Friday, July 27, 2007

Catholic Myths: Canon and Authority

Below is an excerpt from Catholic Answers which provides a fictitious conversation between a Catholic and a Protestant - a training tool for Catholics. This article displays the true intent behind the whole canon argument for the Catholic apologetists/e-pologists (as I mentioned previously, it is all about bringing you under submission to Rome) and is why so many Catholic e-pologists won't let this one go.

Here the missionary will fumble around awhile, perhaps repeating his earlier statements. Then you say:

"Look, the fact is, the only reason you and I have the New Testament canon is because of the trustworthy teaching authority of the Catholic Church. As Augustine put it, ‘I would not believe in the Gospels were it not for the authority of the Catholic Church’ (Against the Letter of Mani Called "The Foundation" 5:6). Any Christian accepting the authority of the New Testament does so, whether or not he admits it, because he has implicit trust that the Catholic Church made the right decision in determining the canon."

"...Furthermore, the reason you accept the books you do is that they were in the Bible someone gave you when you first became a Christian. You accept them because they were handed on to you. This means you accept the canon of the New Testament that you do because of tradition, because tradition is simply what is handed on to us from those who were in the faith before us. So your knowledge of the exact books that belong in the Bible, such as Philemon and 3 John, rests on tradition rather than on Scripture itself!"

"The question you have to ask yourself is this: ‘Where did we get the Bible?’ Until you can give a satisfactory answer, you aren’t in much of a position to rely on the authority of Scripture or to claim that you can be certain that you know how to accurately interpret it."

"After you answer that question—and there’s really only one answer that can be given—you have some other important questions to ask: ‘If the Bible, which we received from the Catholic Church, is our sole rule of faith, who’s to do the interpreting?’ And ‘Why are there so many conflicting understandings among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists even on central doctrines that pertain to salvation?’" Catholic Answers

I will try to address the breakdown in this argument in a future post.


MikeL said...

Some questions:

1. What lead the Catholic Church to ratify the canon at Trent?

2. The canon ratifed at Trent matches the earlier canons adopted at Hippo, et al. around 400 A.D. Are there any examples of Bibles in use between 400 A.D. and 1500 A.D. that match the Protestant canon?

3. How was the Protestant canon arrived at? What was the process?

Ellen said...

1) the same issue that led them to call Trent in the first place.

2) Doesn't matter. There are Bibles that don't match the Bibles of Rome, illustrating that Rome's way was not the only way.

3) The Protestant canon is very familiar to the list that Athanasius (Bishop of Alexandria) made in his letter of 367. He listed 7 books not in the canon but to be read: Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith, Tobit, Didache, and the Shepherd. The differences in the canon are his exclusion of Esther and his inclusion of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah as part of Jeremiah.

Your arguments from the tradition of Rome are not convincing, as it appears that the Protestant Canon is closer to the beginning that Rome's

Reginald de Piperno said...


I think that you are getting closer to the basic question with this topic. The basic question is one of authority.

But the question of the canon of the Bible rather glaringly exposes the fundamental subjectivity of Protestantism. Either you must concede (as Sproul does) that on Protestant terms you have nothing more than a "fallible collection of infallible books" - which demolishes any rational basis for supposing that the Bible can stand as an objective standard - or you can pretend (as I have seen other Protestants do) that the canon is "self-authenticating".

In fact, when I was a Protestant I supposed that the canon was self-authenticating. But this position is self-defeating. The Bible does not define the contents of the canon (and even if it did so, it would be a question-begging definition: how would we know that the definition itself is part of the canon?). What the "self-authenticating canon" boils down to is "let's pretend": it's plain existentialism. I didn't realize this at the time, but it's still true.

If all you have is a book, you need to be able to justify the book's authority on some rational basis. But Protestantism cannot do this. The problem of the canon seriously exposes the devastating problems with sola scriptura.

Ellen said...

Let me ask a related question of the Roman Catholics.

Why are you a part of the Roman Catholic Church?

What is it that draws you and convinces you?

Ellen said...

Reginald, given that it took the Roman Catholic church 1000 years to get around to "writing the Bible" and "deciding what it in the Bible", and given that even within that time span there were disagreements about what was in the Canon, how did people come to Christ in the time between when Rome split with the Greek Church and the Reformation?

Your argument tells me that something about the Canon is important now that wasn't so important then - and wasn't so important until the Reformation, when Rome had more to lose.

If Rome is "all that", why did she wait until the 1500 to "give us" the Bible?

Carrie said...

Mike & Reginald,

I will be addressing many of your questions/statements in future posts.

Reginald de Piperno said...

That sounds good to me, Carrie.

Ellen, you ask:

If Rome is "all that", why did she wait until the 1500 to "give us" the Bible?

Setting aside the prejudicial phrasing that runs rampant through your post, I think the fundamental question you ask can be answered in a couple of ways.

In the first place, you seem to misunderstand the role of ecumenical councils like Trent. The council didn't just pop up out of the blue. It was intended to address two things: the abuses that existed in the Church at that time with regard to things like indulgences, and the errors associated with the Protestant revolt.

Here's an arbitrary example. The Church has never dogmatized on the question of whether it is licit to murder. Does that mean that Catholics are free to believe what they want about that? Not at all. It simply means that questions about the licitness of murder have never constituted a serious threat to the spiritual welfare of believers. If someday there was some class of heretics who believed that murder was somehow morally good, then the Pope might reasonably be expected to dogmatize about it somehow - either ex cathedra, or possibly by calling a council to address the question. So the absence of a dogmatized definition has no bearing on whether there was a standard to which Christians were reasonably held.

Getting back to the matter at hand: If the Church never dogmatized with regard to the question of the canon prior to the 16th century, that in no way means that there wasn't a canon before then that was recognized by the Church, and it also means that the question was not a serious threat to the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful.

This is not unlike Nicea, where the doctrine of the Trinity was clarified. It's not that Christians were free to believe anything about it before the 300s. But the controversy became so critical then that it needed to be dealt with.

You also ask (as if it was related somehow - but it isn't):

how did people come to Christ in the time between when Rome split with the Greek Church and the Reformation?

The same way that they do today: by God's grace.

Prior to the invention of the printing press, most people didn't have books, Ellen. Because of the human costs associated with copying books it just wasn't possible for every Christian to have a Bible, even if he could read and wanted one.

In point of fact - if we were to assume that what you say is true, and that the Church didn't have a canon until Trent (which is an absurd thing to say, but we'll assume it for a moment) - if that were true, then the obvious conclusion would be that a canon was not a terribly important thing for the advance of the kingdom of God, because the Church "conquered" (so to speak) the Roman Empire with in the span of a few centuries: merely by preaching the gospel.

So you can't have it both ways: say that the canon wasn't decided until Trent, and the canon becomes unnecessary to the advance of the gospel (as we see from the history of the Church's growth up until 1500). Or: you can admit that the Church did have a canon...but then Protestants would be beholden to the Church for it (although you erroneously reject parts of it).