I do not expect that the following argument is going to win a Protestant to the Catholic Faith. I have learned from St. Thomas Aquinas that reason has its limits in persuasion, and when reason reaches the wall, Grace is what pulls it over. My reasoning here is akin to the reasoning to God’s existence, namely, that it offers a proof that will not necessarily convince the reader of any certainty, but rather it will ‘predispose one to faith and help them see that faith is not opposed to reason’ (CCC 35).
Being a convert to the Faith, I am well aware of the a priori assumptions that Protestants hold about the Christian religion, for I held them myself. It was not until those assumptions were challenged that I became aware of their errors. The issue I wish to address here is the logical incongruity of the Protestant beliefs on the Bible and the Church. Many Catholic apologists have written about the non sequitur tenets of Protestantism, which includes this matter of illogical formulation. However, I do not want to address the teaching of tradition or provide Scriptural corroboration for extra-biblical truths. The matter I wish to address is much simpler. All it requires is the use of logic and deduction. Here is my point: The Protestant beliefs concerning the Church and the Bible, and consequently their relation to one another, violate the Law of Causality when they contend that the Bible alone is infallible and that the Church is not. (I am grateful to Dr. Peter Kreeft for birthing in me this truth, for it helped in my conversion.)
The Law of Causality Refutes Sola Scriptura
Many thinkers have taught the Law of Causality, but I am just going to focus on one. In his book, A Treatise on Human Nature, David Hume, a philosopher with whom I seldom agree, predicated some rules by which the Law of Causality operated. In it, he lists eight rules by which the Law of Causality operates, but we are only concerned with one, namely, the rule that ‘the same cause always produces the same effect, and the same effect never arises but from the same cause’ (Hume 173). This is easily seen in and understood by our experience. It is a fundamental metaphysical truth about reality; it is, in fact, self-evident. It is impossible, by means of natural processes alone, to get more from less. I cannot get a block of gold from a sliver of it. I cannot get an ice sculpture of St. Peter’s Basilica from an ice cube. Such cause-and-effect relationships are diametrically opposed to reality, opposed to the way nature works. No one in their right mind would argue a position such as this, yet Protestants seem to do it all the time.
Protestantism is under-girded by five pillars (five solae), but the most often invoked ones by Protestants are sola scriptura, sola fide, and sola gratia (Allen). One of the most divisive between Catholics and Protestants is the belief of sola scriptura, the belief that the Bible is the sole authority on and the sole arbiter of God’s revelation (Leffler & Jones). In other words, the Bible always has the final word, and thus does not need the Church to dictate dogma to the faithful. Therefore, it is the belief among Protestants that the Bible is infallible and that the Church is not. The Church exists as an impetus for Christian fellowship, while Jesus, whose fullest image is found in the Bible, remains at the center. Nevertheless, the formula remains: the Church is fallible in structure and in its members, and the Bible alone is the rule of faith from which all revelation is taken.
The Church and the Bible
The problem here is obvious, particularly pertaining to the violation of the Law of Causality. Did not the Bible come from the Church? Was it not in the fourth century at the Councils of Hippo, Carthage, and Rome wherein the Church first authorized the seventy-two book canon of Scripture? If this is indeed so, how can one reconcile, in light of the Law of Causality, the dichotomist conceptualization of the Church and Scripture? Protestants are claiming that an infallible effect (the Bible) came from a fallible cause (the Church). This violates the Law of Causality, for the cause and the effect must always be similar, or as Hume put it, ‘like causes always produce like effects’ (Hume 174). This cause-and-effect relationship is incongruent with reality, just as one might say that my producing an infallible mathematical proof is incongruent with reality, for I know very little about mathematics. In fact, this breach of logical consequence may alert a teacher or publisher to plagiarism. If a professor receives a paper of exceptional erudition by a student who has hitherto submitted sub-par work, the professor is likely to be suspicious that the student plagiarized — for the effect is not congenial to the cause. Likewise, if the Church is fallible, and as an institution is prone to defection of the body and, more importantly, distortion of or contradiction of the truth, then it could not have produced the Bible. From such a fallible Church, readily admitted to be so (a millennium later) by the Protestant reformers, we could have no certainty of whether the books contained in the Bible are inspired by God Unless, however, you qualify the claim with an exception — which is precisely what happens.
The Holy Spirit, Extra-Biblical Inspiration? No! Protection From Error, Infallibility? Yes!
The exception that Protestants attempt to make is that during the specific point in time in which the canonization of the Bible occurred, the bishops convened were divinely inspired to create the canon of Scripture. In other words, at that moment in time, the Holy Spirit told the bishops present at the early councils what the books of the Bible were. This rejoinder to my claim is hard to argue against without placing a limit on God’s providence, for certainly God is capable of divinely inspiring the delegates at the council to canonize the correct books. However, upon further consideration, this rejoinder fails. For any serious individual, it is easily discernible what the Church was doing and teaching at the time of the councils during which the canonization occurred. If one reads any of the Church fathers, he or she will know immediately what the Church taught and what Christians believed in the first few centuries. They were Catholic, with the same Faith as ours. With that in mind, then, if one is going to concede the possibility of the bishops at the councils being divinely inspired, then one must have to explain the divine circumvention of inspiring the bishops on other dogmatic matters as well, matters equally or more important than the canonization of Scripture, matters such as sheer blasphemy. Scott Hahn presented this dilemma wonderfully:
‘Why do you assume that the Holy Spirit led them to declare what books are inspired, when those same Bishops teach the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the veneration of Saints, devotion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Purgatory, seven sacraments…’
Protestants Need a Deus Ex Machina Solution
The Protestant must answer these questions, for there is a consequent penumbra of maintaining the Protestant position on the Church and the Bible that must be resolved. In other words, the Protestant must attempt to answer why the Holy Spirit fixed the problem of which authors and holy books were divinely inspired text (when many of the faithful wrongly held this or that apocryphal book was inspired) and did not correct all the other “errors” Catholics believed in and practiced in the early Church and which Protestants consider superstitious or even blasphemous. The reason the canonization of Scripture was needed was because of the abundance of false teaching being promulgated during that time; therefore, why would the Holy Spirit resolve that issue but leave all the other issues, issues with which Protestants disagree, unattended?
Let us rephrase the question in the parlance of Protestantism by using Scripture to preface the question. According to John 16:13, the Spirit will ‘guide men into all truth’ (italics added). The Holy Spirit leads us to not just some truth, but He will guide us in all truth. Thus, does it not logically follow that if the Holy Spirit acted then and resolved one problem, why did He not resolve the rest, for according to Protestantism all of the beliefs that are clearly present at that time, and that are still present in the Church today, are heretical? Those beliefs, according to the Protestant, are damning. They jeopardize one’s salvation. By maintaining the dichotomous position of the Church and the Bible, Protestants must provide an explanation why the Holy Spirit waited until the middle of the sixteenth century to purge, with limited success, the faithful of their erroneous beliefs.
As I mentioned at the start, these arguments may not convince a Protestant of anything. They may not convince them of the infallibility of the Church. They may not convince them of the authority of the Magisterium. The only thing I hope for, and such is my continuous prayer, is that it predisposes them to look at the rationality of their creed, and evaluate its basic structure, its fundamental shape, in terms of plausible realities. If they do that, then, by the Grace of God, they will be certain of something.
- Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed.Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000. Print.
- Hahn, S. “The Bible & The Church: both or neither.” Newman Apologetics Resource. 1994: n. page. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. http://www.star.ucl.ac.uk/~vgg/rc/aplgtc/hahn/m1/bbl.html
- Hume, D. A Treatise of Human Nature. 2nd ed. London: Aldine Press, 1911. 173-175.
- http://books.google.com/books?id=yYmqSeQC9rsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=treatise of human nature&hl=en&sa=X&ei=YFkxT5r-JIGFtgfK3qCLBw&ved=0CD4Q6AEwAg
- Kreeft, P. Catholic Christianity. 1st ed. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001. Print.
- Leffler, W., and P. Jones. The Structure of Religion: Judaism and Christianity. 1st ed. Lanham: University Press of America, 2005. Print.
- Michael Allen, R. Reformed Theology. 1st ed. New York: T& T Clark International, 2010. Print.