The Catholic View of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church
Many Christians do not understand the teachings of the Catholic Church, especially in regard to their view on the authority of the Scripture. They think that the Catholic church believes basically the same as every other Christian. That, however, is not true. The reason for this, is that the Catholic Church does not believe that the Bible alone is their final authority for formulating their beliefs. They believe that the Bible, Church Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church are all equally authoritative.
Many people have a false assumption that this is similar to the checks and balances system that the United States uses in its form of government. The United States has three branches of government, the judicial, legislative and executive branches. All branches are supposed to be equal in power. However, these three branches of government are still obligated to obey one standard of authority. All branches must submit to the rules of governing that were laid out in the constitution of the United States of America. Without that document, there would be no basis for resolving disputes between the three branches.
Therein lies the problem with the Catholic view on the authority of the church. There is no way to have three equal forms of authority without having one superior source which to hold them all accountable. If the church has a tradition that contradicts Scripture, who has the authority to determine which one is correct? Unfortunately, they allow the Magisterium of the Church to determine these things. Catholicism teaches that Scripture cannot be interpreted outside of the Catholic Church. So, while they claim to teach that all three of these methods offer divine inspiration and are equal in authority, the Magisterium of the church has the final say on all matters of dispute. That gives the Magisterium of the church the ultimate and final authority on all matters of faith, and that then, lowers the value of the Sacred Scriptures.
There is no way to have three separate rules of authority, which is why God left us His inspired written Word. The Word of God warns us to continually be aware of false teachers. Without having one authority to check them against, there is no way to determine what the truth is. The Catholic Church teaches that she alone holds the truth and is the only authority for which the truth can be determined and through which the Scripture can be interpreted. The Bible never gives the Catholic church that authority, but their system does not require it to. Christians grounded in the Word of God should not take lightly the claim of the authority of the Catholic church and the degradation of the Scripture to be answerable to Her rather than the Church submitting to it's authority.
Of course, the Catholic Church claims that God empowers them with the ability to interpret the Scripture. Their catechism states that they expound the Word of God faithfully with the help of the Holy Spirit and claim the same authority that the apostles were given. Yet the Scriptures do not give them that authority. The apostles came with 'proof' that they were speaking for God, for they were gifted with the ability to perform signs and wonders and miracles as evidence of their power (2 Corinthians 12:12). The apostles had all personally seen Jesus and had been a witness to his death, burial and resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). Even with all of those credentials the Bereans checked out Paul to see if what he taught was true, and they did that by searching the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). If the apostle Paul was held accountable to the teaching of the Scripture (note: the Scripture was not privately interpreted by the apostles), then the Catholic Church should be held to the same standard.
Instead, the Catholic Church claims that Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church are equal in authority. They make this claim based upon the Magisterium's interpretation of the Scripture and Church Tradition. They claim the Holy Spirit has led them to this conclusion and we are supposed to believe and follow their teachings. How can we be sure they are telling the truth? Their answer is that they were given that authority from God. How can we be sure they have that authority? Their answer is that the Scripture along with Tradition teaches that they do. How can we know it was interpreted correctly? Their answer is because the Catholic Church alone has the ability to do so. How do we know this? Their answer is because the Church teaches that she does. Do you see the endless cycle we have here? There is no authority outside of the Catholic Church that we can test her teachings against. Without holding the inspired Word of God above the rest, there is no longer a way to hold the church accountable to the teachings within it. God did not ordain for it to be this way.
God told us that His Word was profitable for all instruction (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God tells us to beware of false teachers (Matt. 7:15). God tells us there is no private inerpretation of His Word (2 Peter 1:20-21). We should be diligent in following God's command and hold everyone, including the Catholic Church, accountable to God's Word. If what they teach is in conflict with the Scripture, then those teachings are false.
Matthew 22:29 Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God”
Matt 21:42 Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures...”
Jesus told the Sadducees they were in error because they did not know the Scriptures. Jesus often made statements like the ones in Matthew. He expected people to have read the Scriptures and to know what they said. The Scripture alone is the infallible Word of God and holds all authority for all believers.
Below are excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that explain their teachings on the authority of the Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. They believe interpretation of Scripture "has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone." This makes the Church, not the infallible Word of God, the final authority. This contradicts the very teachings within the Word.
2 Peter 1:20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
|The Relationship Between Tradition and Sacred Scripture |
81 "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."42
"and [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."43
82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."44 (emphasis ours)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
|The Mageseterium of the Church |
85 "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
86 "Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith."48
87 Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: "He who hears you, hears me",49 The faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms. (emphasis ours)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
|In Brief |
96 What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory.
97 "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God" (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.
98 "The Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes" (DV 8 # 1).
99 Thanks to its supernatural sense of faith, the People of God as a whole never ceases to welcome, to penetrate more deeply and to live more fully from the gift of divine Revelation.
100 The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him. (emphasis ours)
Catechism of the Catholic Church