The Perspicuity of Scripture

One of the strangest doctrines that the Protestant communities believe is the belief in the Perspicuity of Scripture.  According to the Westminister Confession the doctrine can be stated as follows:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. [6.007]

This doctrine necessarily follows from the doctrine of sola scriptura.  If the bible is the final authority on matters of doctrine and practice then it better be clear enough for an ordinary person to be able to understand and learn the doctrines from the bible alone.

This is the doctrine on which I believe Protestantism stands or falls.  If the bible is not clear then there needs to be an interpreter that can guarantee the correct interpretation on those things that pertain to matters of doctrine and practice.  If the bible is not clear, then the doctrine of sola scriptura falls, if that falls then every other protestant doctrine falls.

So is the bible clear on matters of doctrine and practice?  Well the obvious answer is no.

If the bible was clear on matters of doctrine and practice then there would be a uniformity in Protestantism on matters of doctrine and practice.  This is obviously not the case.  We have large number of Protestant denominations preaching contrary teachings.  Just as one example, baptism.  We have some groups that  teach that baptism regenerates, some that teach that it does not, some teach that we should baptize infants, some teach that we should definitely not baptize infants, some teach that the matter in which baptism is performed is important, some teach that it doesn’t matter.  This one example is enough to prove that the bible is not clear on this issue of doctrine and practice.  At this point you can’t just say that all the other protestant groups except for your own got it wrong, to do so would be calling everyone that is not in your group as stupid and unable to determine the clear biblical teaching.

Other examples can be named, there are protestant groups that deny the doctrine of Trinity, the most basic of Christian doctrines! Some believe the once saved always saved doctrine, some teach that salvation is a process. Some insist on liturgical worship, some don’t even require you to belong to any faith community. The fact that Protestantism is so divided is a proof against perspicuity of scripture.

Another obvious example of lack of perspicuity of scripture is the church councils.  The councils are usually called when someone disagrees with the common teaching of the Church.  The councils are called precisely to clarify what the scriptures teach! All heresies start by people that see their heresy clearly thought in the bible. If you need to clarify what the scriptures teach than it was not clear in the first place. Also the councils, especially the early councils of the church always ended with a creed.  A creed is not a restatement of what the scriptures teaches.  A creed always goes beyond the scriptures.  It does so in order to clarify the scriptures. There are of course some protestant groups that reject the councils and the creeds they produced, and not surpassingly embrace the old errors of the heretics of the past.  Jehovah Witnesses being the modern day Arians.  Or the case of William Craig (who I love watching debating Atheists) who holds the old Monotheletism heresy.  This man made protestant doctrine throws open the door to all the old errors to once again confuse the faithful, and the protestant system has absolutely no way to deal with it.

The third way to see that the scriptures are not clear is because the scriptures tell us so.

15 And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16)

Peter clearly states not only that there are ignorant people that twist the scriptures to their own destruction, but also that Paul’s letters themselves are “hard to understand”.  If something is hard to understand (and anyone who read St. Paul must admit that he is sometimes very hard to understand) then it is not clear!  Reading other parts of the bible also doesn’t present a very clear picture as to what the bible author was trying to convey.  If anyone tells you that they read the book of Revelation and find it clear then I think they are lying.  I most certainly do not find it clear.

Is the bible clear on matters of doctrine and practice?  I say no, the history of protestantism says no, the councils say no, the bible itself says no.  If you think I’m wrong then pick up the bible and start reading.

Church Fathers on the Church and Apostolic Succession

400px-Church_Fathers_1076

The apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ was sent from God. Christ, therefore, is from God, and the apostles are from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, then, are by God’s will. Receiving their instructions and being full of confidence on account of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and confirmed in faith by the Word of God, they went forth in the complete assurance of the Holy Spirit, preaching the good news that the Kingdom of God is coming. Through countryside and city they preached; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the spirit, to be bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty: for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. Indeed, Scripture somewhere says: “I will set up their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith” [cf. 2 Sam. 7:13]. — Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, c. A.D. 95.

Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest. . . . Be subject to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was subject to the Father, and the apostles were subject to Christ and to the Father, so that there may be unity in both body and in spirit. — Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Magnesians, c. A.D. 107.

As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same . . . nor will any of the rulers in the Churches, whatever his power of eloquence, teach otherwise, for no one is above the teacher. . . . It is necessary to obey those who are presbyters in the Church, those who, as we have shown, have succession from the apostles; those who have received, with the succession of the episcopate, the sure charism of truth according to the good pleasure of the Father. But the rest, who have no part in the primitive succession and assemble wheresoever they will, must be held in suspicion. . . . But since it would be too long to enumerate in a volume such as this the successions of all the Churches, we shall confound all those who . . . assemble other than where is proper, by pointing out here the succession of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul, that Church which has the tradition and faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition. — Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, c. A.D. 180.

[The apostles] founded Churches in cities one after another, from which other Churches borrow the sprout of faith and the seeds of doctrine, and are daily borrowing them, so that they may become Churches. And it is in this way that they may regard themselves as apostolic; for they are the offspring of apostolic churches. Any group of things must be classified according to its origin. Therefore, although the Churches are so many and great, there is but one primitive Church of the apostles, from which all the others are derived. Thus, all are primitive, all are apostolic, because all are one. . . . From this, then, we draw up our demurrer: if the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, no others ought to be received except those appointed by Christ. For no one knows the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son gives a revelation [cf. Matt. 11:27]. Nor does it seem that the Son has given revelation to any others than the apostles, whom he sent forth to preach what he had revealed to them. But what they preached, that is, what Christ revealed to them—and here again, I must enter a demurrer—can be proved in no other way except through the same Churches which the apostles founded, preaching in them themselves viva voce as they say, and afterwards by their epistles. If these things are so, then it follows that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic Churches, those nurseries and original depositories of the faith, must be regarded as truth, and as undoubtedly constituting what the Churches received from the apostles. And, indeed, every doctrine must be prejudged as false, if it smells of anything contrary to the truth of the Churches and of the apostles of Christ and God. — Tertullian of Carthage, Demurrer against the Heretics, c. A.D. 200.

Even here in the Church the gradations of bishops, presbyters, and deacons happen to be imitations, in my opinion, of the angelic glory and of that arrangement which, the Scriptures say, awaits those who have followed in the footsteps of the apostles, and who have lived in perfect righteousness according to the Gospel. — Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, c. A.D. 202.

From that time the ordination of bishops and the plan of the Church flows on through the changes of time and successions; for the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers. Since this has indeed been established by divine law, I marvel at the rash boldness of certain persons who have desired to write to me as if they were writing letters in the name of the Church, “since the Church is established upon the bishop and upon the clergy and upon all who stand firm in the faith.” — Cyprian of Carthage, Letter to the Lapsed, A.D. 250.

Christ breathed upon the apostles alone, saying to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive any man his sins, they shall be forgiven; and if you retain any man’s sins, they shall be retained” [John 20:22–23]. Therefore, the power of forgiving sins was given to the apostles and to the Churches which these men, sent by Christ, established; and to the bishops who succeeded them by being ordained in their place. — Firmilian of Caesarea, Letter to Cyprian, c. A.D. 255.

Dear protestants, before you write against the Church, learn what it teaches.

If you are a Catholic who sometimes ends up on a protestant site, you find yourself staring at the screen with en expression of shock and confusion.  Sometimes it seems like our protestant brothers and sisters know nothing about the Catholic Church.  They do however often post about the Catholic Church and that is when it becomes obvious to anyone with even the tiniest knowledge of the Church how incredibly misinformed these people are about the subject they are writing.  I find this embarrassing since this is mostly coming from the pen of preaches and ministers. I am all for having a discussion about our disagreements, we have many and there should be discussion about it, salvation of souls is at stake after all, but what these ministers do is borderline lie.  I hope they do it out of simple ignorance and not intentionally.

As an example here is just one of such articles.

Let’s take a journey through this article. Text from the article is in italics.

With the hope of accumulating that merit, the monk candidate then stepped foot into a life of austere devotion to Roman Catholic tradition. It would not be easy, but with enough rigor and exertion, the candidate could move himself that much closer to the possibility of heaven. (The author implies merit means earning salvation.  Not Catholic teaching.)
No Assurance, Necessary Torment (Surely the author is not saying that the Catholic Church teaches that torment is necessary for salvation?)
The section on Luther’s life is not too bad, mostly it is Luther speaking for himself.
Anyone knowing a bit of Luther’s history knows that he suffered from scrupulosity.
In Catholic moral teaching, scrupulosity defines the spiritual and psychological state of a person who erroneously believes he is guilty of mortal sin and is therefore seldom in a state of grace.
In a way yes, Luther was a bit psychotic and does not represent a state of mind of a normal Catholic.
 Assurance Rediscovered section (this section is quite bad, it misrepresents the Churches teaching at almost every line)
With that, the once tormented monk rested in the righteousness of Christ. Christian assurance had been rescued from the dark dungeon of Roman Catholicism. [Holy Moly! Dark Dungeon!!! ]Luther realized that truth which every Christian has embraced and celebrated: the sinner’s assurance of right standing with God depends not on man’s moral proficiency before God, but on faith in the Person and finished work of Christ. Sinners do not progressively render themselves righteous before God through works, but are instantaneously declared righteous by faith in Jesus Christ. (That’s almost exactly the Catholic position when we talk about justification.  We would simply swap the word “declared” with “declared and made”.  The author implies that Catholics “render themselves” righteous before God, which is a heresy the Church condemned long long long before there were any protestants. See Council of Carthage in 418.)The penalty for our sin is not gradually purged through a mixture of man’s works, saintly merit, and time in Purgatory, (All merit when Catholics speak of merit is merit through Christ’s grace. No such thing as “saintly merit” apart from Christ, as the author implies Catholic’s believe. Not so.) but instantly forgiven through faith in Christ’s sin-bearing death on the cross. Righteousness sufficient for my assurance of heaven is not accumulated through careful keeping of the church’s sacraments, but is instantly credited by trusting in the righteous Christ alone as my mediator. Luther understood that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone. (We say grace alone as faith alone is not in the bible) The result is that there is not one ounce of condemnation from God towards the sinner. (When we are in the state of grace “in Christ” that is true, when we reject Christ and are no longer “in Christ” that is not true. Surely the author is aware of many passages in the bible when one can lose his/her salvation?  Consulting other Protestant groups who go by bible alone would be sufficient to show it.  Not even a need for Catholic bashing!  Even some protestants don’t agree with the author.) And where there is an absence of condemnation, there is a presence of assurance. (Yes, just not absolute assurance the author is talking about, see the Trent definition that follows)
We are now in the Assurance Denied section.  The quote from Trent should be as follows:
“For as no pious person ought to doubt the mercy of God, the merit of Christ and the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments, so each one, when he considers himself and his own weakness and indisposition, may have fear and apprehension concerning his own grace, since no one can know with the certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God.”
The Church simply states that your assurance of salvation is not at the same level of certainty as revealed faith.  You can have moral assurance but not certainty of faith kind.  That’s why the bible says that not everyone who says “Lord Lord” will end up in heaven. If the author actually read that section from Trent, he would not make all the mistakes he made up to this point.  The Catholic Church teaching is not a secret, anyone can look it up.
If you listen carefully to contemporary Roman Catholic theologians, you will hear of assurance only in relation to those who have been canonized as saints. ( how carefully? To the point of misrepresenting everything they say?  Out of context type of carefully?  Which theologians has the author consulted for this article?  )
 Biblical Assurance section is finally where the author presents his version of Protestantism, not to be confused with other versions of Protestantism teaching the opposite.
Lets just focus on few passages he quotes:
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).   Yes that’s biblical!  Exactly what the Catholic Church teaches!
“To be justified here refers to having been declared in an absolute, unalterable state of perfect righteousness by God through Jesus Christ.” < not biblical. Incorrect interpretation of the text. Reading a doctrine into the text.  
 “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).   Yes that’s biblical!  Exactly what the Catholic Church teaches!
The consequence of union with Christ (“in Christ Jesus”), is a state of no-condemnation. << YES! Correct, exactly what the Catholic Church teaches. We call it “state of grace”

If the Christian dies with unconfessed sin, not to worry. < What is “unconfessed sin”  does that include turning away from Christ?  As in not being “in Christ Jesus” anymore?  How can protestants maintain this umbilical assertion? It even contradicts what he said before.

How do you reply to such an article? How do you deal with it?  Pretty much everything said about the Church is incorrect. I will try to reach out to the author and ask him.

Christ and Peter and Rock and Augustine

From time to time when I visit a protestant website I see articles about the papacy,  the argument usually quickly focuses on Matthew 16, and the meaning of the rock in that passage.

17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
20Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
The protestant quickly makes sure to let everyone know that the “rock” on which Christ is going to build His Church is not “Peter” but Peter’s confession of faith in Christ.  Catholics reply that, the Rock is clearly Peter (Peter meaning rock after all) and that is the clear reading of this passage.
At this point I often hear some protestants throwing Augustine in to the debate.  They cite this passage from Augustine’s revisions work:

In a passage in this book, I said about the Apostle Peter: ‘On him as on a rock the Church was built’…But I know that very frequently at a later time, I so explained what the Lord said: ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church,’ that it be understood as built upon Him whom Peter confessed saying: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ and so Peter, called after this rock, represented the person of the Church which is built upon this rock, and has received ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ For, ‘Thou art Peter’ and not ‘Thou art the rock’ was said to him. But ‘the rock was Christ,’ in confessing whom, as also the whole Church confesses, Simon was called Peter. But let the reader decide which of these two opinions is the more probable (The Fathers of the Church (Washington D.C., Catholic University, 1968), Saint Augustine, The Retractations Chapter 20.1).
This text to the protestant mind clearly opposes the Catholic interpretation of the text.  They somehow think that Augustine, a Catholic bishop in union with the Bishop of Rome, was in fact a proto-protestant.
There are few things that are wrong with the protestant handling of this issue.  And I think this is the process they are following to arrive at their errors.
  1. The text in plain reading is showing that it is Peter who is the Rock.  But this cannot be because that’s what Catholics believe.
  2. What other rock can we find in the passage,  lets twist the words and make “this rock” be the confession of faith and not the “You are Peter (Rock)”
  3. Since this is a very creative reading of text lets look through the vast volumes of early Church Fathers to find some passages that agree with us.
  4. Look we found one!  Augustine!  He clearly is a protestant like us (Forget about all the other million of words he wrote that are clearly perfectly in line with what the Catholic Church teaches)

Now I know it is hard to be a protestant, constantly having to re-invent the wheel,  constantly in need to find support for their man made believes, but this is just sloppy.

For one thing the Catholic Church does not have a single official interpretation of Matthew 16 text.  The Church doesn’t do that, like Augustine himself said in the passage quoted by protestants he lets the readers decide which interpretation is more probable.

Knowing all this lets now see what does the Catholic Church teach about this passage and who the rock is.  The Catholic Church teaches that that:

  • The Rock is Christ, he is the cornerstone of our faith
  • The Rock is Peter’s confession about Christ
  • The Rock is Peter who Christ gave the name “ROCK”

See when you don’t have a predefined anti catholic bias in your head you have no problem with texts like this.  The scripture has multiple meaning.  Here are few relevant passages from the Catechism using the Rock in the three ways I stated above.

Christ as the Rock:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 756

“Often, too, the Church is called the building of God. The Lord compared himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the corner-stone. On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles and from it the Church receives solidity and unity. This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God in which his family dwells; the household of God in the Spirit; the dwelling-place of God among men; and, especially, the holy temple. This temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are built into it. It is this holy city that is seen by John as it comes down out of heaven from God when the world is made anew, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Peter’s confession as the Rock:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 424

Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’8 On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church.9

Peter as the Rock:

Catechism of the Catholic Church 881
The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock.400 “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head.”401 This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.

Passages like the one from Augustine, that protestants use to try to discredit the Catholic position often misfire, because they were written by Catholics who knew their Catholic faith.  And even if Augustine would write that he renounces the doctrine of the Papacy, it would still not present any problems for the Catholic Church,  Augustine would simply not be a very good Catholic. The Catholic Faith is the faith of the apostles.  We measure the orthodoxy of our bishops to this faith, if bishops teach something other than this faith once for all delivered to Christ’s people then it is not the Catholic Faith that is wrong, it is the bishop.  This is of course not the case here.  St. Augustine is Catholic to the core.

St. Augustine, pray for us.  St. Monica, pray for us.