The Catholic Appeal to Scripture

In a thread at the Protestant (and excellently-named) blog Green Baggins a Presbyterian commenter opines of the Catholic paradigm:

There is no room for “asking what the Bible says” on any matter of serious importance in this paradigm. The freedom to “ask what the Bible says” is limited to matters not already defined by Rome.

I would add this to a comment there, but there’s no way that I can seriously hope to engage in a conversation at this time. So I must content myself with a few remarks here. In short, the commenter is mistaken. There is plenty of room for asking what the Bible says on matters of importance. The difficulty is that the commenter brings a Protestant frame of reference to the question. He presumes that “asking what the Bible says” implies two things: first, that we may do so without bringing an interpretive paradigm along with us, and second, that “what the Bible says” might (will?) contradict the Catholic Church “on any matter of serious importance. Both of these presuppositions are false.

With regard to the first: it’s completely false to suggest that we can approach the Bible without some frame of reference. It’s not a question of whether we will do so; it’s always a question of which frame of reference we will bring to it. And Protestants including the Reformed bring a frame of reference to their hermeneutics no less than any Scripture-loving Catholic. Examples are easy to come by: ask John Wesley or John Calvin about predestination; ask Martin Luther or John Owen about the Lord’s Supper; ask Spurgeon or Hodge about infant baptism. These men all bring interpretive paradigms to the work of hermeneutics, and by them they interpret Romans 9 and 2 Peter 3:9, and John 6, and Acts 10. Indeed, Protestants will even admit as much sometimes, as when another commenter at GB insists that it’s wrongheaded to interpret St Paul’s teaching through Christ’s teaching. This is a paradigmatic observation. So the only question is: what is the right frame of reference for interpreting the Bible? The answer to that question can only be the one that is given by the Catechism (§113):

Read the Scripture within “the living tradition of the whole Church.”

That is the paradigm within which Scripture must be interpreted, because it is impossible that Christ would allow His Church to fall into error with respect to faith and morals. So when we ask what the Bible says on any matter, we know that the correct answer isn’t one that we may obtain by just any means we hope to apply, or within just any paradigm we might choose to bring; rather, the correct answer is known by by virtue of its consistency with the teaching of Christ’s Church.

Again, this is hardly a controversial observation. The PCA is still wrestling to one degree or another over the question of the Federal Vision, and the resolution of the question is being sought by means of appeal to Scripture as interpreted according to the Westminster Standards: in other words, by an appeal to Reformed tradition as the paradigm within which Scripture must be understood.

Our response to the second point (that the Bible contradicts the Church on important points) ought to be obvious now, at least in part: this depends upon who gets to decide what the Bible says. And there is absolutely no reason why we should acquiesce to the Protestant’s claim that we should be able to decide for ourselves, nor with the Reformer’s claim that the Church fell into error. Indeed, to do so is to undermine beyond recovery any hope for knowing what truths the Bible reveals: if the Church could err, then there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to suppose that I could get it right myself, or that the Reformers have got it right. Because they could err too, and there is no reason to suppose otherwise if God would let the Church go astray.

An important thing to remember here is that we are dealing with matters of supernatural revelation. The Christian faith is not rationalist: its content and bounds are not the bounds of human reason, but rather it consists in truths which we must receive by faith. It does not contradict reason, but neither do we receive it solely by the exercise of our brains.

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Posted in Apologetics, Doings on other blogs, Epistemology, Fides et Ratio, Protestantism, Revelation, Scripture, Solo Scriptura

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