Disgruntled Catholic

As a frequent poster on mailing lists and other online forums, I am subjected to many peoples' opinions of the Church, most of them negative. It seems to me that most of these negative opinions are misinformed, uninformed, or just plain prejudiced. Most people just seem to parrot nonsense they hear from their friends or the mass media, which no one seems to trust unless it is saying something they like. The whole thing leaves me very frustrated and disgruntled, hence the title.

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Location: Leesburg, Virginia, United States

I live with my long-suffering, sainted wife Jennifer, without whom I'd be hopelessly lost, instead of just lost, and four children, Ian, Simon, Francine and Jeremy who challenge, enlighten, amaze, inspire and irritate me on a daily basis. I'm a long-time software developer and have worked in many industries in the past 20 years. I also teach CCD at St. John the Apostle Catholic Church because time spent with children is never wasted. These opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employers, past or present, the Government, the Church or the effects of CIA mind-control lasers. Not that anyone would want them.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sola Scriptura or "Reductio ad Absurdum"

I have had a few discussions in the past couple years with different flavors of Protestants, and have found it to be an interesting, useful but sometimes frustrating exercise. Most of these folks are earnest, faithful Christians who are struggling to discern the meaning in God's Word as it applies to their lives, just like the rest of us. However, I keep hearing the phrase, and the sentiment of, "Sola Scriptura", which is apparently the idea that Scripture alone is both necessary and sufficient for our complete understanding of God's plan for our lives, and everything He wants us to know. Now, in fact, I would agree with that statement, but with a single caveat: Due to the limitations of language, and particularly the limitations of human understanding, it doesn't really work out this way in practice. God is Perfect, but Man is not. I would never presume to accuse the Almighty of messing something up, but for Sola Scriptura to be even remotely possible, it seems to me that He certainly didn't make us all smart enough.

Many Protestants seem to believe that if you give someone his trusty KJV bible and lock him up in a room for sufficient time and he will, by sheer virtue of the magnificent action of the Holy Spirit through the written word inspired by God (no sarcasm or disrespect intended) definitely and completely derive the entire corpus of Christian thought and understanding. While it's certainly possible for this happen, after all, with God nothing is impossible, the only question I would pose to my friends who seem to think that all you need is the air that you breathe and a Bible is this: Why has this in fact never happened?

It's a simple question really. Why is it that so many millions can proclaim a very simple, and eminently provable postulate that Scripture alone is sufficient for any one person to know and understand everything he needs to achieve a perfect Christian life and subsequently salvation, and yet no one can point to any person, save for the Incarnate Author of Scripture Himself, who has actually done this? Because if Scripture alone really were sufficient for any person, wouldn't in fact, all Christians who read it, meditate on it, and pray over it agree? On anything?

Let's look at this another way. If we were try a simple experiment, and take two faithful Christians, cloister them in a comfortable setting for a sufficient time each with a fresh-of-the-press copy of the King James Bible, and task them with coming up with a simple description of how God wants us to live in this modern world, we should, after a reasonably sufficient time , say a couple of years, be able to call these two folks out and have them compare notes, and find that they agree on every single topic. That sounds reasonable enough to me. Then why can't we? Why can't we, in fact, find any one single topic upon which all self-proclaimed Christians agree?

Is it possible that while the Word of God is sufficient, not all of us, or perhaps not any of us, are equipped with the intellectual and moral faculties to fully complete this exercise? What if the two people we were to choose for our little test above were, say Augustine of Hippo and Ernest P. Worrell? Wouldn't it be a little silly to assume that these two people would come to the exact same conclusions? Well, what about you and what about me? I won't speak for anyone else, but I can safely say that I am further from "Nothing conquers except truth and the victory of truth is love." and a little closer to "KnowWhutIMeanVern?".

In fact, if we take the idea of Sola Scriptura to its logical extreme, we would have not thousands of Christian denominations, but in fact one for each single person in Christendom. I don't think this is quite what Christ had in mind when He established His Church. Do you? Yet, this is exactly where Sola Scriptura leads, and in fact, to a large degree, has already lead!

What I think Sola Scriptura is actually, is twofold. First, having been a major precipitate of the Protestant movement, which was originally driven by corruption in the Church, this principle obviates the need for a Magisterium, which is a desired end since its proponents are opposed to the Magisterium. Secondly, and more importantly, I believe that this idea is a misguided attempt at individualism, that each Christian should be some kind of rugged pioneer, trekking across the religious wilderness in some kind of Donner Party quest for the Meaning of Life. Despite the fact that Christ established a Church, an organization that would need to be guided by His Spirit, in order to spread His Gospel, and bring His Truth to all the corners of the world, that Church really isn't necessary any more. I guess under Sola Scriptura, once the canon was settled, the Church wrote itself out of a job. Or perhaps it was Johannes Gutenberg that finally eliminated the need for the Church, having provided the means for every pauper and peasant to have his own copy of Scripture. And let's not even question the utter chaos that must have meant for the first three of four centuries, before it was conclusively decided what was Scripture and what wasn't. "Sola Scriptura" certainly doesn't.

There are many points on which persons of good faith (little 'f' faith and big 'F' Faith) can disagree and debate, but this idea has always struck me as one of the sillier ones. Far from requiring some deep theological and scriptural research, this philosophy falls apart with the simple application of logic and the empirical evidence of centuries of Christian disunity. In other words, you don't even have to crack a book to show this can't be true.

Ultimately I think Sola Scriptura is, in fact, a symptom of that most common religion of this, and perhaps any, age, the Church of Self.


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