[This became a much longer post than I anticipated writing, and deals at some length with the relationship between Tradition and Scripture in the Church. I welcome your comments and trackbacks/links hereto.]
*Ahmad’s Blues* by Ahmad Jamal
A luxurious and vibrant album. I never knew how much I enjoyed piano jazz. Thanks for the refresher, Ahmad.
_Apologia Pro Vita Sua_ by John Cardinal Henry Newman. This book is part of a lrger “Newman kick” I am working my way into. His prose is limpid and the genuineness of his soul shines through this apology (defense), the aim of which was exactly to clear Newman from suspicisons of “Romish” duplicity. I’m looking forward very much to the fifth section of it, in which Newman defends his faith in the Catholic Church.
_The Roman Catholic Controversy_ by James White. This is a must-read for anyone wanting to cover the bases on their way into Catholicism (not the lest because you can look naysayers in the eye and say you *have* read the best apologetics and *are* still convinced of the Catholic truth). It’s a hard book for me to, not because White is advancing any (or at least not many) new arguments. As I said, I have been slogging through the blog wars up to my chin for over two years. It’s hard for me to read because I see how fundamentally opposed White is to the most basic elements, let alone specific doctrines, of Catholic (and Orthodox and Anglican) thought. It’s almost an exercise in futility to retort to White’s rigorous “pretorts”, since doing so properly requires vast epistemological and philosophical preliminary groundwork. He has such a fundamentally Fundamentalist view of the Faith that it’s rather like my arguing “good” vs. “bad” art with a Russian who knows no English. Each of our points have their own grammatical and aesthetic valifity, but we are simply different *cultural* beings. Jabbing our fingers at the same texts and events misses the more basic point of what we already agree or disagree those items mean in the whole web of reality. As long as White refuses to acknowledge the logical and chronological preeminence of Tradition, he will subject every thought to what he thinks is straight biblical teaching, but which is actually a rigidly constrained Enlightenment and semi-gnostic outlook.
Speaking of the preeminence of Tradition, consider Eric Svendsen’s attempt in his _Evangelical Answers_ to meet the challenge of the canon on purely scriptural grounds. He attempts to show how clearly inspired texts clearly refer to other parts of the canon as inspired, thus verifying the alleged self-testifying nature of Scripture. He notes, for example, that Paul (in 1 Timothy 5:18) quotes the Gospel of Luke in close conjunction with a similar quote from Deuteronomy, thus demonstrating Paul’s unblinking acceptance of that gospel as inspired Scripture. Likewise Svendsen notes how Peter certifies the whole corpus of Paul’s writings as inspired (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). Thus, all we must do to know the canon apart from Tradition (and the Magisterium) is find enough support of all the books of Scripture *directly from Scripture*.
Heroic as it is, this approach is rife with error. First, if all that is needed to to authenticate inspiration is a direct citation, then more than a few of the “apocryphal” books (the deuterocanonicals) get the same green light. What’s more, if an intra-scriptural quote is one of the prime bases for establishing canonicity, then a few pagan works also get the green light (see Acts 17:28-29, Titus 1:12 and Jude 1:9).
Further, apart from having received it from Christian Tradition, what basis do we have in the first place for accepting the testimony of Peter or Paul? We accept the authority of apostles for the same reason we accept their writings: by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Living Tradition of the Church tells us to.
What is the clearest case of Tradition not only clashing with the Bible but in fact of it protecting and glorifying it? It predates the Tradition of the Trinitarian and Christological doctrines established since various ecumenical councils. It predates the much discussed Tradition of the canon. It predates the Bible itself. What is this seismic Tradition? Nothing less than *the Christian tradition of honoring the Bible at all*. The Christian tradition about the Bible *could* have at some point done away with the OT and the apostles’ writings, and relied solely on Montanist-type ecstasy for guiding the Church. (Marcion and Montanus are the exact cases in point.) the Tradition *could* have been that the apostles’ writings were barred from any public access and simply adored from afar as holy objects, endowing all worshippers with magical power and eternal life, regardless of what words were in them. It *could* have been that Paul one day declared, on apostolic authority – let’s say in Berea, to spice it up – that the Gospel forbid any further consultation of the OT. It *could* have been that Jesus declared he really did come to do away with the Law and the Prophets in order to declare the Gospel of God. And it *could* have been that the Jews one day tossed the Tanakh out the window in favor of the superior Babylonians’ legal code. (In fact, this is something like what the Samaritans did, accepting only the Pentateuch since it alone had the namesake of Moses explicitly in it. Hm, sounds strangely like Protestant canonical logic….)
Now, ex hypothesi, by what authority could we have resisted these Apostolic, Messianic and Mosaic declarations? We have no such authority. We submit to the Bible simply because the Church, that organized body of Christians into which we are born, in conjunction with the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, tells us to. The Jews did not chuck the OT because Moses, and then the Prophets, with the power and voice of God, *told* them not to. The apostles did not chuck the OT because Jesus, with the power and voice of God, *told* them not to. Early Christians did not chuck the apostles’ writings because the apostles, with the power and voice of Christ, *told* them not to. We, in turn, do not chuck the Bible (contra the Jesus Seminar, etc.) because the Church has always *told* us not to.
Forget debating Mormons, JWs, Muslims, et al. from the Scriptures (a la Ron Rhodes). How would we resist someone even more radical that says the Bible itself, in its entirety, is bunk, and that the true Christian religion has been surviving for centuries, like a precious hidden “remnant”, in the succession of verbal prophecies in, say, Moscow, Idaho? Our only answer would and could be, “Well, that’s an interesting theory, sir, but true Christianity is *biblical*. I’m sorry to offend your Muscovite zeal, but without the Bible, there simply is no Christianity. That’s just the way we have always done it. It’s our Tradition and that’s non-negotiable.” At which point, strangely enough, a Protestant would leap in and say, “In fact, Christianity is based *solely* on the Scriptures! We are not subject to some vague Tradition. We have the Scriptures as our sole guide. That’s what true Christianity is and always has been about! It’s just the Christian way.”
Simply stated, there is no *biblical* argument for the Bible. There is but the unbroken Judeo-Christian Tradition standing in defense of it. Strange as it may sound, I can imagine a Christianity without a Bible; but I can’t begin to envision a Christianity without Christians. I can imagine a People Not-of-the-Book; but I don’t see how anyone can imagine a Book not first of the People of God. And since God has always placed authoritative, albeit not sinless, leaders over His People, I am nearly as hard-pressed to imagine a Christianity without something very much like the Magisterium.
I admit my “Tradition of the Bible” proposal may sound absurd, but that only serves to verify it. Everything in a Christian reader that is, I presume and hope, saying, “No, no it *couldn’t* have been different, Elliot. The Jews, Jesus, the Apostles, the Church, nobody could have just chucked the Bible. That’s impossible. God would never allow it. We believe in God alone based on the Scriptures alone.” But of course, all such pleas are nothing more than the power of Christian Tradition within you. To be fair, this instinct is right: God would *not* ever allow the Bible to be dropped from Judeo-Christian Tradition since He Himself is sovereign over the maintenance and preservation of that Tradition — just as the Catholic and Orthodox Churches teach.
My demonstration of “the Bible Tradition” may seem so fundamental, so obvious, to you that you simply say, “Okay, fine. Of course we have to accept *that* tradition. But otherwise, from there on out, it’s *prima et sola Scriptura*.” But the problem is that admitting the need for “the Bible Tradition” eo ipso demolishes the “prima” in *prima Scriptura*. If the Church’s “Bible Tradition” logically and historically precedes our reception and submission to the Scriptures, whence *prima Scriptura*? To be logically consistent, we must admit *prima Traditione cum Scriptura*. Neither I nor the Catholic and Orthodox Churches claim we could really be “sola Traditionalists” since, again, Tradition is inextricably bound up with the Scriptures. Tradition is formally primary; Scripture is materially primary; but their “hypostatic union” (or “hylomorphic unity”) exist as one entity: the Word of God. Hence, in truth, the RCC should be accused of endorsing “sola Dei Verbum”. Sola traditione christiana *et* scriptura in ecclesia.
The claim that the RCC follows *sola ecclesia* as its rule of faith — since it defines the canon and meaning of Scripture in the life of Xns — cuts both ways. Each of us, in the Protestant schema, defines the canon and meaning of Scripture in our own lives. What’s the principled difference? I might as well say I follow “sola Elliotus” as my rule of faith. As it stands these days, I have lost the confidence-bordering-on-hubris I once had as a Presbyterian to say I can or should or *could* willfully, serenely and authoritatively interpret the Bible *apart from* the vast chorus of the historical, visible Church which the Holy Spirit has built [cf. Eph 4:11-16] and which must express itself by some concrete, identifiable means, whether in Geneva, or Rome or Constantinople or Moscow, Idaho.
Jesus doesn’t deny us the freedom to interpret the Scriptures [cf. Luke 10:26], but he always provides a clear way for us to know the Truth [cf. Luke 10:37]. God sent Jesus to *personally and visibly* resolve disputes among his disciples [cf. Luke 9:46-50]. Jesus sent his apostles to *personally and visibly* settle squabbles [cf. 1 Cor 4:19-21, 11:2, 34b; 2 Cor 10:8-11, 13:2-4; Philemon; Heb 13:22, etc.]. The Church sent people – for the first *and ensuing* generations – to personally and visibly settle disputes [cf. Acts 15:22-35; 1 Tim 4:12; 2 Tim 2:1-2; Titus 2:1, etc.] Why should I expect anything less from the God Shepherd *today*?