Before we get too far into this study lets answer
a single question, what is Sola Scriptura? Simply stated, Sola
Scriptura is the Protestant Reformation doctrine that scripture
alone (sola scriptura) is the only necessary and authoritative
means of divine revelation, for Christians to live by and from
which to develop doctrine. In other words, "if it isn't
in the Bible, then I don't believe it". Therefore the Bible
alone is the sole authority for faith and morals, and is completely
(exclusively) sufficient within itself to lead a person to salvation.
This belief in the absolute sufficiency of Scripture is known
as formal sufficiency.
Catholic Christians however believe that Scripture
and oral Apostolic Tradition are the core sources of divine
revelation (the deposit of faith), as well as an infallible (without
error) teaching office (Magesterium) that provides Christians
the infallible interpretation of the Scriptures. Catholics believe
that Scripture contains the inspired Word of God and therefore
contains within itself all of the elements for Christian doctrine,
whether revealed explicitly or implicitly. This belief is known
as material sufficiency.
In this study we will delve into the history of Sola
Scriptura or formal sufficiency of Scripture, and determine it's
major problems, namely that the doctrine itself is unbiblical,
unhistorical, impractical, and breeds schism (division). We will
then look into the Catholic doctrine on Scripture and Authority.
John Wyclif - (1320-84)
When we think of the Protestant Reformation, the
name Martin Luther usually comes to mind. We assume since this
is when the split between Protestants and Catholics formally happened,
that he is the originator of the doctrines that we often associate
with Protestantism. Actually to be more accurate, the person
from whom many of the Protestant doctrines originate was John
Wyclif. John Wyclif was a Catholic priest in England and taught
theology. He began to teach false doctrines that were later to
be championed by the German reformers John Huss in the 15th century
and then later Martin Luther in the 16th century. One such doctrine
was sola scriptura.
Historian William Durant writes, "Nevertheless
he [John Wyclif] continued his pamphleteering against the Church,
and organized a body of 'Poor Preaching Priests' to spread his
Reformation among the people...Theirs was already the Protestant
emphasis on an infallible Bible against the fallible traditions
of the Church...And since he urged a return to the Christianity
of the New Testament, he set himself and his aides to translate
the Bible as the sole and unerring guide to true religion."
John Wyclif's "pamphlets" not only spread among the
people in England, but they also spread on the mainland, especially
John Huss - (1369-1415)
John Huss was a Catholic Priest in Germany, who under
the influence of John Wyclif's writings (that were smuggled into
Germany by German students who traveled to England to be educated)
began to teach these errors to his students. His teaching became
known to the Church which had convened a council in 1414 at Constance
to, among other things, condemn the errors of Wyclif which were
being perpetuated by Huss.
At his defense at the Council of Constance, Huss
was asked to recant his heretical teachings, but refused. "When
confronted with extracts from his book, On the Church, he expressed
his willingness to recant such as could be refuted from Scripture
(precisely the position taken by Luther at Worms)". In the
end he refused to recant all of his teachings and was condemned
by the council to burn at the stake for heresy. By decree of
the same council, the bones of John Wyclif (who died in 1384)
were dug up and cast into a nearby stream.
Martin Luther - (1483 - 1546)
To give a comprehensive account of the life and teachings
of Martin Luther is beyond the scope of this study. Suffice it
to say, Martin Luther not only accepted most of the teachings
of both Wyclif and Huss, but Sola Scriptura was one teaching he
championed for his revolution against the Catholic Church.
In 1517 Luther posted 95 theses against Indulgences
on the church door in Wittenberg. These 95 theses were written
against Indulgences that were illicitly being sold by Johann Tetzel.
Luther issued a challenge to debate these theses with anyone
interested. After being summoned to Rome by Pope Leo X on account
of his writings, especially in his tract Resolutiones where
he equated Rome with Babylon (i.e. Rev. 17), he refused and was
protected by the German prince Max. It wasn't until the Diet
of Worms was convened in 1521 that Luther showed his true colors.
The Emperor Charles V himself presided over the deliberations.
When asked by his prosecutor, Johann Eck, to refute his heretical
teachings, including Sola Scriptura, Luther refused and agreed
to retract only those that should be proved contrary to Scripture.
To this Eck answered,
"Martin, your plea to be heard from Scripture
is the one always made by heretics. You do nothing but renew
the errors of Wyclif and Huss...How can you assume that you are
the only one to understand the sense of Scripture? Would you
put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that
you know more than all of them? You have no right to call into
question the most holy orthodox faith, instituted by Christ the
perfect Lawgiver, proclaimed throughout the world by the Apostles,
sealed by the red blood of martyrs, confirmed by the sacred councils,
and defined by the Church...and which we are forbidden by the
Pope and the Emperor to discuss, lest there be no end to debate.
I ask you, Martin- answer candidly and without distinctions-
do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which
Luther replied to Eck,
"Since your Majesty and your lordships desire
a simple reply, I will answer without distinctions...Unless
I am convicted by the testimony of Sacred Scripture or by
evident reason (I do not accept the authority of the popes and
councils, for they have contradicted each other), my conscience
is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant
anything, for to go against my conscience is neither right or
safe. God help me. Amen."
At this the Emperor halted the proceedings by saying,
"It is enough; since he has denied councils, we wish to hear
no more." The emperor believed that if everyone were allowed
to interpret Scripture and to accept or reject both civil and
ecclesiastical decrees according to private judgment and conscience,
it would soon erode the very foundation of social order. On April
19, 1521 he convened his leading princes and presented them with
his declaration of faith,
"I am descended from a long line of Christian
emperors of this noble German nation, of the Catholic kings of
Spain, and the archdukes of Austria, and the dukes of Burgundy.
They were all faithful to the death to the Church of Rome, and
they defended the Catholic faith and the honor of God. I have
resolved to follow in their steps. A single friar who goes counter
to Christianity for a thousand years must be wrong. Therefore
I am resolved to stake my lands, my friends, my body, my blood,
my life, and my soul...After having heard yesterday the obstinate
defense of Luther, I regret that I have so long delayed in proceeding
against him. He may return under his safe-conduct, but without
preaching or making any tumult. I will proceed against him as
a notorious heretic, and I ask you to declare yourselves as you
The rest is history. Martin Luther did indeed continue
with his preaching against the Catholic Church and the great western
schism was born and lasts to this very day. Martin Luther went
on to translate the Bible into German. This translation was filled
with mistranslations that fit with his theology of Justification
by Faith Alone (sola fide).
This translation also had the deuterocanonical books
placed in an index at the end of the Old Testament without page
numbers since some of the books had references to prayer to the
dead, which went against Luther's theology. Some of the New Testament
books were relegated to a lower canonical standing than the rest.
This included the book of James that Luther considered the "epistle
of straw" since it taught that faith without good works was
dead. With the power to make the Scriptures mean what he wanted,
he was able to consolidate his heresy among his supporters by
insisting that his version of the Bible was authoritative for
theological use for determining doctrine based on private judgment
rather than ecclesiastical authority. Thus began the practical
declaration of Sola Scriptura as part of the Reformation.
Sola Scriptura is un-biblical
In order for scripture to be formally sufficient
for all matters of faith and morals, the doctrine itself needs
to be taught somewhere in the Bible. And done so in a way that
makes it perfectly clear that the written Word of God is
the sole and exclusive arbitrator for questions concerning the
faith and practice of Christian life. If it isn't, then it is
merely a human theory (rather than a binding principle) that would
consequently have had an effect on Christianity throughout the
centuries. Therefore the burden of proof is on the Protestant
apologist to prove, solely from scripture, the principle of formal
sufficiency of scripture. These are the scriptures that are used
most often by Protestants apologists to justify their belief in
Sola Scriptura: 2 Tim. 3:16-17, Acts 17:11, 1 Cor. 4:6, Mark 7:5-13.
For the sake of brevity let's investigate two of these scripture
2 Tim. 3:16-17 - "All scripture is inspired
by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction,
and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to
God may be competent, equipped for every good work." Protestants
claim that since scripture is "inspired" (literally
meaning God breathed) it must therefore be formally sufficient
since it is the inspired Word of God and not traditions of men.
First off all lets recall that at the time that St. Paul was
writing his letter to St. Timothy that the only recognized scripture
was the Old Testament. This reasoning begs the question, if the
Old Testament books are formally sufficient for faith and morals
then why do Protestants have the New Testament books in their
Bibles? St. Paul even states in verses 14 and 15, "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 (the Old Testament), which are capable
of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
If this verse is to be used to demonstrate that sacred scripture
is formally sufficient for "wisdom for salvation" then
why did Christ commission his disciples to "make disciples
of all nations" and "teaching them to observe
all that I have commanded you."? (St. Matt 28:19-20) This
great commission would be unnecessary since the Old Testament
would have been formally sufficient to provide this "wisdom
for salvation." Therefore nullifying the need for the teaching
authority of the Apostles. But it appears that this verse actually
teaches the Catholic doctrine of material sufficiency, meaning
that St. Paul is merely instructing St. Timothy to recognize the
fact that the Old Testament contains the material or substantial
proof of the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This
has been corroborated by the teaching authority (Magesterium)
of the Apostles themselves. That is exactly what he means when
he says in verse 14 "But you, remain faithful to what you
have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned
it,". In other words Timothy learned and believed, not
because he read the Old Testament scriptures, but because he believed
the teaching of the Apostles and these teachings (oral) he recognized
as the fulfillment in the Old Testament scriptures. The Apostolic
teaching was still necessary because the Old Testament wasn't
formally sufficient to reveal Christ by itself (or else all of
the Jews would have recognized Him as the suffering servant of
Isaiah 53 instead of the warrior king that they expected). The
Christian believes in Jesus Christ because of whom they learned
from: the Apostles and their successors. There are two other
very good examples of this. In Acts 17:10-12, the Berean Jews
were considered "fair minded" because they were receptive
to the teaching authority of Sts. Paul and Silas (unlike the Jews
of Thessalonica Acts 17:1-9). And they verified and ultimately
believed this teaching about Jesus by examining the scriptures
and accepting the Apostolic teaching. Also in Acts 8: 26-39,
St. Philip taught the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus Christ's fulfilling
the prophecy of Isaiah. Both the Berean Jews and the Ethiopian
eunuch became believers, not by Sola Scriptura, but by the infallible
teaching authority (Magesterium) of the early church. The Apostles
were their infallible interpreters of the Old Testament scriptures.
They simply accepted the Apostle's teaching and believed. Now
lets consider another Sola Scriptura proof text.
1 Corinthians 4:6, "I have applied these things
to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, so that you
may learn from us not to go beyond what is written, so that none
of you will be inflated with pride in favor of one person over
against another." Protestant apologists claim that this
is definitive proof that St. Paul affirms the formal sufficiency
of scripture by stating "not to go beyond what is written".
Implying that the Apostles themselves do not go beyond what is
written in scripture. But what does this saying "not to
go beyond what is written" mean in the context of this verse?
In this passage Paul states that he has "applied these things
to myself and Apollos for your benefit". This begs the question,
what things has he "applied" to himself and Apollos?
In chapter 3: 7-8 he applied a couple of analogies that portrayed
himself and Apollos as "planters" and "waterers".
He also uses the analogy of builders, he "laid the foundation"
and another "built upon it" in verse 10. Here he is
demonstrating (in these analogies) that either he or Apollos are
merely ministers of the Gospel, and that the allegiances of the
Corinthians should not be with the individual ministers, but to
Christ himself. So in light of this how are we to understand
"not to go beyond what is written"? In chapter 3 verses
18 through 23 he states, "Let no one deceive himself. If
anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become
a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is
foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written: 'He
catches the wise in their own ruses,' and again: 'The Lord knows
the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.' So let no one
boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul
or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present
or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ
to God." Paul here is exhorting his brethren in Corinth
to remain faithful to the Gospel and its ministry by avoiding
the "wisdom of this world" by forming rival allegiances.
Pauls and Apollos' purpose is to preach the Gospel, of which
they are both ministers, and neither one is higher or lower in
God's eyes. For they belong to Christ and Christ to God. In
this way he states, "not to go beyond what is written.",
which is a reference to the Old Testament verses quoted above
in chapter 3 verses 19 and 20. As way of showing them that they
are using worldly wisdom through their divisions. Not at all
in the general sense of formal sufficiency of all scripture
(Sola Scriptura), but in the specific sense that human
wisdom is foolishness to God, and often leads to being "inflated
with pride in favor of one person over against another."
(Chapter 4:6) Therefore St. Paul is using specific Old
Testament scriptures to highlight the worldly thinking of the
Corinthian Christians, and exhorting them not to act in a way
that causes an infraction against this principle. One can see,
in light of the context of this text, that this scripture definitely
doesn't teach the formal sufficiency of scripture, but does show
the lengths that Protestant apologists will go to pull verses
out of context to prove their man made doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
One final note on this question of whether Sola Scriptura
is taught in scripture is this fact that no where in the Bible
can there be found an inspired list of books that are considered
scripture (similar to the lists found naming the twelve Apostles).
This would positively identify which books are to be infallibly
considered canonical Scripture. Without this infallible list
Sola Scriptura advocates cannot even determine which books constitute
the canon of scripture. In other words, the canon of scripture
is an extra biblical tradition of the Catholic Church that was
determined through decrees of popes and councils, something that
Martin Luther rejected at the Diet of Worms. This therefore proves
the impracticality of formal sufficiency of Sola Scriptura.
Sola Scriptura is unhistorical
If the principle of Sola Scriptura, or formal sufficiency
of scripture, is the true teaching on authority, then there
must be some sort of evidence that it was practiced early on in
Church history. Since the Apostles would have been aware of it,
practiced it, and would have taught it to their earliest converts.
These early Christians would have written down these ideas for
others to be aware of and practice. Protestant apologists are
aware of this fact and have found some surprising quotations of
the early fathers that at first impression appear to support Sola
Scriptura. But when the complete teaching of these fathers
are investigated, the Catholic teaching on authority is vindicated.
Lets look at a few examples.
Basil of Caesarea - "Therefore, let God inspired
Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines
in harmony with the Word of God, in favor of that side will be
cast the vote of truth" (<Epistle ad Eustathius>).
Yet if Basil's quote is to be of any use to the Protestant apologist,
the rest of Basil's writings must be shown to be consistent and
compatible with <sola scriptura>. But watch what happens
to Basil's alleged <sola scriptura> position when we look
at other statements of his: "Of the beliefs and practices
whether generally accepted or enjoined which are preserved in
the Church, some we possess derived from written teaching; others
we have delivered to us in a mystery by the apostles by the tradition
of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion
have the same force" (<On the Holy Spirit>, 27).
Again, "In answer to the objection that the doxology in the
form with the Spirit' has no written authority, we maintain that
if there is not another instance of that which is unwritten, then
this must not be received [as authoritative]. But if the great
number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without
[the] written authority [of Scripture], then, in company with
many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic
to abide by the unwritten traditions. 'I praise you,' it is said
[by Paul in l Cor. 11:1] that you remember me in all things and
keep the traditions just as I handed them on to you,' and Hold
fast to the traditions that you were taught whether by an oral
statement or by a letter of ours' [2 Thess. 2:15]. One of
these traditions is the practice which is now before us [under
consideration], which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted
firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and
its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time"
(<On the Holy Spirit>, 71).
Athanasius - Protestant apologists are also fond of quoting two particular passages from Athanasius. "The holy and inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the truth" (<Contra Gentiles> 1:1). And: "These books [of canonical Scripture] are the fountains of salvation, so that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the oracles contained in them. In these alone the school of piety preaches the Gospel. Let no man add to these or take away from them" (39th <Festal Letter>). But in neither place is Athanasius teaching <sola scriptura>. First, in the case of the <Festal Letter>, he was instructing his churches as to what could and could not be read at Church as "Scripture." The context of the epistle makes it clear that he was laying down a liturgical directive for his flock. Second, as in the case of Basil and the other Fathers Protestants
attempt to press into service, Athanasius' writings
show no signs of <sola scriptura>, but rather of his staunchly
orthodox Catholicism. Athanasius, for example, wrote: "The
confession arrived at Nicaea was, we say more, sufficient
and enough by itself for the subversion of all irreligious heresy
and for the security and furtherance of the doctrine of the Church"
(<Ad Afros> 1). [Recall Martin Luther rejected the Church
councils during his statement at the Diet of Worms bases on Sola
Scriptura] And: "[T]he very tradition, teaching,
and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning was preached
by the apostles and preserved by the Fathers. On this the
Church was founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither
is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian" (<Ad
Cyril of Jerusalem - And consider this quote from
Cyril of Jerusalem's <Catechetical Lectures>, a favorite
of the <nouveau> Protestant apologists: "In regard
to the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not the least part
may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray
by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you
these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from
the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce.
The salvation which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning,
but from the Holy Scriptures" (4:17). How should we understand
this? Catholic patristic scholars would point out that such language
as Cyril uses here is consistent with his and the other Fathers'
high view of Scripture's authority and with what is sometimes
called its material sufficiency. This language, while perhaps
more rigorously biblical than some modern Catholics are used to,
nonetheless conveys an accurate sense of Catholic teaching on
the importance of Scripture. Even taken at face value, Cyril's
admonition poses no problem for the Catholic. But it does, ironically,
for the Protestant. The proponent of <sola scriptura> is
faced with a dilemma when he attempts to use Cyril's quote. If
Cyril was in fact teaching <sola scriptura>, Protestants
have a big problem. Cyril's <Catechetical Lectures> are
filled with his forceful teachings on the infallible teaching
office of the Catholic Church (18:23), the Mass as a sacrifice
(23:6-8), the concept of purgatory and the efficacy of expiatory
prayers for the dead (23:10), the Real Presence of Christ
in the Eucharist (19:7; 21:3; 22:1-9), the theology of
sacraments (1:3), the intercession of the saints (23:9),
holy orders (23:2), the importance of frequent Communion
(23:23), baptismal regeneration (1:1-3; 3:10-12; 21:3-4),
indeed a staggering array of specifically "Catholic"
doctrines. These are the same Catholic doctrines that Protestants
claim are not found in Scripture. So, if Cyril really held
to the notion of <sola scriptura>, he certainly believed
he had found those Catholic doctrines in Scripture. One would
then have to posit that Cyril was badly mistaken in his exegesis
of Scripture, but this tack, of course, leads nowhere for Protestants,
for it would of necessity impugn Cyril's exegetical credibility
as well as his claim to find <sola scriptura> in Scripture.
One last note on the unhistoricity of Sola Scriptura.
It is worthwhile to note that the canon of the Bible itself wasn't
formally established until the early fifth century, at the councils
of Hippo (393 AD), Carthage (397 AD), and later by of Pope Innocent
I (405 AD). This shows that for the first 400 years of the church
there wasn't a scriptura as we know it today (and at the
time of Martin Luther). This makes Sola Scripture impossible
to be the sole authority for faith and morals for the first 400
years of the church.
Sola Scriptura breeds division -
As we have learned before, formal sufficiency of
Scripture teaches that any person, alone with a Bible can come
to believe all that is necessary for faith and morals. This belief
suggests that through personal interpretation and private judgment
of its meaning, a person doesn't need any other authority for
Christian truth other than the Bible itself. But what happens
when this is put into practice? What is the natural consequence
to this theory? Since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation
this combination of Sola Scriptura, self interpretation, and private
judgment, has had as its natural consequence, caused the irreparable
fragmentation and division of Protestantism. The World Christian
Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press, 1983) estimates that there
are over 20,000 denominations in existence at present, and the
overwhelming majority of them--all but a handful--have been created
in the last 500 years and are Protestant denominations. That is
the fruit of the doctrine of private judgment.
Even Martin Luther saw the inescapable principle
of fragmentation and disunity that lies at the heart of <sola
scriptura>. In a letter to Ulrich Zwingli, he complained bitterly
about the doctrinal anarchy that was even then rampant among Protestants:
"If the world lasts, it will be necessary, on account of
the differing interpretations of Scripture which now exist, that
to preserve the unity of faith, we should receive the [Catholic]
councils and decrees and fly to them for refuge." To
understand the extent of the problem we simply need to look at
another Luther quote, "All men now presume to criticize the
Gospel, almost every old doting fool or prating sophist must,
forsooth, be a doctor of divinity."
Scripture alone, as the tragic history of Protestantism
has shown, becomes the private play toy of any self-styled "exegete"
who wishes to interpret God's Word to suit his own views. The
history of Protestantism, laboring under <sola scriptura>,
is an unending kaleidoscope of fragmentation and splintering.
It cannot provide any sort of doctrinal certitude for the Christian,
because it is built on the shifting sand of mere human opinion
- what the individual pastor <thinks> Scripture means.
As a final reflection on this problem within Protestantism,
lets look at two Bible verses where St. Peter himself warns us
about the hazards of self interpretation and the consequences
that they hold for those who practice it. "Know this first
of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter
of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through
human will; but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit spoke
under the influence of God." And, "And consider the
patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul,
according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking
of these things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable
distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other
Catholic Doctrine of Divine Revelation and Authority
Let's look at what the Catholic Church teaches about
Divine Revelation and the proper way it is to be interpreted.
As we have seen earlier the Fathers of the Church, especially
those that Protestant apologists use in their attempt to prove
Sola Scriptura, are unanimous in their belief that the oral Tradition
of the Apostles is also authoritative and should be held as true
Divine Revelation along with Scripture. Even St. Paul touches
on this in his letter to the Thessalonians, "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."
Also, "And for this reason we too give you thanks to God
unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing
us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the
word of God, which is now at work in you who believe."
The Catechism states "In keeping with the Lord's
command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways: -Orally
"by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their
preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they
established, what they themselves had received - whether from
the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether
they had learned it at a prompting of the Holy Spirit."
- In writing "by those apostles and other men associated
with them the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same
Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing."
" The Task of giving an authentic interpretation of the
Word of God, whether in its written from or in the form of Tradition,
has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church
alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name
of Jesus Christ." This means that the task of interpretation
has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor
of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. "Yet this Magesterium is not
superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only
what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with
the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards
it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes
for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single
deposit of faith."
Sola Scriptura, method of heretics
Sola scriptura has always been the main vehicle used
by heretics. Lets look at some selections of a document written
by St. Vincent of Lerins in year 434. This document named the
Commonitory is an excellent resource for understanding this issue
of Sola Scriptura as it relates to the constant appeal to it by
the heretics. You be the judge whether his words are prophetic
to this issue of Sola Scriptura.
[5.] But here some one perhaps will ask, Since
the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for
everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join
with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this
reason,--because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do
not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its
words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable
of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For
Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another,
Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian,
another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius
another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so
great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the
right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed
in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic
[64.] HERE, possibly, some one may ask, Do heretics
also appeal to Scripture? They do indeed, and with a vengeance;
for you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy
Scripture,--through the books of Moses, the books of Kings, the
Psalms, the Epistles, the Gospels, the Prophets. Whether among
their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public,
in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets,
hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which
they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture. Read
the works of Paul of Samosata, of Priscillian, of Eunomius, of
Jovinian, and the rest of those pests, and you will see an infinite
heap of instances, hardly a single page, which does not bristle
with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the Old.
[66.] It was for this reason that the Saviour cried,
"Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing,
but inwardly they are ravening wolves." What is meant
by "sheep's clothing"? What but the words which prophets
and apostles with the guilelessness of sheep wove beforehand as
fleeces, for that immaculate Lamb which taketh away the sin of
the world? What are the ravening wolves? What but the savage and
rabid glosses of heretics, who continually infest the Church's
folds, and tear in pieces the flock of Christ wherever they are
able? But that they may with more successful guile steal upon
the unsuspecting sheep, retaining the ferocity of the wolf, they
put off his appearance, and wrap themselves, so to say, in the
language of the Divine Law, as in a fleece, so that one, having
felt the softness of wool, may have no dread of the wolf's fangs.
But what saith the Saviour? "By their fruits ye shall know
them;" that is, when they have begun not only to quote those
divine words, but also to expound them, not as yet only to make
a boast of them as on their side, but also to interpret them,
then will that bitterness, that acerbity, that rage, be understood;
then will the ill-savour of that novel poison be perceived, then
will those profane novelties be disclosed, then may you see
first the hedge broken through, then the landmarks of the Fathers
removed, then the Catholic faith assailed, then the doctrine of
the Church torn in pieces.
[70.] BUT it will be said, If the words, the sentiments,
the promises of Scripture, are appealed to by the Devil and his
disciples, of whom some are false apostles, some false prophets
and false teachers, and all without exception heretics, what are
Catholics and the sons of Mother Church to do? How are they to
distinguish truth from falsehood in the sacred Scriptures? They
must be very careful to pursue that course which, in the beginning
of this Commonitory, we said that holy and learned men had commended
to us, that is to say, they must interpret the sacred Canon
according to the traditions of the Universal Church and in keeping
with the rules of Catholic doctrine, in which Catholic and Universal
Church, moreover, they must follow universality, antiquity, consent.
And if at any time a part opposes itself to the whole, novelty
to antiquity, the dissent of one or a few who are in error to
the consent of all or at all events of the great majority of Catholics,
then they must prefer the soundness of the whole to the corruption
of a part; in which same whole they must prefer the religion of
antiquity to the profaneness of novelty; and in antiquity itself
in like manner, to the temerity of one or of a very few they must
prefer, first of all, the general decrees, if such there be, of
a Universal Council, or if there be no such, then, what is next
best, they must follow the consentient belief of many and great
masters. Which rule having been faithfully, soberly, and scrupulously
observed, we shall with little difficulty detect the noxious errors
of heretics as they arise.
In light of these paragraphs quoted from the Commonitory,
lets now recall the words that were spoken at the Diet of Worms:
Johann Eck to Martin Luther, "Martin, your
plea to be heard from Scripture is the one always made by heretics.
You do nothing but renew the errors of Wyclif and Huss...How
can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense
of Scripture? Would you put your judgment above that of so many
famous men and claim that you know more than all of them?"
Martin Luther response to Johann Eck, "Since
your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will
answer without distinctions...Unless I am convicted by the
testimony of Sacred Scripture or by evident reason (I do not
accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have
contradicted each other), my conscience is captive to the Word
of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against
my conscience is neither right or safe. God help me. Amen."
The Emperor Charles V, "It is enough; since
he has denied councils, we wish to hear no more" and
later, "I am descended from a long line of Christian emperors
of this noble German nation, of the Catholic kings of Spain, and
the archdukes of Austria, and the dukes of Burgundy. They were
all faithful to the death to the Church of Rome, and they defended
the Catholic faith and the honor of God. I have resolved to follow
in their steps. A single friar who goes counter to Christianity
for a thousand years must be wrong. Therefore I am resolved
to stake my lands, my friends, my body, my blood, my life, and
my soul...After having heard yesterday the obstinate defense of
Luther, I regret that I have so long delayed in proceeding against
him. He may return under his safe-conduct, but without preaching
or making any tumult. I will proceed against him as a notorious
heretic, and I ask you to declare yourselves as you promised
Sola Scriptura: A Blueprint for Anarchy. Patrick Madrid.
Sola Scriptura and Private Judgment. James Akin.
The Practical Problems of Sola Scriptura. James Akin.
The Commonitory, Vincent of Lerins
Not by Scripture Alone, A Catholic Critique of the
Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura - Robert Sungenis, Editor,
Queenship Publishing. Copyright 1997.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, United States Catholic Conference, Inc. - Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Copyright 1994.