy said...

joe, the issue at hand is: how do we know what IS canonical Scripture and what IS NOT?

The Bible did not fall from the sky pre-assembled, nor does it come with a Table of Contents. The authorship of many books is a later attribute given to them through Tradition. The nation of Israel put their sacred scriptures together over a period of time, and the Christians had to as well. The letters of Paul weren't lumped together with the Jewish Scripture as soon as he'd finished dictating them. It took time for the early Church to distinguish inspired Scripture from well-meaning but non-inspired Christian literature.

The Catholic Church recognizes the 73 books as "sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, not simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the Church" (Dei Verbum c. 2, no. 7).

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Thos - Yea I wasn't sure what to make of that either. I just copied and pasted. Maybe a Latin expert can fill us in? Phil? Where are ya?

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Japhy - I need to memorize that quote from Dei Verbum. I wish that were required reading at all Jesuit seminaries and RCIAs around the country.

Thos said...

My wife said "soli" is singular whereas sola is plural, to match the plural "scriptura". He may have been finger-jabbing the eye of Protestantism for treating the Bible is a singular of divine text vice plural of divine texts...

Just a theory. To answer my own stupid question.

Tertium Quid said...

I am not smart enough to deliberately misspell a Latin word, though I am amused by the tempest I seem to have caused. As my daughter studies Latin, I promise that mine will improve at a rate 5% to 25% as fast as her abilities.