More on Sola Scriptura in Lutheranism

At the end of a long string of comments on the posting regarding sola scriptura, Pastor Weedon provides a good precis of the teaching of the early Lutheran Church on the perpetual virginity of Mary, and quotes Luther as saying (regarding infant baptism as an example)

“I did not invent it. It came to me by tradition and I was persuaded by no word of Scripture that it was wrong.”

. He also says, regarding my assertion that his position regarding Scripture and Tradition (Tradition teaches sola scriptura) is contradictory:

I do not see a contradiction at all. Sacred Scripture teaches us the value of Tradition (and also teaches us to distinguish between mere human traditions and apostolic ones); Tradition teaches us that the sacred Scriptures are the sole source for the foundations of Christian dogma because our faith rests upon the revelation made to the Apostles and Prophets and not on any other revelations made to men, regardless of their sanctity. The Scriptures do not derive their authority from Tradition’s witness about them; they derive their authority from being incontrovertibly the Word of God.

Pastor, you say you cannot see the contradiction. Let me lay it out once more for you.

I agree that Scripture is (to the faithful) “incontrovertibly” the Word of God and that their authority does not derive (as a source) from the Tradition but from God himself. The Church, using Tradition as a guide, recognised their authority and which books were and were not authoritative. Thus again, we see the teaching authority of the Church, which is not above that of God’s Word in Scripture, but in the service of God’s Word in Scripture.

The same could be said of Tradition itself: The Church recognises authentic Tradition on its own self-evident nature as witness to the Word of God. For Catholics, this witness is also “incontrovertible”.

We recongise that just as the authority of the Church and Tradition is not “incontrovertible” to non-Catholics, so the authority of Scripture is not “incontrovertable” to non-Christians.

But you say that “Tradition teaches us that the sacred Scriptures are the sole source for the foundations of Christian dogma becasue our faith rests upon the revelation made to the Apostles and Prophets and not on any other revelations made to men.”

Note first: we agree that “our faith rests upon the revelation made to the Apostles and Prophets and not on any other revelations made to men.” What we do not agree upon is that this revelation is completely contained in the written revelation made to the Apostles and Prophets. We point to two ways in which the revelation was passed on: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

So where does the “sola” come from? You say it “Tradition teaches” it.

Now, if the Tradition of “sola scriptura” is a “Christian dogma”, then there is a contradiction, for this dogma does not have its foundation in Scripture alone.

Even if it is not a dogma, but a “principle” a difficulty still exists for you: namely that the authority for this principle comes from (one reading of) Tradition. Tradition therefore has a recognised authority as a basis for a theological principle alongside Scripture itself.

The result is that Scripture is no longer the sole authority for the foundation of teaching within the Lutheran Church. Again, a contradiction.

I note in your precis of Lutheran teacing on the perpetual virginity of Mary that Luther said (regarding infant baptism) “I did not invent it. It came to me by tradition and I was persuaded by no word of Scripture that it was wrong.”

That is precisely our point. Luther refers to his own authority as a scriptural interpreter.

How is this any less controversial than our claim that this or that doctrine “came to us from Tradition, and the CHURCH has not been persuaded by any Word of Scripture that it is wrong”?

It is a case of submitting to
1) the Authority of Scripture
2) the Authority of Tradition
3) the Authority of the Church as interpreter of Scripture and Tradition

rather than to
1) the Authority of Scripture
2) the Authority of Tradition
3) my own Authority as interpreter of Scripture and Tradition.

PE has said that the first schema ends in “the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church.”

I contend that the latter schema ends in “Me, me, me.”

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “More on Sola Scriptura in Lutheranism

  1. Past Elder

    The first schema does end in “the Catholic Church …” — in this blog’s context.

    The “Church” has another “lung” in which it does not end in the Roman Church or its pope at all.

    The first schema ends in several things, among them, “the Catholic Church …”, and also others, none of whom agree exactly on what this is or who has it.

    As to which of them is correct, that rests upon — one’s own authority and decision.

    Only then does “the Church” become “the Catholic Church etc” or one of the other answers.

  2. Schütz

    Well… not if you take it in Pastor’s “incontrovertible” sense, PE.

    As in “The Church does not derive her authority from my witness about her; she derives her authority from being incontrovertibly the Church of God.” Thus, I have not exercised my authority my submission to her any more than you exercise your authority in accepting the Scriptures as the (self-evident) Word of God. Of course, the fact that the Catholic Church is “incontrovertibly” the Church of God is not something everyone recognises as “incontrovertible”.

  3. Past Elder

    Won’t wash. By that argument, then, since Scriptures do not derive their authority from my witness about them but from being incontrovertibly the Word of God, then, one hase not (say, Luther) execised his authority by submission to them.

  4. William Weedon

    Goodness, David. I can’t get involved in this conversation during Lent – too much to get done! Just briefly, I do not in the least deny that we are to exercise personal judgment; I do deny that the Scriptures are anything less than the active and living Word of God which itself decides truth – acts as arbiter as St. Gregory put it. But more later.

  5. William Weedon

    One more brief point before heading out the door:

    Not:

    Me, Me, Me

    Rather:

    The Word. The Word. The Word.

    How did St. Augustine put it? What counts in the Church is not “I say this” “you say that” or “some other says something” but “Thus says the Lord.”

  6. orrologion

    Of course, this begs the question as to whether we are substituting our own saying for the Lord’s – whether accidentally, unconsciously or on purpose. (I assume the former rather than the last in the vast majority of cases).

    The way we check ourselves and our fallen intellect is by comparing our understanding to the Church’s, to eminent Fathers and to the lex orandi of the Church – and all this in broad consensus. For instance, it is no good pointing to St. Cyril of Alexandria’s earlier writings for orthodox, catholic Christology while ignoring his later more irenic writings as well as the witness of the Leo the Great who agreed and gave voice to the doctrine of the Universal Church. It is likewise dangerous to be found overly ro solely reliant on the preferred teaching of a specific person, school of thought, region, etc. If one is actually to be found contra mundi, it is far more likely one is an Arius or Nestorius rather than an Athanasius or Maximus. Lack of a broad majority, lack of continuity, lack of support from the apostolic and ancient sees (plural), etc. is a sure sign one has mistaken “Me, Me, Me” for “The Word. The Word. The Word.”, unfortunately.

  7. Past Elder

    Ah, just what I was waiting for, almost right on cue!

    The Orthodox Church, the Orthodox church, the Orthodox church!!

    A VERY broad consensus indeed, since these ancient sees, or rather churches in our time that claim to be these ancient sees, do not agree on what exactly that broad consensus contains, who’s got it and who doesn’t, etc, and in the end one again makes one’s decision on one’s own “authority”.

  8. William Weedon

    Christopher,

    Terry’s point is worth considering. The Orthodox, as the Roman Catholics, and the Lutherans all appeal to a consensus of the Fathers, and yet we all know that every one of those groups reads these fathers through different lenses, filtering them.

    What Orthodoxy and Rome seem to share in common is the conviction that the Word of God, the enscriptured Word, is incapable of being judge, arbiter of truth. That it is something that someone WIELDS to determine truth. But the Lutheran approach is fundamentally different and confesses that since the Word is God speaking, the stance of faith is to bow before what is said, confess it, believe it and hold to it and not allow anything to contradict, minimize or overthrow this speaking of God by which He rules in His Church.

  9. orrologion

    The Pontificator’s First Law states that “When Orthodoxy and Catholicism agree, Protestantism loses.”

    The vast majority of true, essential differences between Orthodoxy and Protestantism (of any form) are common differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, and between the Oriental Orthodox and Protestantism. There is no question, for instance, between these ‘historic’ or ‘continuity’ communions on the subject of the invocation of the saints and the ‘hyper-veneration’ of the Theotokos; etc.

    In the words of Newman:

    “History is not a creed or a catechism, it gives lessons rather than rules; still no one can mistake its general teaching in this matter, whether he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines and broad masses of colour rise out of the records of the past. They may be dim, they may be incomplete; but they are definite. And this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.

    “And Protestantism has ever felt it so. I do not mean that every writer on the Protestant side has felt it; for it was the fashion at first, at least as a rhetorical argument against Rome, to appeal to past ages, or to some of them; but Protestantism, as a whole, feels it, and has felt it. This is shown in the determination already referred to of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone: men never would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it. It is shown by the long neglect of ecclesiastical history in England, which prevails even in the English Church. Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicæa and Trent, except as affording one or two passages to illustrate its wild interpretations of certain prophesies of St. Paul and St. John…. To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.

    The fact that there are a few things that got mistransmitted by this or that corner of the Church is no great surprise to me given the complexities surrounding the 2000 year history of the Church.

  10. William Weedon

    Pontificator’s law holds no truck for me. If the Word of God speaks, then all others should be silent and bow before the divine Words. It matters not whether Rome or the East unite in disagreeing with the Divine Words, they remain His. Well did St. Augustine say: “Let us therefore give in and yield our assent to the authority of Holy Scripture, which knows not how either to be deceived or to deceive.

  11. orrologion

    I don’t disagree with St. Augustine. We should “give in and yield our assent to the authority of Holy Scripture, which knows not how either to be deceived or to deceive” That is beside the point. I do not trust in the ability of Luther, Chemnitz, Krauth, you or me to accurately understand the Holy Scripture and not be deceived or deceive. I think you would allow that St. Augustine himself in giving in and yielding assent to the authority of Holy Scripture nonetheless erred in some or many particulars.

    I believe he also placed all his teaching at the feet of the Catholic Church toward the end of his life for her to judge the orthodoxy of his teaching, so there is more to the story than this gem.

  12. William Weedon

    We’ve spoken of this before, my friend, but when the moment arrives when the devil is holding before your memory your sins and working to drive you into absolute despair, and death and hell are before your feet, you will need something stronger than a word from Luther, Krauth, Augustine or even Maximus to hold to. You will need a Word from God on which you can rely like a rock and find the power to whether the stormy assault. At such moment, may it not be the fathers who come to mind, but the promises of Sacred Scripture for these alone can sustain you in the demonic assault and see your faith through the time of trial. It’s not a matter of philosophy or of religion; it is a matter of spiritual life and death, and thus I speak so earnestly about this. And do so because I love you much, my brother.

  13. orrologion

    I take this and all our conversations as rooted in your love, and I thank you.

    The conversation where this exact point came up has been revelatory to me. Truly, I think I defaulted to something like your perspective even after years in Orthodoxy. I was looking for Authority; this seems a common refrain with the Roman Catholic argument from the necessity of needing a final arbiter to decide and determine right from wrong.

    Authority is not what I base my trust in anymore. Neither the authority of a passage of Scripture, nor in the stalwart orthodoxy of a given Father, neither in my spiritual father, nor an Ecumenical Council nor a Pope of some sort. Likewise, it isn’t The Church, except that She is the Body of Him. I have come to know Jesus Christ the Word of God and see his imprint in the Scriptures, in the lex orandi, the lex credendi and the Fathers. I do not trust in what is so obviously – to me, now – the man-made traditions of sola fide, sola gratia, sola Scriptura that seem so many answers to Luther’s (and his age’s) own issues. When I hear a preacher promising me “God’s Word alone” all I hear is that preacher’s riff on God’s Word – I prefer the Word Himself, and he is present everywhere and fillest all things through the action of His Holy Spirit.

    What need is there of authority when He is seen, face to face? There is something true to that Orthodox attempt at a differentiation between grace coming from without, versus bubbling up from within. I know it to be so, I see it to be so and pray you, too, may one day see so as to know. Lex orandi as received, then lex credendi; never the opposite.

  14. William Weedon

    But, of course, we hear in Scripture not “authority” but as the living voice of the living God; which is why I could never think of the solas as man made traditions – and why their presence in the teaching of the Fathers is just the echo of what these holy men learned from Him who still speaks to us in the Sacred Scriptures to save us. Thank you for your kind words; I will remember them. I pray you too will remember my words should you find yourself in such a moment as I described that you may cling to the voice of Your God in the Sacred Scriptures.

  15. Past Elder

    St Augustine’s words, “Let us therefore give in and yield our assent to the authority of Holy Scripture, which knows not how either to be deceived or to deceive.”, are beside the point.

    Rather to the point.

    St Paul said if anyone, including he himself or even an angel, should deliver a “gospel” other than the one delivered, let him be anathema. What did he then say — and how will you know it is different, OMG, what will you do, well don’t worry, I will tell you, the church will tell you, something other than Scripture will tell you?

    Newman’s whole approach rests on giving up on everything unless some external authority says “Here it is.” It simply replaces sola fide with sola historia, which variously understood will lead one to various churches, upon which we add sola ecclesia, and finally, having made the result of sola historia and sola ecclesia the same as Jesus Himself, says it’s all really Jesus.

    I once had a version of such a faith myself, and thought it was really all Jesus too.

  16. Cardinal Pole

    “I did not invent it. It came to me by tradition and I was persuaded by no word of Scripture that it was wrong.” (Luther)

    This seems very significant to me. Correct me if I’m wrong (I’m not aware of the full context of the statement), but it seems that here Luther is saying that he believes in something that is not found in Scripture, but is merely not contradicted by it. That would seem to be a legitimate position (speaking from the Lutheran perspective) if it were an ‘open question’, as I think Lutherans call them (such as Our Lady’s perpetual virginity or whatever), but this is a matter—infant baptism—that is necessary for salvation. This seems rather incongruous to me.

    “The first schema ends in several things, among them, “the Catholic Church …”, and also others”

    How many others, though? There’s basically just Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy. Your schema, on the other hand, has produced tens of thousands of different sects, many of them sharing your same underlying principles—by Scripture alone, read prayerfully, while also taking into account the advice of one’s pastors and the witness of the Fathers and the orthodox Councils—yet producing completely different conclusions on matters necessary for salvation.

    “As to which of them is correct, that rests upon — one’s own authority and decision.”

    So you say. But at least once one has made the decision to become, say, Catholic or Orthodox, afterwards it’s just a matter of submitting to authority, whereas in your schema every new controversy brings new decisions. In other words, Catholics and Orthodox need make only one decision, whereas Protestants, in addition to the initial decision, need to make as many decisions as there are controversies over doctrine.

    “Not: Me, Me, Me
    Rather: The Word. The Word. The Word.”

    … as interpreted and decided by ‘me, me, me’, which you acknowledge when you say that you “do not in the least deny that we are to exercise personal judgment”, rhetorical flourishes about Scripture really being the judge notwithstanding.

    “since the Word is God speaking, the stance of faith is to bow before what is said”

    as interpreted by you

    “confess it, believe it and hold to it”

    as interpreted by you

    “and not allow anything to contradict, minimize or overthrow this speaking of God”

    as interpreted by you

    “by which He rules in His Church.”

    as interpreted by you, in a Church that cannot impose anything as binding in conscience.

    “The vast majority of true, essential differences between Orthodoxy and Protestantism (of any form) are common differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, and between the Oriental Orthodox and Protestantism.”

    Agreed, but I suppose that Protestants would counter that there is also very little essential difference between the various private-judgement-based denominations as compared to the Magisterial-authority-based denominations.

    “It simply replaces sola fide with sola historia”

    No it doesn’t, it replaces private judgment with authority as the basis of that Faith.

    No-one answered my question from the other combox, but it’s pretty clear to me that Protestants can only ever have a moral certainty, never the certainty of Faith, about the veracity of any given dogma—including ones necessary for salvation—since they must always admit that it might turn out that their judgements were simply wrong; consider the hypothetical situation of a person adhering to proto-Lutheran principles who lives in the year, say, 1495 who accepts the prevailing teaching on justification not by Magisterial authority but by his own reading of Scripture; in 25 or so years he will find out that he was wrong, as he would have to admit was always possible. Moral certainty requires only that all reasonable objections have been met, whereas the certainty of Faith requires that one cannot even conceive the possibility of a reasonable objection being raised now or in the future, which is a level of certainty that demands an authority endowed with the ability to make irreformable judgements.

  17. Past Elder

    It really matters little if you have tens of thousands of sects under separate juridictions or just one. Catholics don’t do anything Protestants don’t in this regard, they just retain a tribalism and fight for a place in the tribe, or in the case of the Orthodox, appeal to a “consensus” as Platonic as any “invisible church” ever was.

    Certainty of Faith? In a church which cannot even conclude a Confession of Sin with a clear announcement of Christ but rather “may” God forgive sins; in a church which cannot conduct a funeral with a clear announcement of Christ but a prayer for a merciful judgement.

    I think of the snivelling “uncertainty” of both my parents’ RC funerals against the clear statement in my wife’s Lutheran one that the only dead people present were those not alive in Christ

    What is authority and Who has it is as much a result of private judgement as What is the clear meaning of Scripture. The certainty etc comes after the private judgement, even when it presents itself as having recognised the certainty, authority, or whatever, the recognition being private.

  18. christl242

    whereas the certainty of Faith requires that one cannot even conceive the possibility of a reasonable objection being raised now or in the future, which is a level of certainty that demands an authority endowed with the ability to make irreformable judgements.

    Oh, right. Especially when it comes to consistency:

    “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.” (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.)

    “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302.)

    “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)”

    Give me the power of God’s Holy Word and the comforting assurance of the Sacrament of the Altar over Roman philosophical wrangling any day.

    Christine

  19. William Weedon

    I don’t really have much to say in response to the Cardinal that I have not already said.

    I didn’t comment on moral certainty vs. certainty of faith because I didn’t and don’t know what you mean by that. The dogmas of the Church as expressed in her official Symbols are founded in their faithfully expressing the teaching of the Divine Word.

    The Lutheran approach is to invite anyone and everyone to read for themselves the Sacred Scriptures and to compare our teaching with them. We do not say that this will invariably result in making a man a Lutheran, but we say that a Lutheran is one who has been so convinced – who finds that our Confession agrees with the Sacred Scriptures.

    Yet it is a gross exaggeration to say that the Protestant appeal to Scripture has resulted in thousands of denominations – thousands of jurisdictions, perhaps. But it has really resulted in only three confessions: the Lutheran, the Reformed, and the Enthusiast. Formally, the Reformed (it seems to us) permit fallen human reason to blunt the express teaching of the Sacred Scripture and this produces our variance from them; likewise with the Enthusiasts, they give a place to human religious experience which blunts and deforms the Scriptural witness. The Lutheran Confession, we hold, is the most faithful of the three, for it allows the Scriptures to speak and submits both human reason and experience to God’s divine speaking through them.

  20. Cardinal Pole

    “Catholics don’t do anything Protestants don’t in this regard, they just retain a tribalism and fight for a place in the tribe …”

    Abuse does not detract from use. Catholics rejecting authority in favour of private interpretation isn’t an argument against authority, it’s an argument against private interpretation.

    Given this, to say that it

    “really matters little if you have tens of thousands of sects under separate juridictions or just one”

    is nonsense. What really matters is that the truth is preserved; people retain their free will to reject that truth. (Though I’m not sure of the Lutheran teaching on this point; do you teach that the grace of Faith is irresistible?)

    “In a church which cannot even conclude a Confession of Sin with a clear announcement of Christ but rather “may” God forgive sins …”

    Odd. That God promises the restoration of sanctifying grace in Confession so long as the penitent has at least attrition and the confessor follows the proper form is a pretty basic truth of Catholicism.

    “… in a church which cannot conduct a funeral with a clear announcement of Christ but a prayer for a merciful judgement.”

    Interesting. So Lutheran funeral services depose Christ from His judgment throne?

    “What is authority and Who has it is as much a result of private judgement as What is the clear meaning of Scripture.”

    Well, it has to begin with a judgment; no-one can be forced to make an Act of Faith. It’s a question of what happens afterwards. What happens when controversies arise on matters necessary for salvation? Protestants follow their private judgments and dissolve into ever more sects, while the Catholic (if he wants to remain Catholic) simply consults authority; that is, the Catholic simply recalls his initial judgment, while the Protestant must make a new judgment, and another judgment for each new occasion of controversy. Given the course of the past two thousand years, that’s a lot of judgments, and all the different judgments can’t be correct. And unless Confessional Lutherans purport to have made explicit every single element and every single aspect of every single element of the Deposit of Faith you can’t tell me you’re insulated from such controversies.

    “The Lutheran approach is to invite anyone and everyone to read for themselves the Sacred Scriptures and to compare our teaching with them.”

    Which is the same approach as most other Protestants. But it’s undeniable that any two people can, without any ill will on the part of either, come to completely divergent interpretation of what Scripture implies for this or that point of doctrine. How can Lutherans adhere to the principle of private judgment when it is logically and historically incapable of preserving the unity in truth that Christ willed for His Church?

    To put it another way: given that when you say that

    “The Lutheran approach is to invite anyone and everyone to read for themselves the Sacred Scriptures and to compare our teaching with them”

    and most Protestants would happily replace “Lutheran” with their own denomination’s name, why is one to conclude that the Lutherans got it right and the others got it wrong? You were just more clear-headed? Luckier? I don’t mean to sound rude or flippant, I’m just trying to convey how implausible I find the whole idea of private judgment. Given that God has, so you would say, given you all the same means, how can it be that a God-given means, exercised as God intended, can lead so many people astray?

    “Yet it is a gross exaggeration to say that the Protestant appeal to Scripture has resulted in thousands of denominations …”

    Not at all. You speak of three confessions–“Lutheran, the Reformed, and the Enthusiast”–but I am not interested in broad groupings, much less jurisdictions; let me put it this way: if your threefold categorisation signified three points of disagreement on matters necessary for salvation then I would find it unobjectionable, but in fact Protestants are divided according to many hundreds points of difference in these matters.

    Christine,

    I do not understand your comment. You start by implying that the quotations that you’re about to adduce will demonstrate the inconsistency of the Magisterium, yet the quotations do no such thing–each one is just a more explicit statement of the previous one. Did you mean to include another quotation at the end that creates some inconsistency? But then at the end you change tack and talk about how you don’t find those teachings ‘comforting’ (!!!), so am I to infer that the quotations were just a way of showing how Catholic authority doesn’t cater to your tastes and preferences–your interpretations–so you reject that authority, thus proving my whole point about the chaos and disunity that private judgment necessarily produces?

    If I could conclude by asking the following of Lutheran readers: could someone please point out whereabouts in the Book of Concord (or any Lutheran treatises available on-line, for that matter) where it deals with these questions of private judgment vs. authority? I am interested in reading up on this, if only so that I am not dealing with straw men when I have these discussions with Protestants.

  21. Past Elder

    The only demonstrable “unity” the Roman Catholic Church can show is its institutional existence for some centuries now, nearly all of them due to its enforced existence as an arm of a state, from which it claims to demonstrate “authority”, which is nothing more than secular power, which, this institution now lacking same, scrambles to find some excuse for its continued existence, there being none.