Thursday, June 15, 2017

I Believe in the Tradition of the Catholic Church for the Same Reason You Believe in the Book of Jude

To my Protestant friends:

I believe in the Catholic Church because I am not the inventor of Christianity.  Christianity is a historical revelation that has come down to me through history, handed to me by the historic Church Christ founded.  And the faith that that Church has handed on is Catholic.  It is not Protestant.  At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the reformers had to break from the established teachings of the established Christian Church and from her established communion in order to maintain their own distinctive positions.  Since Christ has commanded us to obey the shepherds of the Church and to preserve her unity, if we are going to disobey those shepherds and break that unity, we'd better have a really good reason!  But the Protestants didn't.  They wanted to rip the Bible out of its historic context within the Tradition of the Catholic Church, taking the Bible but rejecting the Church's Tradition and its authority (this came to be called the doctrine of Sola Scriptura), even though these three things had been united and woven together like a seamless garment from the earliest times of the Church.  They wanted to rip apart the fabric of Christianity as they had received it and refashion it into a somewhat new garment.  But they had no basis for doing so, for they could not prove Sola Scriptura from Scripture or from any other evidence.  They should have been content with Christianity as God had handed it down to them rather than breaking it up and dissenting from its authority and unity in order to make their own version of it without any authority to do so or any basis whatsoever in the evidence to justify their actions.

You may not like this argument I have made, but it should be quite familiar to you, for it is very likely your own reason for believing in the Book of Jude.

Why do you accept the Book of Jude as being a true book of Scripture?

Almost certainly, you accept it because the historic Church told you to.  There is really no other way to know whether it is Scripture or not.  The early Church decided to accept the Book of Jude as Scripture, eventually declaring this by formal declaration, such as at the councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).

The Inward Testimony of the Spirit?

It is true that some Protestants have appealed to "the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit" to prove that certain books are truly Scripture.  John Calvin did this.  As they do in our day, so in Calvin's day also the Catholics asked the Protestants how they knew which books were supposed to be in the canon of Scripture if they wouldn't trust the judgment of the Church in its Tradition?

With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be admitted into the canon.  (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 7, tr. Henry Beveridge, plain text version at the Christian Classics Etherial Library - also found here more accessibly)

Good argument and good question, I think.  Calvin's answer?

As to the question, How shall we be persuaded that it came from God without recurring to a decree of the Church? it is just the same as if it were asked, How shall we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their colour, sweet and bitter of their taste. . . .
If, then, we would consult most effectually for our consciences, and save them from being driven about in a whirl of uncertainty, from wavering, and even stumbling at the smallest obstacle, our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, Judgments, or reasons; namely, the secret testimony of the Spirit.  (Ibid.)

My paraphrase of Calvin's answer, with application to the Book of Jude:  "Ultimately, we know the Book of Jude is Scripture not because of the decrees of the Church but because it's just obvious if you will look carefully.  The Spirit will tell you it's true."  He acknowledged historical arguments that could be made as well, but he came back to this as his central argument.

But this is very subjective.  I've read the Book of Jude.  It's a great book, but I don't have some kind of mystical experience necessarily when I read it, convincing me it is Scripture.  Nor is it obviously Scripture if we just look at it closely.  There are lots of good books that aren't Scripture.  Even if Jude has "the ring of truth" because it tell us true things about God that we can know in other ways as well, this doesn't prove it is Scripture--that is, that it is an infallible book inspired by the Holy Spirit which should be included in the Bible and made an authoritative foundation for faith and practice.

Calvin's approach here reminds me of how Mormons attempt to convince people that the Book of Mormon is a true revelation from God.  Here is an example from the LDS Church's website, quoting LDS President Thomas S. Monson:

“Whether you are 12 or 112—or anywhere in between—you can know for yourself that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Read the Book of Mormon. Ponder its teachings. Ask Heavenly Father if it is true. We have the promise that ‘if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.’” 
“[Along] with other latter-day prophets, I testify of the truthfulness of this ‘most correct of any book on earth,’ even the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ,” President Monson says. “Its message spans the earth and brings its readers to a knowledge of the truth. It is my testimony that the Book of Mormon changes lives.

Somehow, though, I doubt that John Calvin would have liked the Book of Mormon or would have agreed with President Monson's testimony.

We could add that Martin Luther himself, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, using similar subjective criteria for evaluating Scripture, came to the conclusion that a number of books, including James and Jude, did not actually belong in Scripture.  Here are a few of his comments on James (written in 1522):

       I think highly of the epistle of James, and regard it as valuable although it was rejected in the early days. . . . Yet, to give my own opinion without prejudice to that of anyone else, I do not hold it to be of apostolic authorship, for the following reasons:
   Firstly, because, in direct opposition to St. Paul and all the rest of the Bible, it ascribes justification to works, and declares that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered up his son. . . . This defect proves that the epistle is not of apostolic provenance.
   Secondly, because in the whole length of its teaching, not once does it give Christians any instruction or reminder of the passion, resurrection, or spirit of Christ. . . . All genuinely sacred books are unanimous here, and all preach Christ emphatically.  The true touchstone for testing every book is to discover whether it emphasizes the prominence of Christ or not. . . .
   The epsitle of James, however, only drives you to the law and its works. . . .
   In sum:  he wished to guard against those who depended on faith without going on to works, but he had neither the spirit nor the thought nor the eloquence equal to the task.  He does violence to Scripture, and so contradicts Paul and all Scripture. . . . I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my Bible;  (Preface to the Epistles of St. James and St. Jude, found in Martin Luther: Selections from his Writings, ed. John Dillenberger [Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1961], 35-36.)

Here's his take on Jude:

   No one can deny that this epistle is an excerpt from, or copy of, the second epistle of St. Peter, for all he says is nearly the same over again.  Moreover, he speaks of the apostles as would a disciple of a much later date.  He quotes words and events which are found nowhere in Scripture, and which moved the fathers to reject this epistle from the canon.  Moreover, the apostle Jude did no go into Greek-speaking lands, but into Persia; and it is said that he could not write Greek.  Hence, although I value the book, yet it is not essential to reckon it among the canonical books that lay the foundation of faith.  (Ibid., 36-37 - See here for these quotations in a little bit fuller context.)

So Luther looked at the same books that Calvin did, but apparently his taste buds to discern sweet and bitter weren't functioning as well as Calvin's, for he came to an opposite conclusion.  But how did Luther know how much Christ should be talked about in a book before it could be canonical?  How did he know how much talk about the law and works is allowed?  Why did he think that James contradicted Paul?  Why did he not instead accept both Paul and James as Scripture and interpret them both in light of each other to arrive at a balanced, harmonious doctrine, as almost all other Protestants have attempted to do?  Ultimately, Luther's approach is very subjective.  He's like a cook who puts his finger in the pot, tasts the soup, and declares, "Too salty!"  But why should Luther's spiritual and theological tastes be accepted as the final authoritative standard in determining apostolicity and canonicity in proposed biblical books?  This is better than trusting the historic judgment of the Church?

The approaches of Calvin and Luther to determining canonicity are so subjective that I am pretty sure that most people who think they accept the Book of Jude on grounds like these really accept them because that is what they have been taught--just as Mormons who grew up in the Mormon Church and love it are likely to find the Holy Ghost testifying powerfully in their hearts to the truth of the Book of Mormon.  Most people aren't going to follow Luther and revise the canon on these kinds of grounds, because they recognize that this will make them look like lunatics to everyone around them.  They trust the historic judgment of the rest of the Church over their own subjective personal taste--as they should.

A Fallible Collection of Infallible Books?

On the other hand, some Protestants have come to the conclusion that there is no infallible basis for the canon of Scripture.  R. C. Sproul's comments on this have become legendary in some Protestant circles:

To put it briefly, Rome believes that the New Testament is an infallible collection of infallible books. That’s one perspective. . . . 
The historic Protestant position shared by Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and so on, has been that the canon of Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible books. . . . 
The church has a rich tradition, and we respect the church fathers and even our creed. However, we grant the possibility that they may err at various points; we don’t believe in the infallibility of the church. I will say that there are some Protestants who believe that there was a special work of divine providence and a special work of the Holy Spirit that protected the Canon and the sorting process from mistakes. I don’t hold that position myself. I think it’s possible that wrong books could have been selected, but I don’t believe for a minute that that’s the case.

So how does R. C. Sproul know that the early Church got the canon right?  He would appeal to historical investigation and conclude that a good case can be made that the books we've got in the Bible are very early, were widely accepted pretty early on, had a good pedigree in the Church, etc.  And all this is true.  But it is not sufficient by itself to determine that the Book of Jude, along with other books, is Scripture.  The Book of Jude may have a good pedigree in the Church, but that does not prove that God intended it to be Scripture.  Perhaps the Book of Jude was written very early by some well-meaning individual.  His book was liked by many Christians, and so it soon spread to many churches, and at some point, for some reason, people started attributing it to Jude.  Perhaps this all happened very early, so that from the perspective of the Church at the end of the second century or the third or fourth century, the book had nearly as good a pedigree as one could hope for.  Still, how would any of this prove it was supposed to be in the Bible, or that it was infallibly authoritative?  Historical investigation alone cannot reach such a conclusion.  Also, the Book of Jude was among those books of the New Testament that were disputed in the early Church.  Not everyone accepted it.  Even at the time of Eusebius in the fourth century, Jude's authenticity was still disputed (see here).  The Church did eventually conclude and formally define that Jude is canonical and authoritative, but it took some time.  If the Church's Tradition is not authoritative but can be rejected, why accept her conclusion on this point?  After all, the same Church that affirmed Jude also affirmed, and often around the same time period, extra-biblical traditions, feast days for martyrs, the intercession of the saints, episcopal church government, the infallibility of the Church, and all sorts of other things Protestants of various sorts have rejected.

Again, this position is so weak that I sure that many who accept it actually accept the Book of Jude in reality because the Church told them to.  They may appeal to historical investigation, but it is only to have something to say to justify the position they had already decided to accept because it is the position handed down to them.  Again, few Protestants have been as bold as Luther to actually question the New Testament canon that has been handed down.

The Church was Infallibly Guided

R. C. Sproul mentions in the quotation above that there are some Protestants who believe that the process of the development of the canon in the early Church was guided by God to arrive infallibly at the correct conclusion.  That was my view when I was a Protestant.  I held it because all these other ways of thinking about the subject we've been talking about have always appeared to me to be inadequate and fundamentally flawed.  I recognized that really, when all the bluster and smoke is cleared away, the only reason we have to accept Jude as Scripture is because the early Church came to do so and handed that tradition down to us.  There were therefore only two options really:  Either we 1. accept the Church's judgment as infallibly guided and authoritative, or 2. we conclude that we have no way of knowing whether or not Jude should be in the Bible.  #2 could not be, for if we can't know which books belong in the Bible, we can't follow the Bible as a divine revelation, and I knew the Bible was a divine revelation that we are supposed to follow.  But if we must know how to discern the canon, the only way that is available for us to do this must be the right way.  So from that I concluded that we had good reason to trust that God had providentially guided the Church to get the canon right.

Some people were concerned that I was getting dangerously close to the Catholic position at this point, and it is not hard to see why.  If I am going to accept the Church's Tradition, handed down to me, as my ultimate basis for accepting the Book of Jude, how could I not accept the rest of that Tradition as well, and so embrace all that the Church has historically come to embrace?  But that would make me a Catholic, for Protestantism came into existence only by breaking from what the historic Chuch had come to embrace.  The early Church had organically grown into the later Church.  The Church of the New Testament grew into the Church of the Fathers.  The Church of the Fathers grew into the Church of the early middle ages.  The Church of the early middle ages grew into the Church of the late middle ages, and so on.  The earlier Church never grew into Protestantism.  Protestantism had to break with the organic growth of the Church and strike out in new and contrary directions in order to establish itself.  The historic Church that handed the canon down to me also handed Catholicism down to me.  How could I accept the one and reject the other?

I did so by means of this argument:  In order for Christianity to be followed as a true divine revelation (which we know it is), we must know what that revelation is.  We can have the Bible without the extra-biblical traditions and authority of the Church, but we can't have these latter without the former.  Therefore, it is necessary for us to follow the Bible and thus to know what the Bible is.  Therefore, it is necessary for us to know the true canon.  Since the only way for us to know that is for us to trust God's providential guidance of the Church, we must do so.  But since we need only the Bible, we don't have any reason to trust God's guidance of the Church beyond its decisions regarding the canon.  So we can drop it after that.  It should not be relied upon as authoritative after that point.

What ultimately made me cross the line into Catholicism was my realization that that argument is question-begging, because it assumes we can have the Bible without the rest of the Church's Tradition.  But I came to see I had no basis for this assumption.  Historically, the Bible never functioned alone in that way.  It has always been handed down as part of the Church's entire Tradition and as being only rightfully interpreted and applied within that Tradition and under the Church's authority--the same Church which established the canon in the first place.  My idea that I could detach the Bible from everything else in a natural way was a fantasy derived from a lack of seeing my own position from a historical point of view.  Sola Scriptura was not the historic position of the Church; the reformers had to break from the established Church to maintain it.  So the burden of proof was on them.  On what basis could they separate the Bible out from the rest of the Church's Tradition?  Could they prove Sola Scriptura?  No, I decided, they could not.  What the historic Church has handed down to us is not an isolated Bible, but a package deal consisting of Scripture, the Tradition of the Church, and the authority of the Church.  There is simply no basis for accepting part of this without accepting the whole thing.

Conclusion and Challenge

So why do you accept the Book of Jude?  The only real basis for doing so is because the Church has told us to.  The Book of Jude was accepted in the Tradition of the Catholic Church and has been handed down to us, and we dare not (or most of us dare not) tamper with that, for we know we have no basis on which to do so.  We rightly trust the judgment of the historic Church over our own ability to reinvent what they decided and handed on.  We dare not presume to have the authority, based on nothing, to alter what Christ has handed down through his Church, and by doing so to embrace a groundless canon and to rupture the authority and unity of the Christian Church.  All the other Protestant theories are plainly inadequate and function for most people (besides the extremely bold, such as Luther) as mere smokescreens for accepting what the Church has handed down without acknowledging that what is being done is accepting what the Church has handed down.

Your whole identity as a Protestant and as a Christian is grounded in your acceptance of Scripture, which includes your knowledge of which books are Scripture and which are not (for otherwise there is really no knowledge of Scripture), and yet that acceptance and knowledge is ultimately based on trust in the Tradition of the historic Catholic Church.  Your faith at its very fundamental foundation is rooted in and inseparable from Catholic Tradition.  It cannot stand alone without it.  So when you ask me, "Why do you accept all that Catholic Tradition?" my response is, "For the same reason that you accept the Book of Jude."  And then my question to you is, "If you follow as authoritative the Tradition of the Catholic Church to establish your canon of Scripture, why do you arbitrarily reject the rest of what that Tradition has handed down to you?  Do you have a basis for this?  Can you truly prove that your position is correct, or are you merely following Protestant prejudices and rending arbitrarily, as the reformers did, the single seamless garment that God has handed down to you through his Church?"

For more, see here for a further critique of Sola Scriptura.  See also my narrative account of the intellectual developments that led ultimately to my conversion to Catholicism, as well as my fictional dialogue with a Protestant.  And see here for another article on "the canon question."

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