Surpassing Sola Scriptura
“[The Church] does not, in the conventional phrase, believe what the Bible says, for the simple reason that the Bible does not say anything. You cannot put a book in the witness-box and ask it what it really means.” – G. K. Chesterton
Sola Scriptura is the Protestant doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Under it, only doctrines that are found directly within the Bible or are drawn indirectly from it by simple reasoning are allowed. (See material vs. formal sufficiency & perspicuity.)
2 Timothy 3:16-17 is the primary passage used to defend this view, which always boggles my mind. Perhaps I need spectacles, but I do not see an “Only” at the beginning of this verse. The Church teaches (as Scripture teaches) that all Scripture is valuable. She does not, however, turn it into an idol.
Some Protestants also claim to honor other authorities, like the Church – but do they really? In a short written debate with a Protestant professor, he said, “Sola Scriptura does not even claim that there is no other authority besides the Bible; it maintains that the Bible is alone (sola) as the only infallible authority.” Some apologists concede this position, but I see no reason to, and so I responded, “The practical effect [of Sola Scriptura] is that it denies the authoritativeness of any other authority – making that authority not an authority at all.” The professor quickly changed the topic.
Sacred Tradition (capital ‘T’) is, obviously, a stumbling block for many, but it is perfectly reasonable. Not everything of relevance could fit within the Bible (John 20:30-31, John 21:25). This is evidenced by the elaborations of the Church Fathers, as well as the decrees of the Councils. And much of this has been written and can therefore even qualify as (extra canon) Scripture! Anyway, all Scripture must be interpreted “according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church” (Origen).
Pope Francis noted, “Sacred Scripture is the written testimony of the divine Word, the canonical memory that attests to the event of Revelation. However, the Word of God precedes the Bible and surpasses it. That is why the center of our faith isn’t just a book, but a salvation history and above all a person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.” (cf. CCC #108). All teaching is valuable – God is not limited to a book compiled by His Bride. On this point, the Bible is like a wedding album shared by two spouses: the husband, typically, arranges and provides for everything, while his wife fills in the details – but still, at the end of the day, it does not sum up their whole marriage.
Another great blow to Sola Scriptura is that the Bible did not put itself together, and it does not list the books that belong within it. It took the Jews thousands of years to decide on the Tanakh (their canon) and, even then, “Hellenistic” Jews preferred the Septuagint! The only reason that we know which books comprise the Testaments is that the Church has informed us. If the Church, as Her own entity, is not infallible on such doctrine, then the Bible cannot be trusted.
Many Protestants also allude that absolute truth can only be found within the Bible. If I throw an apple up into the air, it will fall. Where is that in the Bible? Of course, one could quickly retort with the idea that the Bible only necessarily contains the absolute moral truth necessary for salvation. But many Protestants do not actually believe that – just look at the large crowds of literal creationists! To be clear, the Bible is not guaranteed to be totally historically or scientifically inerrant in a literal sense. “Inerrancy extends to what the biblical writers intend to teach, not necessarily to what they assume or presuppose or what isn’t integral to what they assert.” [Catholic Answers] And if a Protestant would like to say otherwise, he must prove his position from the Bible – which he cannot do, at least not to any definite degree. Even natural law, which exists outside of the Bible, does not encompass such. Leaders like Ken Ham could be defeated with these points.
I just cannot help but despise this great heresy of Sola Scriptura, the implication of which is that the Bride of Christ does not know Her Husband.
I love the Second Vatican Council’s statement on all of this: “[T]he task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.” (Dei Verbum)
Let us put it this way: only trusting the Bible without the Church would be like loving “Romeo and Juliet” and hating Shakespeare’s explanation of it.