Monday, January 12, 2009

The Church & The Bible

Which has primacy the Bible or the Church? No one outside the Church can properly answer this question.

It seems to me that there are two senses in which to examine the question of primacy here: first, of chronology and second of inspiration.

Speaking chronologically, of course the Church has primacy over the Bible since the Church began before the last 27 books were written and long before the canon was even an idea. More important to note that it was the Church who produced both the New Testament and the canon. God gave us Scriptures through the Church and it is precisely in this context that they belong. In fact, the Bible doesn't truly make sense outside this context. Andrew Preslar, whose post I cannot find, wrote that the Church speaks of the Scriptures as something proper to her nature - they belong to her.

Speaking of inspiration on the other hand, I believe there is a certain primacy of the Scriptures over the Church; that is, sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. These three are equally infallible, we already know, but if things are equal in one respect, it does not follow that there can be no primacy. The Godhead, we know, consists of three equal persons yet the Son proceeds from the Father and the Holy Spirit from the Father and Son. Likewise, I believe it is correct to say that as far as divine inspiration goes, there is a certain primacy of the Scriptures. When the Church speaks authoritatively and infallibly, she speaks with just as few errors as the Scriptures do (zero) yet she does not speak as the Scriptures (God breathed). That is, when the Church pronounces infallibly (even ex cathedra) it is not the precise equivalent of Scripture. In this sense, I think it is right to hold a primacy of the Scriptures.

I am certainly open to correction. Actually, funny thing, I dreamed this post nearly in its entirety.


Amy said...

I think you're creating a division between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition that doesn't exist. The reason we know that the books contained in the Bible are inspired (literally "God-breathed") is partly because they are in line with Sacred Tradition. Tradition gave birth to the Scriptures, so the Scriptures are interpreted in the light of that Tradition, with the Magisterium serving as guide and arbiter of Truth.

Andrew Preslar said...

Amy, I seem to be missing the bit where Tim creates a division between Scripture and Tradition. Could you clarify?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Some bias here, no doubt, but I think I'm gonna have to side with Andrew. I'm not convinced that I'm creating a division between the two.

Andrew, it's funny - in my dream I linked to your post that you made a little under a year ago I guess? You still have that lying around somewhere?

samurfer said...

Amy, your description sounds an awful lot like the Blessed Trinity, itself.

I think what she meant was that Scripture cannot be separated from the Tradition, because it is a subset of the larger grouping of Tradition, rather than a separate category to be considered in a different light.

Amy said...

Amy, I seem to be missing the bit where Tim creates a division between Scripture and Tradition. Could you clarify?

Andrew and Tim, samurfer clarified it pretty well, I think :)

I believe there is a certain primacy of the Scriptures over the Church; that is, sacred Tradition and the Magisterium

Sacred Scripture can't be given primacy over the Magisterium or Sacred Tradition, since they are the lens through which we view the Scriptures. The three taken together provide the foundation for the Church.

To say that of the three, only Scripture is inspired, or God-breathed, is to say that the Holy Spirit isn't really guiding the Church.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Amy, there has to be some uniqueness to Scripture, some distinction.

But neither of you have shown that I have created a division between Sacred Scripture & Tradition. If by division you mean distinction, then I'm guilty as charged. But distinction here is not necessarily error. In fact, non distinction would be an error just as in the Trinity (it's called Modalism).

Point 1. Scripture is unique in some regard

Point 2. In addition to its inherent written nature, it's the only one I know of to have been referred to as "God Breathed". If you can show contradictory evidence, I will concede this point.

Point 3. I still believe it is right to hold a primacy of the Scriptures. This is not sola scriptura or a version of it. The Reformation's error wasn't to hold a primacy of Scripture, it was in denying the infallibility of the magisterium and sacred Tradition (which I obviously do not).

Providentissimus Deus says "the divine and infallible magisterium of the Church rests also on the authority of Holy Scripture". I don't think reading some manner of primacy into that quote is a stretch. There's a primacy of some sort.

But to reiterate, primacy doesn't mean superiority. It means priority. The Church is not subordinate to the Scriptures.

Again Humani Generis says: "In all this confusion of opinion it is consolation to Us to see former adherents of rationalism today frequently desiring to return to the fountain of divinely communicated truth, and to acknowledge and profess the word of God as contained in Sacred Scripture as the foundation of religious teaching."

I also noticed in that encyclical that Scripture is always listed first when paired with Tradition. I imagine this is not an anomaly.

Other than your explicit contradiction of what I've said, I agree with everything you said.

Chris Hoyt said...

I must also say that I don't feel there is a distinction between scripture and tradition, or at least shouldn't be. It is true the Church existed before Scripture. But Christ's claim as the Messiah is FROM Scripture which came before Him. (Before His physical on earth anyway)

And of course, the reason Scripture existed before Christ was because of the authority given to it directly through the prophets and miracles of YHWH, taking us back to in the beginning...

Any who, I understand the purpose of the intellectual division for the sake of argument, but is may be the mistake of accepting a poor premise.

Scripture comes from tradition, and tradition comes from Scripture. To divide the two is insanity.

However, your article is still a very necessary thought process, and any argument from me is just a matter of semantics anyway :)

God Bless!

Josh McManaway said...

Speaking to the first part of your post, Scott Hahn's article in "Canon and Bible Interpretation (Scripture and Hermeneutics Series, Vol 7)" (published by Zondervan) really highlights just how canonicity arises. The Canon of Scripture comes from the Church's liturgical use of Scripture. As such, the Church becomes the primary medium for exegesis (not classrooms...gasp). The argument I would draw from that is that interpretation outside of the liturgy (i.e. outside of the Church's life, Tradition, etc) is going to be flawed because it removes Scripture from its appropriate context.

Thanks for the interesting post.

Andrew Preslar said...

Dreaming in posts is one sign of too much blogging. I cannot remember what post of mine you are referring to- probably rests in a graveyard of buried blogs.

The Catholic Church unequivocally teaches that Sacred Scripture is the inspired Word of God written and as such is distinct, though not isolated from, every other deliverance of Holy Tradition. That is the distinction that Tim is making. The rest of you are making some good points but talking past the point that Tim originally made, which was, as he carefully indicated, analytic.

Andrew Preslar said...

Tim, I remembered what you were referring to. The Church knows Sacred Scripture in a unique way, one that transcends (while not excluding) purely rational exegesis, much as the spirit of a man knows the things of a man without needing recourse to demonstrative argument (e.g., I do not need an argument to know when I am in pain, or happy, etc).

This privileged insight into Scripture belongs to the Church by virtue of being the Mystical Body of Christ. The Scriptures are about Christ, they contain the things pertaining to Christ, ergo, the Body of Christ knows Scripture in an immediate and intuitive manner, although she expresses that knowledge gradually, over time, in a succession of devotions and decrees and documents and writings and so forth which constitute the material of Holy Tradition.

The intrinsic nature of the relationship of Church to Scripture explains the fact that the authority of the decrees of the Church concerning the meaning of Scripture is not based upon the rational argumentation employeed in those decrees, but is grounded upon the being of the Church herself.

As to the uniqueness of Scripture:

(from Dei Verbum, III, 11)

11. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.

Sacred Scripture has certain unique properties, many of which are mentioned in the above citation, properties not predicated of anything else, whether counciliar or papal decrees or deliverances of the ordinary Magisterium, and these are what render Scripture distinct with respect to the whole of Tradition. I think that Tim, in the penultimate paragraph of his post, has nicely traced out some of the significance of these distinctions.