The Bible, the Sole Rule of Faith?
Protestants derive their religion from a mere reading of the Bible which they interpret according to their own private judgment. Catholics derive their doctrines from the Church which propounds to them infallibly the teachings of the Bible and of Tradition.
Which of these two formulas is supported by the Bible itself and by the facts of history, and which consequently is correct?
The Bible makes it clear that Christ established the Church as a teaching organization to speak to the world in His name and with His authority. The Church was to teach men whatsoever He had taught - nothing more and nothing less: "All power is given to Me in heaven and earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ placed on all men the obligation of hearing His Church as they would hear Himself: "He that heareth you, heareth Me" (Luke 10:16); "Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16). He promised to be with the Church and guide it until the end of time: "And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matthew 28:20). He sent the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of infallible truth, upon the Apostles and their successors in order that they might be illumined and assisted in the work of continuing the teaching mission of God's own Son.
Our Lord Himself wrote nothing. He commanded the Apostles not to write but to teach and preach: "Going, therefore, teach all nations" and "preach the Gospel to every creature." Christ's disciples and the Christians were commanded to hear the Church, not to read the still nonexistent or at best incomplete New Testament Scriptures: "He who hears you, hears Me."
The teaching Church was in existence long before a single line of the New Testament was written. The Apostles evangelized different peoples, not by presenting to them a copy of the New Testament which did not as yet exist, but by preaching the Gospel, the oral message of Christ to them. Thousands of men became Christians and adhered to the whole truth of God before they saw or read a single book of the New Testament.
It was the leaders of the existing teaching Church who wrote the books of the New Testament. It was the Church which collected and preserved these books, and distinguished them from spurious books which might have otherwise found their way into the Bible. It was from the Catholic church that the Protestants of the sixteenth century took their Bible and also their belief in its divine inspiration.
How illogical, then, it is for a group to step in fifteen hundred years later, wrest the Bible from its historical and lawful possessor and fosterer, put the Bible in the place of the Church, and pretend to possess a true understanding of the purpose and meaning of the Bible?
The different books of the New Testament were for many centuries scattered in the various Christian communities of the Orient. Being written on papyrus which was fragile and breakable, these books could not be widely circulated and hence were read by a comparatively few groups. It was only in 397 A.D. that the Council of Carthage finally decided which books belong to the Bible, and it was about this time, too, that the books of the Bible were combined into one volume. Yet prior to this, the Church spread rapidly to many lands, converts were received into the Church by the thousands, the faith of the people was so strong that it peopled heaven with countless saints and martyrs.
Before the invention of printing in the sixteenth century, copies of the Bible written by hand were so rare and costly that only the rich could procure them. To own a Bible during this period was to own a fortune, and in many instances the Bible had to be chained in order to prevent its being stolen. Were the poor, then, during all these centuries, without a religious guide and teacher?
Was God indifferent to the salvation of the countless souls that passed into eternity during these fifteen hundred years? Did not our Lord provide for the salvation of these unnumbered millions, event though they could not procure, or read, or understand the Bible? We are sure that even our non-Catholic brethren would hardly subscribe to these blasphemous conclusions.
Bible Christianity, then, is an invention of the sixteenth century. In the previous centuries it was not only unknown but it was impossible. Bible Christianity is a formal denial of the Catholic Church, of her divine authority and mission to teach all men. It strives to abrogate the Church which Christ instituted, endeavours to substitute in its place a book, and makes the Bible, as interpreted by one's own private judgment, the sole and supreme rule of faith and morality.
That the Bible is not self-explanatory is apparent, for example, from a mere casual reading of any chapter of the Epistle to the Romans or of the Apocalypse. That it is not self-sufficient is evident from the countless commentaries and books on Sacred Scripture. St. Peter himself was aware of certain difficult passages in the Pauline Epistles when he wrote: "Our most dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, hath written to you, as also in all his epistles speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (II Peter 3:15-16).
The Bible is a large and ancient book, and no book can be perfectly intelligible to all man and of all times. It was written at first in the Hebrew and Greek languages which today are understood perfectly by only a few. It reflects the customs, habits of thought and conditions of an ancient civilization and was written in part to meet the problems of those times. It contains supernatural truths which transcend the capacity of human reason. These are only a few reasons why the Bible stands in need of an authoritative explanation.
The Bible is not a textbook or a systematic exposition of Christian doctrine. It does not pretend to be a complete statement of Christian teaching. Three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are largely three versions of one and the same story. The Pauline Epistles are not doctrinal treatises but letters prompted by the needs of individuals and particularly communities. The thought furthest from the minds of these sacred writers was that their writings should be collected into one volume and considered as a complete statement of Christian theology.
The Bible nowhere states how many of its books are inspired and why. It nowhere teaches the abolition of the Sabbath or the abrogation of the precept prohibiting the eating of blood or things strangled (Acts 15:29). The basic Protestant article that Scripture is the sole rule of faith is not found on its pages. On whose authority, then, do the Protestants accept these doctrines and facts?
Bible Christianity is the motivating idea in two contemporary movements: The reading of the Bible in public schools, and second, the distribution of copies of the Bible in every tongue and in every country of the globe. We shall briefly evaluate these two activities.
Bible Reading In Public Schools
In the 1940's, twelve states by statute require Bible reading in the public schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Seven states have statutes specifically permitting the reading of the Bible in the public schools: Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota. The authorities of a state or of a public school who demand Bible reading as a means of moral education, tacitly recognize the Bible Christianity of the Protestants, impose it on the children of Catholic taxpayers, and thereby infringe on the latter's sacred convictions. Apposite in this regard is the statement of the attorney general of Michigan: "The principle of unfettered individual liberty of conscience necessarily implies what is too often forgotten, that such liberty must be exercised by him to whom it is given so as not to infringe upon the equally sacred right of his neighbor to differ from him. To that end it is fundamental that the law itself shall be watchful to forbid the use or abuse of any of its powers or privileges in the interests of any church or sect. Nowhere is such an abuse more likely to manifest itself than in our system of public schools."
Protestant Bibles - whether it be the King James Version or any other version - omit seven books from the Old Testament and sections of two other books. If they do not omit these books entirely, they relegate them to an Appendix and label them as "Apocrypha" (spurious books).
Should state and school authorities impose the reading of a Protestant version in the public schools, they would thereby adopt and indorse the Protestant canon of Scripture, and with the force of civil law impose this arrangement on the children of Catholic taxpayers.
The problem as to what Bible would be used in the public schools, whether it would be a Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish version, offers almost insurmountable difficulties. The plan to read only certain passages from the Bible is unsatisfactory. By the very fact that they are mere selections, they exclude the Bible as a whole and in this way infringe on the religious convictions of Catholics. Again, these selected readings would have to be non-dogmatic and colorless so as not to offend anyone. The great New Testament passages on the Church, the primacy of St. Peter, the Real Presence in the Eucharist would have to be excluded. The Jew, in turn, would oppose everything distinctively Christian and insist upon reading principally from the Old Testament.
Finally, the readings of passages from the Bible can hardly be more than a literary exercise unless it be accompanied by an interpretation. But such an interpretation is likely to take on a sectarian complexion and again subject the Catholic pupil to offense or to proselytism.
Bible Societies are based on the principle that the Bible and the Bible alone is the foundation and source of all religion. The Catholic Church objects to Bible Societies for the following reasons:
1) Bible Societies are a denial of the Church as a divinely instituted teaching organization and the infallible interpreter of Sacred Scripture. It is an affirmation of Bible Christianity and of the principle of private judgment.
2) Divine revelation is contained not only in the Bible but also in Tradition. The Bible alone, consequently, is an insufficient rule of faith.
3) The Bible is a difficult book and needs interpretation. If even the Biblical scholar and preacher must make constant use of commentaries, how can an unlessoned pagan, as he labors through the pages of the Bible, solve the critical problems of Scripture and construct for himself from his unexplained text an adequate concept of the teaching of Christ? Does not the existence of countless Protestant sects show that many have wrested the Scripture unto their own destruction?
4) The mere possession or reading of a Bible does not work wholesale conversion of individuals and nations. The distribution of thousands of Bibles frequently fails to produce a single convert
5) Copies of the Bibles, distributed by these Societies, are often used for vulgar and profane purposes. Wrapping up groceries, papering walls, lining slippers are some of the uses pagans find for Bibles.
These Bible societies would do well to reflect seriously on the following remarks of a contemporary author: "While their societies are distributing abroad, to the confusion of the heathen, innumerable copies of the Bible, their religious brethren at home are busy tearing the book to pieces and robbing its pages of all authority. Large portions are rejected as spurious. Inspiration is denied to what remains. Young men are ordained ministers who do not believe in the Virgin Birth and corporal Resurrection of Our Lord. In the chairs of Protestant universities are seated the most ruthless destroyers of the Bible's sacred character. Inconsistency, however, was never a more striking note of Protestantism than it is today."
1. What is the difference between the Protestant and Catholic rules of Faith?
2. Christ established the Church as a teaching organization. Explain.
3. Did Our Lord write anything? Did He command the Apostles to write anything?
4. Did the Catholic Church exist before the Bible? Explain.
5. Was it easy for a Christian before the sixteenth century to procure a copy of the Bible?
6. Is the Bible self-explanatory?
7. Is the Bible a systematic, complete textbook of religion?
8. What doctrines and facts, accepted by the Protestants, are not found in the Bible?
1. Does Bible reading in public schools endorse Bible Christianity? Explain.
2. What Bible would be read in public schools?
3. Would it be satisfactory to read only select passages from the Bible?
4. Would anyone interpret the Bible in the public schools?
1. On what principle are Bible Societies based?
2. Why is the Church opposed to so-called Bible Societies?
3. Will mere reading of the Bible bring about conversions?
4. Is the study of the Bible an easy task?
5. How are non-Catholics tearing down with one hand what they are building up with the other?
1. I will always recognize and hear the voice of Christ in the voice of the Church.
2. I will adhere confidently to the teaching of the Church which proposes to me the entire truth as found not only in the Bible but also in Tradition.
3. I will assent to the Church's teachings without any fear because the Church being infallible cannot err.