Why I could never become a Roman Catholic – Part 4: The Bible

9 Jun

As suggested in the previous post, this section is more important as a barrier to my becoming a Roman Catholic than the previous section.  Let’s start by examining what the Roman Catholic Church says about the Bible.

CCC 85The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

CCC 95It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

Article 2 of the Trentine Creed (1564) states, “I also admit the Holy Scripture according to that sense which our holy mother the Church has held, and does hold, to which it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretations of the Scriptures.  Neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

Despite paying lip-service to illumination by the Holy Spirit, it is clear from the catechism and this tenet of faith that

a) the Word of God is no more important than their “tradition” (which as we have seen in the veneration of Mary is both unscriptural and of dubious provenance) to which it may be subjected in a manner similar to that used by the Pharisees – a thing which Jesus condemned (Mark 7:8-13); and

b) that they would restrict the illumination by the Holy Spirit (contrary to Scripture) to themselves, hence, limiting Almighty God. This supposed “infallibility” is entirely dependent on the claims made about the Papacy, which we will examine in depth in a later article.

St Paul tells us,

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

but he says nothing about determining who may interpret God’s Word (there being no formal Church of Rome at the time Paul was writing) or of limiting it to the clergy or of restricting its use in private devotion by the laity (as was Catholic policy for some centuries before Vatican II made it acceptable again).  Limiting the Bible to public worship gave the Catholic hierarchy greater control over non-scriptural doctrines such as indulgences by which they profited financially.

Though I applaud there being three readings in the Mass, it is a shame that two of them are, as often as not, just a handful of verses taken out of context.  They are, in short, a pretext to support the theme of that day, and are rarely mentioned in the sermon.  All the focus is on the Gospel, which is apparently reserved to the clergy (this is by no means exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church, but I am equally against it in those Anglican and other churches where it is practised).  Yet even in the Gospel, verses are omitted for no obvious reason.  For me the whole Bible is important as it is the revelatory word of God against which orthodoxy has to be measured.  One of the reasons why I go to church is to hear the Word of God, and the way it is used in Catholic worship is cavalier.

While, “16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16), that does not include the Apocrypha (which means “Hidden Books”) which is not part of the canon of Holy Scripture.  I see no reason to change the canon established by the Jewish faith in their Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).  These were the Scriptures that Jesus knew, loved and quoted; these were the Scriptures to which St Paul was referring in the verses cited above; and this was the Old Testament canon of the Roman Catholic Church up until the Council of Trent in 1546.  Thus, it seems to me that their inclusion is owed more to the theology of the Counter-Reformation, in that the books of the Apocrypha included, appear to support certain Roman Catholic doctrines (eg Purgatory, which we will deal with later) rejected by the Protestants.

While in the New Testament there are more than 260 quotations from the Old Testament (and even more allusions), not one of them is from the Apocrypha.  The obvious counter-argument to this is that there are books in the Old Testament that were never quoted either.  However, in Jewish thinking, to quote from any particular collection (eg the ‘Books of Truth’) was to accept the validity of the whole group.  Furthermore, all of the books in the Jewish canon were written in Hebrew, yet only three (and a part of a fourth) in the Apocrypha are, the rest all being in Greek.

The Jewish canon has its scriptures grouped into three categories: Torah (the Law) being the Five Books of Moses; Nevi’im (Prophets) both major and minor (with the exception of Daniel) and including Joshua, Samuel and Kings; and the Ketuvim (Writings) divided into three groups: the Books of Truth (Psalms, Proverbs & Job); the Five Scrolls, containing Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther; and the rest comprising Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles (the last book in the Tanakh).

This Jewish order of the Old Testament, which is still used today, is why Jesus used the allusion “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the House of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation” (Luke 11:51) when he wanted to show the gamut of Old Testament Scripture from the first martyr, Abel, in Genesis to the martyrdom of Zechariah in II Chronicles.  Though there were many martyrs in the inter-testament period (just look at the four books of Maccabees!), Jesus did not mention a single one of them; the simplest explanation for this is that they were not accepted by Him as Holy Writ, despite their having been included in the Greek Septuagint version.  The Jewish historian Josephus likewise rejected their being scripture, “It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers” (Against Apion Book 1, Section 8).

The Church Fathers, from whom Roman Catholics claim support for the Apocrypha, are far from unanimous on the matter.   Melito and Origen, for example, were opposed to it.  Great teachers of the church such as Cyril of Jerusalem, Hiliary of Poitier and Epiphanius of Salamis all rejected it.  Jerome vigorously resisted its inclusion in his Latin Vulgate Bible.  Despite his best efforts, it was included and the Council of Carthage (418) declared it “the infallible and authentic Bible.”  Thus, though not given the status of canon they were regularly read by Roman Catholics throughout the mediaeval period.  This no doubt led to their wide acceptance by the parish clergy and to their inclusion in the first edition of the Authorised Version (or KJV) of 1611, perhaps as a compromise to the High Church wing of the Church of England.

However, the Church of England in its Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1563), following St Jerome,  states that the books of the Apocrypha are to be read by the Church “for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine” (Article VI) and the Church of Scotland more forcefully states that “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.” (Westminster Confession, Chap 1 s3).  Indeed, none of the books of the Apocrypha claim to be inspired and this to my mind makes the Kirk’s judgement the correct one.

I find it incredible that the Catholic Church still argues for the primacy (and thus supremacy of the Gospel of St Matthew).  This theory was long ago abandoned by serious scholars given that Matthew’s Gospel contains 91% of St Mark’s Gospel, even to the point of preserving the language used by Mark.  Many Catholics still argue that Mark copied Matthew.  Yet, that long debunked theory raises three serious questions that they fail to answer satisfactorily:

a)      Why didn’t Mark use any of Matthew’s birth or resurrection narratives?

b)      Why didn’t Mark use more of the teachings attributed to the shared source ‘Q’ and the source unique to                  Matthew, ‘M’?

c)       Where did Mark get his extra 9% from?

Furthermore, Mark’s authorship and the reliability of his Gospel are validated by the Apostolic Father, Papias (c 140 ad), who makes an assertion based on an even earlier authority, which states

And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took special care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. ”  (Fragment 6) [1]

That John Mark was a close associate of St Peter is backed up by his being mentioned as sending greetings along with Peter (I Peter 5: 13),  who had preserved his preaching.  Some believe that John Mark was even an eye witness to some of the events of Holy Week hinting at his presence in his own Gospel on the basis of Mark 14:51.

Thus, the view that  Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a framework for their Gospels is (and has been for some considerable time) widely accepted by the majority of reputable scholars.

The only reason for clinging to this outdated theory is that the claim of Papal Supremacy as the successor to Peter is relies on a particular interpretation of a passage found only in Matthew (Matthew 16:18).  This will be discussed very thoroughly in the section on the Papacy later.

As we have seen in the sections on the Mass and the Virgin Mary above, Papal diktat and human tradition clearly outweigh Holy Writ and, when the latter is lacking, supplement it with equal authority.  This I cannot accept.  Tradition, no matter how noble in sentiment or holiness, is always subject to Holy Scripture.  Anything else can – and to my mind already has – only lead to theological error and diversion of attention from Christ and his saving work on the Cross.

[1]  Though in the same fragment Papias claims that “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.“, it is unclear as to what he was referring to as the Gospel of Matthew shows no linguistic traces of Hebrew and the Koine Greek used from Mark’s Gospel is not altered, merely corrected.

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