Catholicism teaches that the doctrines contained in Sacred Scripture (the Bible) and Sacred Tradition (the Church) are authoritative because God’s revelation is the source of both. The Catechism puts it this way: “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the word of God” (97).
This means that “both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (82).
To some Protestants, this might sound blasphemous. The idea that anything the Church says could be on the same level as Scripture just doesn’t make sense. After all, only the Bible was inspired by God, right? How, then, can Catholics say that both must be reverenced equally?
More importantly, what happens if they come into conflict? The Protestant, in principle, does not face these difficulties because the Bible is said to hold the supreme place. As the ultimate and final level of religious authority, according to sola scriptura, when the Bible comes into conflict with any other authority it must be declared the winner.
“Where Is That in the Bible?”
Protestants hold to subtly different forms of sola scriptura. At one end of the spectrum, it is thought to mean that only the Bible may be trusted as a source for faith and practice—and so everything the Christian believes must be explicitly found in it. On the other end, it means that the Bible is simply the most trustworthy source, and so no teachings can explicitly contradict it.
Protestants’ objections to Catholic claims about Sacred Tradition will vary depending on which version of sola scriptura they hold. Some will argue that any addition of Tradition to the Bible is illicit, others will only see a problem if a particular tradition goes against Scripture. Either way, though Protestants are generally uncomfortable with an authoritative, big-T Church Tradition because they think it threatens the authority of Scripture.
Some Catholic assume that by sola scriptura Protestants mean anything not found in the Bible is off-limits for Christian faith and practice. This is not what it originally meant, but it is the way the principle is often understood by those on the more Fundamentalist end of the spectrum.
Most Protestants, though, realize that to hold such a position would be self-defeating. This is because if one believes that everything a Christian is to believe or practice must be taught in the Bible, then the teaching that everything a Christian is to believe or practice must be taught in the Bible must be taught in the Bible—but it isn’t.
Although some apologists for this more extreme version of sola scriptura may point to verses such as 2 Timothy 2:16-17—which says that all Scripture is inspired and useful—for support, such appeals to prooftexts are unconvincing. Nowhere in the Bible does it say clearly that Scripture alone is the source for all Christian faith and practice. Thus, Protestants who hold to any form of sola scriptura thereby show that at least one Christian belief (or two, if you include the canon) can be derived from something besides the Bible itself.
In Principle, Protestants Agree: Not everything that Christians are to believe must be taught explicitly in Scripture.
In Particular, Catholicism Affirms: Some things that Christians are to believe have been taught outside of Scripture.
REFLECT: Since it is practically unavoidable to believe things that are not taught in Scripture, how do we discern between them?
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