By Matthew D. Ruhl, SJ
Wednesday/November 22, 2017/Belize City
On November 19th, the nation celebrated Garifuna Settlement Day. The Garifuna community of Belize City decided some years ago that St. Martin’s would be their parish. As such, they celebrated a Mass that honored their Day of Settlement in Belize with Fr. Brian Christopher as celebrant. Fr. Brian even worked on being able to say parts of the Mass in Garifuna.
On November 23rd, we Jesuits celebrated Thanksgiving at Melhado Hall (The Jesuit Residence at St. John’s College). Bro. Karl Swift danced and it was not a pretty sight.
On November 24, I was up early to drive the hour and fifteen minutes to celebrate Mass at Muffles College in Orange Walk Town. At the end of Mass, and much to my surprise, 700 high school students sang Happy Birthday to me and it was very sweet. By 10 a.m. I was in my birthday gift of a room at El Gran Mestizo Resort in Orange Walk. I was joined for dinner by Alice Peralta whose birthday is also on November 24th, (she was also the one responsible for tipping off Muffles that it was my birthday), her husband Abner, her son Abner, and daughter Aspen. It was a cool and lovely evening and a really enjoyable birthday.
Now let us continue our review of things found in the larger Christian culture but not found in the Catholic Faith, and sometimes even antithetical to our Faith.
Many Christian communities believe only in the Bible alone as the supreme and infallible authority. This is called Sola scriptura. There are many insurmountable problems with those who feel the Bible is the sole authority for Christianity.
- Jesus spoke in Aramaic and Hebrew. His words words were recorded in Greek. Then they got translated into English. Can anybody possibly believe that in the transmission from the lips of Jesus to the printed words of our Bible today there is perfect fidelity? There are so many different words that can mean close to the same thing but not quite the same thing. And there are still words that scholars really don’t know the meaning of. There are many translations of the Bible. Now you know why to use the Bible alone as an infallible source is plain untenable. The Bible is the inspired word of God, but it was written down by humans, and human are quite fallible.
- When you use the Bible alone as authority a person can twist the words any way they want and who is there to challenge? Even the Devil quoted Scripture at Jesus in the desert.
- Before the Bible existed the words of Jesus were conveyed orally. No Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John existed for at least ten years after the life of Jesus. The words of Jesus survived through an oral tradition beginning with the Apostles.
- If Scripture alone is true, who gets to interpret it? Unfortunately, in many denominations the Bible is left open to individual interpretation. And as we all know, the Bible in the hands of some is more dangerous than an assault rifle in the hands of another. All these interpretations are one reason why there are now over 300,000 splinter denominations of Christianity in the world, each claiming their interpretation of the Bible is the true interpretation. In Catholicism, interpretation must be in line with our Apostolic Tradition of 2,000 years.
- Nowhere in the Bible, absolutely nowhere in the Bible, does Scripture itself claim to be the sole possessor or arbiter of truth. So it is a head-scratching mystery how a Bible-based denomination can claim Sola scriptura. Sola scriptura denies Sola scriptura.
- Were it not for the Tradition of the Catholic Church, an unbroken Tradition that began with Jesus, there would be no Bible. Tradition alone preserved the words of Christ until they were recorded in the Gospels. These little denominations that claim to love the Bible all began in the United States in the last 200 years and their young tradition had nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible’s creation. They weren’t even there!
- Holding that the Bible alone is authoritative, a Bible that is made of paper and ink, is getting very close to idolatry.
While holding Sacred Scripture as the divinely inspired document that it is, Catholics most certainly do not believe in Sola scriptura. Here is what the Church rightly teaches:
In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own preaching authority. Indeed, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.
This living transmission, accomplished by the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. (Catechism of Catholic Church #77,78).