Immediately after the Journey Home show aired, I received e-mails asking me to explain (or defend) some of the Catholic positions on issues of faith. While I do not claim to be a Biblical or Catholic scholar, I’ll give it my best shot – from my ‘logical’ point of view.
Q&A: The Bible, Saints, Apostles & Sola Scriptura
The Bible is True
I’m going to write as if we all agree that every word in the Bible is true. Otherwise, I’d have to explain the very long process by where I ‘proved to myself’ that the Bible was true. That I will save for another day.
As a quick side-note, Disciples are followers or learners. An Apostle, however, is an office. When one dies, he needs to be replaced to fill the office. After the death of Judas, the remaining Apostles realize they need to replace him. Acts 1:20 says “His office let another take”. This is a biblical example of Apostolic Succession, which continues to this day. Today, however, we call these offices bishops and cardinals.
The Bible, Sola Scriptura, and Tradition
For those of you that may not know, the (non-Catholic) doctrine of ‘Sola Scriptura‘ says that the only authority on matters of faith is the Bible. And specifically not the Church. There are so many logical problems here. The problems range from the simple to the complex.
A simple question for Sola Scriptura would be ‘How do you know that the New Testament is made of up of these particular 27 books?‘. Seriously — stop and think logically about that for a moment. We all agree that the New Testament is the inerrant Word of God, but nowhere within those writings is a Table of Contents. For any Christian, both Catholic and non-Catholic, the only reason we believe that the Bible is true is because we have faith in the authority of the Church when it placed a final stamp of approval on that particular compilation of books in the 4th century. The knowledge to correctly identify the inspired writings, and the authority to do so, rested in the Apostles (and their successors, the Bishops) for over 300 years, until the appropriate time to examine hundreds of writings and choose the 27 books that make up the New Testament. How else would the Bible — by itself — define itself?
If we look at 2 Timothy 3:16, it says that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching.” But we have to remember that when 2 Timothy was written, the New Testament did not exist. So what was meant by ‘Scripture’? The Hebrew Bible, or what we call the Old Testament. The New Testament was brought together later, and all of us agree with the perfection of the Bible because we accept (knowingly or unknowingly) the authority of the Church.
If we look at 2 Thessalonians 2:15, we find Paul saying “So then, Brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” We must remember that most of the teaching by the Apostles was done orally, face to face, or by example. This is what built up the ‘Deposit of Faith’ that helped the Church know what to do (especially before any of them had Bibles!). The only reason we have any of Paul’s letters to guide us is because he was geographically far away from his flock when they needed instruction. Read his words! He will often remind his flock to do what he instructed them to do (orally) when he was last with them, and he often scolds them for not following that oral tradition.
If we look at John 14:16, we find Jesus speaking to his Apostles, preparing them to run his Church, and telling them “And I will pray [to] the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever.” (The ‘Counselor’ is one way to translate the Greek word ‘Paraclete’ — the Holy Spirit.) Notice this — Jesus tells his Apostles that they will always have the Holy Spirit to guide them. He did not say that the Church would ‘have the Spirit for a while’ then need to wait until Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin ‘brought the Spirit back’. If that were true, you have to call Jesus a liar. He said always.
Lastly, we need to remind ourselves that Scripture itself tells us where truth is stored. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul states that it is the Church that is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth”. So here, we have Scripture itself deferring to the authority of the Church. Why? Because the Church, guided by an ever-preset Paraclete, is entrusted to hold the fullness of the truth – the Deposit of Faith – in the form of both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
Nothing I have written is meant to imply that I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a ‘bad tradition’ out there in the world. Of course there is. You only need to read Colossians 2:8 to see Paul’s warning to his flock not to be taken in by “empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ”. It would be intellectually dishonest, however, to try and use this very true statement as proof that Paul was saying that all tradition is bad or untrue. Especially if that Tradition is handed down by Paul and other Apostles (2 Thess 2:15), is held in the Church (1 Tim 3:15), according to Christ (Matt 16:18-19), and is guided by the Holy Spirit forever (John 14:16). That Tradition is to be cherished.
I was asked to explain why we (Catholics) feel that the Church is required to ‘verify, validate, and certify’ one’s actions after their death in order to be declared a ‘saint’. After all, Paul refers to his own flock (living believers) as ‘saints’.
Fair enough. Paul certainly refers to living believers as saints. (The introductions to Romans, Colossians, and Ephesians instantly spring to mind).
John uses the same Greek word (hagios) to refer to believers who have died and gone to Heaven. (Revelation 11:18, and many other instances.)
So we have a basic misunderstanding here of the Catholic position. It’s not that Catholics don’t recognize both living and deceased saints, it’s just that the ‘verification’ process applies only to deceased saints.
It’s important to remember that the Catholic faith does not believe in ‘Once Saved, Always Saved’ (otherwise known as the Perseverance of the Saints). Therefore the Catholic position is that a living saint (a believer) could end up falling away from the faith and end up living a ‘bad life’.
So, while the Catholic Church looks forward to holding up a saint as an example of a life that pleased God, it would be dangerous to do that with a living person. After all, they might fall away and end up being an embarrassing (instead of inspiring) example. So the Church chooses to promote the lives of deceased saints – where the story can’t change.
To do this, the Church needs to ‘verify, validate, and certify’ a deceased person’s life, effect, miracles, etc. Only then, and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, a person is declared a deceased saint if a determination can be made that the person is in Heaven. In normal everyday speech, however, Catholics don’t go around talking about deceased saints…just saints.
Why do Catholics pray to saints? The same reason we might ask our friend or neighbor to pray for us before we have an operation. Not because we think our friend or neighbor has the power to grant the prayer, we simply hope that one more voice might help to get our prayer heard by God. The deceased saints indeed offer prayers to God (Revelation 5:8) and even ask God to do things on Earth – the land of the living saints (Revelation 6:9-10). Technically, Catholics ask saints to intercede for us – to repeat or ‘forward’ our request to God. The Catholic ‘shorthand’ is to say that we pray ‘to’ the saints, but we all know that only God can answer the prayer. (And if there’s any Catholic out there that thought it was St. Francis that healed your cat, it wasn’t. But he might have passed along your prayer to God.)