As we continue in our Sola Scriptura series we will continue to focus on common Roman Catholic arguments against Sola Scriptura. I gave a definition for Sola Scriptura in the previous two posts so I would encourage you to check those out before reading this one. Today we will engage a very common argument used by Roman Catholics that revolves around the early church fathers.
The Early Church and Sola Scriptura
Many Roman Catholic apologists will refer to the early church. They will claim that the early church was Roman Catholic. They say that all the early church fathers agree with them. We see this shown in the “Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent”. The fourth session of Trent says:
Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,—in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, —wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,—whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,—hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.
So, according to Rome we are to believe what they teach because their traditions are the “unanimous consent of the Fathers”. Vatican 1, chapter 2, point 9 says this:
In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret holy scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers.
The wording that these two councils use are easily defined and leave little wiggle room. As we will see later, these councils end up disproving themselves by claiming “unanimous consent”. Tim Staples is a well-known Catholic apologist. He speaks of being a former Protestant and this is what he said in an article on http://www.catholic.com entitled “According to Scripture”:
This bedrock Protestant teaching [Sola Scriptura] claims that Scripture alone is the sole rule of faith and morals for Christians. Diving deeper into its meaning to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism about twenty years ago, I found that there was no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors and no book I could read to get a better understanding of it.
One of Staples reasons for rejecting Sola Scriptura is because there was no “uniform understanding” of it among Protestants. Did you notice how similar Staple’s language is to the Councils of Trent and the First Vatican? When he says that there is no “uniform understanding” of Sola Scriptura among Protestants he implies that the Roman Catholic church provides uniformity or “unanimous consent”. Let’s investigate the early church on the subject of Sola Scriptura.
You can find a plethora of Catholic websites that will give you quote after quote from early church fathers that seem to go against Sola Scriptura. Here are a few from www.scripturecatholic.com:
[T]hey who are placed without the Church, cannot attain to any understanding of the divine word. For the ship exhibits a type of Church, the word of life placed and preached within which, they who are without, and lie near like barren and useless sands, cannot understand. –Hilary of Poitiers, On Matthew, Homily 13:1 (A.D. 355).
But beyond these [Scriptural] sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. –Athanasius, Four Letters to Serapion of Thmuis, 1:28 (A.D. 360).
It is the church which perfect truth perfects. The church of believers is great, and its bosom most ample; it embraces the fullness of the two Testaments. –Ephraem, Against Heresies (ante A.D. 373).
Now I accept no newer creed written for me by other men, nor do I venture to propound the outcome of my own intelligence, lest I make the words of true religion merely human words; but what I have been taught by the holy Fathers, that I announce to all who question me. In my Church the creed written by the holy Fathers in synod at Nicea is in use. –Basil, To the Church of Antioch, Epistle 140:2 (A.D. 373).
There you go! The early church fathers have spoken so the issue is settled. Mr. Staples is on safe ground with rejecting Sola Scriptura because all the early church fathers are “unanimous” and uniform in their rejection of Sola Scriptura right? Wrong. Let’s take a look at a few more quotes from some other early church fathers.
For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures. -Cyril of Jerusalem, A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1845), “The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril” Lecture 4.17.
The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth. -St. Athanasius, Against the Heathen, I:3, quoted in Carl A. Volz, Faith and Practice in the Early Church [Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983], p. 147.
What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if “all that is not of faith is sin” as the Apostle says, and “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin. -St. Basil the Great, Letter 189 [to Eustathius the physician], 3, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. VIII, p. 229.
What do these quotes mean? They mean that there is no “unanimous consent” of the early church fathers. There is no uniform understanding against Sola Scriptura. Even St. Basil, quoted in both blocks, didn’t give a consistent rebuttal to Sola Scriptura. Mr. Staples should not have been so quick to reject Sola Scriptura because he cannot give us a uniform witness against Sola Scriptura on the Roman Catholic side. Not only that, the Bible speaks about the Scriptures being God-breathed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. -ESV
It is clear from reading church fathers that they were not uniform on Sola Scriptura. However, the Bible is uniform. It never changes because it is “breathed out by God“. It is the Roman Catholic’s job to prove to us that their tradition is God-breathed. If they can’t then we have no reason to stand on their tradition because it is not uniform nor “unanimous”. Instead, as Cyril of Jerusalem said, “we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures”.
Thanks for reading.
As mentioned in the previous post there are two major groups that attack Sola Scriptura. Liberals tend to simply dismiss it on the basis of culture change and Roman Catholics need to deny it to uphold the Pope’s authority. This post will focus on the latter. Before we dive into the first common Catholic attack I want to first define Sola Scriptura. I will be using the same definition as the previous post because some people may not read the “Liberals vs. Sola Scriptura” article. Kenneth R. Samples gives this definition of Sola Scriptura in the Christian Research Journal:
Sola Scriptura- A Definition
By sola Scriptura Protestants mean that Scripture alone is the primary and absolute source for all doctrine and practice (faith and morals). Sola Scriptura implies several things. First, the Bible is a direct revelation from God. As such, it has divine authority. For what the Bible says, God says.
Sola Scriptura- The Sufficiency of Scripture
Second, the Bible is sufficient: it is all that is necessary for faith and practice. For Protestants “the Bible alone” means “the Bible only” is the final authority for our faith.
Sola Scriptura- The Authority of Scripture
Third, the Scriptures not only have sufficiency but they also possess final authority. They are the final court of appeal on all doctrinal and moral matters. However good they may be in giving guidance, all the fathers, Popes, and Councils are fallible. Only the Bible is infallible. – “What Think Ye of Rome?” from the Christian Research Journal DC170-3
With that definition fresh in our minds we will look the “oral tradition” argument against Sola Scriptura.
Oral Tradition is the “Word of God”
Oral tradition is the basis for many teachings in the Catholic church. Things like the Marian Doctrines, papal infallibility, veneration of icons, purgatory, and indulgences are all said to come from oral tradition. In order to assert this the Roman Catholic is forced to place these doctrines and dogmas on the same level as those taught in Scripture. That means that Scripture an oral tradition have the same weight of authority. In an article entitled “A Quick Ten-Step Refutation of Sola Scriptura”, Dave Armstrong writes this about oral tradition:
“When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13).
If we compare this passage with another, written to the same church, Paul appears to regard oral teaching and the word of God as synonymous:
“Keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thess. 3:6).
Paul is telling the Thessalonians to hold to the traditions that he taught them. What were these traditions? Well, Rome would have you believe that what they teach is what Paul taught. This brings up many difficult questions. #1 How could the church ever know what Paul actually taught when the church has never authoritatively defined a single word of any Apostle that isn’t found in Scripture? #2 Paul wrote extensively, as we see in Scripture, so why are the doctrines and dogmas taught by Rome absent from the copious amount of Paul’s writings?
These are questions that need to get answered but I have never heard a satisfactory answer to them. Along with those questions there is a text of Scripture that the Roman Catholic needs to address. Mark 7:8-13 says:
7:8 ‘Having no regard for the command of God, you hold fast to human tradition.’ 9 He also said to them, ‘You neatly reject the commandment of God in order to set up your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you would have received from me is corban’ (that is, a gift for God), 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.’ -NET
Here we see a very interesting interaction between Jesus and the religious authorities. The corban rule was a Jewish tradition that allowed people to give their funds to the temple instead of caring for their parents. In the Jewish culture “honoring your father and mother” meant more than simply respecting their opinions or correction. It was a life-long commitment to care for one’s parents in their old age. This meant that funds would go to caring for them when they could not earn a day’s wage. This rule was a tradition passed down and the jewish authorities claimed it was oral tradition. Well, Jesus corrects the religious teachers by telling them that they “nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”
Jesus admits that this tradition was handed down through the generations however, he gives us direction in how to test traditions. If a tradition nullifies the word of God then we are to reject it. So, if the Roman Catholic church teaches traditions no where found in Scripture or contradict Scripture then why should I be bound to their doctrines? Jesus wouldn’t have accepted them on the basis of his own teaching shown by his condemnation of the corban rule.
Follow Jesus by testing tradition by Scripture.
Thanks for reading.
A few days ago I posted “Purgatory” . I would encourage you to click the link to read that one before reading this one. In that post I defined purgatory and posted a video from one of the cross-examinations Dr. James White had with Dr. Peter Stravinskas. You can find that video here ——> “Who is the Blessed Man?”
Today I want to post another video from that same debate. The topic is 1 Corinthians 3 which, historically, was used by the Roman Catholic Church to defend the doctrine of purgatory. Here is the interaction:
As you can tell Stravinskas struggled in this cross-examination. I think the reason he struggled is why Roman Catholics struggle to defend most of their doctrines…they are not biblical.
It all comes down to two options:
Either you believe that the Roman Catholic Church has the authority to dictate what you believe: Sola Ecclesia
Or, you believe that the Bible has the authority to dictate what you believe: Sola Scriptura
Where are you placing your trust?