Sunday, August 05, 2012

How Roman Catholics Understand Scripture

Andrew Preslar 895:

I didn’t say that my reading, in any any aspect, was “self-evident.” I did say that the biblical basis for the papacy was “quite clear.” I’ll clarify what I meant: I meant that if one were confronted with the papacy, in its claims and contemporary and historical manifestations, and were to wonder “is there anything in the Bible that could provide any support for this sort of thing?” then he would naturally find Matthew 16, along with that passage’s resonance with Isaiah 22, as fitting the bill. The resonance with Isaiah 22 is undeniable (just compare for similarity), and is but an exercise of literary judgment to discern a typological connection between the passages. If you deny the connection, having compared the texts, then I can only conclude that you have poor literary judgment, or else that something is clouding your judgment in this case.

Your hermeneutic is not to try to learn, “what did Christ intend to say when he said …?”

Your hermeneutic is an “after-the-fact” hermeneutic. “Confronted with the papacy, in its claims and contemporary and historical manifestations”, you look for some kind of “proof-text” that can provide some sort of “after-the-fact” support. For Roman Catholics, I’ve found, “what the text actually says” is far less important than what it came to mean.

I’ve written about this phenomenon extensively, in a series of posts I’ve tagged The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic. Here is the difference:

For Protestants, understanding begins with exegesis, and exegesis begins with a patient and humble listening to the text, with the willingness to hear an alien word. We are all prone to read our own conceptions into the text. Thus our first task is simply to see what the text actually says. The Protestant seeks to understand what God is genuinely saying, through his Revelation in Scripture, from start to finish.

As I’ve said above, and I don’t by any stretch mean it flippantly, but here is how the Roman Catholic approaches the Bible. And with your comment here, you’ve given confirmation to what I’ve written.

Pius IX’s, “Gravissimas inter,” Dec. 11, 1862, reiterated by Pius XII cited in Humani Generis: “theologians must always return to the sources of divine revelation: for it belongs to them to point out how the doctrine of the living Teaching Authority is to be found either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures and in Tradition.” Another theologian wrote, “We think first of developed forms for which we need to find historical justification. The developed forms come first and the historical justification comes second.” (“Ways of Validating Ministry,” Kilian McDonnell, Journal of Ecumenical Studies (7), pg. 213)

Aiden Nichols, “The Shape of Catholic Theology” (253) notes that for the last several hundred years, “the theologian’s highest task lies in proving the present teachings of the magisterium from the evidence of the ancient sources.” One internet writer called this method “Dogma Appreciation 101” (related in a discussion of his studies in a Catholic seminary.) Nichols calls this, “the so-called regressive method,” and notes that Walter Kasper (now a Cardinal) has traced the origins of this method to the 18th century.

I’m not sure if you see it, but this is historical revisionism of the most blatant form, and I’m surprised that you Called to Communion guys, especially with scholarly backgrounds, don’t find this to be just an absolutely illicit way of going about doing things.

You all talk about “evidence”, but what if a murder suspect could pick and choose just what counts as evidence in a trial, and what doesn’t? With this method, Rome has stacked the deck in its own favor.

Your question should rather be, “What is God saying?” After all, how else can we know about God, other than what He reveals about Himself?


  1. Wait, did you say quote or understand?

    Yes, I had to go there.

    1. I think they "understand" Scripture as a source from which to pick and choose -- it is a farmer's market. "This looks good, it says 'Peter' and so we can probably use it to support the papacy", Paul says "Christ and him crucified" ... well, Mary and John were at the foot of the cross when Christ was crucified, so they are "in some sense" a part of what he offers to us, so we'll add that to the recipe ..."

    2. Most Catholics that I know do not read scripture. The Magisterium has sifted and distilled all of Scripture and Tradition and delivered the things necessary for Catholics to believe in the Catechism; follow that and you're fine. One common theme in individual testimonies of those who leave Rome is that these former Catholics began to read the Bible and could not find the doctrines that they had been taught.

    3. That was my thing EA, reading the NT and not finding RCism there. It took a while, but I finally decided I could not stay, or could not wink at the doctrines I didn't agree with, and the big thing was, I couldn't teach my kids to do either of those things.