Sola Scriptura: Latin for Scripture Alone. It’s the doctrine that the Bible is the final and only authority for Christian faith and practice.
It was a battle cry of the Reformation, a backlash against the authority of Church Tradition. However, if we are going to go SCRIPTURE ALONE then surely the SCRIPTURE would teach this doctrine. Does it?
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. 2 Thessalonians 2:15
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. 2 Thessalonians 3:6
The word “tradition” in these passages specifically means “oral tradition.” Excerpt from Strong’s Concordance:
So, if we are to take Scripture as the final and only authority and we go to the Bible and the Bible commands us to hold onto the authority of oral traditions….
I think there’s a glitch in the matrix.
Good Protestant girl that I was, I would have been quick to point out things that Catholics do that are not found in my Bible (Immaculate Conception, asking the intercession of Saints and Mary, Purgatory, Mary’s perpetual virginity, etc.), after all, the Bible never mentions these things–at least not in any of those familiar terms. But, any good Catholic could have turned that argument right back at me and say, “Well, the Bible doesn’t use the words Trinity or Rapture, but you believe in those things.” And they would have had me there. There are a lot of things we embrace as truth because we have been taught them to be true.
It’s not that the average Protestant actually rejects the authority of tradition. It’s that we are just selective in the traditions we accept. And isn’t that convenient.
Protestant apologists say that following Oral Tradition is like a game a “Telephone” where one person starts whispering something complicated like a tongue twister. The hearer repeats it and by the end the message is garbled and completely different. Using their own example, what would be most reliable then would be to know what the earliest Christians believed and practiced. If they received their instructions from the first apostles who got their instructions directly from Jesus, we can be pretty sure their interpretations are close to the truth, no? Probably more so than someone who tries to sort it out 1500 years later. Well….
If we want to follow the chain of tradition to see what the earliest Christians believed and practiced, it’s not that difficult to do. We can look at the writings of St. Justin Martyr (100 – 165 AD), who is considered one of the churches first apologists. He writes about the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, devotion to Mary, and Real Presence in the Eucharist to name a few things.
In 250 AD, we find the following prayer already being used:
We fly to your patronage,
O holy Mother of God,
despise not our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us from all dangers.
O ever glorious and blessed Virgin.
We can look at the depictions in the catacombs to see how the earliest Christians practiced their faith and for which doctrines they were willing to die.
St. Augustine (354-430 AD) was especially devoted to Mary and asked her intercession. A Protestant might say, “Who is Augustine to set such a precedent! He has no authority here!” One might even say, “Three hundred years after Christ is plenty of time to get things all messed up! There’s no way they could be sure of something 300 years later!” (One might feel that way until you realize that the Scripture cannon was not officially closed until the 4th century! They were still trustworthy enough with Orthodoxy to discern the Scriptures!) One may try to disregard the authority and influence Augustine had in the early Church. But, most Christians don’t know or realize that the Bible they love so much would have looked like a different cannon were it not for the influence of Augustine. Some of the early Church fathers did not think that Revelation should be included in the New Testament cannon. St. Augustine argued for its inclusion and made such a good case that it was included and the cannon closed.
Which brings me to the point of the role of Sacred Tradition in deciding the Cannon of Scripture….
We can chant Sola Scriptura because we have a complete Bible. But, who decided and how was it decided that those ancient writings would be the Bible? The Church Fathers decided. And what gave them the authority to decide? And how did they know what to include and what to exclude? Sacred Tradition. So…..Sacred Tradition gave us our beautiful Scriptures! And now we use the Scriptures to disregard Sacred Tradition. *hanging my head in shame* If we reject Sacred Tradition, we may as well say our cannon isn’t closed and books can still be added to the Bible.
Oh wait…..plenty of groups have done that, haven’t they? The Book of Mormon comes to mind.
I guess Paul knew what he was talking about: “withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition.”