Closer Than We Think: Catholic Prima Scriptura in Relation to Protestant Sola Scriptura: The Bible First though Not Alone

Go to the Beginning of this Book Sola Scriptura or Prima Scriptura? (The Bible Alone or the Bible First?) – What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning the Church as the Body of Christ Expressing Himself in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: The Biblical Basis for the Early Church’s Formal Repudiation of Heretics, Which Is the Biblical Basis for Refuting Modern Doctrinally Liberal Christianity Which Likewise Rejects or Doubts Traditional Christian Faith and Morality

Closer Than We Think: Catholic Prima Scriptura in Relation to Protestant Sola Scriptura:  The Bible First though Not Alone (The Bible First, Supported by the Living Tradition and Living Magisterium of the Living Body of Christ the Church which Guards the Apostolic Interpretation of the Bible Through All the Challenges of History)

Before going into how the Scriptural testimony is typically used by chu rches (Protestant or Catholic) and discussing that testimony in detail, which is the bulk of this essay, is worth emphasizing that both Catholic and Protestant Christians today consider the Bible as the center of their Christian faith.  Catholic theologians (including cardinals and popes) would affirm Prima Scriptura instead of Sola Scriptura the Bible first or primarily, though not alone. It is true that the Catholic Church considers that the Bible’s authority derives from it being the product of the living Body of Christ, the Church, which came first, the Church being the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15) which first produced, and later collected and canonized the New Testament (and the Old Testament version used by the Apostles).  But since then, as the permanent written record of the early laying down of the Apostolic Deposit of Faith in Scripture and Tradition, the Bible today has a primacy over both Tradition and the Magisterium, which both serve Scripture.  Scripture is the supreme norm for the Catholic Christian faith, the norma normans non-normata (the norm which norms other norms, but is not itself normed) because Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium cannot change the text of the Scripture one iota, but the Scripture sets the boundaries within which Sacred Tradition can be lived and interpreted by the Magisterium.  Several important Catholic theologians including the late Cardinal Congar have even proposed a theory of the “material sufficiency” of Scripture alone (as opposed to the “formal sufficiency” taught by Protestants), a kind of Catholic version of Sola Scriptura which says the entirety of the Christian faith is in the Bible whether explicitly or implicitly, still requiring the Church, as the living Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ with her Living Tradition and Living Magisterium to make explicit what is implicit in the Bible and to make certain the fundamental Christian doctrines (Trinity, Incarnation, etc) which are otherwise only possible interpretations of the Scripture alone (which early heretics and modern liberal Protestants reject, preferring different possible interpretations of the Scripture Alone to the (Sacred) traditional fundamental Bible interpretations declared by the Early Catholic Magisterium).

While the Living Catholic Church Magisterium has not officially judged on the material sufficiencyof the Scripture alone, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) has proposed the “practical sufficiency” of the Scripture alone.  The Bible alone is practically sufficient for knowing the entirety of the Christian faith, because the Bible alone points beyond itself to the Church as the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), with its authoritative Sacred Tradition and Magisterium (teaching office) which are needed for a consistent and orthodox fundamental interpretation the Bible throughout all ages of history (many of the Scripture verses testifying to this will be considered in this essay).  In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) even describes the entirety of Catholic Christian faith in reference to the Bible, saying that dogma is nothing other than the Churchs interpretation of Scripture. That is, dogma, which is the articles of Catholic Christian faith which good Catholic Christians must believe (which are mostly the fundamentals conservative Protestant Christians agree with), is nothing more than the official interpretation of the Bible of the Church (with her interpretative Tradition and Magisterial/Teaching office) as the living Body of Christ Himself, united to Christ as a Body to its Head and animated by His Holy Spirit, which makes the Church the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) but in relation to the Bible.

The Catholic Church teaches that Scripture has preeminence over the Tradition and Magisterium which necessarily support its proper interpretation because Scripture is uniquely inspired. While the living Tradition and Magisterium are considered infallible because the same Holy Spirit which inspired the Scriptures grants a “negative assistance” of protection from dogmatic or moral error when officially/dogmatically interpreting the Scriptures so they can be properly comprehended in successive ages of history with their various challenges to traditional Christian faith, only the Scriptures are the actual words of God (spoken through the instrumentality of the human authors).  This is why only Sacred Scripture is read within the Divine Liturgy (Eastern term) or Holy Mass (Western term) when Catholic Christians gather to worship the Triune God, and not the Early Christian documents which are Monuments of Tradition nor official magisterial documents of the teaching Church.  More than merely infallible, Sacred Scripture is inspired and therefore inerrant in all it intentionally affirms. [1]

I think Protestant Christians will be very interested to know that they are closer to Catholic Christians than they usually think, because the Catholic Church also bases its faith primarily on the uniquely inspired Bible and its interpretation.  Of course, the distinction is that Protestantism says that more than being practically sufficient or possibly “materially sufficient,” the Scripture Alone is actually “formally sufficient,” completely sufficient of itself and thus the Church has no authority to officially interpret the Bible in a way that is binding upon all Christians.  But this in practice leaves Protestant Christians having to interpret the Bible on their own, without the guidance of an authoritative interpretive Tradition nor an authoritative Magisterium for settling Christian disputes over interpretation which is the very fact which has resulted in the 35,000 distinct Protestant denominations today, including a great many which are no longer convinced of traditional Christian fundamentals precisely because they do not feel bound to fundamentally interpret the Bible in the way the early Catholic Church did which became the standard of Christian orthodoxy.”

© 2003, 2006, 2011 Peter William John Baptiste, SFO

Go To the Next Section How Scriptural Testimony is Used:  Finding Biblical Principles

Go to the Beginning of this Book Sola Scriptura or Prima Scriptura? (The Bible Alone or the Bible First?) – What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning the Church as the Body of Christ Expressing Himself in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: The Biblical Basis for the Early Church’s Formal Repudiation of Heretics, Which Is the Biblical Basis for Refuting Modern Doctrinally Liberal Christianity Which Likewise Rejects or Doubts Traditional Christian Faith and Morality

Endnotes

[1] Many critics of the Bible accuse the Bible of making errors in science.  Though Scripture may occasionally incidentally use scientific terms common to the period in which it was written which were necessary for the original readers comprehension, in such cases the Scripture, a religious text, no more intends to affirm a scientific truth than a newspaper which declares what time the sunrise will be intends to affirm that the sun moves around the Earth and is therefore said to rise. The pre-Copernican terms of sunrise and sunset remain in common usage although they do not describe the well-known scientific reality.  This is not an error.

 

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