People who believe in Sola Scriptura will frequently make the statement that the Bible alone is the highest authority over men. And they make the claim that the Catholic Church holds itself as the authority over the Bible. Thus, making itself the highest authority. Higher even, than the Bible. And, of course, the insinuation is that this is bad.
And I agree that it would be bad, if it were true. But ask me, “is it true?”
Is it true?
No, it isn’t true. Here’s what the Catholic Church Teaches regarding the authority of the Bible and the Church.
CCC#86 "Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith."
So, the Catholic Church Teaches that she is the Servant of the Word of God.
Ok, so what’s the problem?
Notice that the Catholic Church Teaches that She is the Servant of the Word of God. She uses the terminology “Word of God” rather than, the “Bible”.
Is there a difference?
Yes. People who believe in Sola Scriptura say that the Bible is the only Word of God. But the Church Teaches that the Word of God is contained in Sacred Tradition and in the Bible.
Which is it?
Where do we get the Word of God?
Those who believe in Sola Scriptura say that we only get the Word of God from the Bible. Yet, the Bible, itself, says differently:
Hebrews 13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
The Bible says that the Word of God is spoken to us by other men. That is the process which we call Sacred Tradition.
Therefore, we believe that the Bible teaches that we get the Word of God through Sacred Tradition. Tradition simply means “teaching”. When we teach someone by word, we are passing down ideas by the process of “tradition”.
Two sources of the Word of God
So, the Catholic Church, in accordance with Scripture, Teaches that we have two sources of the Word of God. Sacred Tradition and Scripture. And she doesn’t consider herself the Master of either, but the Servant of both. Because they both contain the Word of God and she is the servant of the Word of God, in Sacred Tradition and Scripture.
So, what authority does the Church have?
If the Catholic Church does not consider herself the authority over the Bible, what authority does she have?
The Magisterium of the Church
85 "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
We don’t need the interpretations of the Church, we can read the Bible
Those who believe in Sola Scriptura say that only the Bible can give us the Word of God, infallibly. They claim that Sacred Tradition can fail in this regard.
Again, what does the Bible say? Let’s read it:
1 Timothy 3:15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
In my opinion, the Bible says that the Church gives us the Word of God, infallibly. The way I understand that verse, and it is the understanding of the Church and all Catholics for millenia, is that the Catholic Church has received the gift of infallibility. Thus, it sustains the truth and makes certain that only the truth is passed down from generation to generation.
The only inspired Word of God
But, some will object, only the Bible is the inspired Word of God. That’s a tricky one. Because of the word “only” and because the phrase itself is sloppy. It isn't precise. It is a manner of speaking. Let me digress a bit before I tackle it.
The sun rises
When we say that the sun rises in the morning, we are not speaking accurately. We are speaking shorthand. We are abbreviating the idea. We know, because of science, that the earth rotates on its axis and therefore, it appears as though the sun is rising, while in fact, it is merely the earth which has rotated back around so that we can again see the sun.
But that’s a mouthful. Who wants to say, “the earth has rotated back around so that we can see the sun again.” When we can just say, “the sun is rising.” Right?
The Bible is inspired
Its the same with the inspiration of the Bible. In reality, men were inspired to write down the Teachings of Jesus Christ without error. But that’s a mouthful when we can simply say, “the Bible is inspired.”
Therefore, to say the Bible is inspired is merely an imprecise yet convenient way of saying that men were inspired to write the Bible.
But the Bible says that “only” Scripture is inspired
No, it doesn’t. The Bible says that Holy Men were inspired to preach and to write.
2 Peter 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
But St. Paul says that Scripture “alone” is inspired (2 Tim 3:16)
No, he doesn’t. St. Paul says that “all of Scripture” is inspired. That is the Teaching of the Catholic Church. But "all" does not mean “only”.
2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
St. Paul certainly doesn’t teach that Scripture fell out of the sky straight out of God’s mouth. He, of all people, knows the process, since he, himself, continuously received Spiritual inspirations to preach and to teach the Word of God.
In conclusion then, the Catholic Church does not consider itself the authority over the Bible. But, and this is in Scripture, God put the Catholic Church in authority over us. In order that His Word would be brought to us infallibly.
Ephesians 3:10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,