Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
The Bible, the inspired Word of God, is “the Church's only rule of faith and practice.” At least, that's what many Protestant denominations teach: that we are to believe ONLY what is written on the pages of Scripture. As a Catholic, I respectfully disagree.
Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid has called the principle of Sola Scriptura, of dependence solely on the Bible for all truth, “unhistorical, unbiblical and unworkable.” If you take a walk down Main Street in any town in America, the problem is evident: There is one Protestant church, then another, and then another—each of which finds certain “truths” in the Scriptures, and each of which interprets them differently.
The evangelist Luke, writing in the Book of Acts (8:26-39), pinpoints the problem. An Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the queen, was seated in his chariot, reading the prophet Isaiah. The disciple Philip, inspired by a message from an angel, ran up alongside him. “Do you understand what you're reading?” Philip asked the court official.
And the eunuch, confused by the passage he was reading, replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?”
The story has a happy ending: Philip explains the Scriptures to the eunuch and teaches him about Jesus. The eunuch, realizing the truth of the Gospel, asks to be baptized; and Philip baptizes him at the side of the road.
St. Paul makes the point that we need not just the written Word of God, but verbal instruction. In his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes:
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (2 Thess. 2:15)
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Now Marcus Grodi, along with eight other Catholic writers, has published a new book that explains why the Catholic Church relies not only on the Scripture, but also on Sacred Tradition and the teaching authority of the Magisterium. In The Bible Alone: Is the Bible Alone Sufficient?, Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin lists some practical problems with Sola Scriptura. Fr. Dwight Longenecker points out that it was the Church which definitively ruled on which of the ancient writings should be included in the canon of scripture. Marcus Grodi cites examples of the “illogical logic” of Sola Scriptura, and Dr. Kenneth Howell explains how misunderstanding of the writings of St. Augustine led some Protestants to embrace “Scripture alone.”
Fr. Brian Harrison, a convert to the Catholic Church and a retired professor of theology at the Pontifical University of Puerto Rico, experienced firsthand the confusion within Protestantism on the matter of Scriptural authority, and explains the fallacy of John Calvin's teaching that Scripture is “self-authenticated,” and exposes the weakness of Sola Scriptura. “The schizoid history of Protestantism itself,” he writes,
“...bears witness to the original contradiction which marked its conception and birth. Conservative Protestants have maintained the original insistence on the Bible as the unique infallible source of revealed truth, at the price of logical incoherence. Liberals on the other hand have escaped the incoherence while maintaining the claim to “private interpretation” over against that of popes and councils, but at the price of abandoning the Reformers' insistence on an infallible bible. They thereby effectively replace revealed truth by human opinion, and faith by an autonomous reason.”
There's more: The Bible Alone: Is the Bible Alone Sufficient? packs a lot of information into its slim 130 pages. Essays by Dave Armstrong, Mark Shea, and Joseph Gallegos round out the collection, each approaching the problem from a different perspective. This handy little guide is a great refresher for the budding apologist, and a great short book to pass along to a Protestant friend with whom you've started a conversation.