Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Rome's Apologists At It Again
08/04/2006 - James WhiteYou may recall back in June a series of blog articles that dealt with the fact that Rome's apologists really don't seem to spend much time reading "the other side," and how, when caught being way, way behind on things, they use that as an opportunity to simply "diss" myself or anyone else who would point out their less than stellar research by saying, "Well, you don't matter anyway."
Today I was directed to the following post in a thread at Envoy Magazine's website written by Patrick Madrid:
Exactly right, Art. And several Protestant apologists I've debated on the issue of sola scriptura, such as James White and Rowland Ward, seemed to be caught completely unaware by the formal/material distinction and had no meaningful response to it. In fact, only recently have Protestants begun to attempt an interaction with this issue. Eric Svendsen gives a superficial nod to the subject in his book "Evangelical Answers" (page 75-76). But even that brief mention shows that he doesn't seem to understand the devastatingly negative implications of the Protestant claims for the formal sufficiency or Sacred Scripture(relative to perspicuity, etc.). He certainly did not even attempt any kind of serious discussion of the problem. Based on their writings and debate attempts on sola scriptura, I'm not convinced that he and his Protestant apologist cohorts even fully understand the dilemma, much less know how to resolve it.
In my forthcoming book on sola scriptura for Servant Books, due out in spring of 2007, I expand on this issue in my refutations of White, Svendsen, Mathison, etc.
First, I find it odd that Madrid would be refuting me if, in fact, Akin was right that I'm pretty irrelevant anyway. But that issue aside, as I read this I could not help but shake my head in utter amazement. I think we are over halfway through 2006, yes? Madrid actually tells his constituency that "only recently" Protestants "have begun" interacting with Rome's material/formal statements? Just recently? Evidently, Madrid has not read the three-volume set by Webster and King (came out in 2001). There is a tremendous amount of discussion of the issue therein. Evidently he did not read my article in Soli Deo Gloria's Sola Scriptura! (1995) that likewise makes reference to Strimple's article in the Westminster Theological Journal (Fall, 1977, 40:22-38) that addresses this very issue? But most amazingly, evidently he has skipped reading The Roman Catholic Controversy (Bethany House, 1996---a mere decade ago), wherein I included an entire chapter on the views (plural) of tradition and sufficiency in Roman Catholic theologians and apologists. Let's see how "ignorant" of this position I have been documented to be for the past decade. The following is taken from my electronic files of The Roman Catholic Controversy (and hence this material differs in some wording from the edited and published version):
Differing ViewpointsIncluded in this section was the following footnote:
Despite the fact that the preceding citations seem rather clear, as with any written communication, there are differences of understanding expressed within the broad spectrum that is Roman Catholicism. In fact, the two primary positions taken with reference to the nature, extent, and authority of tradition are, logically speaking, mutually exclusive, yet they exist side-by-side in Roman Catholic theology. It is one of the great ironies of this entire conflict that while Rome claims ultimate authority in teaching and interpretation of divine truths, and while her defenders are constantly pointing to the doctrinal chaos that exists in denominations that hold to sola scriptura, she allows her followers to hold to perspectives with reference to something as basic as the extent and authority of tradition itself that are completely at odds with one another. Not only do Roman Catholic theologians take differing views, but the defenders of Rome on an apologetic level, too, take different views, sometimes at the same time!
It should be remembered that both views deny sola scriptura. Neither view affirms the sufficiency of Scripture that we have seen taught in its pages above. In fact, the second view, though it may sound a little closerto the truth, does not, in fact, come close to affirming the truth about the Bible, and is in many ways more difficult to discuss and expose than the first.
With reference to the concept of the sufficiency, or insufficiency, of Scripture, Roman theology speaks with two voices. The older and, I believe, far louder voice, advocates the traditional concept of two modes or sourcesof revelation: Scripture and oral tradition. In this concept the oral traditions actually exist; that is, there are oral traditions that were passed on to the successors of the Apostles long ago; these traditions have been guarded and passed down through the episcopate to this very day. The term Apostolic tradition has meaning in this viewpoint, as it is believed that there is a real substance, a real existence, to these traditions.They are identifiable things that existed in history. This perspective is expressed clearly in the first draft of the decree on the Scriptures from the Council of Trent, which said that revelation is passed on partly in written books, partly in unwritten traditions. This viewpoint, which we will call the partim-partim view (partim being Latin for partly), teaches that part of Gods revelation is found in Scripture, but not all of it, and part of Gods revelation is found in the oral traditions, but not all of it. Hence, to have all that God intends you to have, you must have both,and one separated from the other will only lead you to chaos and confusion. Those who hold to this view would say the Bible is materially insufficient, for all of those truths God has revealed and desires us to have are not to be found in the Bible alone. The New Catholic Encyclopedia says regarding this view:
A generation after the council some of the leading theologians who retained this teaching were Melchior Cano, OP (De locis theologicis, 1563), St. Peter Canisius, SJ (Catechism, 1555), St. Robert Bellarmine, SJ (De controversiis, 1586). In a series of articles (Greg, 1959-61) H. Lennerz, SJ, vigorously defended the partim...partimtheory and opposed it to the Protestant scripturistic principle.Neither tradition nor Scripture contains the whole Apostolic tradition. Scripture is materially (i.e., in content) insufficient, requiring oral tradition as a complement to be true to the whole divine revelation. New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) 14:228.
The final version of the decree from the Council of Trent reflected the protest of the minority of participants, for instead of directly asserting the partim-partim terminology, it reads, contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions a rendering that allows one to interpret the Council as teaching the partim-partim viewpoint, but does not demand it. But the document still affirms that these unwritten traditions were passed down from the Apostles, were dictated by the Holy Spirit, and are to be the object of veneration in the Church.
In many ways this viewpoint is the easiest to deal with from a Protestant perspective. It is the most straightforward and clear. The traditions can be dealt with biblically and historically. The Roman Catholic who holds this perspectivewill cite various passages of the Bible, such as 2 Thessalonians 2:15, which refer to oral traditions, and will assert that here the Bible is referring to this concept of extra-biblical, revelational traditions that we must have to have everything God wants the Church to have. It is the boldest of the two positions, for it is actually saying that the traditions that have been made into dogmassuch as the Bodily Assumption of Mary or Papal Infallibilityare actually apostolic in origin and historical in nature.
If the first viewpoint did not present difficulties there would be no need for a second. But it most certainly carries with it tremendous, and I would assert, insurmountable, problems. Aside from the fact that the passages cited from the Bible do not support the entire concept of extra-biblical revelation in the form of oral traditions (see below), the simple fact is that the Roman apologist cannot demonstrate the existence of this kind of tradition in history. The novel concepts that have been madedogma in later years were simply not a part of the record of the early church in any fashion. While Roman Catholic historians view the writings of the early Fathers as a witness to this tradition, those very writings present the single most telling objection to this theory concerning the oral traditions. It is simply not possible to defend the idea that such doctrines as Papal Infallibility are directly, really, historically, apostolic in origin.
The second viewpoint does not have to deal with this kind of historic criticism, since it is not nearly as bold in its claims. Instead, the second viewpoint affirms the material sufficiencyof the Bible. These theologians would assert that divine revelation is contained entirely in Scripture and entirely in tradition, totum in Scriptura, totum in Traditione. It is vital to immediately point out that these Roman Catholic theologians are not affirming sola scriptura. Instead, they are saying that all of divine revelation can be found, if only implicitly, in Scripture. That means that such doctrines as the Immaculate Conception, Bodily Assumption of Mary, and Papal Infallibility are, from this perspective, implicitlyfound in Scripture. There is a passage here, a phrase there, that, when viewed in light of the teaching of the Church, might lead one to believe in these doctrines.
This second view involves a different view of tradition itself. For most who take this perspective, tradition becomes a framework, a system of interpretation, rather than concrete packets of revelational material that can be examined and found in historical sources. The tradition can be as concrete as apostolic interpretations of the Bible, or as nebulous as a general concept of the understanding of the Church over time. Different authors will give different spins to the concept. But in any case, the oral tradition does not contain any revelation that is not to be found, at least implicitly, in the Scriptures. For an example of how vague the term implicitly can be, see Appendix A.
While it may appear that this viewpoint is not as objectionable as the first, in reality little is gained by embracing this view outside of gaining an apologetic advantage. Surely it is easier to present a rather nebulous concept of traditionwithout the inherent difficulties of claiming a real, historical origin with the Apostles themselves. Those who hold to the development thesisthat was put forward most clearly by the celebrated convert to Roman Catholicism, Cardinal Newman, will naturally follow his lead in holding to this second view of tradition and the material sufficiencyof Scripture, for Newman gladly admitted that many Roman Catholic doctrines (including the Papacy) were not present in their full form early on in the history of the Church. Instead, these doctrines were present as a seed is present in the soil, so that through the process of time they can be seen growing and developing into their modern forms. In the same way, traditionbecomes something that grows and changes as well. Rather than the static boundaries that the older viewpoint provides (the traditions come from the Apostles and are guardednot changedby the Church), this perspective allows for the explanation of some of the more radical developments in Roman Catholic doctrine and practice over time. Tradition, to be rather blunt, becomes a sort oftheological putty, a moldable material that can fit into the parameters of a changing and evolving theological system.
What is most dangerous about this perspective is the fact that in reality its adherents are saying almost nothing different than those who hold to the partim-partim view, at least as far as it concerns sola scriptura. It just sounds like they are. A tremendous example of this is found in the use of the phrase prima scriptura by former evangelical turned Roman Catholic apologist Scott Hahn.The end result is the same: the sole sufficiency of the Scripture is denied, and in its place we have an authoritarian system that logically has no means of self-correction. That is, since there is no external and unchanging rule of faith for the Roman Catholic Church, there is no real means of reformation when she goes astray in doctrinal matters. Surely there have been reformations in RomanCatholic history where certain problems were addressed (such as the abuse of indulgences for profit at the time of the Reformation), but theologically once Rome has defined a doctrine, there is no way of going back and undoingsuch a proclamation. There is no means of correcting past errors since Rome views herself as infallible and the Scriptures as either materially insufficient or as just one part of a broader Sacred Tradition.
Both viewpoints on tradition boil down to an argument not for Scripture plus Tradition but for Scripture as taught by the Church. In both cases traditionis defined and revealed by the Church alone. It cannot be said, even in the first viewpoint, that tradition exists separately from the Roman Catholic Church, its guardian and protector. Therefore, tradition, functionally, becomes another word for the teaching of the Church in both systems, so that the Churchs teaching authority becomes supreme over both Scripture and tradition as well. When all the smoke is cleared and all the fancy words are boiled down to their simplest form, Protestants believe in sola scripturaand Catholics believe in sola ecclesia, the Church alone. And when the special claims of Rome are mixed in, the best description of the resultant position would be sola Roma.
Not only do Roman Catholic theologians take differing views, but the defenders of Rome on an apologetic level, too, take different views, sometimes at the same time! This often leads to tremendous amounts of confusion, especially on the part of those who are honestly trying to work through a difficult issue. For example, Karl Keating wrote the following regarding the role of Scripture and tradition in his book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism,(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 151,
It is true that Catholics do not think revelation ended with what is in the New Testament. They believe, though, that it ended with the death of the last apostle. The part of revelation that was not committed to writingthe part that is outside of the New Testament and is the oral teaching that is the basis of Traditionthat part of revelation Catholics also accept, and in this they follow the apostle Pauls injunction: Stand firm, then, brethren, and hold by the traditions you have learned, in word or in writing, from us (2 Th 2:14 [Douay-Rheims]).
This is plainly the partim-partimview, with two separate sources of divine revelation, the Scriptures and the separate, external oral traditions. This is plainly not the material sufficiencyviewpoint that asserts that everything is in Scripture and everything is in Tradition. However, a few years later Mr. Keatings own magazine, This Rock, promoted the other viewpoint in an article by James Akin. Mr. Akin took this writer to task for failing to grasp the material sufficiency argument, saying that many Protestants attempt to prove their doctrine by asserting the material sufficiency of Scripture. That is a move which does no good because a Catholic can agree with material sufficiency (This Rock,October, 1993, p. 15). While the Roman Catholic claim to material sufficiencyis in reality a rather empty one, the fact remains that Mr. Akin is saying it does no good to prove that the position taken by Mr. Keating is in error and is untenable! This use of whichever argument is best for this situationis a common problem in Protestant/Catholic dialogues.
One is truly left wondering how on earth all that discussion of formal and material sufficiency issues ended up in a book I wrote in early 1996, more than a decade ago, when Patrick Madrid is telling his followers today that I and Svendsen and Webster and King, etc., are just now getting to the issue! Maybe the reality is that it is Madrid, and his co-horts, who have been riding along on the current provided by the fact that so many of their supporters show no interest in listening to the other side and hence can be easily convinced that the shallow answers they have been providing all along are worthwhile? One thing is for sure: if Mr. Madrid is writing a book, I sure hope he does a whole lot more research before providing it to the publisher. He will be setting himself up for quite the flurry of easily documented refutation if he doesn't.