by Mitchell Brost, Guest Columnist
One of the biggest differences between Catholicism and Protestantism is sola
scriptura, the idea of “the Bible alone”. This idea suggests that the Bible contains all we
need for salvation. Of course, Catholics have more than just the Bible – we have
Tradition. But Protestants claim that Scripture actually condemns tradition: Matt. 15:3
says, “He said to them in reply, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for
the sake of your tradition?’” And Col. 2:8 says, “See to it that no one captivate you with
an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to elemental
powers of the world, and not according to Christ.” How can a Catholic defend him or
herself from Scripture?
Thankfully, he (or she) doesn’t have to. Catholics actually support what is said in
Col. 2:8. But, because we’re Catholics, we have to use our own, fancy word for an
“empty, seductive philosophy.” In the Catholic Church, we call them heresies. The
Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2089 defines a heresy as, “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same.” The next distinction we can
make is the difference between human tradition and Apostolic Tradition. The human
tradition condemned by Jesus in Matt. 15:3 falls under the umbrella of heresy. That
tradition stems from individuals believing they know better than the Church. But the
Tradition that is vital to the Church’s survival is Apostolic Tradition.
Apostolic Tradition is mentioned multiple times in Scripture. 2 Tim. 3:14-15
says, “But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you
know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known [the] sacred
scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ
Jesus.” Or there’s 2 Thess. 2:15, “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.”
There’s also 2 Tim. 2:2, “And what you have heard from me through many witnesses
entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.”
In addition to these verses, you can also look up Rom. 10:17, 1 Cor. 15:3, 11, 1 Cor. 11:2, Acts 2:42, and Luke 1:1-4. However, it’s important to be careful when quoting scripture like this. Oftentimes scripture is the only basis from which a Protestant will be willing to hear an argument. You have to make sure it doesn’t cross the line from using scripture to
support your argument, to a tit-for-tat where you’re both just throwing Bible verses at
each other for hours on end.
To sum things up, Scripture and Tradition do not compete with each other – they
supplement each other. In 2 Tim. 14-17, Paul explains to Timothy how vital it is to keep
Scripture and Tradition linked together. But how do we know the difference between a
human tradition and an Apostolic Tradition? We ask the Church. I’ll touch on the
authority of the Church a little later, but for now, refer to this list of the greatest known
heresies in Church history: https://www.catholic.com/tract/the-great-heresies.
Obviously not every erroneous human tradition is an official heresy, but it’s still a good
idea to learn about heresies, and to try to spot the patterns in them.
Aside from the necessity of Tradition’s relationship with Scripture, there are some
problems with sola scriptura. The first is a matter of historical fact. How can scripture
– specifically the New Testament, since it is what Protestants almost exclusively refer to
– be our sole basis for faith if it didn’t exist for nearly 400 years after Christ’s
Ascension? The New Testament canon that we still use today wasn’t officially instated
until the Council of Hippo 393 A.D. This is another testament to the importance of
Tradition – because what could have retained the authenticity of the events of the New
Testament for 400 years aside from Tradition?
The next problem with sola scriptura is that it leads a lot of Protestants to declare
that the Bible is the pillar of truth and faith. This is ironic, because the Bible actually
says otherwise. Paul says in 1 Tim. 3:15, “But if I should be delayed, you should know
how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar
and foundation of truth.” This church that Paul refers to is the one from the book of
Acts, the church that was started by Christ and carried on by the apostles to the present
day, in the Catholic Church.
Another problem with sola scriptura is that it suggests that God’s revelation is
entirely contained in the Bible. Is God’s beauty not revealed in all of creation? Is His
goodness not revealed in the many blessings we enjoy? Is His love not revealed through
others? Or is God’s revelation only so great that it can only be contained in a book?
Lastly, sola scriptura encounters issues when it comes to interpretation. If all we
have to base our faith on is the Bible, who says what we are supposed to get out of it?
For example, what if two students were each given the same math book, and came
across the problem 2+2. One student answered 4, the other answered 22. Which is
correct? The book gives no authority to what the answer is. They need a teacher.
In matters of faith, that teacher is the Magisterium (derived from the Latin
magister, literally “teacher”): the Catholic Church. This is proved in scripture.
First of all, Jesus intended for His Church to be an authority. In Matt. 18:17, He
says, “If he refuses to listen to them [the apostles], tell the church. If he refuses to listen
even to the church, then treat Him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” Obviously
from this statement we can reason that Jesus gave the Church power. But it is the nature
of power to corrupt. How can we be sure that the Church’s teachings are not corrupted?
Jesus tells the apostles in John 14:25-26, “I have told you this while I am with you. The
advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – he will teach you
everything and remind you of all that I told you.” Also in John 16:13, “But when he
comes, the spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.”
When trying to understand scripture, there are two things that can point us in the
right direction. The first, and perhaps most important, is context. A scripture verse used
out of context (such as 2 Tim. 3:16-17) can certainly mean something very different than
what it means in full context.
The second thing is to refer to the Church. Jesus said in no uncertain terms that the authority of the Church is protected by the Holy Spirit. We can refer to the Church to know what is big ‘T’ Tradition and what is little ‘t’ tradition. We can refer to the Church to know which doctrines we derive from scripture. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the Church is not the master of Scripture and Tradition, it’s the custodian of it. God’s truth is not subject to the Church, it’s entrusted to it.
If you want to learn more about how how Catholics should treat Scripture,
Tradition, and how to interpret the Bible, I encourage you to take this link to a copy of
Dei Verbum: http://www.ewtn.com/library/councils/v2revel.htm. Dei Verbum is an
article by Pope Paul VI in 1965 on “the Dogmatic Constitution of Divine Revelation.”
It’s heavier reading, but goes into much more detail than I did, and probably carries
more weight, since it comes from a pope. Thank you for taking the time to read this
article, and may the Lord bless you and guide you in all that you do.
Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum!
May the peace of the Lord be always with you!
~Mitchell Brost, Guest Columnist
List of sources:
New American Bible
Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition
The Essential Catholic Survival Guide by the staff at Catholic Answers, copyright
2005 by Catholic Answers, Inc.
Mass and the Sacraments by Father John Laux, M.A., copyright 1934 by
Benzinger Brothers, New York
Catholic Apologetics by Father John Laux, M.A., copyright 1934 by Benzinger
Beginning Apologetics I by Father Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham, copyright
2000-2015 by Father Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham