Fictional Dialogue on Scripture Alone
Observant Catholics accept the Bible and also Church authority and apostolic tradition (all harmonious with each other), whereas Protestants “pick and choose” traditions, on the basis of their rule of faith, called sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone): in which the Bible is believed to be the only infallible authority. This is quite problematic, as I think is shown in the following hypothetical dialogue:
PROTESTANT: [Insert Topic] is a true, biblical doctrine.
CATHOLIC: According to which denominational tradition?
CATHOLIC: How do you know your tradition and belief is true, while others are false?
PROTESTANT: Because we are the most biblical.
CATHOLIC: How do you know yours is the most biblical?
PROTESTANT: Our exegesis is the most plausible and consistent, and true to the clear teaching of Scripture.
CATHOLIC: But other Protestant traditions claim the same superiority . . .
PROTESTANT: I must say in love that they are wrong.
CATHOLIC: How do you know they’re wrong? Aren’t Protestants supposed to be tolerant of each other, especially in “secondary” issues?
PROTESTANT: Well, they have a faulty hermeneutic and exegesis, and I must stand firm for biblical truth. Nothing personal . . .
CATHOLIC: How do you know they have a faulty method of interpretation?
PROTESTANT: By Scripture and linguistic study, and the consensus of scholarly commentaries.
CATHOLIC: But again, others claim the same prerogative and abilities.
PROTESTANT: When they’re wrong, they’re blinded by their presuppositional biases, or else by sin.
CATHOLIC: How do you know that?
PROTESTANT: Because they come to the wrong conclusions about the perspicuous [“clear”] biblical data!
CATHOLIC: Frankly, I would say that that is circular reasoning. But, even granting your contention for the sake of argument, how does an uneducated seeker of Christian truth choose which denomination is true to the Bible?
PROTESTANT: The one which is most biblical . . .
CATHOLIC: Now, don’t start that again [smiling]! They all claim that.
PROTESTANT: [perplexed look] Well, then, the one which has roots in the early Church.
CATHOLIC: Ah! So now the Church fathers must be studied in order to determine who has the early “apostolic” tradition?
PROTESTANT: Yes, I suppose so [frowning].
CATHOLIC: But what if it is found that the great majority of fathers have an opinion on doctrine [Insert Topic] contrary to yours?
PROTESTANT: Then they are wrong on that point.
CATHOLIC: How can you say that?!
PROTESTANT: By studying Scripture.
CATHOLIC: So when all is said and done, it’s irrelevant what the early Church, or the fathers, or the Church from 500 to 1500 believed?
PROTESTANT: I wouldn’t say that, but I must judge their beliefs from Scripture.
CATHOLIC: Therefore you are — in the final analysis — the ultimate arbiter of true Christian tradition?
PROTESTANT: Well, if you must put it in those blunt terms, yes.
CATHOLIC: Isn’t that a bit arrogant?
PROTESTANT: Not as much as the pope and a bunch of celibate old men in red hats and dresses telling me what I should believe [suddenly scowling and hyperventilating].
CATHOLIC: You make yourself the arbiter of all true doctrine, yet you object to popes and councils that make ex cathedra pronouncements every hundred years or so?! Is that not “being your own pope”?
PROTESTANT: We call it the primacy of the individual conscience.
CATHOLIC: So you think that your own individual opinion and “conscience” is more trustworthy than the combined consensus of nearly two thousand years of Church history, papal pronouncements, apostolic tradition, ecumenical councils, etc.?
PROTESTANT: Yes, because if a doctrine is biblical, I must denounce any tradition of men that is otherwise.
CATHOLIC: For that matter, how do you know what the Bible is?
PROTESTANT: The Bible is self-authenticated. Faith requires no reasons. The Holy Spirit makes it clear.
CATHOLIC: Well, that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax. But as to the biblical canon, Scripture never states what its own books are. This is clearly shown in the divergences in the early Church on the question of which works were canonical.
PROTESTANT: There was a broad consensus among the fathers.
CATHOLIC: I grant you that . . . very broad. But there was more than enough difference to require an authoritative decree by the Church to put the matter to rest.
PROTESTANT: God specifically guided those Christians because His Word was at stake.
CATHOLIC: Oh? Good. So you agree that God guided the early Church. That’s apostolic tradition! But not in all matters?
PROTESTANT: No, not when they talked about the papacy, Mary, the Real Presence, communion of saints, penance, purgatory, infused justification, confession, absolution, apostolic succession, and many other erroneous doctrines.
CATHOLIC: How do you know that?
PROTESTANT: Because those doctrines clearly aren’t biblical.
CATHOLIC: According to which “clear” denominational tradition?
CATHOLIC: [smacks forehead, then throws hands up and gazes toward the heavens, wincing in frustration]