A Universal Apology Point Three: ON THE MAGISTERIUM

ON THE MAGISTERIUM

The third point that convinced me of the truth of the Catholic claims is the paradox of accepting the canon of scripture while rejecting the teaching authority, that is to say, the Magesterium, of the Church. This is asserting an infallible scripture was canonized by a fallible Church; or again that an authorized scripture was authorized by an unauthorized Church.

But if not from the Church, from where would this Magisterial authority come?

Does Christ grant to each several and separate believer the right and authority to define the canon of scripture each man for himself? Do some men have the authority and not others? If so, whence comes this authority? If not through apostolic succession, then from where?

Now, a sensitive modern reader will already notice a whiff a moral atmosphere utterly alien to all modern thought has entered this essay. Why are we discussing authority?

All the authorities of the modern thought teach that authority is radically and innately evil, and is meant only to be rebelled against in the in the name of individualism, or equality, or nihilism or communism, and never to be obeyed or heeded. The paradox of authorities authoritatively declaring all authority to be unauthoritative need not delay us, except to note that it is of a like form to all other modern paradoxes of gibberish.

Rare indeed is the modern reader believes that there is such a thing as a teaching authority, or that statements made by authority of the teacher or pastor have any obligation to be accepted on authority by a student or celebrant under his discipline.  The idea sounds old-fashioned and old-worldly if not positively oriental, as if an eastern sage or guru expects his students to bow and vow lifelong fidelity to his teaching.

Nonetheless, we are not discussing an issue where, like the Michelson-Morley experiment, or the Millikan experiment, each man has an equal chance as any other to see the matter in dispute and be an eyewitness. If you doubt the findings of Aristarchus of Samos concerning the diameter of the Earth you, yourself, without any equipment aside from two yardsticks can confirm it. You can thrust the sticks into two spots at different latitudes, pace off the distance with your own legs, measure the shadows cast at a given date and hour, and using math no more complicated than a first year geometry student knows, derive the correct figure. If you doubt whether Galileo was correct about the existence of the moons of Jupiter, you can spot them yourself on a clear night with a pair of field glasses.

This issue is not like that. Until someone invents Irwin Allen’s Time Tunnel, or Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine, no additional eyewitnesses to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are ever going to appear.

You have to rely on the report of Mary Magdalene, out of whom seven devils were cast, who apparently cannot tell the difference between her master and the gardener, or on the disciples walking the road from Emmaus, who also did not recognize Him, or on the testimony of Saul of Tarsus, who not only had a seizure and went blind, he seems to forget whether the other people with him heard the voices in his head or not. These are not very reliable witnesses, and, frankly, the written record in the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles in some of these cases is not written by the witness himself, making it hearsay.

In any case, you, dear reader, were not there. You did not see it. You were not standing next to Thomas, and, when offered the chance, shoved Tom roughly aside and thrust your plastic ruler into the wound in Christ’s abdomen to measure precisely how deeply the spear of Longinus bit.

Outside the Church, there is no visible firsthand evidence available to confirm that Christ was resurrected, nor crucified, nor what He said and did, what He taught and what He commanded His followers to do, nor even, indeed, that He lived at all.

The pagan or Jewish historians who mention the life of Jesus of Nazareth, Tacitus and Josephus, are not giving firsthand accounts, and most likely heard the name only because it was on the lips of the Jewish breakaway sect which was already beginning to call itself Christian, and which already had the unique character of an ecclesiastical body, a Church.

If you hold Christ rose from the dead, the only reason why you think so is that Mary Magdalene, and Peter and Thomas saw Him; and, later, Paul. The only reason you know Mary and Peter and Paul exist at all is the surviving documentary witness of those scriptures which were canonized into the Bible; and the only reason any man has to believe those scriptures are authentic and authoritative is that the Church vouches for them. So if you are a Christian, and you believe Christ rose, you believe the Church in this. Therefore it cannot be maintained by any Christian that the Church never had any authority. The only logical argument is to say she had the authority and lost it.

So there is no one who saw Jesus or even knows He existed, outside the Church. If you want to find out what He said and did, you have to ask the Church. There is no one else to ask, no other source of information.

The difference is, if Galileo says he saw satellites orbiting Jupiter, those satellites are still there, and any supermarket or hardware store can equip you with the telescope you need to prove the point to yourself. You do not have to rely on Galileo’s authority. You don’t have to believe him. You can prove it to yourself for yourself. All you have to believe is your eyes.

But if Boswell says Johnson uttered a witty epigram, or Plato says Socrates asked a witty question, your eyes do you no good, since you cannot put them into the position to observe the event. Either the eyewitness is trusted, or he is not.

In this specific case, we are not dealing with an epigram nor a question, but a command, a gospel, and a great commission. If Christ is real, and He says what the eyewitnesses say He says, then His various parables, examples, and teaching are necessary for our understanding to comprehend, and His various injunctions, exhortations, and commandments are necessary for our wills to obey. If Christ is what His disciples wrote and taught He is, then His word is not just law, but divine law, which means His word is life.

If that is so, it is crucial to understand whether the command to memorialize the Last Supper in the Eucharist is literal or parable, or command to preach to all living creatures; and whether the command to baptize extends to children; and what it meant when Peter was given the keys to heaven, and so on.

In other words, Luther did not read the King James’ Bible. He read the Roman Bible, with the books in it he later removed. Luther did not hear what Jesus said, only what the Romans say Jesus said.

In sum, the Protestant argument suffers from a crucial and fatal defect: You cannot take Christian Bible as the sole authority from which to judge what Christians should and should not believe, and then argue that the Christians have no authority to interpret the Bible, no authority to write the Bible, no authority to say which books are authoritative and which are not. The stark fact is that the Bible has no authority outside the authority the Church, acting on her own authority, grants to the Bible.

The Bible cannot witness to its own truth. The only logical reason to accept the Bible as true is to accept it on the witness of the Church that wrote, compiled and sanctified it. If you think the Church is filled with liars and idolaters and that the Pope is the Antichrist, then you have no grounds to think that any documents produced by the Church are not the documents of liars and idolaters and antichrists.

But suppose it were not so. Suppose Luther had the authority to rewrite and re-edit the Bible. In that case, the Bible cannot be the sole and final authority on matters of Christian doctrine: Luther himself is. But Luther did not heal the sick and raise the dead and do the other mighty works which prophets routinely perform in order to show a divine sanction supports their words. He can simply give no warrant for such a claim of authority.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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28 Responses to A Universal Apology Point Three: ON THE MAGISTERIUM

  1. Sean Michael says:

    Dear Mr. Wright:

    Exactly! I believe in the Bible because the Church collected and defined the canon of the Bible.

    Sean M. Brooks

  2. KEYoder says:

    Mr. Wright,

    I’ve been greatly enjoying your presentation thus far and the (somewhat sparse) comments and questions. I look forward to the rest of the posts. However, I do have a question or two.

    (Full Disclosure: I am of Anabaptist descent, currently a member of a fairly conservative group in terms of doctrine and lifestyle.)

    1) If I understand correctly, you argue that I must logically either believe in no NT canon or if I believe in a NT canon, then I must also accept the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic church (and all that follows), since She determined what the canon was. I am not sure why it is illogical for me to believe in Apostolic authority and therefore that the writings of the Apostles and their immediate associates (Mark and Dr. Luke) to which they gave their approval are NT canon, without thereby being forced to accept apostolic succession and the RC Magisterium.

    1a) My understanding of the NT canon was that the church councils did not “make” the canon so much as declare what ALL were willing to accept as canon based on what was known or believed of their apostolic authorship. Those books which some felt were inspired scripture but others did not were set aside as possibly being useful for instruction, but not authoritative for doctrine and practice. However, I have done very little research on my own in this area and basically accepted the work of others whom I trusted. If you know differently, I would appreciate clarification.

    2) If I believe that God has preserved for me a canon, a “standard” or ruler to measure by, then I must measure all things by this standard. See for example Acts 17:11, where the Bereans are commended for searching the scriptures (i.e. what we call the Old Testament) to see if what the Apostle Paul was telling them was true. They used scripture to judge the apostolic message. Further, we know that even Apostles can be in error. Paul says in Galatians 2 that he had to correct Peter, because he was persuaded of that which was untrue by a group of converted Pharisees. See also 1 Thess. 5:21 and 1 John 4 where we are commanded to examine and test everything. If then, I must accept any ruling of the Church because it is from the Church, though tomorrow the ruling may change, I have no sure foundation for my feet.

    (I believe Catholics can disagree/debate/discuss “ordinary magisterium” statements, just not “extra-ordinary magisterium” statements. I am uncertain about these distinctions, so if I’ve made a fool of myself, I apologize.)

    Without attempting to give all the scriptures underlying this position, let me just say that the Christian was never meant to exist in isolation with just himself and a Bible. The community of believers is there to help him grow, give him correction and guidance in his thinking, discipline as necessary, and many viewpoints to keep him balanced. No one believer is given all the gifts necessary to function as a spiritual person, but the Holy Spirit gives varying gifts to the members of the church to bind them of necessity together. But you are right that ultimately, we think the final responsibility for one’s beliefs belongs to each individual. In our culture, the pendulum between independence of thought and dependence on the church has swung too far towards independence.

    Kenton

    • If I understand correctly, you argue that I must logically either believe in no NT canon or if I believe in a NT canon, then I must also accept the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic church (and all that follows)

      Close, but not quite. The argument is that if you accept the canon, you must have a warrant for accepting it. The choices are, first, that you did the scholarly research of the First through Fifth Century writings and came to the same decision independently of what the Church decided; second, that you accept the Church as an authority competent to make the decision; or third, you accept the Church as an authority for some part or aspect of the decision but not another part. Now, if so, you must give a warrant for accepting part of the decision and not the other part. My argument is that if you are going to believe the Church when she tells you something as absurd as that a Virgin gave birth to a human child was was also a god and that his man died and came back to life and floated away like a balloon into the upper air, but then you are not going to believe he when she says that the Book of Tobit was in the canon for 1500 years, this shows an unwillingness to accept the lawful authority in minor matter but to accept it in major matters.

      The argument then is that if one does not accept the authority of the Church, one either needs and independent witness to the Gospel story, or one cannot be a Christian. If one does accept the authority of the Church, one either says that authority is still valid, or one claims the authority lapsed at some point. The argument then asked when was that point? Historically speaking, the canonicity of the Bible was not fixed in its final form until AFTER the questions of the Incarnation and the doctrine of the Trinity were settled, which are doctrines that cannot be settled by examining scripture alone.

      There are Mormons and Christian Scientists who reject the doctrine of the Trinity, as do Mohammedans. The current argument is not with them, but only with Trinitarians who accept the canonicity of the Bible, and who recite the Nicene Creed, but who reject the authority of the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Trent. My argument is that Trinitarianism is logically incompatable with Sola Scriptura; that a non-hierarchical church is incompatible with Christian tradition older than Nicene, older than the Trinitarian disputes, older than the Incarnation disputes.

      In short, my argument is that if you do not believe bishops ever had any teaching authority, you cannot believe what those bishops taught, since they taught it by their authority and only by their authority. They taught what they learned from the disciples who had it from the Apostles who had it from Christ.

      (Historically speaking, the Church being discussed is the Church as she existed before the Great Schism. The Orthodox claim to be the heirs of that tradition is at least as compelling as the Roman claim.)

      My understanding of the NT canon was that the church councils did not “make” the canon so much as declare what ALL were willing to accept as canon based on what was known or believed of their apostolic authorship. Those books which some felt were inspired scripture but others did not were set aside as possibly being useful for instruction, but not authoritative for doctrine and practice

      This directly contradicts the historical evidence. I was deeply shocked to learn that the deuterocanonical books had been uncontested as part of the canon since before the Fall of Rome, before the English language was invented, before mathematicians invented the zero. I had been raised Lutheran and the Lutheran party line is that the apocryphal books had never been truly part of the canon. As far as my independent research could tell, that was false.

      Without attempting to give all the scriptures underlying this position, let me just say that the Christian was never meant to exist in isolation with just himself and a Bible. The community of believers is there to help him grow, give him correction and guidance in his thinking, discipline as necessary, and many viewpoints to keep him balanced. No one believer is given all the gifts necessary to function as a spiritual person, but the Holy Spirit gives varying gifts to the members of the church to bind them of necessity together.

      I doubt any Catholic or Orthodox disagrees with this. It really bugs me that you and your twin brothers, who agree on this and on many other things, have quarreled so viciously that they cannot resolve their differences with yet another Church Council, as all differences in the past were resolved, or at least tried to be resolved.

      What the Devil wants primarily is to deprive you of the sacraments. He does not want you to take the life of Christ literally into your bodies, and so the Lutherans and Calvinists and other denominations get part, but not all, of the gifts Christ wished to bestow.

      What you retain is still a gift from God. Your Baptisms are still Christian and still valid. But why give up the rest?

      • KEYoder says:

        “The argument is that if you accept the canon, you must have a warrant for accepting it.”

        I see that I was incomplete. I apologize for moving the goalposts now.

        My warrant for accepting the canon is that it declares itself to be the word of God.
        “And God said….”
        “The word of the Lord came unto so-and-so saying….”
        “The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life,” Jesus says.
        Paul says, “…I command, yet not I but the Lord….”
        And examples could be multiplied. Further, in 2 Pet. 1:16, Peter says they (the disciples) didn’t follow cunningly devised fables, but they were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty. He follows that by saying they had the audible witness of God the Father about the Son. Then follows that by saying “We have a more sure word of prophecy…” In other words, since the scriptures are the word of God, they are considered by Peter to be a stronger proof than either eyewitness testimony or an audible voice of God Himself. This parallels Jesus’ statement in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, “They have Moses and the Prophets.” If the Rich Man’s brothers will not listen to the scripture, they will not be convinced even by a man risen from the dead. [For a much more capable, detailed presentation of this whole argument see: http://www.frame-poythress.org/scripture-speaks-for-itself/

        Of course, the fact that some writing claims to be the word of God does not make it so, however I accept the OT and NT canon’s declaration about itself to be an axiom–a foundational truth that is self-evident or unable to be proved. Axioms can, however, be falsified if they lead to self-contradictions. Following the teachings of this canon, I find that its conclusions and deductions line up with what I see in “reality”–the world around me. I find no internal inconsistencies, and therefore I am satisfied that indeed it stands as axiomatic truth.

        (I don’t mean to make light of or ignore the problem of whether or not certain books are part of the canon, I just think that is a secondary issue. I understand that you don’t.)

        “He does not want you to take the life of Christ literally into your bodies…”

        I am assuming this is a reference to John 6:53-58 and also to the Last Supper when Jesus established the sacrament of Communion (the Mass). I know very little about specifically Catholic teaching so I mean no insult. I am curious–if it were not for RC Church teaching on this subject, would you be willing to consider that those passages may have been spoken metaphorically and/or in hyperbole, or is it your opinion as a writer that those passages are best understood literally? I’ve often wanted to ask a knowledgeable Catholic, but my circle of friends is too limited. :-)

        Kenton

        • No offense taken. The question is honestly asked. I considered very carefully this exact point for months or years before deciding which denomination to join. In my investigation, I read the early Church fathers. (see here http://www.ccel.org/fathers.html).

          I confess I did not pore over every word, but I read enough to see that the Catholic teaching is what it claims to be, that is, the same teaching as developed from the Fathers and from the Apostles. So I cannot answer the question as asked, because it is worded in such as way as to assume its conclusion. But, yes, if the Church taught and always taught that Jesus was speaking in a parable when He commanded His followers to eat his flesh and drink His blood, I would believe that instead of what she teaches and has always taught.

          Part of this is the passage you mention, but most of this is from what you did not mention John 6:60-70. Rather than call back His disciples who abandon Him upon hearing the shocking message that Christians must perform divine cannibalism, Jesus lets them walk. He days not say to those that remain, “I was taking about the leaven of the Pharisees” or somesuch clarifying remark. Instead He says “Are you leaving too?” And Saint Peter, speaking (I hope) for all of us, answers plaintively, “Where would we go? Yours is the word of life.” The episode ends with Jesus mentioning a devil among them, a reference to Judas. So apparently He was willing to let depart from Him any who did not take Him literally about this whole “eat my flesh” thing, but He did not expel the devil. That impressed me with the gravity of the passage: I cannot in good conscience interpret this as a parable.

          Part of this is merely my lawyerly respect for precedent. If the Nestorian and Orthodox Churches also taught that the bread and wine were symbols only, and not holy, I would consider that the Romans made an innovation alien to the spirit of Christian teaching. But they do not. To my knowledge, they have never made an official ruling on the question of the Real Presence, because no dispute ever arose in their lands requiring them to silence an unorthodox opinion on the topic.

          It is difficult for me to believe that all the Christians from Gospel times onward were wrong about what the Lord’s Supper was and what it meant, and that only a German monk in the 1500′s perceived the divine will correctly. I would need some strong proof that this were the case, and at least three miracles from the hands of the theologian, so I knew he spoke as a prophet of God.

        • Mary says:

          “My warrant for accepting the canon is that it declares itself to be the word of God.”

          Would you accept any document making that claim? Any document at all?

          • KEYoder says:

            I quote myself:

            “Of course, the fact that some writing claims to be the word of God does not make it so….” and etc. Please read the remainder of the paragraph.

            The Koran for example claims to be the words of God, but it contradicts itself so much that Muslims had to develop the Doctrine of Abrogation to handle it. “Anything written later supercedes anything written earlier if it contradicts it.”

            Kenton

            • Mary says:

              You contradict yourself, in other words. That does not render your earlier statement immune to criticism. Indeed, I would say it paints a nice large bull’s eye on it.

              • KEYoder says:

                Step 1 — The Bible claims to be God’s word. (I assume you at least agree that it so claims?)
                Step 2 — Lots of other writings make the same claim. Why should I believe this claim?
                Step 3 — If I assume for the sake of argument that it IS God’s word, what would I expect of it? (in no special order)
                A. Self-consistent
                B. Life changing
                C. Without error when touches the created world
                D. Without error when touches on mankind
                E. Without error when touches on me personally
                F. Things I could learn no other place
                G. Answers “Why Am I Here?”
                H. Tells me how to live

                Step 4 — Does it meet the test? Does it match my expectations? (Answer: Yes, it does)
                Step 5 — Try to accept it and do what it says. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
                Step 6 — Since it proves trustworthy and Spirit confirms it in my heart, stand with confidence upon it. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

                I suppose you could quickly think of things I have missed in step 3, or perhaps there are some things on that list you feel don’t belong. But I trust you see the point.

                I don’t agree that this causes me to contradict myself. Perhaps it paints a bullseye on me, but I would rather say it paints a bullseye on the Bible. If it fails, then I am undone.

                Kenton
                [minor edits for clarity]

                • But by the same token if I join a Church which claims

                  Step 1 — The Church claims to be Christ’s Body and the Bride of Christ, one, true, holy, universal and apostolic.
                  Step 2 — Lots of other communions make the same claim. Why should I believe this claim?
                  Step 3 — If I assume for the sake of argument that it IS Christ’s body, what would I expect of it?
                  A. Self-consistent
                  B. Life changing
                  C. Without error when touches on faith and morals
                  D. Without error when touches on mankind
                  E. Without error when touches on me personally
                  F. Things I could learn no other place
                  G. Answers “Why Am I Here?”
                  H. Tells me how to live
                  I. No other denomination was present in First Century Palestine to have been founded by Christ Himself. All other denominations were founded by men, or arose as a result of a schism.

                  Step 4 — Does she meet the test? Does she match my expectations? (Answer: Yes, it does)
                  Step 5 — Try to accept her and do what she says. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
                  Step 6 — Since she proves trustworthy and Spirit confirms her in my heart, stand with confidence upon her. “There is no salvation outside the Church.” “Upon this rock I build my Church (note the singular) and the gates of Hell shall not stand against it.”

                  If your logic is valid for the Bible, why is my logic invalid for the Church?

                  • KEYoder says:

                    If your logic is valid for the Bible, why is my logic invalid for the Church?

                    Hmm…hadn’t ever thought of it that way. It’s a good point that I’m going to have to think about. I will say two things about it–not in refutation, just in observation.

                    1) I am not sure that any “physical” organization (as opposed to a purely spiritual one) could match all the characteristics in the list. The spiritual Church, the Bride of Christ, can indeed. I know that for you there is no difference between the RC Church and “The Church.” To me there is.

                    2) I do not recognize the quote “There is no salvation outside the Church.” Was that just a generalized summary of Catholic belief or a specific quote?

                    Kenton

                    • ” I am not sure that any “physical” organization (as opposed to a purely spiritual one) could match all the characteristics in the list. ”

                      No one here is arguing the Church is a physical organization. The church militant is here on Earth, fighting, the church in purgatory is suffering and praying for us as we pray for them, and the church triumphant is in heaven rejoicing. It is all one Church. The boundaries of the world do not stop her.

                      The Latin phrase extra Ecclesiam nulla salus comes from the writings of Saint Cyprian of Carthage, a bishop of the 3rd century.

                      One reason why I am not a Protestant — and I freely confess this an emotional reason rather than a logical argument — is that your churches are smaller than they should be: I am actually pleased to be a member of the same body as Cyprian in heaven, or in the Third Century, or beyond the national boundaries of a national church, or beyond the bounds of life and death. The Anglicans (for example) give me a feeling of claustrophobia.

        • Mary says:

          He follows that by saying they had the audible witness of God the Father about the Son. Then follows that by saying “We have a more sure word of prophecy…” In other words, since the scriptures are the word of God, they are considered by Peter to be a stronger proof than either eyewitness testimony or an audible voice of God Himself.

          One translation. Here’s another:

          We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.
          Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

          Furthermore that this reliable message is Scripture is your own interpretation. And do you say that Christians who died before all the books, or any of the books, had no access to this reliable message?

          • KEYoder says:

            “16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.[f] 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[g] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” RSV-CE, 1965

            I assumed from context of verse 20 that verse 19 also referred to the scriptures. Feel free to disagree with my interpretation of the passage. It’s one of those important Protestant skill sets…. ;-)

            Kenton

            • Mary says:

              Your interpretation? You offer Scripture announcing that your personal interpretation is not valid and then you offer yours as if it were valid?

              • KEYoder says:

                No. I chose a standard Catholic translation so that I could be fair to you, because I was not sure what translation you prefer since you clearly didn’t like the first translation I used.
                I tried to politely imply that you failed to look at the context of the verse. Had you done so, you would have seen that the meaning of the phrase “prophetic word made more sure” in verse 19 is unambiguously referred to as a “prophecy of scripture” in verse 20. My original interpretation of the passage–that Peter thought of the witness of Scripture as more certain than even eyewitness testimony–I invited you to disagree with.

                Kenton

            • Richard A says:

              Forgive me for coming so late to the party. I’ll have to add Mr. Wright’s blog to my favorites so I get to it more frequently.

              I assumed from context of verse 20 that verse 19 also referred to the scriptures.

              I wouldn’t assume that. Verse 19 refers to the prophetic word – logos – and verse 20 refers to the prophecies of scripture – graphe, the writings.

              Almost all Protestants assume that ‘the word’ – logos – when it appears in the New Testament refers to sacred scripture (when it doesn’t clearly refer to Jesus Christ, the Logos of God and Second Person of the Trinity). But how could it mean that, when the Scriptures had not been written? All the ‘proofs’ that Scripture calls itself the word of God are only proofs if we assume that ‘logoi theou’ refers to Scripture. Try reading the New Testament next time assuming that it means, instead, ‘the Gospel’ or ‘the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.’ You will find that that understanding fits a lot better. Particularly in 2 Thess. 2:13 “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God”. The word of God was something they heard from Paul and his companions, it was the Gospel message. They did not fetch up in Thessalonica and start passing out Bibles or reciting it from memory.
              “Now these [of Berea] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) Obviously, the Jews of Berea were not comparing their version of the Bible to Paul’s to see if Paul’s was legit. They were trying to determine if the Gospel preached by Paul aligned with the Sacred Scriptures.

              Catholics today, like most other Christians, will readily refer to the Bible as the ‘word of God’, because it is a written word, and it does come from God. But that is not what it means in the Bible.

              • KEYoder says:

                Richard,

                Your main point is well taken. I’ll indeed try to keep the possibility in mind as I read the NT. I’m not sure that I agree with all your details however.

                Most of the Scriptures had indeed been written at this point–all of the OT, several of the gospels, at least some of the Pauline epistles, and obviously 1 Peter and 2 Peter. In 2 Peter 3:16-17, Peter clearly implies that he considers Paul’s writings to be Scripture.

                In the larger context of my argument (that the Bible can stand as its own authority without requiring the witness of a church council or Pope saying that it is God’s word), the Scriptures in many, many places claim to be giving actual messages from God. I don’t think that the prophets and apostles drew a distinction between the authority of the original, inspired utterance or the authority of the same message written down by the prophet or his scribe (which I assume happened relatively quickly). Both were “the word of God.”

                Kenton

                • Richard A says:

                  But if you were a second-century Roman, there were many who would tell you that the oracle at Delphi had been speaking the voice of Apollo for centuries. Do you believe it or don’t you? Why? Other religious traditions have their own Scriptures, parts of which claim some form of divine authorship. Is that claim credible or isn’t it? Why don’t you believe those self-references?

                  The letters to the Thessalonians mentioned above are the first books to be written which were later incorporated into what is now known as the New Testament. So St. Paul’s reference to the word they received would clearly not be understood as what we now call the Bible.

                  • KEYoder says:

                    I believe I already discussed this in a prior post on this page. See the June 8 post and its following posts with Mr. Wright and Mary. In short, I find the Scriptural canon to be True and non-contradictory, living up to its own claims to be the message of God. Although I feel no need to examine all other claims to canonicity because of the witness of Holy Spirit in my heart (1 John 5, esp. verses 10 thru the end of the chapter), nevertheless the ones that I have looked at (Koran and Book of Mormon) I find not to meet the same standards of Truthfulness and non-self-contradiction of the Bible.

                    As to your second paragraph, I already tried to indicate that your argument convinced me that “word” = “gospel” was at the very least a possibility that I needed to keep in mind in the future.

                    Kenton

  3. Malcolm Smith says:

    Let’s make a few points.
    1. Luther did not claim the authority to re-write and re-edit the Bible, nor did he do so. This is a straw man.
    2. The reason we believe the gospels – or at least, the reason I believe them – is because they can be found to be trustworthy when subjected to the same scrutiny normally subjected to other historical documents of the same age. If I were arguing with an unbeliever, I would not ask him to accept the Bible simply because the church said so.
    3. The canon of the New Testament was formed by general consensus over the first few centuries. The NT grew up with the church. There was no one point at which it was decided which books were in and which were out.
    4. It is also clear that the NT was never intended to be studied in isolation. It came along as an adjunct to the teachings of the apostles and their successors. In the Epistles, particularly, many things are simply taken for granted eg monogamy, and which day of the week was used for meetings, and the method of baptism.
    5. The point is that the valid interpretation of the church, the catholic or orthodox tradition, is the what has been taught “always, everywhere, and by everyone”. This is what is meant by the magisterium of the church. It rests with the church as a whole. You cannot simply jump to the conclusion that it is unique to the current Roman hierarchy. And if a particular interpretation cannot be shown to have been part of the universal tradition, then it should not be required to be believed.
    6. Finally, I might repeat the point made by George Salmon in The Infallibility of the Church: when a student begins his degree course, he has to simply accept the professor’s word for everything, but the professor will not have done his job properly if, by the end of the course, the student can claim no other reason for believing something than that the professor said so. Likewise, the Church of Rome should be prepared to come out and justify its pronouncements by appeal to the scriptures and early tradition. We are not children; we are perfectly capable of understanding logical arguments if they are provided.

    • Patrick says:

      “…is because they can be found to be trustworthy when subjected to the same scrutiny normally subjected to other historical documents of the same age.”

      So you found your belief in what Scripture shouts – that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God – based on a sort of consensus opinion that the DOCUMENTS that composed it aren’t forgeries?

      I’m not sure this is at all logical.

    • Luther did not claim the authority to re-write and re-edit the Bible, nor did he do so. This is a straw man.

      Then why did I never even hear of the existence of the Book of Wisdom until I joined the Catholic Church? It had been part of the Church liturgy for fifteen hundred years or more, and contains passages of stirring and remarkable depth of spiritual insight. Yet Luther edited it out of the Bible.

      If this is not an editorial redaction, please tell me what it is?

      The reason we believe the gospels – or at least, the reason I believe them – is because they can be found to be trustworthy when subjected to the same scrutiny normally subjected to other historical documents of the same age. If I were arguing with an unbeliever, I would not ask him to accept the Bible simply because the church said so.

      Then why do you not believe the Gospel of Thomas or the Shepard of Hermas? Did you, yourself, after proper training in the languages, and examining the documents, including those no longer in existence, decide for yourself what belongs in your personal version of the canon and what does not? Or do you just take the King James Bible on faith, that is, trusting the authority of your teachers who told you of it? If so, why did Luther mistrust his teachers and his own father (who, logically, could not have been a Lutheran)?

      The canon of the New Testament was formed by general consensus over the first few centuries. The NT grew up with the church. There was no one point at which it was decided which books were in and which were out.

      Not until there was a dispute in the Fourth Century with the African Churches, at which point a definitive canon was indeed decided. Luther did not come across a field where, for over a thousand years, there had been no consensus and no authoritative statement from the Church.

      The consensus you mention includes the books Luther tossed out. So your argument runs: the Catholic Church has no authority to determine canon because this is based on the consensus of opinion in the Catholic Church; the consensus stood for over a thousand years; but Luther has authority to determine canon, because he is a Christian and (at that time) a member of the Catholic Church. The argument is illogical.

      It is also clear that the NT was never intended to be studied in isolation.

      Agreed. That is why I cannot consent to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

      The point is that the valid interpretation of the church, the catholic or orthodox tradition, is the what has been taught “always, everywhere, and by everyone”. This is what is meant by the magisterium of the church. It rests with the church as a whole. You cannot simply jump to the conclusion that it is unique to the current Roman hierarchy

      Brother, I did not make that argument that the Magisterium of the Church rests with the hierarchy. I accept that it rests with the Church as a whole. That was one of the points of my argument. I agree that one cannot jump to the conclusion that the Roman Hierarchy is vested with the power of the Magisterium, because I did not jump to that conclusion, nor is it needed for this part of the argument. All that I am arguing here is that Luther cannot overrule the Magisterium on his own personally authority: which is indeed exactly what he did.

      Enough is enough. I cannot take the time to answer comments by people who did not read what I wrote.

  4. Sylvie D. Rousseau says:

    Congratulations for this serial essay and your thorough answers to comments. I like your way of demonstrating how solidly rational (but not rationalistic) the Catholic Faith is.

    On a related note, were you aware of Pope Francis’ first encyclical issued on June 29th titled Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith? This, and your posts, will be my readings in the following days.

  5. John Hutchins says:

    “So there is no one who saw Jesus or even knows He existed”

    Jesus is alive, or your hope is vain, and being alive is still quite capable of appearing and visiting with people. As Apostles are special witnesses of Christ sent out to the whole world then I think this is appropriate:

    As we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ two millennia ago, we offer our testimony of the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice. None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth.

    He was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New. Under the direction of His Father, He was the creator of the earth. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Though sinless, He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), yet was despised for it. His gospel was a message of peace and goodwill. He entreated all to follow His example. He walked the roads of Palestine, healing the sick, causing the blind to see, and raising the dead. He taught the truths of eternity, the reality of our premortal existence, the purpose of our life on earth, and the potential for the sons and daughters of God in the life to come.

    He instituted the sacrament as a reminder of His great atoning sacrifice. He was arrested and condemned on spurious charges, convicted to satisfy a mob, and sentenced to die on Calvary’s cross. He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth.

    We solemnly testify that His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world.

    He rose from the grave to “become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). As Risen Lord, He visited among those He had loved in life. He also ministered among His “other sheep” (John 10:16) in ancient America. In the modern world, He and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised “dispensation of the fulness of times” (Ephesians 1:10).

    Of the Living Christ, the Prophet Joseph wrote: “His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:

    “I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father” (D&C 110:3–4).

    Of Him the Prophet also declared: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!

    “For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—

    “That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24).

    We declare in words of solemnity that His priesthood and His Church have been restored upon the earth—“built upon the foundation of . . . apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20).

    We testify that He will someday return to earth. “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). He will rule as King of Kings and reign as Lord of Lords, and every knee shall bend and every tongue shall speak in worship before Him. Each of us will stand to be judged of Him according to our works and the desires of our hearts.

    We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles—that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.

    The Living Christ: The Testimony of The Apostles

  6. Stephen J. says:

    “The Bible cannot witness to its own truth.”

    Out of curiosity, what might one say to a Protestant whose response to this assertion is, simply, “Who sez it can’t?!”

    That’s (a) snarky and (b) possibly inaccurate — I don’t know if this is actually the position of any real Protestant denomination or theologian — so this is not a serious attempt at criticism of your argument. But it does seem to me that inherent in the Protestant assumption that Scripture is literally something supernatural — that it is imbued with the Holy Spirit as a phenomenon, in the same way we Catholics believe the Church to be — is a certain plausibility about attributing to it a supernatural inerrancy and self-evidentness, similar to what we attribute to Papal pronouncements on faith and morals ex cathedra. Put simply, I wonder if the Protestant belief can be stated as: “The Bible can witness to its own truth, and the only reason anything in the Bible was ever adopted by any true Christian is this self-witnessing.”

    This is a completely unfalsifiable “No True Scotsman” fallacy, of course, but I am wondering if perhaps that is the point. One element of the argument being here developed seems to be that Scripture itself is to be taken — for practical and apologetics purposes, at least — as a purely static transmission of information and instruction, as product of the Faith rather than its co-Producer, as medium rather than source of Authority. If what we are dealing with is an axiomatic contention that this is simply not so — that the Bible is to be attributed supernatural qualities that exempt it from the normal requirements of rhetorical discourse and causal logic in that sense; that it is, in short, a Mystery — then it may explain why the two sides continue to talk past each other.

    (In the end, I think, the basic faith is the same: that the Holy Spirit can miraculously transcend the individual failings and limits of fallen human vessels and still convey the Truth through them, in a way we need and can trust, whether that be through the medium of the writers of Scripture or the establishers of Sacred Tradition. Poor Luther simply lost the ability to believe that most of the priests and bishops he knew still spoke for the Sacred, and fell back upon the one source where he could still believe that Truth had been successfully spoken.)

    • Mary says:

      Luther’s claim to fall back on a source where he could still believe that Truth had been successfully spoken would be rather better established if he had not proceeded to hack up that source as much as he could. What do you say to a man whose defense of deliberately mistranslating the Bible is “Tell them Dr. Martin Luther would have it so!” — except that you do not recognize his election to the Papacy.

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