Fifth centenary of the Reformation: The main principles / Part II: Sola Scriptura

To the first principle explained yesterday (Sola Fide), a second is added, SOLA SCRIPTURA. Luther affirms in fact that the authority of the Scriptures is superior to the authority of the Church, the Pope, the Councils and the Fathers, whose authority is recognized only insofar as the conciliar decisions and the patristic writings are faithful to Sacred Scripture (this is the case for the Protestants of the first four so-called “ecumenical” councils).

D’where the rejection of the post-apostolic tradition as possessing an authority equal to Sacred Scripture, even though it must be recognized that Scripture itself is already the fruit of a first oral tradition (this is what we call the apostolic tradition). It is true that Catholicism presents two strong objections to this thesis:

    1. Authority of the Church was itself necessary to discern the "canon" of the inspired books. It is therefore that his authority is superior to that of Scripture. To which the Protestants respond that this discernment was somewhat imposed by itself on the early Church due to the dating of the canonical gospels (all written during the apostles' lifetime) while the apocryphal gospels appeared later, in general in the second century). In addition, internal consistency criteria in the text also make it possible to distinguish writings that are inspired from writings that are not. It is true that the Protestant Bible is not to be confused with the Catholic Bible, since it excludes the deuterocanonical books. But the Protestant canon, concerning the Old Testament, only followed the Jewish canon imposed on Jamnia in 90 AD, and one can think that these books, although read and recognized by the first Christians from the council of Carthage in the XNUMXth century, were not formalized definitively in the canon until the Council of Trent, in the XNUMXth century, therefore after the Reformation.
    2. La Tradition, which Catholics claim to be a source of equal value to Scripture, would only make explicit what is implicit in Scripture. Thus, for Catholics, a dogma may be genuinely scriptural, although it is highly unlikely that it was professed as such by the early Christians. This is the case, for example, with the dogma of the Trinity. Under these conditions, should we not admit a historical development of dogma, by theological construction from scriptural data, so that the post-apostolic Tradition would then only be the explanation of what was germinating in Scripture? , an explanation of which the history and the Councils would make it possible to actualize the potentialities? Let us recognize the force of this second objection, but the question remains whether all the dogmas of Catholicism can be subjected to the same treatment as that of the Trinity, this dogma having been developed to resolve the mystery of unity and distinction. of the Father and of the Son as well as that of humanity and of the divinity of the Son, as well as of the personality of the Holy Spirit (such affirmations being both explicit and implicit in Sacred Scripture).

The Protestant Reformation brings about a radical reversal in the way of conceiving authorityWe can thus see the meaning of sola scriptura: in its refusal to identify the normative truth of Scripture with the interpretative expression of the Church, the Protestant Reformation operates a radical reversal in the way of conceiving authority since , as recalled by the work of the Dombes group on the question of authority, “judging doctrine was no longer the sole prerogative of higher ecclesial bodies (that is to say of the clergy) but indeed the effective function of the whole community of the baptized. To state the truths of faith belonged to the theologian interpreters, of course, but to judge their conformity to the Gospel was for all believers. »(One master. Doctrinal authority in the Church). Thus, while in Catholicism the magisterium appears as the criterion and the guarantor of the Word, it is now the reverse among Protestants: the Word appears as the criterion of the magisterium, the validity of which can only be verified. 'by referring to the Word, but who therefore can also be rejected. The Word has become independent. It now surpasses the magisterium by its own dimension. Rejecting the magisterium as a criterion for the determination and the correct interpretation of the Word then logically means reducing the Word to Sacred Scripture interpreting itself, such a Word no longer tolerating the presence of a "tradition". " by his side. In support of this Copernican revolution in the conception of authority, Luther pointed out that

“The word and human teaching have established and ordered that it is necessary to leave the care of judging doctrine to bishops, scholars and councils alone. What they decide, everyone must take as just and as an article of faith, as the daily praise they give to the Pope's spiritual right sufficiently proves. For we learn almost nothing else from them, apart from the fact that they boast of having the power and the right to judge what is Christian and heretical. And the simple Christian must wait for judgment and behave accordingly. (…) Christ establishes exactly the opposite: he takes away from the bishops, scholars and councils, all together the right and the power to judge doctrine in order to give them to each and to all Christians in general (…). Bishops, popes, scholars and everyone else have the power to teach, but it is up to the sheep to judge whether they are doing it with the voice of Christ or the voice of strangers. "
Works, IV, p. 82

As we can see, Protestantism ultimately recognizes no other judge than the interior teacher, the Holy Spirit, so that any believer can himself be enlightened and enlightened by him to access the true meaning of the Scriptures. We see that for Protestants, it is therefore individually - and not as a community - that the Holy Spirit is given, which allows each believer to be the judge of the conformity of doctrine with Scripture:

For you, the anointing you have received comes from him, and you do not need to be taught; but as his anointing teaches you about everything, since it has taught you, you remain in him.
I John, 2, 27)

Along with this affirmation, we also see that without the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the hearts and minds of believers, Scripture will necessarily remain opaque and incomprehensible. Paul was already teaching the Corinthians:

If our Gospel remains veiled, it is for those who are lost that it is veiled, for the unbelievers, whose understanding the God of this world has blinded so that they do not see the Gospel shining with the glory of the Lord. Christ, who is the image of God.
II Corinthians, 4, 3-4

The correct interpretation of the Scriptures is no longer the prerogative of the magisterium of the Church alone, but of the Holy Spirit
The decisive gesture of the Reformation is therefore to affirm that the correct interpretation of the Scriptures is no longer the prerogative of the magisterium of the Church alone, but of the Holy Spirit, who acts in the heart and in the soul. intelligence of believers to enable them to recognize the Truth of the Word, and to have access to the intelligence of its true meaning. There is therefore no longer any need to appeal to a higher tribunal, which holds the keys to interpretation. In fact, what Luther mainly aimed at in his dismissal from the magisterium of the Church was above all the refusal to bind the Word of God to any authority, since it is this which, as a sovereign Word, is the very source of authority. Through the restriction of authority to the sole sovereignty of the Scriptures, what Luther therefore seeks is not so much the setting aside of recognized authorities as the positive affirmation of the transcendence of the divine Word in relation to all a word which does not have God himself as its author. Thus, at the beginning of the second part of the Treatise on Civil Authorities, Luther wrote that

"Where a human law requires souls to conform, in religious matters, to human opinions, it is certainly not the authority of the Word of God that speaks ... God wants our faith to be based solely on the Word Divine. It is therefore pure folly to order people to believe in the Church, in the Fathers, in the Councils, when their opinion is not confirmed by a Word of God ... It is even more foolish to require the people to conform. to the opinion of his King or his Prince. We are not baptized in the name of a king, a prince or a majority, but in the name of Christ and of God himself ... No one should and can prescribe to a soul if he does not knows how to show him the way to heaven. No man is capable of it; God alone knows how to do it. That is why, in all that concerns the salvation of the soul, one should only teach and listen to the Word of God. "

We see that, starting from the principle that Scripture is interpreted by itself, and that it does not need an authority external to it to attest to its normativity, the Protestant Reformation substituted for the authority of Popes and Councils of the established Church, considered in breach of unity of faith, the rule of authority of the interior witness of the Holy Spirit, authority of inspiration and interpretation only authorized to witness and communicate truthfully the contents of faith.

Faith, which is born from listening to the Word, is first of all based on an oral tradition transmitted by the apostles

However, no one would dream of contesting that Scripture is posterior to revelation itself: faith, which is born from listening to the Word, is first of all based on an oral tradition transmitted by the apostles. But from the fact that oral tradition precedes Sacred Scripture - a Scripture which establishes it, by giving a definitive formulation to the faith of the nascent Christian community - we cannot conclude, as Catholicism sometimes does, that the Scripture would only be a partial and limited testimony to Revelation, and that it would extend beyond Scripture, either in a tradition transmitted orally by the first apostles of Christ which had not been recorded in writing , and which could claim a validity equal to that of the Scriptures, either in a post-apostolic tradition which would make it possible to identify from Scripture a deeper meaning, but very often purely implicit. On the contrary, it seems to us that the concern which animates the so-called “pastoral” Epistles lies precisely in the will to fix, in a definitive way, the “sound doctrine” in writing, and this precisely to avoid abuses (which will first of all be , from the second century, first of Gnostic origin) which could result from the alteration of the doctrine in its oral transmission.This is why John will clearly warn us against any doctrinal evolution that does not take its source in the apostolic faith, since sound doctrine has been transmitted "once and for all" (Jude 1, 3) to the Apostles, which makes Scripture the ultimate guarantor of "sound doctrine".

For you what you heard from the beginning must abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abide in you, you too will abide in the Son and in the Father (…) I have written this to you about those who deceive you. For you, the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you do not need to be taught; but as her anointing teaches you all things, that it is true and not a lie, abide in her as she has taught you.

Charles Eric of Saint Germain, teacher in preparatory classes, is author, among others, of An evangelical speaks to Catholics ”(FX. De Guibert, 2008),  Private lessons in Philosophy ”, I and II, (Ellipses), "The defeat of reason" (Salvator, 2015), “Philosophical-theological writings on Christianity” (Excelsis, 2016).

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