Thursday, February 07, 2019

Dodo bird Catholicism

1. I'm going to comment on key sections in Robert Bellarmine's Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis hereticos (1586–93). I'll quote/refer to this edition: Kenneth Barker (trans), Controversies of the Christian Faith (Keep The Faith, Inc; 2016).

Bellarmine has quite a Catholic résumé, as a saint, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church. His Disputationes is the classic exposition and defense of Counter-Reformation theology. It became the foil for many Protestant theologians. 

Nowadays, the value of his work lies in documenting the hiatus between Counter-Reformation theology and post-Vatican II theology. Bellarmine is the staunch defender of an organization that no longer exists. The Roman Catholic church he passionately defends became an endangered species during the papacy of Pius XII and went extinct after Vatican II. If successful, his arguments falsify the modern Catholic church. 

2. I'll be very selective about what I comment on. I'll ignore his section on translations of the Bible because that's terribly dated. He has a 100-page section on whether the pope is the Antichrist, which is historically interesting, but peripheral to my concerns. He has a very long historical defense of Roman/papal primacy which I'll ignore because it's very dated. I'm going to skip the section on Christology. 

I'm going to focus on the sections about canonics and sola scripture (necessity, sufficiency, perspicuity of Scripture). I'm not sure how much I wish to say about his exegetical case for the papacy. For one thing, I have a post on Catholic prooftexts. In addition, some of his arguments are so ludicrous that they really don't require comment: to quote them is to refute them. 

3. Some of his arguments are circular. For instance, he often quotes from church fathers or even popes to establish his position. But that begs the question when engaging the Protestant position since we don't regard the church fathers as authority figures–much less the pope. So that's an illicit argument from authority.

However, he may include this material because he's writing for the benefit of Catholic missionaries, so the supporting material from popes and church fathers is for their own benefit. They consider that authoritative even though Protestants do not. 

4. Bellarmine was responding to 16C Protestants like Calvin, Luther, and Chemnitz. As a 21C Protestant, I have my own ways of defending Protestant theology. I think there are times when he has the better of the argument. That doesn't mean he's right. That just means there's a better argument for the position he's opposing. In the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, both sides had to think on the fly. Protestant apologists can defend classic Protestant theology without repristinating all the apologetic strategies of 16C Protestant theologians. Sometimes we can improve on the arguments. There a difference between traditional positions and traditional arguments for traditional positions. 

5. He says the Catholic rule of faith must be certain; if it is not certain, it won't even be a rule (24).

It's unclear what he means by "certain". Even if his case for Catholicism was successful, it would be a probable argument falling short of certainty.

6. He offers several lines of evidence for the inspiration of Scripture:

i) The unity of Scripture, despite the fact that it's an anthology of different books by different authors written at different times, places, occasions, and languages (24).

The problem with that argument from a Catholic standpoint is that modern mainstream Catholic Bible scholarship denies the unity of Scripture.

ii) The argument from prophecy (25).

The problem with that argument from a Catholic standpoint is that modern mainstream Catholic Bible scholarship takes the position that many biblical prophecies are prophecies after the fact, or failed prophecies, or short-term prophecies about ancient Israel which NT writers took out of context.

iii) The argument from miracles (25).

a) I don't have a problem with Catholic miracles, per se. But reports need to be carefully sifted.

b) In any event, there are well-documented non-Catholic miracles, so the argument from miracles fails to single out Roman Catholicism. 

7. He defends the Book of Job as a historical narrative (35-36). The problem with that argument from a Catholic standpoint is that I doubt modern mainstream Catholic Bible scholarship shares his viewpoint.

He defends the Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes (36-37). The problem with that argument from a Catholic standpoint is that modern mainstream Catholic Bible scholarship denies it. 

He defends the predictive character of Daniel (38-39). The problem with that argument from a Catholic standpoint is that modern mainstream Catholic Bible scholarship denies it. 

8. He defends the traditional authorship of the NT (40). He defends the Pauline authorship of Hebrews (82-88). He defends the Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, the apostolic authorship of James, and the apostolic authorship of Jude (89-94).

i) The problem with that argument from a Catholic standpoint is that modern mainstream Catholic Bible scholarship denies it. 

ii) Why does Bellarmine deny that James and Jude were written by relatives of Jesus? Is that due to an a priori commitment to the proposition that NT must be written by apostles? Or is it based on the view that if James and Jude were merely stepbrothers of Jesus, they lack the requisite qualifications?

9. He defends the authenticity of the long ending of Mark, the Pericope Adulterae, and the Johannine Comma (80-81). The problem with that argument from a Catholic standpoint is that modern mainstream Catholic Bible scholarship regards those passages to be scribal interpolations.

This is an example of how Catholicism gets locked into an indefensible position, based on dated scholarship. 

10. Regarding (6-8), a contemporary Catholic apologist might object that the positions of modern mainstream Catholic scholarship carry no authority. 

The problem, though, is that the modern Catholic church doesn't require Catholics to profess or assent to traditional positions on the authorship of Scripture, historicity of Scripture, and prophecies of Scripture. That's top to bottom. It's not required for clergy or laity. Not required for priests, bishops, cardinals, or popes. Not required for seminary professors or Pontifical university professors. So that's no longer a presupposition of Roman Catholicism. The foundation has shifted. 

11. Regarding the perspicuity of Scripture, he says:

Are the divine Scriptures by themselves easily and clearly understood, or do they need some interpretation? 

For, if Scripture were so clear, as they say, why did Luther and the Lutherans write so many commentaries?…Where do so many interpretations of Scripture come from, if Scripture is so easy and clear? Why do they fight with each other so intensely over this matter (174,77).

i) We need to avoid the opposite extremes of exaggerating the obscurity of Scripture and the clarity of Scripture. Bellarmine's tactic is self-defeating, because he will try to prooftext the Magisterium from Scripture. But at that stage of the argument he can't use Magisterial interpretation to prove the Magisterium, for he's using Scripture to establish the Magisterium in the first place. If, however, he can prooftext Catholicism without reliance on Magisterial interpretation, then the Magisterium is unnecessary. That's his intractable dilemma. 

ii) On the one hand a particular book of the Bible might be clearer to the original audience than a later audience. On the other hand, Scripture as a whole might be clearer to a later audience because we have the entire Bible to supply a larger interpretive frame of reference.

iii) Scripture isn't uniformly clear or obscure. Many statements in Scripture are self-explanatory. For instance, biblical narratives have an accessible plot that readers with no special background can easily follow. The gist of Scripture is often accessible to readers with no special background. In addition, there's redundancy to biblical teaching, so that you don't need to understand every passage to figure out what Scripture teaches. 

Sometimes a text has a subtextual meaning that eludes the average reader. However, that's not a case of misinterpreting the passage, but missing some of what it means. The understanding of the average reader may still be right, even if it suffers from limitations. 

iv) Commentaries on particular passages are sometimes necessary, not because the passage is ambiguous, but to correct misnterpretations by readers who come to the text with a theological agenda or prior commitments that require them to discount an interpretation that runs counter to their agenda or prior commitments. 

v) A misinterpretation may seem to be obviously right if the reader is conditioned by a particular theological filter. Alternative interpretations may not even occur to him. 

vi) Readers often have emotional investments which they bring to the text. They belong to religious communities. Sociological factors influence interpretation. To belong to a certain religious community, you must profess the terms of membership. So there's a motivation to assimilate to the views of your peer group. 

vii) The fact that Christians disagree on the meaning of Scripture doesn't point to the Magisterium as the solution. Life is messy. God put us in a messy world. 

It's analogous to the problem of evil. God could intervene more often to prevent evil, but he doesn't. He has reasons for allowing evil. By the same token, the fact that Christians disagree on the meaning of Scripture carries no presumption that God has intervened by instituting the Magisterium to clear that up. 

viii) The Magisterium doesn't operate by persuasion. It doesn't show how a particular interpretation is superior. There's nothing convincing about Magisterial interpretations, compared to rival interpretations. Rather, the Magisterium arbitrarily stipulates that a particular interpretation is right, and demands submission–even though there's nothing in the text or context to prefer that interpretation.  

12. Bellarmine says:

Certainly the words in Mt 26:26, "This is my body," seem to us to be so clear that the Evangelist could not have spoken more clearly. But to the Zwinglians they seem obscure and figurative (181).

False dichotomy. To say a statement is figurative doesn't mean it's obscure. Is "I am the vine" or "See! The lamb of God" obscure because those statements are figurative? 

13. Bellarmine says:

Since it has already been established that Scripture is obscure and needs an interpreter, that fact gives rise to another question: Whether the interpretation of Scripture should be sought from one visible and common judge, or should it be left to the choice of each individual (184). 

i) As I already explained, it's simplistic to say Scripture is obscure. 

ii) The fact that Scripture sometimes needs interpreters doesn't mean every reader is equally competent to interpret Scripture. Some readers have better qualifications, in terms of aptitude and training.

13. Bellarmine then distinguishes between different senses of Scripture: literal/historical, spiritual/mystical, twofold literal sense, allegorical, tropological, anagogical (184-5). 

Of course, if we grant that Scripture has so many different senses, that would certainly obscure the meaning of Scripture. But Bellarmine is creating an artificial problem to solve. 

14. Bellarmine says:

Therefore this whole question comes down to where the Spirit is. For, we think that this Spirit, although he is often conferred on many individual persons, nevertheless is certainly found in the Church, that is, in a Council of the Bishops confirmed by the Sovereign Pontiff of the whole Church, or in the Sovereign Pontiff together with a council of the other Pastors…But all the heretics of this time teach that the Holy Spirit is the interpreter of Scripture…and therefore that each person would be the judge, either by following his own spirit if he has the gift of interpreting, or by following someone else whom he sees is endowed with this same gift (186-7). 

I reject the premise. Normally, the Spirit doesn't give us the interpretation of Scripture. (Bible writers, OT prophets, apostles, NT prophets are an exception.) 

Exegesis isn't a charismatic exercise, but an intellectual exercise. For the most part, biblical hermeneutics is the same as exegeting an uninspired text. There are some differences. Scripture is infallible and prescient, so that has some bearing on exegesis. But in general, it's a question of grammatico-historical exegesis. 

15. Bellarmine says:

I cannot judge which is the true Church, unless I first judge which opinion is in agreement with the word of God (187).

That's a fatal concession. How can the church be the interpreter unless you first identify "the true Church". Unless you are able to identify "the true Church"? But you can't use "the true church" to identify which candidate is "the true church" before you figure out which candidate is the true interpreter. Only after you already established the identity of "the true church" can you then rely on "the true church" as your interpreter. So you have to be your own interpreter to kickstart the process. But if you can make that crucial interpretive judgment without the aid of "the true church," then the interpretation of the church is secondary to your own judgment. So the Bible can never be evidence for the Magisterium. 

16. Bellarmine then tries to prooftext the necessity of Magisterial interpretation from Mt 16:19, 18:17, 23:2, Lk 22:31; Jn 21:16, Acts 15:6ff.; Gal 2:off; 1 Cor 12:8-10, and 1 Jn 4:1 (pp192-95). But the dilemma this poses is that if he succeeds, he fails. If he can successfully prooftext the necessity of Magisterial interpretation without recourse to Magisterial interpretation, then he disproves the necessity of Magisterial interpretation. At this stage of the argument he must be able to interpret his prooftexts for the Magisterium without the aid of the Magisterium since he's attempting to establish from Scripture that the Magisterium has the interpretive authority he imputes to it. But if the first step of the argument is independent of the Magisterium, then the conclusion nullifies the necessity of the Magisterium. Ultimately, magisterial interpretation takes a backseat to his own interpretive judgment. 

17. In addition, his interpretations are strained. For instance, he says that in Mt 18:17 "the church" must be understood to mean "Prelate" (192).  But that has no textual basis.

He imagines that "the Roman Pontiff, teaching ex cathedra, cannot err" is deducible from Lk 22:31 (p193). But that has no textual basis. 

He says Peter "presided" at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), which is demonstrably false. 

He appeals to 1 Cor 12:8-10 (p194), but the spiritual gifts aren't indexed to church office in that passage. 

He says Peter is the "master of the house" in Acts 1 (p695). But there's no evidence that Peter was the homeowner. More likely, it was the house of Mark's mother. 

18. Bellarmine says:

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that many difficulties would arise in the Church concerning the Faith. Therefore he had to provide a judge for the Church (205). 

i) The papacy is, in itself, a source of constant controversy and dissension. At best, that creates as many problems as it (supposedly) solves. 

ii) There's the problem of winnowing true popes from antipopes. There's the problem of harmonizing what one pope says with another pope. So you need a third interpreter, over and above the papacy, to harmonize the teaching of different popes. 

19. Bellarmine says:

Since the [revealing] spirit, which is in you, is neither seen nor heard by me, then a judge should be seen and heard by both litigating parties (205).

But the same objection can be leveled against the papacy or church councils. An outside observer can't see or hear if the Spirit is speaking to or through a pope or church council. So that's unverifiable. 

20. Bellarmine says:

A judge must have effective authority, otherwise his judgment will mean nothing (205).

i) The pope only has effective authority for people who believe in the papacy. But many Christians find arguments for the papacy unconvincing. He has no effective authority for them since they aren't persuaded that he is what he claims to be. Hence, the appeal fails on its own grounds. 

ii) At best, then, papal authority would only be effective if it relies on coercion rather than persuasion. And, indeed, that's how it use to operate. 

21. Commenting on Acts 17:10ff., Bellarmine says:

Even though Paul was an Apostle,and could not preach false doctrine, nevertheless in the beginning the Bereans were not certain and they were bound to believe immediately, unless they first saw miracles or other probable reasons for believing. Therefore, when Paul proved to them that Christ was the fulfillment of the oracles of the Prophets, rightly did they search the Scriptures to see whether that was true. But Christians, who are certain that the Church cannot err in explaining the doctrine of the Faith, are bound to receive it and not to have doubts about whether or not it is true.

I add also that, although a heretic sins by doubting the authority of the Church…the condition of a heretic, who at one time professed the Faith, is not the same as that of the Jew or pagan who never was a Christian; nevertheless, given this doubt and this sin, he does not act badly by  searching and examining to see whether the places of Scripture and of the Fathers quoted by the Council of Trent really are convincing, provided that he does it with the intention of finding the truth (209). 

i) Here Bellarmine makes a crucial concession. He admits that at the preliminary stage of the investigation, a seeker must rely on his own judgment. Which presumes that private judgment can be reliable. Yet that's in tension with Bellarmine's objection elsewhere that given the obscurity of Scripture, we require a papal interpreter. 

But in that event, we can't initiate the process. If, on the one hand, the starting-point requires independent judgment while, on the other hand, Scripture is too obscure to interpret without the aid of the papal interpreter, then there's no way for someone who's not already in the charmed circle to break into the circle. And if you're already in the circle, there's no way to verify it, since Magisterial interpretation takes the Magisterium for granted. 

The dilemma can be resolved if unaided reason is sufficiently reliable, and Scripture is sufficiently clear, to check the claims of Rome against the Bible. But that moots the necessity of the Magisterium. Conversely, if unaided reason is too unreliable, and Scripture is too obscure, then Scripture can't be used to validate the Magisterium.  

ii) Perhaps a Catholic apologist would say that once unaided reason is convinced that Roman Catholicism is true, it thereafter submits to the Magisterium. 

Problem with that response is that such submission can only be provisional, since that's the product of unaided reason. A convert to Catholicism might conclude on further reflection that his conversion was premature, and Roman Catholicism is false. What reason gives, reason can take away. If Catholicism had to clear the bar of reason, then the bar of reason remains the ultimate criterion. 

22. Commenting on 1 Jn 2:27, Bellarmine says:

He is speaking only of those teachings that they have already received from the Apostles, and with the help of the Holy Spirit they have learned and believed (211).

For once I agree with him.

23. Bellarmine says:

For, we do not know for certain what God has revealed, unless it is from the testimony of the Church (212).

So the church is not in itself a revealed truth? 

24. Bellarmine says:

This argument, which is often made by the heretics [i.e. Protestants], is involved totally in an equivocation. For, that the Church judges the Scriptures can be understood in two ways: in one way, that she judges whether what the Scriptures teach is true or false. In the other way, once given as a certain foundation that the words of Scripture are true, she judges what the true interpretation of them is. Actually, if the Church were to judge in the first way, she would truly be over the Scripture, but we do not say this…But in the second way in which we do say that the Church of the Pontiff passes judgment concerning the Scriptures, it is not that the church is over the Scriptures, but over the judgments of private persons. For the Church does not judge concerning the truth of Scripture, but its understanding by you and by me, and by others (212).

That's an interesting distinction, but deceptively simple:

i) The Catholic church does presume to determine what is and is not Scripture. Which candidates for Scripture are canonical. And it claims divine authority in that exercise. 

ii) In addition, it presumes to be the gatekeeper of what Scripture means. So there is no direct access to Scripture. The meaning of Scripture isn't independent of the Magisterium. Rather, it means whatever the Magisterium means.

Hence, the Catholic church presumes to be the final arbiter and the divine arbiter regarding the locus of Scripture as well as the locus of meaning. That fundamentally subordinates the authority of Scripture to the authority of the Magisterium, both ontologically (what Scripture is) and epistemologically (what Scripture means).

iii) By contrast, evangelicals don't claim that their assessments have divine authority. So reason is not a rival to the divine authority of Scripture. Ironically, the alleged weakness of the Protestant position is a strength. We don't claim to be divinely authoritative arbiters of the canon or divinely authoritative interpreters of Scripture. We don't deify our judgments as the mouthpiece of God. So we, unlike Rome, remain subordinate to the authority of Scripture. 

25. Bellarmine says:

The baptizing of infants is called an unwritten apostolic Tradition, because it is not found written in any apostolic book… (215).

It is necessary to believe, and the Lutherans and Calvinists do believe with us against the Anabaptists, that the baptism of infants is valid, but neither Catholics nor Lutherans can in any way prove this from the Scriptures alone (227).

i) Baptists and Anabaptists appreciate Bellarmine's candid admission.

ii) Because 16C Anabaptists had so little standing, Bellarmine could use that as a wedge tactic when responding to Lutherans and Reformed paedobaptists. Back then, Anabaptists didn't have a seat at the table. They were disowned by mainstream Protestants as well as Catholics.

But of course, in the 21C (indeed, well before then), Baptists are major players on the theological scene, so their position can't be sidelined in that sophistical manner. 

26. Bellarmine says:

It must be believed that Blessed Mary was always a virgin, contrary to the error of Helvidius, as the whole Church has always believed; however, there is no testimony of this matter in the Scriptures (227).

I appreciate his candid admission. Bellarmine seems to be using a wedge tactic to prove the necessity of tradition. But the logic is reversible. If there's no biblical evidence for those things, then there's no obligation to believe them. 

26. Bellarmine says:

Acts 1:3…But the Evangelists have written only a very few things about the deeds and words of the Lord after the resurrection. However it is in no way credible that the Apostles, who saw and heard those things, did not hand them on to the Church (228). 

The Apostolic Traditions properly are said to be those which were established by the Apostles, but not without the assistance the Holy Spirit, and still they are not found to be written in their letters, such as fasting during Lent, the Ember Days… (215). 

It must be believed in the NT that Easter is to be celebrated on Sunday; for, the Quartadecimani were considered to be heretics by the ancient Church; nevertheless, there is absolutely nothing about this in the Scriptures (227).

But Catholics rightly think that he [Paul] not only directed what pertained to rites and ceremonies, but that he also gave more important directions, like things concerning the Ordination of ministers, the sacrifice of the altar, the matter and form of the other Sacraments; and the heretics cannot in any way prove the contrary  (229).

There are many mysteries concerning Baptism, which are preserved in the Church from the unwritten Traditions of the Apostles, like exorcism, breathing upon, anointing, &c. (230).

There are many unwritten things preserved in the whole world, like the feasts of the Nativity, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, as St. Augustine teaches in letter 118 (p230).

i) It doesn't occur to Bellarmine that what Jesus told the disciples between the Resurrection and Ascension was incorporated into the sermons in Acts and general epistles. In addition, that can also be reflected in the Gospels, when the narrater says or indicates that something Jesus did fulfills the OT. 

ii) Apparently, Bellarmine honestly believes that Jesus dictated the Catholic church calendar to the disciples. He really thinks all these holy days and dates go right back to Jesus. I wonder how many contemporary Catholic church historians take that seriously. 

iii) No doubt the apostles taught some things that were never recorded. That just means it wasn't necessary for the universal church. 

iv) As for inability to prove the contrary, the onus is not on Protestants to disprove something for which there's no evidence. 

27. Bellarmine says:

For the word of God is not such, nor does it have any authority because written down on sheets of paper, but because it has been uttered by God, either immediately like the sermons of the Lord, or by the mediation of the Apostles (216).

True, but misleading:

i) If the written word is our only source for the word of God. 

ii) The written word of God is more reliable than the spoken word of God in the sense that speech is more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of memory. We generally lack verbatim recall. At best, we remember the gist of what was said, especially if it's lengthy or we only heard it once. By contrast, a written source can be repeatedly consulted. 

Now if the authority of an Apostle prescribing orally is no less than what he commands in writing, certainly it is not audacious to make something unwritten equal to the written word (218). 

That suffers from the same difficulty just noted (see above). In addition, it's necessary to establish a chain-of-custody for a reputed apostolic tradition, to distinguish it from an ecclesiastical legend or pseudonymous attribution. 

28. Bellarmine says:

The Scriptures without Tradition were neither simply necessary nor sufficient…For, from Adam to Moses the Church of God was in the world, and men worshipped God with Faith, Hope, and Charity, and with external rites, as is clear from Genesis, where Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Melchizedek, and other just men are introduced…Therefore, the religion was preserved for two thousand years by Tradition alone; so Scripture simply is not necessary. For just as that ancient religion could be preserved for fifteen hundred years without Scripture, so the doctrine of Christ could be preserved for fifteen hundred years without Scripture (222).

That's misleading. In the early stages of redemption, there was less to know, less to remember, because God hadn't does as much. But the history of redemption is cumulative. A lot more is said and done as time goes on. Imagine trying to remember and transmit the details of OT history and NT history without a written record to refer to. 

Then from Moses until Christ through another two thousand years, the Scriptures did indeed exist, but they existed only among the Jews, while the other nations, in which the true religion, and Faith, existed in a few people, used only the unwritten Tradition (222).

The OT has an extremely dismal view of pagan piety. 

And in the people of God, although they had the Scriptures, still the Jews used Tradition more than Scripture, as is clear from Exod 13:8, Deut 32:7, Ps 44:1, Ps 78:5-6 (p222).

i) Given how many Jews participated in the Exodus and wilderness wandering, there was bound to be lots of family lore. Many independent streams of information about that past event. In that respect, OT Jews had both biblical and extrabiblical sources of information which ran in tandem. And that provided corroborative evidence.

ii) But there's also the duty of parents to transmit the faith to the next generation. And that's different from institutional religion. Rather, that's domestic religion. Not priests or popes but parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. 

iii) Exod 13:8 is about the feast of unleavened bread as a ritual reenactment of the original event, in which worshipers imaginatively retroject themselves into the situation of the original participants.  

Moreover, after the coming of Christ for many years the Church was without Scriptures (223).

i) That's overstated. There was a one-to-many relation where copies of Scripture were read aloud in church (e.g. 1 Thes 5:27; Rev 1:3). The public reading of Scripture. You didn't have to own a Bible or read a Bible to hear the Bible.

ii) The reason we have the NT today is thanks to Christian scribes. There were many private copies in circulation. 

iii) Bellarmine's objection cuts both ways. The dissemination of Catholic theology requires documentary transmission. Papal encyclicals, conciliar creeds and canons, the writings of the church fathers, scholastic theologians, &c. Catholicism is of necessity a literate rather than oral culture. 

Finally, they [i.e. Protestants] clearly say that the whole canon is necessary so that sufficient doctrine may be had. But that is not true. For, many truly sacred and canonical books have perished [e.g. Mt 2:23; 1 Chron 29:29; 2 Chron 9:29; 1 Kgs 4:32; Col 4:16; 1 Cor 5:9] (223).

i) It's idiosyncratic to say canonical books have perished. 

ii) Actually, it isn't necessary to have the entire canon. That's ideal, but due to the redundancy of Scripture, the basics are multiply-attested. 

29. Bellarmine says:

It is necessary to know that there are some divine books, which certainly can in no way be known from the Scriptures themselves. For, even if Scripture said that the books of the Prophets and Apostles are divine, still I cannot believe that for certain unless I already know that the Scripture which says this is divine. For, we also read here and there in the Koran of Mohammed that the Koran was sent by God from heaven, still we do not believe it. Therefore this very necessary dogma, namely, that there is a divine Scripture, cannot be proved sufficiently from Scripture alone.

It is not enough to know that there is a divine Scripture, but it is necessary to know what it is–and this is something that cannot be had from the Scriptures. For how do we decide from Scripture that the Gospels of Mark and Luke are true, but those of Thomas and Bartholomew are false? Because reason dictates that one should put more faith in a book prefaced with the title of an Apostle, than in one by a non-Apostle? 

And from what source do I know that the letter to the Romans is truly by Paul, but that the letter to the Laodiceans, which is now being circulated, is not by Paul? Since both are entitled by Paul, and since Paul in Col 4:16 says that he wrote to the Laodiceans, but says nowhere that he wrote to the Romans. 

It is also necessary to know not only which books are sacred but also to know in particular that these, which are in my hands, are the same. For, it is not enough to believe that the Gospel of Mark is true, that the Gospel of Thomas is not true, but it is necessary also to believe that his Gospel, which is now read in the name of Mark, is the true and incorrupt one that Mark wrote. That certainly cannot be known from the Scriptures alone. For, how can I gather from Scripture that this Gospel is not a counterfeit…or certainly wholly corrupted? (225).

We know which sacred books are included in it, from no other source but unwritten Traditions. Thus, in [Eusebius, Church History], Serapion rejects certain writings falsely attributed to Peter, because he had learned from Tradition that Peter had not written such things (226).

Finally, this Tradition is either the word of God, or it is not; if it is not, then we do not have Faith, because Faith is based on the word of God (226). 

i) Here Bellarmine is challenging sola scriptura, or the sufficiency of Scripture in particular. 

ii) A basic problem is his grasp of the issue. If sola scripture rules out extrabiblical evidence for the authorship, authenticity, and canon of Scripture, then it's self-refuting. But why think that's what is meant by sola scripture? Why think that's what sola scripture entails?

The basic principle or rationale for sola scriptura is the primacy of revelation. Public, propositional revelation is the supreme source and standard of doctrine and ethics. Nothing else could be better. Nothing else could be on a par with that.

The next question is where to find it. If public, propositional revelation terminated around the end of the 1C, then we must look to past sources. If that's only preserved in the Scripture, then by default, Scripture outranks all other sources of knowledge. 

There's nothing ad hoc about sola scriptura. It derives from the identity of Christianity as a revealed religion, and the fact that public, propositional revelation isn't continuous. 

iii) That doesn't rule out extrabiblical lines of evidence to verify revelatory claimants. To take a comparison, 1C observers saw, heard, and touched Jesus. The fact that they relied on sense knowledge doesn't mean sensory perception is more authoritative than Jesus, or equally authoritative. 

In redemptive history generally, natural and supernatural means alternate. Miracles don't rule out ordinary providence or vice versa. 

iv) That said, Bellarmine neglects the extensive internal evidence for the canon, authorship, and authenticity. Something I and others have documented.

v) He fails to distinguish between historical evidence and the argument from authority. Some church fathers and other early Christian sources are useful historical witnesses. That's different than treating them as authority figures. For instance, Eusebius has no intrinsic authority. The value of his church history derives from the quality of his source material (in some cases).

vi) Bellarmine's argument is regressive and self-defeating. There are many ecclesiastical legends and forgeries. You can't just appeal to "tradition" to settle that, for tradition must be sifted. 

vii) We have Christian scribes to thank for the NT as it came down to us. But they worked independently. There was no curia in the early church to stage-manage the transcription and transmission of Scripture. The papacy doesn't get credit for that.  


  1. The basic principle or rationale for sola scriptura is the primacy of revelation. Public, propositional revelation is the supreme source and standard of doctrine and ethics. Nothing else could be better. Nothing else could be on a par with that.

    The next question is where to find it. If public, propositional revelation terminated around the end of the 1C, then we must look to past sources. If that's only preserved in the Scripture, then by default, Scripture outranks all other sources of knowledge.

    There's nothing ad hoc about sola scriptura. It derives from the identity of Christianity as a revealed religion, and the fact that public, propositional revelation isn't continuous.


  2. Steve,
    excellent. (of what I have digested so far)
    I am constantly amazed at the amount of material you read and digest and then write on.

    I have one question about a word I cannot find the definition for:

    Protestant apologists can defend classic Protestant theology without repristinating all the apologetic strategies of 16C Protestant theologians.

    repristinating = ?

    did you mean reprinting ?

    1. To restore to the original condition or position; to revive; to renew. Compare "pristine".

  3. This is so so true. An entire book needs to be written documenting this truth. Is there such a book?

    Bellarmine is the staunch defender of an organization that no longer exists. The Roman Catholic church he passionately defends became an endangered species during the papacy of Pius XII and went extinct after Vatican II. If successful, his arguments falsify the modern Catholic church.

    1. Ken, check out “Iota Unum” by Romano Amerio— it’s got about 750 pages-worth of solid documentation of this sort of thing (from a Roman Catholic perspective).

    2. Ok, thanks for that. I presume that kind of a book would be from a traditionalist perspective, that is, those that believe that vatican 2 was wrong and Popes after Pius XII are all wrong but not necessarily the Sedevacantist position.

    3. I found a copy online .

    4. Hey Ken, this really is helpful, although on further review, the document is not complete. There are key sections here, but not the full text of the book, which has 334 sections.

  4. Fascinating that he admits there is no scriptural basis for infant baptism. I have people try and argue that there is. Ie whole families getting baptised in Acts.

    1. Andrew, I don't know this for a fact, but for a long time this work of Bellarmine's was not available in English. I suspect that Bellarmine was vocalizing the current polemics of the day, but the "current polemics of the day" did not quite totally line up with what Rome thought it was teaching during that era. For example, the council of Trent, while discussing the "partim-partim" issue of Scripture (that Roman Catholic dogma was found "partly" in Scripture and "partly" in Tradition", did not ultimately codify that "partly-partly" theology. I haven't read this work, and so I can't really comment directly on it, but that is what I suspect happened. Bellarmine was just a forceful and articulate (and even authorized) advocate of things that Rome (upon reflection in a council) wasn't quite ready to commit to.

  5. Steve, beautifully done. Question: In a way I thought the H.S. is the interpreter of Scripture (Jn 14-16; 1 Jn 2). In what is He not?
    Just want to better understand this.

    Also, I doubt the magisterium can ever "prove" they are able to clear up interpretations!

  6. The Spirit inspires the Bible and the Spirit, through regeneration and sanctification, makes Christians generally receptive to the message of Scripture, but the Spirit doesn't interpret Scripture for us except in the sense that some Bible writers interpret other Bible writers.

  7. Tx steve. I see what you mean.