By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
Sola Scriptura is wrong not only because it produced a cacophony of contradictory doctrines, creeds, sects, and denominations, where everyone, Bible in hand, defends his own interpretations. It is wrong not only because it is unscriptural from more than one point of view. It is also wrong because it is unhistorical, unreasonable, and unworkable.
Because nobody ever taught this doctrine until nearly 1,400 years after the Church was founded on Pentecost Day. I mean really nobody. No early Christian writer ever mentioned, alluded to, or hinted at it until Wycliffe concocted the idea and a defrocked monk dogmatized it to justify his subjective moral choices.
If Jesus and the apostles had intended that Christians should have the Bible as their sole guide and interpret it as they saw fit, why is the Bible so silent about it? Why it is not explicitly stated in the sacred text? And how come nobody ever came up with the idea in so many centuries?
The early Fathers and Doctors of the Church, guided by the Popes in Rome, who put together the New Testament for us, said nothing about Sola Scriptura. Since the dawn of the early Church, they taught the people that the Bible is to be interpreted in the light of the apostolic Tradition, guided by the Magisterium of the Church, and not in the light of individual minds and preferences.
Because literacy is a comparatively recent phenomenon among mankind, and in the early days, illiteracy was widespread. How would illiterate people manage to use Sola Scriptura, since they could not read? The Church should have started alphabetization missions instead of preaching missions, so that the people could read the Bible by themselves. Instead of saying, “Go and preach to all nations,” Jesus would have said, “Go and teach everyone to read and then give them Bibles,” or something like that. Even today in many parts of the Third World a large number of people cannot read. How would they manage to benefit from Sola Scriptura?
“They can hear the preaching of the ministers, of course,” you would say. Really? But then it is no longer Sola Scriptura, it is oral preaching, the Catholic way to promote the Christian faith, and so we are going back to the Catholic idea that faith comes through hearing, not reading. Besides, improvised preachers usurp the place of the authentic preachers.
If believers in Sola Scriptura wanted to be consistent and not contradictory, they would promote the free distribution of Bibles to every one without any preaching; otherwise, they would be imposing their peculiar interpretation on others, and it would no longer be Sola Scriptura. . . .
Sola Scriptura is also unworkable because through it Christians are unable to establish the scriptural principle of having one Lord, one faith, one Baptism (Eph. 4:5). A World Council of Churches is definitely not a biblical concept!
Finally, if Sola Scriptura were true, then Jesus would not have instituted the Apostolic College and given its members the authority and mission to guide, teach, and sanctify the people; St. Paul would have said nothing about the apostolic Tradition; the early Christians would have said something about it at least; and everyone who read the Bible would reach the same interpretation, guided by the Holy Spirit. But these things never happened.
You know a tree by its fruits, not by the individual opinion of the gardener. The fruits of Sola Scriptura are there for all to see: a division of apocalyptical magnitude among baptized Christians and a gross relativism in faith and morals.
The Bible was not given to the world nicely printed, bound on hardcover or paperback, attached to a parachute. It was the result of a historical process in which the Roman Catholic Church played the major role: Some of her bishops wrote the New Testament books; she distinguished the inspired books from the apocryphal ones; she preserved the authentic texts in their totality free from error; she saved the books from persecution and destruction; she copied them thousands of times without error; she translated them into a variety of languages always maintaining the correct meaning; she taught those books in universities and colleges, seminaries, and parishes. . . .
Therefore the books of the New Testament are Catholic books, and only the Church whose bishops wrote them and saved them is the authentic interpreter of those books.
Anyone who accepts the New Testament as the inspired word of God is accepting the testimony of the Catholic Church who said so. Now, since God gave to the Church the mission to protect Sacred Scripture, it would be inconsistent for God not to give her the authority to interpret them correctly. To give that authority to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet would be a contradiction, and in God there is no contradiction.
Sola Scriptura defenders have to accuse the Catholic Church of having failed in keeping the faith; otherwise, they would condemn themselves as dissenters and incurring in the reproach issued by St. Paul (Romans 16:17-18).
But is it possible for the Church of Jesus Christ, whose bishops wrote the New Testament and protected it for nearly 1,400 years, to fail in the faith?
No, it is not possible. In spite of the misbehavior of her bad children, the Church of Jesus Christ cannot fail in the faith. And why so? Because Jesus promised to be with her till the end of time, and He sent the Holy Spirit to bear witness of Him; to remind them of everything He had taught them; and to remain with them forever!
“When the Advocate has come, whom I will send from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness concerning me” (John 15:26). “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your mind whatever I have said to you” (John 14:26). “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever, the Spirit of Truth. . . . You shall know Him, because He will dwell with you, and be in you” (John 14:16-17).
Jesus Deserves Our Trust
If Jesus, after making all of these promises, allowed His Church to fail, He would have failed Himself in keeping His promises. He would not be the Son of God, and the whole of Christianity would be a fake.
But it is not so. Jesus deserves our trust. If He promises to protect His Church from corruption, we must believe Him if we are Christians. His Church has not failed — dissenters have. His Church kept the Bible pure — dissenters corrupted it. His Church preaches the fullness of His doctrine — dissenters preach their individual opinions and interpretations. That’s the big difference.
Jesus built His Church upon a rock, not upon books that would be written years after His Ascension into Heaven — the New Testament. He built His Church and His Church wrote the New Testament — not the other way around.
He built His Church like the wise man who built his house on a rock. And the rains fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it did not fall, because it was founded on rock. But dissenters and heretics build their houses (“churches”) on sand, on a multitude of individual interpretations. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and was utterly ruined” (Matt. 7:24-27).
“Thou art Rock and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
Next article: Luther — the Bible’s friend or enemy?
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(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI], president of the Sacred Heart Institute and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is: www.RaymondeSouza.com.)