Showing posts with label Tradition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tradition. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

It’s Iimi! A Question of Authority

Once more, Kismetta has questions for Iimi. But they’re not so much aimed at “debunking” Christianity as it is asking to learn about Christianity. Iimi needs to tread carefully because how she replies could permanently affect how Kismetta accepts the Church’s answer to… A Question of Authority.

Post Comic notes:


For those curious about the dialogue Sumeja is hearing on the other end, this is the Google Translation of Page 2, panel 1:

Voice (Zara): من هذا عزيزي؟  (min hadh eazizi?)

(Who is this, dear?)


Bahrudin: أنا أتحدث إلى سوميجا ، الزوجة الأولى ، عزيزتي  ('ana 'atahadath 'iilaa Sumija, alzawjat al'uwlaa , eazizati)

 (I am speaking to Sumeja, the first wife, dear)


Zara:  لماذا اتصلت متأخرا جدا؟  أليس بعد اثنتي عشرة ساعة هناك؟  (limadha atasalat muta'akhiran jidana? 'alays baed aithnatay eashrat saeatan hunaka?)

(Why is she calling so late? isn’t it twelve hours later there?)


I wrote in English and translated into Arabic. I’m sure a speaker of Arabic would find all sorts of problems with the translation.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Catholic “ME-gesterium” Pitfall

One of the popular citations used against Pope Francis (or Vatican II) comes from St. Vincent of Lerins, on defining what is Catholic:

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

Commitorium, Chapter 2, §6

The definition is true in itself. The Catholic Faith is consistently taught from generation to generation. No faithful Catholic would deny it. The witness of the Apostles and their successors is constant, and someone who taught otherwise (St. Vincent was writing against the novelties of Donatists and Arians) was identified as heretical when they contradicted this ancient Faith.

The problem with the modern citation of this ancient writing (written AD 434) is it overlooks the legitimate development of doctrine. As St. John Paul II wrote in Ecclesia Dei, #4:

The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, "comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth".(5)

But especially contradictory is a notion of Tradition which opposes the universal Magisterium of the Church possessed by the Bishop of Rome and the Body of Bishops. It is impossible to remain faithful to the Tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond with him to whom, in the person of the Apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church.(6)

The problem with the current attacks on the legitimate development of the Church teaching is that the critics use St. Vincent of Lerins falsely. They look to what the Church Fathers and Medieval Theologians said about a topic and compare it with what the Church says today. But they confuse what the Church Fathers wrote with what they think the Church Fathers mean, not understanding the context of the writing.

Here’s an example. I have encountered some Feeneyite leaning Catholics who argued that non-Catholics necessarily go to Hell because Pope Boniface VIII wrote, in the Bull Unam Sanctam: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Since non-Catholics aren’t subject to the Pope, these Catholics argue that non-Catholics cannot be saved.

The problem is, the context of Unam Sanctam was not written about those outside of the Church. It was about King Philip the Fair, of France, demanding that the French clergy put obedience to him before obedience to the Pope. Pope Boniface was teaching that no secular ruler could claim a higher authority over the Church. That doesn’t mean that one can refuse obedience to the Pope. It means that these Catholics were misapplying a teaching in a way that was never intended. Whatever “contradiction” they think they saw with later teaching, it was never intended by the original teaching.

This is a growing problem with the Church today. Faithful Catholics are not wrong to study the writing of the Saints and Doctors of the Church. But if they rely on their own “plain sense” reading without considering subsequent development on how it is applied, they risk deceiving themselves into making themselves into what I call a “ME-gesterium,” where they pass judgment on Church teaching on the grounds that what the Church teaches doesn’t match with their personal interpretation.

I think Blessed John Cardinal Newman’s words about converts who left the Catholic Church again applies to this mindset as well:

I will take one more instance. A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.

An Essay in Aid to a Grammar of Assent, page 240

In the case of the “ME-gesterium” Catholic, he or she probably remains in the Church, but considers any future development of the Faith to be “error” that needs to be overturned.

The Church is infallible in teaching ex cathedra in a special way. But the protection of the Church also falls on the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church—which is the normal way the Church teaches [§]. As Ven. Pius XII put it (Humani Generis #20):

20. Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.

Likewise, Lumen Gentium 25 tells us:

25. Among the principal duties of bishops the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock. Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

This is confirmed in Canon 752:

can. 752† Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

Notice that the Church consistently teaches that even the ordinary magisterium is binding on the faithful. This undercuts the common claim that whatever is of the ordinary magisterium is merely opinion that is liable to error.

The “ME-gesterium” has a dangerous pitfall: it assumes that the individual can clearly understand the past writing of the Church but the Pope and bishops in communion with him do not. It assumes that the individual cannot err but the Pope can if his teaching goes against their understanding. It assumes that every teacher past and present speaks and reasons as a 21st century American so a grasp of history (ecclesiastical and secular) and culture is not needed to understand the full import of past teachings in the context of today.

Ultimately, the danger of the ME-gesterium is pride. The individual thinks they cannot err, but the Church can. In claiming to defend the Church from “heresy,” they take the first step towards it: denying the authority of the Church to determine the proper interpretation of the timeless teachings to meet the moral concerns of today. 

If we want to be faithful Catholics, let us recognize that God protects His Church. Not all Popes or bishops have been saints. Some were bad men. But God protected the Church from error in the worst of times. That protection exists now and until the consummation of the world (Matthew 28:20). If we do not believe that, we should recognize it as a warning sign that our own faith is in danger.


[§] Most ex cathedra teachings were made to combat heresies which refused to obey the Ordinary Magisterium.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sola Scriptura and The Law of Non-Contradiction

It is impossible for the same thing to belong and not to belong at the same time to the same thing and in the same respect

—Aristotle’s definition of Non-Contradiction (Metaph. IV 3 1005b19–20)

Preliminary Remarks

I do not write this article as an "in your face" attack on Protestantism seeking to show Catholic "superiority."  Rather, in light of anti-Catholic attacks which accuse us of rejecting the Bible, I wish to give an apologia as to why Catholics cannot accept the concept of Sola Scriptura as anything more than a human invention.  The focus of this article is on the contradictory nature of the claim.

I don't pretend to be making a new discovery here.  Others have written on the subject with far more insight and clarity than I.  I do hope that the reader will not take offense in my choice of words.  I do not intend to be uncharitable here, but we all have our blind spots and not realize that a choice of phrasing which may seem harmless may unintentionally offend.  If any find such comments here hurtful, I offer my apologies in advance for my blind spots.

I recognize non-Catholics coming to this site will doubtlessly disagree with me.  However, comments which are uncivil will not be approved for posting (it's a nice feature totally lacking from my days on Xanga).  Polite comments disagreeing with me are welcome.  Vitriol is not.


One thing which can cause acrimony between Catholics and Protestants is the issue of authority.  To certain Protestants, the Catholic Church is viewed as having made claims of herself without cause.  Such Protestants point to the Bible and say that because the Catholic teaching goes against the “Plain Sense” of Scripture, it “proves” the Catholic Church is wrong.

Of course, the Catholic can easily respond by asking “Plain Sense according to whom?”

This is ultimately the Catholic objection to Protestant challenges — not the authority of the Bible, but the authority of one to interpret it in a way binding on us.  After all, a person who is claiming to know Scripture better than Catholics is claiming to be an authority in interpreting it, and we want to know the grounds of such a claim.

If we recognize that any Bible quoting between Catholic and Protestant is going to be nothing more than “quote slinging,” without a mutually recognized authority who can arbitrate between conflicting interpretations, we can look at the issue of authority behind any invoking of the Bible alone.

There are essentially two issues which need to be dealt with:

  1. The authority of the claim “The Bible alone” itself.
  2. The assumption that there is a “plain sense” apparent to all.

This article will look at the first of these issues and why the Catholic does not accept the concept of Sola Scriptura on grounds of authority.

A Caveat: Authority of Scripture ≠ Sola Scriptura

Before we begin, I think we do need to distinguish between holding the doctrine of Sola Scriptura strictly and believing in Scripture as authoritative.  They are two different things, but sometimes people think the rejection of Sola Scriptura is the rejection of Scripture.

This would be false.  Catholics accept Scripture as Divine Revelation.  What we do not accept in Sola Scriptura is the Sola (alone).  We do not believe God ever intended that Scripture alone is the rule of faith and do not believe the Bible teaches thus.

So do not accuse us of denying the authority of Scripture just because we deny Sola Scriptura.

However, this does lead us to a question which Catholic Apologists ask and I understand many Protestants hate.

Why Do Catholics Always Ask That?

Where does the Bible teach, “The Bible Alone?”

I know this question tends to annoy the person who believes in Sola Scriptura.  It feels like a cheap trick to some.  Others seem to think it is a Straw Man argument to misrepresent what Sola Scriptura really means.

However this isn’t the case.  Perhaps the question could be asked in a more delicate way.  When it comes down to it though, the question reflects the problem Catholics have with the authority of the claim.  If the Bible alone is authoritative, Catholics want to know the basis of such a belief.

Let’s start with the basic premise of this belief: Sola Scriptura holds the Bible is the sole binding rule of faith (remembering that different people may hold to different degrees of this). 

Article Six of the Anglican Thirty Nine Articles describes the concept as such:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

Other works may be useful, but are never necessary and certainly not binding (See Article 6 on the Deuterocanonical works).  Often Sola Scriptura is used to deny the authority of Tradition or a Church — especially in disagreeing with Catholic beliefs.  If Church teaching does not meet the personal reading of the Bible, the Bible is set in opposition to the Church.  Since the Bible is accepted as inspired, the believer in Sola Scriptura reasons the Church must err.

There are many problems with such reasoning.  For openers, it ignores the question of how do we know the person appealing to the Bible does not err in their interpretation.  (We will discuss this next time — but I want to make the issue known now).

The second problem is a dilemma: The appeal to Scripture alone cuts both ways if we are going to be logically consistent (and avoid the accusation of Christians being illogical).  People who appeal to Sola Scriptura to reject things outside of Scripture as authoritative have to accept that this rejection means that only that which is within Scripture can be used to justify their belief.   Therefore either Sola Scriptura is explicitly in Scripture or it is to be rejected.

Why the Question is Important

If Sola Scriptura is to be accepted, we have to decide whether the proof for it is within the Bible or outside of the Bible.  Why?  If the source of Sola Scriptura is outside the Bible, then an appeal to Scripture alone is a self-contradiction.  It is only if the Bible itself teaches Sola Scriptura plainly and without dispute that one can say Sola Scriptura is a “Biblical” teaching.

The Issues Catholics have with Sola Scriptura

So what are the possible answers to the question on where the proof is for Sola Scriptura?   There are three which can be considered: It can depend on interpretation, depend on an authoritative teacher or is so plainly and indisputably in the Bible that nobody can deny it.

So let’s look at these possible answers.

1.       If the proof for Sola Scriptura is within the Bible, but depends on a certain interpretation of verses to be held by all believers in order to see it, then it is dependent on Sacred Tradition, and therefore Sola Scriptura cannot be true.

2.       If this proof is not within the Bible, then Sola Scriptura requires reference to some teacher outside of Scripture which has the authority to interpret Scripture definitively (A Magisterium), and therefore cannot be true.

3.       If the proof for Sola Scriptura is clearly within the Bible, as some claim, it needs to be plainly apparent to all.  Otherwise it isn’t clearly within the Bible, which would make it depending on Sacred Tradition or a Magisterium to draw out that meaning and therefore the concept contradicts itself (See 1 and 2).

Therefore, if Sola Scriptura can’t be proven by the plain sense of Scripture alone, it can be rejected as a self-contradiction.  In other words, if we don’t have Sola Scriptura plainly in the Bible, it requires an authoritative Tradition or Magisterium to justify it, and Catholics have the right to ask: “Says who?”

The Dilemma

Since Sola Scriptura is an appeal to Scripture as the sole rule of faith, denying the authority of Sacred Tradition and Magisterium, then it follows that to be valid; Sola Scriptura must be plainly taught in Scripture or else it depends on something outside of Scripture and is therefore self-contradictory.

After all, considering that one of the reasons for rejecting Catholic teachings is that (it is alleged) some of their teachings are not plainly taught in Scripture; it would certainly be ironic for the concept of Sola Scriptura not to be taught plainly.

Quite frankly, if someone demands of us that we prove our beliefs by Scripture alone, we have the right to demand the same of them when it comes to Sola Scriptura.

These Objections Do NOT Mean Catholics Deny the Authority of Scripture

As I said above, the rejection of Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean we deny the authority of Scripture.  I pointed out in my last article that Catholics accept the authority of Scripture as being given us by God and being free from error.

We merely deny the authority of men to tell us, without proof of their authority, that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is binding and therefore our Church is in error.  This is the purpose of this question "Where does the Bible teach Sola Scriptura?"  If we are condemned for our beliefs, Catholics have a right to insist the authority under which this accusation is made is clearly demonstrated.

The individual reading the Bible on his own or her own does not have any such authority.

On the Scriptures Used to Support Sola Scriptura

So let us move on to the Scriptures most commonly cited to defend Sola Scriptura and to attack the Catholic Church.

While I can’t point out every possible verse someone might want to throw at me (the concept of personal interpretation makes it impossible to anticipate how someone or some denomination might interpret any given Bible verse), there are a certain set of Scriptures which are commonly used to claim that the Bible alone is authoritative and that Sacred Tradition does not exist.

We can divide them into two groups.

·         Those which are used to claim Sola Scriptura: Matthew 5:17-18, John 20:31, Acts 17:11 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17

·         Those which are used to deny Sacred Tradition: Matthew 15:3 and 6-9, Colossians 2:8

Catholics do not deny these verses.  Nor do we ignore them.  Instead, we deny that they are used properly when used to attack the Catholic faith.

PART I: Scripture invoked to justify Sola Scriptura

The problem Catholics have with the first set of verses is, while they speak highly of the use of Scripture, they do not in any instance hold that only Scripture is authoritative or inspired. 

Matthew 5:17-18 reads:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  18 Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.

The common argument is that Scripture is inviolate and these verses prove it.  Catholics do agree that Scripture is inviolate.  The problem is we have never denied this and we would reject the accusation that the Catholic teaching does deny it.  The problem is, these verses don't say anything to justify Scripture alone as being authoritative.

John 20:31 reads:

31 But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

The citation is used to indicate the authority of Scripture — Which Catholics don't deny.

The problem is the same as above: these verses attest to the purpose of the writing of the Gospel of John but do not limit the Word of God to Scripture alone.  Of course we believe the Gospels were written for this purpose.  However, there is nothing limiting or exclusive about it which points to Sola Scriptura.

Acts 17:11 is a popular one, and I have met people who call themselves “Berean Christians” (referring to the Beroeans) due to the emphasis on the Scriptures.  The verse runs as follows:

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas to Beroea during the night. Upon arrival they went to the synagogue of the Jews.

11 These Jews were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all willingness and examined the scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so.

This is commonly cited to claim Scripture alone, but there is a problem.  The Scriptures consulted were the Old Testament.  So what we have is the Beroean Jews looking to the Scripture to see that the Word preached by Paul matched the prophecies of Scripture.  At the time of Paul's preaching, there was no New Testament.  So if Scripture alone binds, then Paul's teaching would not have been binding to the Beroeans because at this time his preaching was not considered Scripture (and to Jews today still is not considered Scripture).

The understanding of these verses in context is an emphasis that the Beroean Jews differed from the Jews of Thessalonica.  They gave Paul a fair hearing and investigated to see if what he said about Christ fit the prophecies of the Messiah, and did not immediately reject what Paul taught.  This is an example of a verse which is taken out of context to make a claim which is not justified.

Finally we have 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which reads:

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

17 so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

The problem we have is that such a verse works for rebuking Christians who deny that the Scriptures are relevant or inspired, but since Catholics believe Scripture is both inspired and relevant, the citation of this verse is irrelevant to the issue.  Actually, using this verse to argue only Scripture is inspired is to create a logical non sequitur.  Why?

Saying “All Scripture is inspired” does not mean Only Scripture is Inspired.  If I say All [A] is [B], it does not follow that Only [A] is [B].  If [C] is also a part of [B] but not part of [A] it would be false to assume Only [A] is [B] from the statement All [A] is [B].  See the Euler Circle to understand how such a claim can be false:


(All [A] is [B] Only [A] is [B])

So it is correct to say these verses affirm Scripture as inspired, but it goes beyond what the verse says to claim only Scripture is inspired.

PART II: Scripture verses used to deny Sacred Tradition

The counterpart of the trying to affirm Scripture alone is the trying to deny that the Catholic belief in Sacred Tradition is compatible with Scripture.  Verses are cited which seek to equate the Catholic concept of Sacred Tradition with the corrupt traditions of the Pharisees. 

The logical problem here is, just because one claims No [A] is [B], does not mean Therefore [C] is [B] in the sense of:

  1. [Tradition] is not [True]
  2. Therefore [Sola Scriptura] is [true]

So the initial problem here is even if the premise is true (which Catholics do not grant), it does not justify the alternative as being proven.

Of course, even the claim that the premise is true is something which needs to be proven to begin with and not assumed to be true by default.  So let's look at the commonly cited verses against Tradition and thus implying that the Catholic Church is doing what the Bible forbids.

The first set of verses commonly cited are from Matthew 15:

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash (their) hands when they eat a meal.”

3 He said to them in reply, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?  4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’  5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,” 6 need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition.  7 Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said:

8 ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’”

Jesus is not condemning all tradition, only corrupt tradition (That is, He is saying Some Tradition is corrupt  Not All tradition is corrupt).  Therefore the claim that this denunciation applies to Catholic Tradition is begging the question — and in an insulting manner at that.  It needs to be proven (not assumed) that the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church is corrupt and manmade.

(Notice that the general assumption is that since the Catholic faith does not square with how an individual interprets the Bible, the Catholic view is assumed to be false without considering the possibility of error of the individual)

The second verse commonly cited is from Colossians 2:

8 See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ.

The assumption here is that All [tradition] is [empty seductive philosophy].  However, if we can come up with a counterexample which shows Some [Tradition] is not [empty seductive philosophy], we can show this assumption is false.

We can demonstrate this when we consider 2 Thessalonians 2:15, which shows it is false to equate all tradition with what was condemned by Christ and St. Paul.  The verse reads:

15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

The thing is, in Matthew 15:3-9, 2 Colossians 2:8 and in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, the word which Jesus speaks of in denouncing the Pharisees and the word Paul uses to urge them to hold fast is the same: παραδόσεις (Paradoseis), which refers to the passing on of doctrine, knowledge or tradition. 

This creates a dilemma for the one who would attack the Catholic view of Tradition:

  • Either Paul contradicts Jesus and Scripture is not Inerrant.
  • Or what Paul praises and Jesus condemns are two different situations and Catholic Tradition is not automatically condemned by Christ on grounds of being "Tradition." 


So we can see Catholics are not unreasonable or against the Bible because they reject the notion of Sola Scriptura: This doctrine contradicts itself by depending on an interpretation not found in the Bible to justify a claim that only that which is within the Bible is binding.  Since the belief of Sola Scriptura is not within Scripture, it cannot bind.

Since Catholics do not believe Sola Scriptura is found in Scripture but rather it depends on either an interpretation of what Scripture means (which depends on something outside of Scripture, or else depends on an authority), we do have the right to question the authority of the claim of Sola Scriptura as a binding doctrine.

This is where the quote of Aristotle on Non Contradiction at the beginning of the article becomes relevant.  If a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time, then the understanding of Scripture cannot depend on binding external interpretation of the Bible to refuse to accept binding external interpretation of the Bible.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Traditions of Men

One of the more annoying misinterpretation of Scripture is that of Matthew 15:1-8, which reads:

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,

2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They do not wash (their) hands when they eat a meal.”

3 He said to them in reply, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’

5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, “Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God,”

6 need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

7 Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said:

8 ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’”

The argument put forth is:

  1. [Jesus] condemned [traditions]
  2. The [Catholic Church] promotes [Tradition]
  3. Therefore [Jesus] condemns the [Catholic Church].

This is to entirely miss the point of the Scripture reading.

History and Context

The Pharisees, in Jesus time, had their own code of laws which were put on the same level as the Torah, indeed claimed that one could only follow the Torah through their interpretation, and the one who violated the rules of the Pharisees were considered as one who broke the Torah.

Jesus, in opposing the Pharisees, pointed out that these laws were focused on the legalism, and ignored the intent of the Law.  They would pay tithes on the very small plants mint, cumin and dill (See Matt 23:23) in observance of Lev 27:30 and Deut 14:22–23, but they were missing the point, by neglecting "judgment and mercy and fidelity."  They would strain the gnat (the gnat was the smallest of the unclean animals) pouring what they were to drink through a cloth to avoid accidentally swallowing one, but Jesus describes them as swallowing the camel, again missing the big picture (see Matt 23:24).

In other words, what Jesus was condemning was a rigid observation of religious requirements in the Law, while ignoring the greater parts.  Jesus didn't say Pharisees were not to keep the law (See Matt 23:23, "these you should have done, without neglecting the others.")

The idea of Qorban/Corban which Jesus condemned involved the donation of the individual's wealth to the Temple (sort of like a living trust today) after his death, and claiming that because the man did this, he was not obligated to use his wealth to support his parents in their need.  Thus for the claim that Qorban negated the obligation of the son to the parents was to make a human tradition go against the command of God.

When one considers this, one sees that the objection to Catholic disciplines and practices as being condemned by Christ by the very fact they are small-t traditions is to miss the point.  He did not condemn the authority of the religious authorities to make regulations on the governing of worship (See Matt 23:2-3), but on the wrong they did in thinking their laws were equal to the law of God, and could even circumvent the laws of God.

A Look at Tradition (παραδόσεις): Meaning and the Fallacy of Equivocation

There is a logical issue here over equivocation: Assuming a different meaning than the speaker intends.  Tradition has a range of meanings going from mere customs to Sacred Doctrine.  One needs to look at what Jesus meant by παραδόσεις and compare what He denounced to the Catholic use of the word.

Keep in mind that not all uses of a word in Scripture hold the same context.  Jesus is described as the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5).  Satan is described as a 'roaring lion" looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  In one sense, the use of lion is used in a dangerous sense.  In another in a majestic sense (and yes, it is the same word in Greek: λεων [leōn]).  Likewise, Scripture speaks of tradition in numerous ways.

Let us not forget that St. Paul has also invoked Tradition.  In 2 Thessalonians 2, he says:

15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

Oops.  Either Paul is contradicting Jesus, or else what Paul is praising is not what Jesus is condemning.  Paul is speaking as an Apostle sent to take the teachings of Christ to the world.  We believe he had authority.

So let's look at the word for tradition.

The word Paul uses is παραδόσεις (paradoseis) which means:

"that which is handed down or bequeathed, tradition, doctrine, teaching"

Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon. "With a revised supplement, 1996." (Rev. and augm. throughout) (1309). Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.

Meanwhile, the word Jesus uses is… the same word.  The phrase he uses is τὴν παράδοσιν ὑμῶν (Tēn paradosin umōn), literally "the tradition of you (Second Person plural)."

Paul also speaks favorably of traditions in 1 Cor 11:2, saying "I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions [παραδόσεις], just as I handed them on to you."

He speaks of these traditions in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 when he says "We instruct you, brothers, in the name of (our) Lord Jesus Christ,to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition [παράδοσιν] they received from us. "

Thus the difference between Paul's παραδόσεις and the Pharisees' παραδόσεις is the authority they have to make it binding and whether or not it contradicts God's law.  The Pharisees traditions are self created laws which go against God's laws and indeed allow one to get around God's commands.

Now, while there are disputes about which Church is the Church Christ established, we do know that the Church created by Christ did have the power to bind and loose (see Matt 16:19 and Matthew 18:18), that it spoke with His authority and to reject the Church was to reject Him (See Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

Tradition and the Catholic Church

This seems to be the underlying dispute over the Catholic traditions that certain Protestants label as condemned, the denial that the Catholic Church is the Church which Jesus established.  One can see a certain logic in their objection.  If the Catholic Church does not have the authority which it claims, then yes, any traditions they make binding would be condemnable as the traditions of the Pharisees which Christ denounced

However, if the Catholic Church does have this authority, if it is the Church established by Christ, then she does have the authority to bind and to loose with the authority Paul invokes when writing to the Thessalonians and the Corinthians.

Now this article is not the place to delve into the arguments on what the true Church is.  Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows I remain in the Catholic Church because I believe she is the Church established by Christ.  Anyone who is interested can look at our Catechism to see what we believe and why, and investigate many defenses of the Church.

However, it is not enough to say "I don't believe the Catholic Church is the Church created by Christ."  What do you believe Christ's Church is?  Do you consider its teachings and interpretations of Scripture binding?  If so, you are invoking Tradition, even if you claim you interpret the Bible through the Bible.


Before one can condemn the Church teaching on account of a word in Scripture, one has to assess the meaning of the word within context, and be certain that the meaning and intent is the same.  Otherwise, one could create all sorts of alleged "contradictions" in Scripture and turn the Inspired Word of God into a partisan tool to advocate a position or bash another based on one's own personal reading.