Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Of Moon Landings And Conspiracy Theories

Lunar Landing Closeup
My grandmother (1931-2007) did not believe people landed on the moon. The whole thing just seemed too fantastic to her. She believed it was all a propaganda hoax designed to intimidate the Soviets, and dazzle the world, during the Cold War. I don't know if she ever accepted the moon landings as fact before her death, but I understand this point of view was fairly common among people of her generation.

I, on the other hand, always accepted the moon landings. There has never been any reason for me to doubt them. The science behind it is fairly simple. Truth be told, once rocket technology was developed, going to other worlds was really not that hard of a thing to do. Anybody with a big enough rocket and a degree in physics can hit a celestial body. The trick of course is doing it softly, and the bigger trick is putting people on these rockets and bringing them home safely.

This last weekend I encountered my grandmother's conspiracy theory once again. This time it came from some of my co-workers, from some folks younger than myself. I was a bit taken back by it. I thought it was just a generational thing. I didn't realise that younger people would subscribe to this conspiracy theory as well, and shockingly, it seems to be in fairly large numbers.

What was their rationale? Well, in their words, they simply said that there was no way we could have the technology in 1969 to send men to the moon. Maybe today, the argued, but not back then. Of course, I mentioned all of the pictures, videos, etc. To which I was rebuffed with the same arguments I heard from my grandmother. It was all a hoax, a massive conspiracy, a product of the Cold War.

Lunar Landing Site
A Telescopic View from Earth
Well, I'm still a believer. Modern telescopes can now see the lunar landing sites, and make out some of the features of the landing modules, rovers, and even the American flags still standing. Yes, we did go to the moon, and no it was not just propaganda.

This caused me to wonder why such conspiracy theories persist today. I can understand my grandmother's generation. It all just seemed too fantastic to many of them. But what about my generation? How can such conspiracy theories persists among people who don't have the same excuse? After pondering this for some time, I've come to the decision that it really is the government's fault. Why? We live under a government that persistently lies to us all of the time. It's a constant thing from politicians to bureaucrats. People just don't know what to believe any more. So in some cases, they just choose not to believe anything. They adopt the view that if it sounds too fantastic, it's probably not true. Honestly, who can blame them? I think it's sad really, that we have finally reached this point in history. The greatest scientific achievement of the human race is now dismissed by a growing number of Americans as a fabrication. Will the moon landings one day be forgotten to the American mind? Will future generations simply dismiss that whole epic of history as mere propaganda? I hope not, but I think it's a sad commentary on just how incredibly corrupt our government has become, and what that kind of corruption does to the attitudes of our people.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!
NIHIL OBSTAT, IMPRIMATUR

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Latin Mass and the Anglican Ordinariate

A mass celebrated according to the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite
which is similar, but not identical, to the Traditional Latin Mass
Those of you outside of the Anglican ordinariate, or the Traditional Catholic movement, will probably find this little more than a curiosity. Those of you, like myself, who are actively involved in the formation of the Anglican ordinariate within the Catholic Church will find this essential. Any Anglican even considering conversion to the Catholic Church will also find it essential. Traditional Catholics will likewise be very interested.

A controversy has erupted concerning the use of the Traditional Latin Mass (Usus Antiquior, "Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite" or "Tridentine Missal") in Anglican ordinariate parishes. (Note: this is not the same as the regular "Ordinary Form" of the mass celebrated in Latin.) Mr. Christian Clay Columba Campbell, of TheAngloCatholic.com blog, records his experience with the newly installed Anglican Ordinary for the United States, Monsignor Jeffery N. Steenson...
...When I met him in Orlando some months ago, Monsignor Steenson held nothing back in the expression of his enmity towards Catholic Traditionalism and the so-called Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. He said the Ordinariate should have nothing to do with those people (a paraphrase, but an accurate assessment of his attitude which was made quite clear). He even suggested that, simply because I had an affinity for the TLM that I should consider myself "out of communion" with the local Ordinary, Bishop Noonan of Orlando. Quite taken aback, I assured the Anglican Ordinary that I was quite Catholic, despite my intense dislike (and often horror) of the institutionalized liturgical abuses found in Latin Rite parishes almost everywhere (and unfortunately in my home diocese) and my attachment to Catholic Tradition.

The Ordinary should at least be reminded that, according to Anglicanorum coetibus and Summorum Pontificum, his priests have the unrestricted right to celebrate the Sacraments according to the liturgical books in force in 1962. And it is my fervent belief that both the Anglican Catholic and Catholic Traditionalist communities would both greatly benefit by their collaboration — if only we had a visionary leadership...

source
Mr. Campbell is correct in his assessment of Anglicanorum coetibus and Summorum Pontificum. Ordinariate priests do have the unrestricted right to celebrate the sacraments according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. However, I should point out here that this unrestricted right applies to private masses primarily. Public masses on the other hand, are a different story, Summorum Pontificum stipulates that if a small but stable group of the faithful request such a liturgy, they cannot be denied. The necessary size of such groups has never been stipulated, to my knowledge, but my understanding is that in all cases the bishop (or in this case, Ordinary monsignor) should be generous. This is after all a matter of canon law now.

What I am unsure about is how we should interpret Mr. Campbell's impression of the conversation in question. In no way do I doubt or question Mr. Campbell's impression of what happened. He has been, and remains to this day, an unimpeachable source of reliable information for all things related to the pope's ordinariate program. However, it has been my personal experience that conversations can easily be interpreted different ways by multiple different people. Both my wife and I have listened to the exact same words, spoken by the exact same people, at the exact same time. The only difference between us was the three-foot distance that spanned the space between her ears and mine. Yet, after the conversation, my wife and I have walked away with two completely different interpretations of what was just said. It happens all the time. From this I have learned to listen to her impression, while explaining mine in turn, as we sometimes agree to disagree, or else determine that the "truth" was actually something in between our respective interpretations. I tend to pity the poor souls who's words are often subject to our evening deliberations.

I should point out here that I have more than a vested interest in this controversy. Since 2008 I have frequently attended the Extraordinary Form mass at Saint Agnes Cathedral in Springfield. I remain a member of my Ordinary Form parish, and I regularly attend mass there as well, but I confess to having an attraction to the solemnity of the Traditional Latin Mass. I believe this is a direct result of having come into the Catholic Church through Anglicanism. It was high-church Anglo-Catholicism that particularly got me hooked to Catholic tradition. I see an element of that in the Traditional Latin Mass, and a connection to the Traditional Anglican Mass that is sometimes missing in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I don't say this to be disparaging toward the Ordinary Form in any way, because when it is celebrated according to the traditional rubrics, it is quite beautiful. Rather, I just feel more of an Anglican connection to the Extraordinary Form, and so long as an Anglican "form" mass is not yet provided in the Springfield area, I will likely continue to find myself at the Traditional Latin Mass from time to time. In my heart of hearts however, what I seek is Anglo-Catholic worship in a language that is both understood and yet sacral. All of this must be in full communion with the Bishop of Rome (the pope) of course. So with my affinity toward the Traditional Latin (Extraordinary Form) Mass, I'm sure you can understand why Mr. Campbell's account of his encounter with Msgr. Steenson was particularly troubling to me. Before allowing myself to be hurt by it however, I decided to approach this whole thing the same way I approach evening deliberations with my wife. I felt it might be important to try to understand this from more than just one perspective.

Now admittedly I wasn't there for Mr. Campbell's conversation with Msgr. Steenson, so I cannot say what my impression was. I simply have to take Mr. Campbell's interpretation of events at face value. Fortunately however, Msgr. Steenson decided to release a statement to help clarify his thoughts on the matter. I relay that statement in its entirety here (bold emphasis is mine)...
The Liturgy of the Ordinariate and the Latin Mass

In response to certain questions that have been asked about the use of the Latin Mass in its Extraordinary Form in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, Monsignor Jeffrey N. Steenson, Ordinary, issued this statement:

"We rejoice in the liturgical richness of the Catholic Church. We in the Anglican tradition certainly welcome the Holy Father's concern that the Mass be understood as a living, continuous tradition. The communio sanctorum compels us to read and engage with the Church's tradition with a hermeneutic of continuity.

"The particular mission of the Ordinariate is to bring into the fuller life of the Catholic Church those enduring elements of the Anglican liturgical patrimony which are oriented to Catholic truth. This liturgical identity seeks to balance two historic principles -- that Christian prayer and proclamation should be offered in the vernacular and that the language of worship should be sacral. This is what Anglicans understand when they speak of the prayer book tradition.

"The liturgy of the Ordinariate is superintended by an inter-dicasterial working group (of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW)). At the time the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter was established, the CDW provided important guidance for our liturgical use: The Book of Divine Worship Rite I should be amended to bring it into conformity with the Roman Missal 3rd edition, particularly the words of Consecration. For those congregations that prefer a contemporary idiom, the Roman Missal 3rd edition could be used.

"We have therefore asked that the congregations of the Ordinariate follow this direction. Some of our clergy want to learn also how to celebrate according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. They are certainly encouraged to do so, under the provisions of Summorum Pontificum and under the supervision of the local bishop, to assist in those stable communities that use the Extraordinary Form. But as the Extrordinary Form is not integral to the Anglican patrimony, it is not properly used in our communities. The Ordinariate will remain focused on bringing Christians in the Anglican tradition into full communion with the Catholic Church. We also are pleased that the Church has provided for the continuing use of the Extraordinary Form, particularly as a pastoral response to traditional Catholics, and regard all of this as a well-ordered symphony of praise to the Blessed Trinity."

source
Overall, I thought this was a fair explanation, and it seemed to confirm what I had previously suspected when I first read of Mr. Campbell's encounter with Msgr. Steenson. I wonder if perhaps Msgr. Steenson did not appreciate the delicacy of the topic at hand during his conversation with Mr. Campbell, and perhaps spoke in terms that were far too generalised and sweeping. (Just a thought.)  This latest statement seems to demonstrate a much more reflective approach. There have been more developments since this latest statement, most of which can be found on TheAngloCatholic.com blog, but I think this serves as a good primer for me to express my own thoughts on the matter...

As the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, clearly explained in Summorum Pontificum, the Roman Rite consists of two forms -- Ordinary and Extraordinary. The Ordinary Form is what is most commonly translated into the vernacular languages (such as English or Spanish, etc.) and commonly used today. The Extraordinary Form is the strictly Latin liturgy that was used exclusively up until 1969. The prayers and rubrics of the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms differ considerably, in addition to the language, as does the lectionary and psalter. Prior to Summorum Pontificum (2007) many bishops restricted the use of the Extraordinary Form in their dioceses, and in my opinion, this caused some serious problems to develop in the Catholic Church. This prohibition of the Extraordinary Form led to an artificial and unnecessary split in the laity between "traditional" and "contemporary" Catholics. Sadly, hostilities developed between these two groups. This in turn led each side to entrench in their positions; with "contemporary Catholics" taking every opportunity to innovate in the liturgy as much as possible (i.e. "liturgical abuse"), and "traditional Catholics" shunning the Ordinary Form entirely, occasionally subscribing to conspiracy theories as well. It is into this scene that Pope Benedict XVI released Summorum Pontificum in an attempt to heal the developing fracture. As a matter of Church law now, every priest has the right to privately celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (if he is properly trained of course), and ordinary bishops must supply a public celebration of the Extraordinary Form whenever a "stable group" of Catholic faithful request it. It is my opinion, that the healing process has only just begun, and it will take at least ten years before we can safely say this unfortunate rupture in the Church (between "traditional" and "contemporary") is finally behind us.

Two years later, the Holy Father released Anglicanorum coetibus, which provided for the establishment of ordinariates for Anglicans within the Catholic Church. These ordinariates specifically fall under the Roman Rite, though the liturgy will effectively serve as another "form" of the Roman Rite. In the past this "form" was called the "Anglican Use of the Roman Rite." Some have inaccurately referred to it as the "Anglican Rite." There is no "Anglican Rite" in the Catholic Church as of yet, but that has not been entirely excluded from possibility in the distant future. For now however, the Anglican ordinariates operate within the canon law of the Roman Rite, and the Anglican liturgy operates as another "form" of the Roman liturgy that is exclusively Anglican in nature. Unfortunately, this Anglican "form" has not been officially approved by Rome yet, and this only serves to complicate matters. In the United States however, ordinariate priests are permitted to use the "Book of Divine Worship" which is a prototype version of a Vatican approved "Book of Common Prayer." It is supposed to serve as a temporary liturgy for the U.S. ordinariate until the official ordinariate liturgy is approved by Rome.

Here is the sticky situation Monsignor Steenson faces as I personally see it. The U.S. ordinariate is new. It is still in a malleable phase of its development. The official ordinariate liturgy hasn't even been approved by Rome yet. (This is a problem Rome should remedy, as an approved ordinariate liturgy would help tremendously in this situation.) New Anglican communities are still coming into the ordinariate, and still more are expressing interest. The ordinariate is in the process of ordaining priests and the number of ordinariate parishes is still very small. All the while, the voices of Anglican critics, outside the ordinariate, are constantly ringing with the warning that the whole ordinariate scheme is a "trap." They criticise that Rome is attempting to "lure" Anglicans into the ordinariate so they can "Romanize" them. The ordinariate, on the other hand, promises to be a place where Anglicans can be fully united with Rome but not absorbed by Rome, as the mantra goes "united but not absorbed." The U.S. Anglican Ordinary is faced with the prospect of not only fostering the Anglican patrimony, but championing it aggressively, so as to demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the ordinariate is a safe refuge for Anglicans to continue their traditions under the pastoral protection of the Bishop of Rome. He must effectively prove that the Vatican is not out to absorb or "Romanize" them. Lest the Anglican critics of the ordinariate gain more fuel to add to their fire.

Into this environment, former Anglican clergy are ordained as Catholic priests within the ordinariate. Some of these clergy recognise the beauty and solemnity of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Some of these clergy want to celebrate it. Some want to learn how to celebrate it. Some already celebrate it within their ordinariate parishes. So what is an Anglican Ordinary to do? He must aggressively champion the Anglican patrimony while making sure there is no appearance of "Romanizing" the ordinariate. It is in this context that I personally interpreted Mr. Campbell's account of his encounter with Msgr. Steenson. In other words, I walked away from that article with a different interpretation than that of Mr. Campbell and many others who were rightfully "disturbed" by the story. I see Msgr. Steenson as a man who is hopelessly trapped in the impossible situation of having to champion an Anglican Patrimony that has not yet even been approved by Rome. My sympathy goes out to him.

All and all, I think Msgr. Steenson's statement above is a fair one. I disagree with but one line of it, wherein it says: "the Extraordinary Form is not integral to the Anglican patrimony." I don't see it that way at all, as the Anglican Patrimony has drawn upon the Extraordinary Form extensively, back when it was the only form of the Roman Rite during the 1800s. Yet, perhaps I've misunderstood Monsignor and need more clarification of this statement. I am however, inclined to agree when Monsignor follows with this statement: "The Ordinariate will remain focused on bringing Christians in the Anglican tradition into full communion with the Catholic Church." Of course it will!  The ordinariate simply MUST be a place that remains attractive to ANGLICANS! Suppose for example an ordinariate parish were started in a certain city, and the priest of that parish (along with most of his parishioners) were attracted to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Now let's suppose this same priest, and his parishioners, decide to celebrate the Extraordinary Form every other Sunday, alternating with the Anglican liturgy from the "Book of Divine Worship." How might that look to potential Anglican converts coming to visit? I think it would look very "suspicious" to some, especially if they already have a fear that the Vatican might be covertly intending to "Romanize" them. What does that say for the Anglican patrimony? What does that say for the nature of the ordinariate itself? I disagree with the Ordinary's stated historical reason for his decision, but I take into account the complex political circumstances that may have contributed to it. Certainly there is room for the Extraordinary Form in some ordinariate parishes, but those parishes should be well established, with a solid liturgical schedule in place that clearly expresses the Anglican Patrimony. Such parishes do exist within the ordinariate, to be sure, but they are few in number right now. Most ordinariate parishes at this time are just getting started. Some aren't even parishes yet, in a proper sense, but rather prayer groups and fellowships waiting on the ordinariate to send them a priest. What would happen to them if they received a priest who intended to celebrate the Extraordinary Form most of the time? When you look at it this way, Monsignor Steenson's words start to make a lot more sense. He has plainly ENCOURAGED his priests to learn the Extraordinary Form, but likewise instructed them to put that skill to use in regular diocesan parishes (in their area) that already offer the Extraordinary Form. It should be clear what his intention is by this. He is trying to assist in the development of the Extraordinary Form in diocesan parishes, while simultaneously trying to preserve the specific Anglican character of ordinariate parishes. In other words, it's as if he is saying to his priests: go ahead and learn the Extraordinary Form, but when you put it to use, please help nearby diocesan parishes, and keep the ordinariate parishes limited to the Anglican Form, or at the very least, an Anglicised version of the Ordinary Form.

It would appear the outstanding question that remains to be settled is this. Does the U.S. Anglican Ordinary have the legal right under canon law to restrict the use of the Extraordinary Form within his ordinariate parishes? (It should be noted, he has not actually done this yet, but only said: "it is not properly used in our communities.") That remains yet to be seen, and it is a question only the Vatican CDF can answer. So we will have to wait and see. In the meantime, I would encourage all interested parties to refrain from judgement on this matter. I think it is reasonable to assume that Monsignor Steenson's only intention here is to be a strong advocate for the Anglican patrimony. I do not believe he means any ill toward the Extraordinary Form or traditional Catholicism in general. The last line of his official statement above should put those concerns to rest, and his mention of the "hermeneutic of continuity" should clearly demonstrate to us that he shares the Holy Father's vision of Vatican II.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is approximately 100 print pages, and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!  Order Your Copy Today

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Christian Authority -- In Focus

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My good brothers and sisters in the Protestant churches frequently ask me what the major difference is between Catholics and Protestants.  That is, assuming they're not cracking jokes about it.  Now, as I have said on this blog before, don't judge them.  They have good reason for what they do.  Granted, I don't agree with their reasoning, but nevertheless, it is sound from a certain point of view.  Occasionally however, I do get very sincere questions, and that has given me pause to consider some very sincere answers.

Most of my countrymen in the Ozarks are genuinely ignorant of Catholic Christianity.  This is through no fault of their own.  They live in the "Bible Belt" (also known as the "Baptist Belt") of the United States as illustrated in the map to the right which comes to us from the U.S. Census Bureau.  You will notice in the map, the Ozark Mountains of Southern Missouri to Northern Arkansas are overwhelmingly "red" for Baptist.  The two counties shaded "yellow" in my immediate area are probably due to the high concentration of Pentecostals in this region.  These belong mostly to the "Assemblies of God," and there happens to be some very large Assemblies churches in those counties.  From a Catholic perspective, there is not much difference between Baptists and Pentecostals, though from a Baptist or Pentecostal perspective, the differences may seem enormous.  As you can see, the "Bible Belt" stretches from Texas and Oklahoma eastward toward the Atlantic Ocean, as far north as Missouri, to as far south as Florida.  Catholics only make up a majority in Southern Texas, Southern Louisiana, and Southern Florida.  Outside of these areas, Catholicism is an extreme minority religion.  The average Baptist (and Pentecostal) is rarely exposed to Catholicism.  They may occasionally drive by a Catholic Church, and wonder what goes on inside, but unless they personally know some Catholics, the majority of what they know about Catholicism probably comes from Hollywood and television.  Catholicism is basically a mystery to them, and most of them will freely admit that.  It is common for many of my fellow Ozarkians to mistake Catholicism for a minority religion worldwide, based on their personal experiences in the Bible Belt.  In fact, I've met a lot of Catholic children here in Missouri who think the same thing!  They are unaware that Catholicism is not only the largest single Christian Church in the United States, but also the largest in the world, dwarfing all others with over one-billion members.  They are usually pleased and a bit energised to learn this.  Outside of the Bible Belt, such knowledge may be commonplace, but inside the Bible Belt, it is a bit of trivia relatively unknown.

So first let me clarify the question I'm frequently asked.  It usually goes something like this: "So Shane, what is the major difference between Catholicism and Christianity?"

Okay, I usually have to stop them right there, because already what we have is a loaded question.  Now granted, most people don't know it, and I explained that in detail in a previous essay entitled "Are Catholics Christians?"  To clarify, I break it down for them like this.  First, Catholics are Christians.  So there is no difference between Catholicism and Christianity.  They are one in the same.  Second, Western Christianity has broken down into two major divisions.  One is Catholic and the other is Protestant.  Now how do you know the difference? I ask, Are you a Catholic?  If the answer is "no" then guess what?  You're a Protestant!  Now I quickly go on to explain that Protestantism itself is broken down into many denominations, thus there are many different types of Protestants.  There are Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Methodists, etc.  At this point a light bulb usually pops on in their head.  "I didn't know I was a Protestant!" I've heard many a Baptist exclaim.  Some are resistant to the idea, so I usually don't push the issue.  I do however rephrase their question for them into: "So Shane, what is the major difference between Catholicism and Protestantism?"  Now that we have the right question, we can begin to delve into the answer.

The major difference between Catholicism and Protestantism, in my estimation, is the issue of authority.  That's right -- I'm talking Authority -- with a capital "A."  You see, I tell them, the Catholic Church asserts a certain claim to authority over the message of the gospel and the religious lives of Christians.  So Christians who accept that claim to authority are called "Catholic" meaning "of the whole" and "complete," whereas Christians who reject some or all of that claim to authority are called "Protestant"  meaning "one who protests."  The "protest" in Protestant is against the pope and his claim to Christian authority.  Believe it or not, once you briefly explain this, many Bible-Belt Christians become less resistant to the idea of being classified as "Protestant."  There is a strong independent streak that runs through the Ozarks.  The idea of resisting authority can be appealing to some.  So, I explain, the major difference between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians is that Catholic Christians accept the Catholic Church's claim to authority while Protestant Christians generally reject it, sometimes preferring a more "personal" and "private" relationship with God over any one man's claim to have authority over religious matters.  That is the major difference between Catholic and Protestant Christianity.  Naturally, this explanation tends to generate a lot more questions ranging on various topics.  So that's my short answer for casual conversation.  Only on very rare occasion does the subject of authority progress beyond that.

In my two previous essays (Are Catholics Christians? and The Bible Is Not Alone) I explored the problems of relying on the Bible alone, or Sola Scriptura, for all religious authority.  I pointed out that all Christians, including Protestants (and even Baptists), rely on some extra-Biblical traditions just to function.  Where there is tradition however, there must likewise be authority.  For if we do not have some authority, some group or institution, telling us what extra-Biblical traditions to follow, then we will have nothing but chaos.  For example; most Protestant churches have a central body (or individual) who dogmatically proclaims that the Bible shall be used as their sole source of authority.  Since the Bible nowhere claims this for itself, (see The Bible Is Not Alone), you need to have an extra-biblical authority make such a claim.  This same central body (or individual) will pontificate "which Bible" they shall use.  For not all Bibles are the same.  Catholic Bibles contain more books than Protestant Bibles, so it would be common for such central bodies (or individuals) to pontificate the shorter 66-book Protestant Bible, as opposed to the longer 73-book Catholic Bible.  Some of these central authorities (or individuals) will even pontificate which particular English translation they will use in their Protestant churches.  Some will insist on the King James Version (KJV) only.  Others prefer to use the New King James Version (NKJV).  Some prefer the New International Version (NIV), and still yet others insist on the New American Standard Bible (NASB).  Now that doesn't include the various doctrines they will sometimes insist on.  Some Protestant churches are Calvinist, while others are not.  Some are Dispensationalist, and others are not.  Some believe in consubstantiation when it comes to Holy Communion, others believe it is just a symbolic "Lord's Supper."  Some believe in infant baptism, others do not.  The list goes on and on.  Why is this?  How can there be such uniformity of doctrine in the Catholic Church, shared by the Eastern Orthodox as well (over 2/3 of all Christians), yet in Protestantism there is so much diversity in doctrine?  Literally, you can go to any Catholic Church, anywhere in the world, and the doctrine is the same.  You can go to any Eastern Orthodox church in the world, and while their form of worship may look different, their doctrine is virtually identical to the Catholic Church.  Yet, when you go from one Protestant church to another, the beliefs change depending on where you are.  How can this be?  Perhaps this is where a little knowledge of history comes in handy.

You see, prior to the 16th century, all Christians in the Western world were Catholic.  That's right, the word "Catholic" and the word "Christian" were totally synonymous.  People just used them interchangeably.  This had been the case in the West since the age of the apostles.  However, in the late 15th century, certain corruptions set into the Catholic Church, so that by the early 16th century, these corruptions were quite profound in Northern Europe.  This gave way to political instability in Northern Europe, which gave rise to many attempts at reformation.  There had been reformation movements in the past, and most of them were quite successful.  However, in the 16th century, these new reformers were different from the old.

What is the difference between St. Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther?  They were both great reformers, where they not?  They were both misunderstood by their contemporaries, where they not?  They both fought against insurmountable odds and overwhelming religious corruption in their time, did they not?  So what's the difference?  Why isn't Martin Luther regarded as "Saint Martin Luther?"  Well, I'll tell you, and for me this is a bit personal.  You see my direct ancestors were some of the first Christians baptised under Martin Luther's religion.  My surname comes from Guntersblum Germany, which is just about 12 miles north of Worms on the Rhine River.  I can trace this line of my ancestry directly to baptismal records in the local Lutheran church going back to the late 1500s. My family was among the first Protestants ever, and they remained faithful Lutherans (for the most part) for nearly 500 years!  I myself was baptised in the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church in the United States back in 1970.  So how come the reformer Francis of Assisi is a Saint and the reformer Martin Luther is not?  The answer is simple really.  Saint Francis of Assisi sought to change corruption within the Church, while Martin Luther sought to change the doctrine of the Church itself.  That's the difference.  Saint Francis of Assisi claimed no authority of his own, outside of that which was given to him by the pope to govern his religious order.  Martin Luther on the other hand, claimed all authority under heaven, putting himself on equal authority with the bishops, pope and the apostles of Jesus Christ.  He assumed for himself the authority to redefine Christian doctrines that had been defined for centuries.  He not only reinterpreted the Bible to his own fancy, but he even removed books from the Bible that he disagreed with (Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation, in addition to the 7 Old Testament books sometimes called the Apocrypha).  So sweeping were the powers he assumed that he quickly became known as "that pope in Wittenberg," though one must historically observe that no real pope in Rome ever dared to claim so much authority for himself.  Martin Luther effectively made himself a "super-pope."  Luther was not alone in his time.  Others followed his example; John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli just to name a couple. The English Reformation was a bit different, but in the end, the cause was the same.  In this case, King Henry VIII, and later his daughter Elizabeth I, simply adopted the same position as Martin Luther, taking on all authority under heaven to remake Christianity however they saw fit.  For all of the quibbling over this doctrine or that, the entire Reformation of the 16th century could easily be simplified to just calling it a crisis of authority within the Western Church.  The so-called "Reformers" simply assumed for themselves a level of authority not seen since the apostolic era.  That they assumed such authority is indisputable, let the historical records show, but the real question is: Did they have the right to assume such authority?

Today, there are many Protestant churches.  I really don't know how many.  Open up any citywide phone book, turn it to the yellow pages, and under the listing for "churches" one can easily find literally dozens of Protestant denominations to choose from.  One of the more recent trends is the so-called "non-denominational" church.  These too are Protestant churches no doubt, as they usually cling to all of the basic tenets of Protestantism, including the 66-book Protestant Bible.  However, they are not always affiliated with any centralised authority structure.  Thus the individual "non-denominational" church becomes a denomination unto itself, completely free and independent of all others.  There the pastor serves as priest, bishop and pope, all in one.  There is also the house-church or small-group trend within Protestantism which may, or may not, have a centralised authority structure.  Of course the ultimate example of Sola Scriptura run amok is the "individual church movement."  What's that?  You might ask.  Well, it's been around for a long time, but there is no official structure of any kind behind it.  I doubt you would find a specific website devoted to it.  It is simply the growing Protestant notion that one doesn't really need a church at all.  It is Sola Scriptura taken to such an extreme, that each individual becomes a church unto himself, with his own authority to interpret the Bible for himself, as he sees fit, without the aid of anyone else.  I'm sure you've heard about it.  Every time a Christian says, "I don't need a church, I can worship Christ just fine in my own home," this is what is meant by the "individual church movement."  Ultimately, under this ideology, a single passage of Scripture can be interpreted literally a thousand different ways, by a thousand different people, and to be consistent, one would have to say that no one interpretation is better than another (i.e. "Biblical relativism").

So how did we go from then till now?  How did we go from the 15th century, when all Western Christians basically agreed the pope and bishops were the undisputed authority, to where we are today in the 21st century, when half of Western Christians (the Protestants) cannot agree amongst themselves who the undisputed authority is?  Or even if there is one?  How did we go from a time when there was one set of doctrines which all Christians believed, to hundreds of sets of doctrines which few Christians can agree on?

Might I suggest that the original reason for this devolution may have been pride, but perhaps the reason today is completely different?  While I think the so-called Protestant "Reformers" of the 16th century really had some nerve, I am not convinced the Protestants of today are cut from the same cloth.  Sure, there are some who go out to start their own churches, because they think they have a better understanding of the gospel than others, but I think the fact that there are so many variations of the gospel offered by Protestants today causes so much confusion that it's easy to think you might have a better grasp on the gospel than others.  I mean if any hack with a Bible can go out and start a church, then what is to stop me from doing the same?  Or so that's the general rationale, especially when one thinks he can do a better job.  So I wonder if what the last five centuries of Protestantism has really produced is little more than a steady progression from pride to confusion.  That's why I just can't put the Protestants of today into the same category as the Protestants from five centuries ago.  The world has changed a lot, much of it the result of the Protestant Reformation, which has changed the motives and reasons why Protestants continue to start new churches today.

So in summary, Catholics have a set authority structure and Protestants do not.  Oh sure, some Protestants have an authority structure of their own making, essentially a reinvention of the wheel that already existed in the Catholic Church, but this varies from denomination to denomination, and few of them can agree with each other on that.  I suppose if we really want to understand this difference between Catholics and Protestants on authority, we are going to have to look further back in history, back to the time of the apostles and their immediate successors.  What did they have to say about authority?

I have already demonstrated in two previous essays (Are Catholics Christians? and The Bible Is Not Alone) that the apostles knew nothing of Sola Scriptura.  The New Testament hadn't even been collected into a single volume yet, and they repeatedly appealed to "oral tradition" alongside Scripture as the source of their teachings.  I have also demonstrated clearly that the Apostle Paul called upon Christians to look to the Church, not the Scriptures, as the "pillar and foundation of truth" (1st Timothy 3:15).  From my previous essays, I believe we can safely conclude the following about the apostles of Jesus Christ...
  1. They did not subscribe to Sola Scriptura.
  2. They called upon Christians to follow their oral Traditions and well as the written Scriptures.
  3. They considered their oral Traditions equal to the written Scriptures.
  4. They considered the Church as the mediator of both Tradition and Scripture, having received this things from God.
  5. They asserted that they, and their successors alone, had the sole authority to interpret both Tradition and Scripture in any kind of authoritative way.
  6. They considered Peter (and his successors) to have primacy over all other bishops.
This is just what the Bible says about the apostolic view on religious authority.  Sorry if you find this bothersome, I know I did initially before my conversion to Catholicism, but it is "just the facts" ma'am.

The early Church echoed these points and then some, even going so far as to insist that the Bishop of Rome, the successor of the Apostle Peter, had primacy and authority over all others. The following was written by a Bishop of Rome in the late first century...
Wherever the bishop appears let the congregation be present; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." -- Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrneans, (A.D. 105)
"The Church of God which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns in Corinth.... If anyone disobey the things which have been said by Him (Jesus Christ) through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger." -- Clement of Rome, 1st Epistle to the Corinthians,1,59:1 (c.A.D. 96)
Other writings from the early Church continue to back this apostolic role of authority, particularly as it applies to the Bishop of Rome, that is "the pope"...
"Wherever the bishop appears let the congregation be present; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." -- Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrneans, (A.D. 105) 
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Mast High God the Father, and of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who farmed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour; the Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of credit, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love..." -- Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans, Prologue (A.D. 110)

"Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere." -- Irenaeus, Against Heresies,3:3:2 (A.D. 180)
The sentiments of the earliest Christians on this matter were nearly unanimous. So we know what the early Christians thought about authority, but we still have yet to explore the reasons why.

Perhaps it helps to understand where religious authority comes from in the historic sense.  To do this, we are going to have to look to Jesus Christ himself.  You see, when Jesus instructed his disciples, he made it very clear that they were all still Jewish, that the scribes and Pharisees had legitimate authority over Judaism because they sit in Moses' seat (Matthew 23:2), and that he did not come to abolish the Law of Moses but rather to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17-20).  Here Jesus is giving a nod to succession.  He is acknowledging that a form of authoritative succession did exist in ancient Israel.  We know that among the Jewish priesthood (and yes they did have a priesthood) it was genetic, passed from father to son, in a form of bloodline succession.  However, Jesus is talking about the "scribes and Pharisees" here, not the priests, so there was another line of succession that existed as well, not necessarily genetic in nature, viewed as having the authority of Moses (Christ's words not mine).  Those of us familiar with Judaism know of the Jewish tradition called semikhah which literally translated means "the laying on of hands" and carried the meaning of "transference" or what we Christians might call "ordination."  It is likely this custom to which Jesus referred when he said the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.  Jewish rabbis received semikhah to receive their title as "rabbi" both in ancient Judaism and modern Judaism.  (Yes, it is possible that Jesus may have received this as well, since he is called "rabbi" many times in the gospels, though we have no record of such a rite ever performed on him.  He certainly didn't need it, but his antagonists never seemed to question his claim to rabbinical authority either.  So who knows?)  Now the term rabbi means more than just "teacher."  Literally translated it means "my master" or "my great one."  You simply don't call a Jew "rabbi" unless he has earned that title, and a Jew doesn't earn that title through mere studies in the Torah.  While academics are important of course, and necessary, it is not an academic title.  The title cannot be attained by one's self.  Nobody has a right to it, no matter how much study has been accomplished or how much knowledge has been gained.  The title must be given, and it can only be given by somebody who already has it.  This process is called semikhah and it is done by a rabbi laying hands on a student, with the intention of transferring not only the authority of his rabbinical title, but the very character of its office as well.  A newly ordained rabbi becomes a "copy" (if you will) of his former master, with all the same authority and rights.  Everything the former rabbi could do, is now possible to the newly ordained rabbi.  The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' time were rabbis, each and every one of them.  They didn't have the priestly authorities of the kohanim (temple priests) or duties of the Levites, but they did have the authority to teach the law and apply it's statues on the people.  So where did they get this authority?  They claimed to get it from Moses.  In other words, they claimed that they could trace their semikhah all the way back to the Mosaic time, when the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness and eat manna for their daily sustenance.  In other words, they claimed the original semikhah came from Moses himself, as he gave them the authority to interpret and apply the Law.  Jesus gave a nod to this when he said the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses's seat (Matthew 23:2).  In this respect, they acted in Moses' place, and their decisions had just as much binding authority as those made by Moses himself.  Such is the nature of semikhah.

So what we see here is the original Jewish context of Christian authority.  Jesus was a Jew, and so were all of his apostles.  Let us never forget that!  So when we look at the things Jesus did, and the institutions he established, we need to look as them in a Jewish context.  The New Testament tells us that the Jewish authorities were just a precursor, a sign of much bigger and better things to come.  So when we look at the Jewish priesthood and the Jewish rabbinate, we need to understand that these were merely forerunners.  What Moses gave the Hebrew people was a foretaste of things to come -- a foreshadowing if you will, of a much bigger future reality.  According to Jesus himself, the consummation of all the Law and prophets was in him.  He was the prophesied one of whom Moses foretold would come.  The Law could never be abrogated, but it could be fulfilled.  So there could be no new Lawgiver, until the old Law (the Torah) was fulfilled.  Moses foretold of a new Lawgiver, one greater than he, who would eventually come to take his place (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).  This new Lawgiver was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, who is called the Messiah, or the "Christ."  Jesus acknowledged the authority of the scribes and Pharisees as having come from Moses directly, and he commanded his disciples to obey them (at least for the time being), that is until he had fulfilled the Law on the cross and created a New Covenant with his own blood, thus becoming the new Lawgiver to succeed the old.  Before he did this however, he established a new chain of authority to succeed the old as well. You ask: Where is that in the Bible?
Jesus speaking to Peter... I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. -- Matthew 16:18-19 
Jesus speaking to the apostles...   Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.  Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven.  For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. -- Matthew 18:18-19
Jesus again speaking to the apostles after he had sealed the New Covenant with his own blood...   When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost.  Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. -- John 20:22-23
When we look at the panorama of Jesus' ministry on earth, we see a common bone of contention constantly resurfacing between him and the Pharisees, and that is the power (or authority) to forgive sins.  For example; Jesus would frequently tell a crippled man his sins are forgiven.  The Pharisees would protest saying that only God alone has the authority to forgive sins.  At that Jesus would prove to them his divinity by healing the physical infirmity of the man who's sins he just forgave.  However, we see in these passages above that Jesus chose to share this very same authority, the divine authority to forgive sins, with his apostles!  Stop and think about that for a moment.  The authority to forgive another's sins, both in heaven and on earth, is by far the greatest authority imaginable.  The Pharisees correctly pointed out that no one can forgive sins except God, yet Jesus proved to them that he was/is God, and then he turned around and shared that aspect of his divine authority with his apostles. He didn't share it with the Pharisees.  He didn't share it with the Jewish priesthood.  He shared it with his apostles and his apostles only!  Thus, a whole new sacramental system to forgive sins had just been established, one that surpasses the Mosaic Law, and is derived from the semikhah of God Himself, having come in the flesh!

This is the basis of Christian authority, the Jewish basis of it, but it does not come to us from Moses.  It comes to us from God in the flesh.  God used the established customs of Judaism to create an authority structure (a "hierarchy" if you will) for Christianity, and yes, the whole thing centres around the forgiveness of sins.  Just as the Jewish sacramental system of animal sacrifices centred around the forgiveness of sins, so too the new and improved Christian sacramental system centres around the forgiveness of sins.  Granted, not every aspect of Christianity deals directly with sin, just as not every aspect of the Judaism dealt directly with sin, but it is the core of both sacramental systems.

Like the rabbinical and priestly custom of succession, Jesus' Jewish apostles kept the same system for themselves. Modelled after the rabbinical practice of semikhah, the apostles would lay hands upon those whom they chose to succeed them in apostolic authority.  We see the first incident of this immediately after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ...
And they appointed two, Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.  And praying, they said: Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, To take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas hath by transgression fallen, that he might go to his own place. And they gave them lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.  -- Acts 1:23-26 
Here we see that Matthias was numbered as an apostle, taking Judas Iscariot's place, assuming all the authority of an apostle, though he himself was never named an apostle by Jesus Christ.  The other eleven apostles did this on their own, numbering him among themselves, making a complete twelve like the twelve tribes of Israel, transferring all of their apostolic authority to him, though he himself had not received it directly from Jesus Christ while Christ walked the earth.  This process eventually came to be called "apostolic succession," which means quite literally, the apostles had the authority to transfer the authority they received from Christ onto another.  How did they specifically do this?  The answer comes to us directly from a Jewish rabbi and Christian apostle named Paul.
  • Neglect not the grace that is in thee, which was given thee by prophesy, with imposition of the hands of the priesthood. -- 1st Timothy 4:14
  • Impose not hands lightly upon any man, neither be partaker of other men's sins. Keep thyself chaste. -- 1st Timothy 5:22
What were the apostles and their successors doing?  They were performing the Jewish rite of semikhah, or something similar to it, what we call today the Christian rite of ordination.  It was a transference of apostolic authority, from one generation to the next, wherein (like the Jewish priests and rabbis of old) the full authority and character of the office is transferred from one to another.  In other words, a "copy" is made.  The successor is just as "apostolic" as the predecessor, retaining all the same rights and authority.  It's a Jewish thing.  Since Jesus and all the original apostles were Jewish, that Jewish thing is now a deeply entrenched Christian Tradition.  This is where Christian authority comes from.  There is no other Christian authority other than this.  It comes directly from Jesus Christ himself, through the apostles, to their successors, all the way down to the modern era.  Like the Jewish Old Covenant, it centres around the forgiveness of sins, but it is not limited to that alone.  Christian authority through apostolic succession was the undisputed litmus test of the early Church period.  For many people went out attempting to preach their own version of the Christian gospel, but if they could not produce a credible reference to having obtained apostolic succession, they were quickly dismissed as frauds.

As time progressed, the apostolic office tended to take on a threefold character.  The primary character was the full character, meaning the episcopal office, commonly called the "bishop" in English.  This is the full apostolic ordination (semikhah), meaning the one who receives it receives the full apostolic ministry.  To create helpers for the bishop, a lesser form of office was created called the presbytery.  The presbyter would obtain the full apostolic ordination (semikhah) minus the ability to ordain others, so his ministry stops with him, and he is by nature subordinate to the bishop.  In English, a presbyter is commonly referred to as a "priest."  Finally, there is the least of the threefold office called the diaconate, which is commonly called "deacon" in English, and the deacon simply receives a small portion of the apostolic ministry through ordination (semikhah) which is designed to simply help the bishop and priests in their daily functions.

For 1,500 years after the apostolic era this understanding of apostolic authority remained virtually unchallenged.  We have to understand that even the Sacred Scriptures were more disputed than this.  That's right, even the Holy Bible itself had more controversy surrounding it.  Apostolic succession was considered something that could be relied upon.   The "canon" of the Bible, meaning the books the Bible was supposed to contain, was not settled until 401 AD.  In fact, were it not for a dispute that arose with the Arian heretics in the 4th century, the early Church probably wouldn't have even created a canon of Scripture (Holy Bible).  You see, the Arians were a Gnostic sect that tried to hijack Christianity in the early to middle 4th century.  They were led by a rogue priest named Arius who claimed that Jesus was not divine and denied the orthodox teaching of the Trinity.  Arius appealed to Scripture for his rationale, but it was his own compilation of Scripture (the Arian canon), and since the early Church had not yet settled which books belong in the Bible, he got away with this for a very long time.  Arius appealed to the authority of Scripture, at least as far as how he interpreted it, and of course he got to choose which books belonged in his "Bible."  Arius created nothing short of a crisis in the early Church, and for a brief time there were more Arian "Christians" than there were orthodox Christians.  The bishops of the early Church had to act definitively against this heresy lest the gospel of Jesus Christ be lost to a heretical understanding that would dilute its meaning forever.  So drawing upon the apostolic authority that was given to their predecessors by Jesus Christ himself, they exercised this authority to do two things.  First, they constructed a creed called the Nicene Creed, named after the city of Nicea in which they met.  By ordering that all churches have this creed memorised and regularly recited by their members, they took their first step at combating the Arian heresy.  Second, they countered the Arian Bible by creating their own list (canon) of books which they could agree upon based on the "oral traditions" which came from the original apostles that they all had in common.  It took a while for them to agree on this list -- nearly 75 years! -- but by 401 AD the Holy Bible (the one we all know today) was compiled into one book and promulgated to all churches in the ancient world.  It was a one-two punch that put Arianism in its grave.  It didn't work overnight.  In fact, it took over a hundred years, but the bishops were planning for a more effective long-term victory.  Once it was finally down, they didn't want Arianism rearing it's ugly head ever again.  By exercising the authority that Jesus Christ gave to them through apostolic succession, they were able to decimate this attack of the devil.  Where is the Arian heresy today?  Where is the "International Church of Arius?"  It's gone - extinct.  This is why Jesus Christ gave AUTHORITY to his apostles.  This is why he gave it to them under the Jewish pretext of semikhah, which allowed them to transfer it to successors.  The devil rose up Arius to attack the Church over a hundred years after the death of the last apostle.  The apostles couldn't be there to defend the Church in her hour of need, but their successors could be, and so that is how it worked.  Jesus Christ acknowledged the Jewish rite of semikhah for this reason, that the Church he founded might have apostles at all times, to defend her from error, and maintain a sacramental system for the forgiveness of sins.

Exactly eleven centuries later, another man rose up and followed in the footsteps of Arius, though he did not deny the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ.  That man's name was Martin Luther, and like Arius he appealed to Scripture as his final authority, even going so far as to modify Scripture by deleting books he disagreed with (including Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation) as well as change passages of Scripture he didn't like (yes, he really did do this).  However, the most lasting legacy that Martin Luther gave was the first of his "five solas" -- Sola Scriptura -- wherein he flushed the whole reliance on apostolic secession and gave Western Christians a whole new authority structure to rely on -- the printed word.  Virtually every Protestant denomination relies on it in one way or another.  For this reason, I believe Martin Luther is considered the Father of the entire Reformation.  He is the first and highest Reformation Father.  All others are subordinate to him, for you see, they all followed his example.  Sola Scriptura is an authority structure that has resulted in the fracture of Western Christianity into many denominations, sects, nondenominational-independent churches, house churches and individuals who say they no longer need church.  They call this progress?

Christian authority comes from Jesus Christ and no other.  It cannot come from an inanimate object, a book, such as the Bible.  It is not something that is earned academically or just assumed by opening up a church building.  It is easy to lay hands on a man and call him "ordained," but if that ordination cannot be traced back to an apostle, it has little to no value.  No, Christian authority came from the hands of the man who ordained Peter, James, John and all the rest.  Outside of this, there is no Christian authority.  It either comes directly from the physical hands of Jesus Christ, or else it does not exist at all.  This is the only reasonable explanation for the doctrinal chaos that has plagued Protestantism for the last five centuries and most intensely in the last five decades.

Without apostolic authority we are left with the inevitable result of Biblical relativism. For without apostolic succession, one pastor's interpretation of Scripture cannot be any more authoritative than another.

This in no way diminishes the pastoral care that Protestant ministers give to their flocks, and what I have written here should not be misinterpreted to disparage the fine work often performed by dedicated Protestant pastors. What I have written here should be interpreted in the most strict sense when it comes to the issue of authority. Indeed, many Protestant ministers have done excellent work tending to the needs of their congregations. All I am saying here is that none of them can speak with absolute authority on the meaning of the scriptures, since none have apostolic succession, and I think it's safe to say that most Protestant ministers would actually agree with me on that. For few of them would claim a level of authority on par with the apostles.

The author makes no attempt to hide his bias here.  I've lived as a Christian on both sides of the fence.  I know what the Protestant side is like, as I've been through more than a few Protestant denominations.  I know what the Catholic side is like.  Neither is without its share of problems.  However, when forced to choose between the doctrinal chaos of Protestantism, verses the doctrinal consistency of Catholicism, I have chosen the latter.  Are the Catholic Church's leaders perfect?  No.  Are they without sin?  Of course not.  Nothing in my faith requires me to believe they are.  Do they make mistakes?  Of course they do.  Can they be corrupt?  Unfortunately the answer is yes.  However, when they teach authoritatively, exercising their apostolic offices, You can rest assured their teaching is as good as if it came from the original apostles themselves.  I can go to a Catholic Church in Springfield Missouri on one Sunday, then attend another in Myrtle Beach South Carolina the next Sunday, knowing with absolute certainty that the beliefs are the same, the liturgy is the same, and the sacraments are the same.  This is the result of the gift of authority.  Jesus gave it to his Church for a reason.

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of the Roman Catholic faith as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is approximately 100 print pages, and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Evangelical Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!  Order Your Copy Today

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bringing Traditionalist Solutions To An Ozarks Town

The ACLU forced the city of Republic to remove
the Christian fish symbol from its seal and flag.
The City of Republic is a small suburb southwest of Springfield Missouri.  It is the largest and fastest growing in the region.  Republic has also gotten more than its fair share of media attention too.  Probably the most notable was about ten years ago, when it was forced by the ACLU to remove its Christian fish symbol from its flag and seal.  I liked the fish and was sorry to see it go.  It's just one more example of how this post-Enlightenment god of Secularism seeks to systematically destroy every last vestige of our once great Christian civilisation.  I am proud of the city for attempting to fight this hateful and vindictive lawsuit, but alas, they could not stand up to the deep pockets of the nearly omnipotent ACLU.  The city of Republic has since chosen to leave that quarter of the seal and flag blank, just as a reminder to the people of Republic of what once was there.

Recently, I attended a citywide town hall meeting which I am pleased to report was still opened with prayer.  This particular town hall was a very controversial one, and tempers were running hot among the people.  The community room was packed wall-to-wall with standing room only.  What was the issue on everyone's mind?  Trash.  That's right, the whole thing was about trash.

You see, the City of Republic is a beautiful and clean city, and I personally believe that is because of the free-market system of competition that currently exists here between trash haulers.  Basically, when you move into Republic, there is a list of trash haulers to choose from who have a license to operate in the city, and all you need do is just take your pick.  The system works really well at keeping prices down and keeping the streets clean.  However, it is not without its problems.  One minor problem is that trash is being picked up by one or another company on almost every weekday.  This is more of an eyesore, as when driving down the street, you can always see one or two houses with a trash bin out front.  Another problem is a big one, and this is the one that primarily concerns the city council.  It seems that big heavy trash trucks have a tendency to put a lot of wear and tear on the city streets.  So, to keep up with the growing number of large trash trucks tearing up the city streets, the council was forced to either raise taxes or else restrict license to one trash hauler and collect a small percentage fee (about 8%) to apply toward road maintenance.  So the city is now (as of the date of this essay's publication) in the process of considering this new ordinance.

The town hall meeting was packed wall-to-wall
with standing room only.
Well, as you can imagine, the citizens of Republic were a little upset about this.  No, I take that back.  They were A WHOLE LOT upset about this.  The town hall did occasionally get a little rowdy, as people found it difficult to contain their emotions.  The mayor had to take a firm tone with them from time to time.  However, I think the meeting turned out well.  The people got a chance to vent, and the city council got a chance to see just how unpopular this new proposal is.  The measure isn't expected to be voted on for over a month, but I think it will likely fail.  Should they actually dare to pass it, I highly doubt any of those poor folks on the council will be reelected.  The smart thing to do now, would be to make sure this proposal is quietly put to rest at the next city council meeting, never to see the light of day again.  I should point out here, the mayor commented on how pleased he was to see such widespread participation in the process, and he encouraged similar participation on other city issues in the future.  I agree with him on this.

Now many people rose to address the council, stating their opposition and dismay that the council would even consider such a thing.  It was correctly pointed out that creating such a city supported monopoly will eventually cause prices to rise, service to fall, jobs to be eliminated, and could potentially end up forcing the city to do the job itself.

It was at this point I took it upon myself to also express my opposition to the proposal, but at the same time offer a potential solution to the problem.  It seems to me the city council is making a common mistake that is so prevalent across our post-Enlightenment civilisation, wherein governments either take over a portion of the market (socialism), or else favour one company over all others in the market (fascism or "crony capitalism") thus creating monopolies.  Both of these methods of dealing with problems are fundamentally flawed, and ultimately cause more hardship on everyone (including the government) because they limit the ability of the people to own productive property (i.e. business) and concentrate this productive property into the hands of the few (as in monopolies) or one (as in government).  Both solutions deprive the people of the ability to address the market needs by going into business for themselves.  What is needed is the opposite approach, and this is how governments dealt with things way back during the Middle Ages.  Basically, the objective is to open the market fairly, so the little businesses have a chance to compete with the big businesses.  This is done by structuring licenses, fees and taxes in a graduated system, so as to somewhat "level the playing field," thus keeping the market open to as many little people as possible.  In modern times this way of thinking as been called by many names.  "Distributism" is one of them.  (Not to be confused with to socialist idea of "Re-distributism."  That's different.)   Others have called it "micro-economics" or "micro-capitalism."  It doesn't really matter what you name it, as long as you're thinking about it.  Personally, I like to call it the good ol' fashion "Traditional Market."  When the government participates in this idea properly, it promises to open the market up to as many small-businesses as possible, creating a thriving society wherein a good deal of people actually own their own jobs.  Such worker-owned (small business) economies tend to resist recessions and keep money more local, thus enriching the community and of course, that includes increased tax revenue.  Like I said, this is just the good ol' fashioned Traditional Market at work, but sometime in the late 1800s, America started to forget this principle.  As a result we've ended up with an economy where people usually work for someone else (a big business), and governments get locked into the false notion that they either need to artificially prop up big business (fascism or "crony capitalism"), or else take over their market entirely (socialism).

Every autumn the City of Republic celebrates its annual
"Pumpkin Daze" festival, wherein local farmers bring their
largest pumpkins for competition, while the people are entertained
with shows, booths, food, attractions.
For over 100 years now, the popes of Rome have been attempting to warn society about this dangerous economic trajectory we are on.   It began with Pope Leo XIII social encyclical entitled Rerum Novarum way back in 1891.  It was expanded upon by Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno in 1931.  Other encyclicals followed along this line right down to the current pope.  The core principle behind these documents is an idea called subsidiarity. Now what that means is this.  Everything in government and economies ought to be ordered from the smallest to the largest.  The smaller orders of government and business should be allowed to do all that they can for themselves.  This allows them to reach their full potential independently, until such time as they require help from larger government and business to do only those things which they cannot do themselves.  Then and only then, should larger government and business step in to help, serving in a subsidiary role, primarily through coordination between smaller government and business, serving smaller government and business as if they were their subsidiary.  This is the Natural Law.  Anything outside of this model is unnatural and immoral.  The smallest form of government and business is of course the nuclear family.

So applying the principle of subsidiarity and in the spirit of "distributism" or "micro-capitalism" I addressed the city council with a proposal that was consistent with the good ol' fashion Traditional Market.  I proposed to the council that garbage trucks be licensed with a graduated fee according to size and weight.  The larger and heavier trucks pay more, while the smaller and lighter trucks pay less.  Ultimately, the small and local private entrepreneur with a pickup truck or flatbed, could acquire a trash hauling license from the city for a next-to-nothing fee.   While a larger massive garbage truck, used by big trash companies, would need to pay much higher fees to acquire the same trash hauling license.  This would effectively reduce the amount of large garbage trucks on the streets in Republic, thus reducing the wear and tear on the roads, and simultaneously provide more revenue per large-truck license to help pay for road maintenance.  Also simultaneously, it preserves a free market in the city when it comes to trash hauling, giving the people more choice, while it creates local jobs at the same time for local families who want to go into the trash-hauling business for themselves.  In today's economy I can't think of anything more needed.  Hopefully, the city council will take this idea seriously, and perhaps implement it in a way that is consistent with its intentions.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Bible Is Not Alone

Bible handwritten in Latin, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England.
In a previous essay I briefly touched on the subject of Sola Scriptura (the "Bible Alone" doctrine), which I will expand upon in greater detail here.  Now the doctrine (or discipline) of Sola Scriptura is Latin for "Bible Alone."  What it typically means today is a little different than what it was intended to mean 500 years ago when the German Reformer Martin Luther first uttered the phrase.  Nevertheless, it is this more modern understanding that I will be dealing with here.

Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) is commonly understood today as the notion that everything a Christian needs for salvation and holy living is contained solely in the Bible.  It goes further than that.  It even suggests that if a particular doctrine cannot be found in the Bible, either explicitly or implicitly, it should be rejected as non-Biblical and possibly heretical.  (Originally, Sola Scriptura only subjugated extra-Biblical doctrines to Scripture, but under this modern interpretation of Sola Scriptura, extra-Biblical doctrines are simply rejected entirely.) Taken to its absolute extreme, Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) implies that everything that is needed to interpret the Bible is found solely within the Bible, and there is no need to use any other book, study material, historical reference, etc.  The reader can know everything he needs to know from the "Bible Alone."  It is from this foundational teaching that all of modern Protestantism (Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, etc.) finds its footing.  Granted, not all Protestants are the same, and different Protestants will go about Sola Scriptura a little differently.  For example, some may be more extreme in their understanding, while others may be more moderated, but I think it's safe to say that Sola Scriptura plays a big role in the faith of all Protestants, in one way or another.  It is also from this same teaching, that some of these Protestants are able to condemn Catholic Christianity as "heretical" and "non-Christian."  This is because about 10% of Catholic doctrine is derived more from Apostolic Tradition than Sacred Scripture.

So here is the heart of the problem.  The teaching is Sola Scriptura, and the questions are twofold.  First, is the doctrine sound?  Second, is the doctrine binding on all Christians?

When a Catholic is called out on a particular Catholic teaching, such as prayer to the Saints, or the doctrine of Purgatory, the common Protestant accusation is: "That's not in the Bible!"  Now this is what is really happening here.  The Protestant is referencing Sola Scriptura.  He is effectively saying: "It's not in the Bible, so it's not true."  Now, again, that is not what Martin Luther meant by Sola Scriptura when he invented the doctrine.  In the classic Lutheran understanding of Sola Scriptura, the Protestant would simply say: "That's not in the Bible, so I am not required to believe it."  He appealed to Scripture as the "final authority" over extra-Biblical doctrine and that's it.  He used it as a means to nullify those doctrines that he didn't agree with, so long as he was convinced by the Bible that he didn't have to believe in them.  That understanding has been modified in today's world.  In today's world, the modern Protestant says: "That's not in the Bible, so I'm not required to believe it, AND I shouldn't believe it, BECAUSE it has to be false."  See the difference?  The classic understanding of Sola Scriptura simply allowed Protestants to reject some Catholic doctrines on a personal level.  The modern understanding of Sola Scriptura allows Protestants to condemn them as false and heretical, even going so far as to declare the Church that promotes such doctrines a false Church.

In using this modern understanding of Sola Scriptura, the modern Protestant takes it from a private discipline to a universal doctrine.  He is attempting to impose his Reformation doctrine upon other Christians, indeed ALL Christians, most especially Catholics.  The question is, does he have the right to do this?  The classic understanding of Sola Scriptura was a personal one, which allowed Protestants to deflect some of the teachings of Rome while embracing others.  For example; a classic Lutheran could embrace the Catholic teaching on Heaven and Hell, but deflect the Catholic teaching on Purgatory and Indulgences.  In the old days, a Catholic would say to the Protestant: "You should believe in Purgatory as well as Heaven and Hell."  The Protestant would respond: "I believe in Heaven and Hell because I can find that in the Bible, but I don't have to believe in Purgatory if I don't want to, because I can't find that in the Bible."  Now let's fast-forward to modern times.  The modern understanding of Sola Scriptura is a universal one, which allows Protestants to impose this view on everyone else, especially Catholics, and use it to condemn the Catholic Church.  For example; today a Catholic might say to a Protestant: "You should believe in Purgatory as well as Heaven and Hell."  The Protestant might then say in response: "I believe in Heaven and Hell because I can find that in the Bible, but I can't find Purgatory in the Bible, therefore it is false, and your Church is teaching false doctrine!"  Do you see the difference?  It's a pretty big difference.  Under the classic understanding of Sola Scriptura, rejection of Purgatory was a personal matter.  The Protestant wasn't required to reject it, but he was able to, because Sola Scriptura gave him that personal liberty.  Under the modern understanding of Sola Scriptura, rejection of Purgatory becomes a universal matter.  Not only are all Protestants expected to reject it, but Catholics are called upon to reject it too, and the Catholic Church is condemned for teaching it.  So what we see here is a progression on Sola Scriptura from a private discipline to a universal dogma.  It is a dogma which its proponents believe ALL CHRISTIANS must submit to is.  The question is, does Sola Scriptura deserve that kind of status?  Is it really a doctrine that is worthy to be imposed on everyone?  That is what many modern Protestants are attempting to do when they challenge Catholics on doctrines that are "not in the Bible."  Truth is, a lot of doctrines Protestants believe to be unbiblical actually can be found in the Bible, but there are about 10% that are based more on Apostolic Tradition than Sacred Scripture.  So what should the Catholic think about all of this?  Is Sola Scriptura (the "Bible Alone" doctrine) really worthy of belief?  Is it worthy to be imposed on all Christians as a universal dogma?  Should Catholics subscribe to it? Should Protestants subscribe to it?  Should anybody subscribe to it?  Is this really something that can honestly be used to condemn the Catholic Church, or any church for that matter?  Or have modern Protestants overstepped their boundaries by attempting to impose a private discipline on all Christians as a universal doctrine?

Most Protestants tend to believe Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) is binding upon all Christians.  As I said in my previous essay on the topic: "Everything about the logic of Sola Scriptura is sound, except for one thing, the history it's based on." Let's start from the beginning. Nowhere in the Bible does it actually say to believe in the "Bible Alone." What I mean by that is the Bible itself never says to only believe things that are found in the Bible. In fact, quite the opposite is true. For example; Saint John tells us in his gospel that Jesus said and did far more things than were actually written down in the Bible (John 21:25). St. Paul the Apostle congratulated the Corinthians for following the "traditions" he had given them (1st Corinthians 11:2) and he told the Thessalonians these "traditions" came by both written letter and word of mouth (2nd Thessalonians 2:15). In fact, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible that says everything we need to know is in the Bible. That idea itself is a man-made "tradition." The notion that everything the apostles taught, that is necessary for our salvation, was neatly packaged in a single volume of books, from Genesis to Revelation, is an ideal notion, a tidy concept, but very unbiblical. The Bible itself doesn't even tell us what books belong in the Bible. That too is a man-made "tradition." That's right, pull out a Bible and look in the first few pages. There you will find a table of contents. That table is called the Biblical "canon." There is an Old Testament canon, and a New Testament canon. Now pay particular attention to the New Testament canon of 27 books. Out of the hundreds of Christian books that could be found written in the first century, it was these 27 books that were decided to be worthy of the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Who decided that? Why the Catholic Church of course! way back in AD 367 - 401. It was St. Athanasius of Alexandria Egypt who first came up with the 27-book New Testament canon (Matthew through Revelation) in 367 AD. Later this list was debated by the Catholic synods at Rome, Hippo and Carthage. So that by 401 AD, Pope Innocent declared this to be the official New Testament for all Christians, and all Christians have used this New Testament ever since, even the Protestants.

So from the beginning, the historical facts don't match the common perceptions. This puts a chink in the armour of "Bible Alone" Christianity. The typical Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) logic is sound, but history doesn't match the preconceived notions that logic is based on. So once you know that, Sola Scriptura presents a logical loop that disproves itself. For if you can only believe what is taught in the Bible (Sola Scriptura), and the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is nowhere taught in the Bible, then based on what Sola Scriptural says, you can't believe Sola Scriptura. Why? Because it's not in the Bible! This is a classic logical loop, but you would never see it unless you knew the history of the Bible and how we got it.

When put to the Biblical test, Sola Scriptura falls flat on its face.  The doctrine (or discipline) is itself non-Biblical.  I suppose any Christian could use it if he wants to, as a private discipline, but in doing so, he would have to simultaneously admit that other Christians cannot be obligated to do the same.  Since Sola Scriptura is itself an extra-Biblical tradition (one that directly seems to contradict Scripture at that), there is no way a practitioner of Sola Scriptura could criticise another Christian for keeping extra-Biblical traditions, even if that practitioner (correctly or incorrectly) assumes such traditions contradict the Bible.  To do so would be hypocritical.  If a Protestant is keeping the private extra-Biblical discipline of Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone), he cannot honestly criticise Catholics for keeping various other extra-Biblical customs and traditions without himself being a hypocrite. Worse yet, if the Protestant judges that a certain Catholic extra-Biblical tradition contradicts the Bible, he would be a hypocrite expecting Catholics to reject it. Because after all, you see, the Protestant himself follows a tradition that directly contradicts the Bible -- Sola Scriptura. For both the Catholic and the Protestant are keeping extra-Biblical traditions. They just happen to be different extra-Biblical traditions. I would argue though, that the Catholic's traditions are far more in line with what the Bible teaches.

Even though the Bible speaks so plainly about some Christian teachings coming from oral traditions, and congratulates Christians for keeping those oral traditions, there are some who would object in a valiant but vain attempt to rescue the Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) doctrine.  For example, this Biblical passage from St. Paul's second letter to Timothy is often cited...
All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness -- 2nd Timothy 3:16 (Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition) RSV-CE
Now this is a wonderful passage, and a good reminder to all of us just how important Scripture is in the life of every Christian -- whether Catholic or Protestant.  However, I should point out here that the passage specifically says "All scripture..." not "Only scripture..."  Had it said the latter, there would seem to be a proof text for Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) as a doctrine all must follow.  Yet it doesn't say that, does it.  It says "All scripture..." and that changes the meaning entirely.  The passage is simply an admonition to read the Bible.  It is not a proof text for the "Bible Alone" doctrine.

There is however one passage I've seen used that nearly almost seems to serve as a proof text for Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) as a doctrine.  It comes from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians...
Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written." Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. -- 1st Corinthians 4:6 (New International Version) NIV, emphasis is mine.
Now in this English translation of the original Greek manuscript called the "New International Version" (NIV) it would appear on the surface that we have found our illusive proof text for Sola Scriptura.  Notice carefully however, the NIV puts the phrase "Do not go beyond what is written" in quotation marks, and specifically says this is a "saying."   What does that mean?  It means it's an idiom used from the time period, and the NIV translators were unsure of how to translate it, so they just left it, transliterated into quotation marks.  The word-for-word translation from Greek into hard English could also read as follows: "do not think beyond the written line," but that still doesn't tell us what it means. It is after all an idiom, a figure of speech that was apparently common during the time, which had a certain meaning.  Thankfully, the NIV is not the only translation out there and other English translations do a far better job picking up the original meaning of this idiom in the context of the subject St. Paul is discussing...
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. -- 1st Corinthians 4:6 (King James Version) KJV, emphasis mine 
But these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollo, for your sakes; that in us you may learn, that one be not puffed up against the other for another, above that which is written. -- 1st Corinthians 4:6 (Douay-Rheims Bible) DRB, emphasis mine 
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself, and to Apollos, for your sakes; that ye may learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you on account of one, may be puffed up against another. -- 1st Corinthians 4:6 (Webster's Bible Translation) WBT, emphasis mine 
Dear brothers and sisters, I have used Apollos and myself to illustrate what I've been saying. If you pay attention to what I have quoted from the Scriptures, you won't be proud of one of your leaders at the expense of another. -- 1st Corinthians 4:6 (New Living Translation) NLT, emphasis mine
I think these particular English translations do a much better job capturing the meaning of what St. Paul was trying to say with that common Greek idiom.  The meaning of this passage has nothing to do with limiting one's religious faith to the Bible Alone.  Rather, St. Paul is admonishing the Corinthians not to think proudly of one Church leader over another, which of course fits in nicely with the whole context of the chapter and surrounding passages.

As if not to give up, sometimes the dogmatic proponents of Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone), seeking to make it a binding on all Christians, will grasp for the condemnations, against those who would alter Scripture, which can be found in St. John's Apocalypse (Revelation 22:18-19).  However, this passage pronounces condemnation only on those who try to change the written text of Scripture itself, by adding or deleting various portions, and has nothing to do with extra-Biblical traditions outside the Scriptures.  Indeed, we have here a clear curse against messing with the Scriptures, which the Catholic Church would never do, but nothing about Apostolic Traditions outside the Scriptures.

Finally, we get to the topic of tradition itself.  Doesn't Jesus condemn tradition?  Isn't that something the Jewish leaders of his time were doing?  Didn't Jesus tell his disciples to ignore them?  Well, if that's what you got out of the gospels, I'm afraid you didn't read them very carefully.  You see, if you read the gospels carefully, you'll see that Jesus did not condemn tradition itself, but rather hypocrisy related to tradition.  In other words, Jesus condemned the scribes and pharisees for twisting their traditions in such a way that it allowed them to sin, or else failing to keep the very traditions themselves that they required the rest of the people to keep.  It was a classic "do as I say and not as I do" thing.  You see the scribes and pharisees were constantly looking for ways to keep the letter of the law while simultaneously breaking its spirit.

Let's start by looking into what Jesus Christ had to say about the law, traditions and the authority of the religious leaders during his time...
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. -- Matthew 23:2-3 (Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition) RSV-CE
We see here that Jesus fully respects the authority of the scribes and pharisees, and he commands his disciples to obey the scribes and pharisees because of their authority.  That means Jesus is commanding them to follow their traditions!!!  What he is condemning is their hypocrisy.  Remember, Jesus was a Jew, and so where all of his disciples at that time.  So the scribes and pharisees have authority over Jews because as Jesus said they "sit in Moses' seat." This is an acknowledgement to the concept of succession.  The scribes and pharisees occupied the same position of authority as Moses, because they occupied his seat of authority, meaning they were ordained by a line of secession going back to the times of Moses.  Eight chapters prior to this (Matthew 16:18-19) Jesus set up a new line of authority that would have the same power of succession, if not more so, since Jesus is greater than Moses.  It is in this context that we must look at Jesus' other sayings about the traditions of the scribes and pharisees (Matthew 15:3-14 and Mark 7:9-15).  These condemn the hypocrisy of the scribes and pharisees themselves.  He is not condemning their tradition per se', but the hypocritical men who were abusing it.  For if Jesus were condemning tradition as a whole, he sure had a funny way of showing it, what with keeping all of the Jewish traditions himself, and then making apostles who commanded Christians to follow their own traditions (1st Corinthians 11:2 and 2nd Thessalonians 2:15).

I think I've laid out here a pretty good case for why the Bible does not stand alone, as in a vacuum, without some kind of outside interpreting context.  The doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) was invented in 1520 AD by Martin Luther in response to his own excommunication bull from the pope.  It has later been reinterpreted to mean that Christians can condemn as "false" anything that is not specifically taught in the Bible Alone.  It has even been used to attack Catholic Christianity as a "false religion" because Catholicism relies on some Traditions that don't necessarily come from the Bible Alone.  Yet the Bible Alone doctrine itself has no basis in Scripture.  Furthermore, the Bible is an inanimate book.  It can no more interpret itself than read itself.  Context can come from Scripture, but it is certainly not limited to it, and it is the reader who interprets, not the book.  Therefore, based on its own premise, Sola Scriptura (the "Bible Alone" doctrine or discipline) cannot be binding on any Christian.  At best, it is just a private discipline, used by individual Protestants who want to personally reject doctrines they can't find in the Bible.  We can debate whether it is right to do that or not, since the Scriptures seem to tell us authority not only comes from Tradition (1st Corinthians 11:2 and 2nd Thessalonians 2:15), but also the Church, which it calls the "pillar and foundation of truth" (1st Timothy 3:15).  Yet so long as the Protestant leaves it as a personal matter, without imposing it on others, the only one he potentially brings harm upon is himself.  However, once a Protestant attempts to impose this very extra-Biblical, and seemingly unbiblical, teaching upon other Christians, he has overstepped his boundaries.  He has become far worse than any corrupt pope in the pages of Medieval history.  For he has attempted to impose an absolute dogma upon ALL Christians, one that has no Biblical merit, contradicts the Scriptures in so many places, and is in actuality a perversion of what the doctrine originally meant. 

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Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!
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