May 18, 2007

The Case of Bible v. Church

Growing up a Catholic in a sola scriptura culture, I’d always held the Bible in far more esteem than Tradition or the Magisterium. In a way I was like the ignorant client who had the best lawyer in the world but insisted on reading the fine print of the legal document. Every time I verified in print what I’d already been told I'd say to my lawyer, “Hey you were right!”. It’s not dissimilar to how your father is ignorant when you’re fifteen but becomes much wiser when you’re thirty.

I find that reading the Bible has increased my faith in the Church because I see how obedient Church teachings are to the whole of Scripture. This makes sense because the giants who helped determine the shape of the Church were far more familiar with Scripture than me. It’s said that Aquinas knew the bible by heart and the early Fathers were scarcely less familiar. There is nobody thirstier for Scripture in general and the correct interpretation in particular than those who would and did die based on it - i.e. the early Christians and Fathers. And as Francis Beckwith recently said, the early Church was very Catholic. For example, all of the early Church fathers without exception took Jesus' words at face value and believed and taught the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In order to dance with the girl that brung ya you have to dance with a sacramental Church.

They were familiar with the big picture as well as the micro pictures and how the latter fit intricately with the former. They struggled with faith versus works and free will & God’s sovereignty, and discovered heretofore hidden gems like the role of Mary in salvation history. Yet like a typical modern I assumed those who came before me were either a bit obtuse or disingenuous. For example, I assumed they either missed or arrogantly dismissed the part in the bible where it said Jesus had brothers.

Reading the Bible gave me greater faith in the Church in part because whatever difficulties lay in the tensions between Church teachings of different eras, the same tensions were already present in the Bible itself. Luther wanted to dump the book of James because he saw it as too much in contrast to St. Paul's letters. Learning this, I could embrace whatever difficulties the Church presented because she at least came by it honestly!

Bible v. Church was ingrained but turned out to be false distinction. I love the Bible and need the reassurance and reinforcement of the fine print. Nothing can replace the direct words of Christ upon which literally everything is based. But I’ll also trust my lawyer and mother dear, Mater Ecclesiae.

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