Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Roman Catholicism: Scripture and Tradition

In Roman Catholicism there has been a development of the idea of tradition and what tradition means. The issue of tradition and what authority tradition has is the greatest issue in discussions with Roman Catholics. No RC argues that all they believe is found in the Bible. It doesn't have to be. Tradition is equal in authority with the Scriptures. This has not always been the case in RC thought, but it is certainly the case today. The argument is that the Divine Revelation was first given to the Apostles who then gave bishops "their own position of teaching authority. Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time." (RCC, p 25) Bishops are not apostles, but their authoritative teachings carry the same weight as the Apostles. Here are some quotes from the Roman Catholic Catechism that follow this discussion of apostolic succession:

"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture then are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal." (RCC, p. 26) Note that both of them have the same source.

"As a result the Church, to whom transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted [By the way I agree with this. PJ], does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence." (RCC, p. 26)

"It is clear therefore that, in the supreme wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the slavation of souls." (RCC, p. 29)

The problem, of course, is not tradition. We all have a tradition. To not listen to how the Holy Spirit has spoken to the Church through centuries is foolish. Most of American Protestant churches despise their rich heritage. Protestants should take their traditions more seriously. But all traditions, no matter whether ancient or new, must be held up to the light of Scripture. It is the only final, infallible authority.

A second problem with this perspective is that the RC's themselves do not have one great tradition passed down from the early days. Reading these quotes one would think that there is some clean line of teaching plainly visible from the early church. A quick study of church history shatters this image. The history of the Church is messy. At one time there were 23 popes in 60 years. At another point there were three popes at one time. Over the last two millenia there have been contradictions, lies, and deceit mixed with holiness, wisdom, and deep theological study. To argue for a tradition that does not exist is hard indeed.

Finally, the reformers argued that Rome had left the traditions of the Church. This was one of their chief arguments. The arguements of the reformers rested primarily on the Scriptures, but their knowledge of what the Church taught was extensive. All one has to do is look at Augustine in the index of Calvin's Institutes. They often declared that it was the RC's who had abandoned apostolic teaching and what the early church fathers taught.

Foundationally this is the issue with Roman Catholics. When we want to discuss a problem we start with the Bible. We may use other sources to strengthen our position, but in the end it must proven from the Scriptures or simply be accepted as man made. For RCs it does not begin and end with Scriptures. For further study of this issue I cannot recommend too highly Keith Mathison's book The Shape of Sola Scriptura. He does a great job of showing how this doctrine has grown since the days of the early church fathers.

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Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8