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§ 2. Roman Catholic Doctrine concerning the Scriptures.

On this subject Romanists agree with Protestants, (1.) In teaching the plenary inspiration and consequent infallible authority of the sacred writings. Of these writings the Council of Trent says that God is their author, and that they were written by the dictation of the Holy Spirit (“Spiritu sancto dictante.”) 105(2.) They agree with us in receiving into the sacred canon all the books which we regard as of divine authority.

Romanists differ from Protestants in regard to the Scriptures, —

1. In receiving into the canon certain books which Protestants do not admit to be inspired, namely: Tobit, Judith, Sirach, parts of Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, First, Second, and Third Books of the Maccabees (the Third Book of Maccabees, however, is not included in the Vulgate), Baruch, the Hymn of the Three Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. These books are not all included by name in the list given by the Council of Trent. Several of them are parts of the books there enumerated. Thus, the Hymn of the Three Children, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon, appear as parts of the book of Daniel. Some modern theologians of the Romish Church refer all the apocryphal books to what they call “The Second Canon,” and admit that they are not of equal authority with those belonging to the First Canon.5959See B. Lamy, Apparatus Bibl., lib. ii. c. 5. Jahn’s Einleitung, Th. i. § 29; 2d ed. Vienna, 1802, p. 132. Möhler’s Symbolik. The Council of Trent, however, makes no such distinction.

Incompleteness of the Scriptures.

2. A second point of difference is that Romanists deny, and Protestants affirm, the completeness of the sacred Scriptures. That is, Protestants maintain that all the extant supernatural revelations of God, which constitute the rule of faith to his Church, are contained in his written word. Romanists, on the other hand, hold that some doctrines which all Christians are bound to believe, are only imperfectly revealed in the Scriptures; that others are only obscurely intimated; and that others are not therein contained at all. The Preface to the Romish Catechism (Quest. 12) says, “Omnis doctrinæ ratio, quæ fidelibus tradenda sit, verbo Dei continetur, quod in scripturam traditionesque distributum est.” Bellarmin6060De Verbo Dei, iv. 3, tom. i. p. 163, e. edit, Paris, 1608. says expressly, “Nos asserimus, in Scripturis non contineri expressè totam doctrinam necessariam, sive de fide sive de moribus; et proinde praeter verbum Dei scriptum requiri etiam verbum Dei non-scriptum, i.e., divinas et apostolicas traditiones.” On this point the Romish theologians are of one mind; but what the doctrines are, which are thus imperfectly revealed in the Scriptures, or merely implied, or entirely omitted, has never been authoritatively decided by the Church of Rome. The theologians of that Church, with more or less unanimity. refer to one or the 106other of these classes the following doctrines: (1.) The canon of Scripture. (2.) The inspiration of the sacred writers. (3.) The full doctrine of the Trinity. (4.) The personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. (5.) Infant baptism (6.) The observance of Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. (7.) The threefold orders of the ministry. (8.) The government of the Church by bishops. (9.) The perpetuity of the apostleship. (10.) The grace of orders. (11.) The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. (12.) The seven sacraments. (13.) Purgatory. It lies in the interests of the advocates of tradition to depreciate the Scriptures, and to show how much the Church would lose if she had no other source of knowledge of divine truth but the written word. On this subject the author of No. 85 of the Oxford Tracts, when speaking even of essential doctrines, says,6161Pages 34 and 35. “It is a near thing that they are in the Scriptures at all. The wonder is that they are all there. Humanly judging they would not be there but for God’s interposition; and, therefore, since they are there by a sort of accident, it is not strange they shall be but latent there, and only indirectly producible thence.” “The gospel doctrine,” says the same writer, “is but indirectly and covertly recorded in Scripture under the surface.”

Tradition is always represented by Romanists as not only the interpreter, but the complement of the Scriptures. The Bible, therefore, is, according to the Church of Rome, incomplete. It does not contain all the Church is bound to believe; nor are the doctrines which it does contain, therein fully or clearly made known.

Obscurity of the Scriptures.

3. The third point of difference between Romanists and Protestants relates to the perspicuity of Scripture, and the right of private judgment. Protestants hold that the Bible; being addressed to the people, is sufficiently perspicuous to be understood by them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and that they are entitled and bound to search the Scriptures and to judge for themselves what is its true meaning. Romanists, on the other hand, teach that the Scriptures are so obscure that they need a visible, present, and infallible interpreter; and that the people, being incompetent to understand them, are bound to believe whatever doctrines the Church, through its official organs, declares to be true and divine. On this subject the Council of Trent (Sess. 4), says: “Ad coërcenda petulantia ingenia decernit (Synodus), ut nemo, suæ prudentiæ innixus 107in rebus fidei et morum ad ædificationem doctrinæ Christiana pertinentium, Sacram Scripturam ad suas sensus contorquens contra eum sensum, quem tenuit et tenet sancta mater Ecclesia, cujus est judicare de vero sensu et interpretatione Scripturarum Sanctarum, aut etiam contra unanimem consensum patrum ipsam scripturam sacram interpretari audeat, etiamsi hujus modi interpretationes nullo unquam tempore in lucem edendæ forent. Qui contravenerint, per ordinarios declarentur et pœnis a jure statutis puniantur.” Bellarmin6262De Verbo Dei, iii. 9, tom. i. p. 151, d. ut sup. says: “Non ignorabat Deus multas in Ecclesia exorituras difficultates circa fidem, debuit igitur judicem aliquem Ecclesiæ providere. At iste judex non potest esse Scriptura, neque Spiritus revelans privatus, neque princeps secularis, igitur princeps ecclesiasticus vel solus vel certe cum consilio et consensu coepiscoporum.

From this view of the obscurity of Scripture it follows that the use of the sacred volume by the people, is discountenanced by the Church of Rome, although its use has never been prohibited by any General Council. Such prohibitions, however, have repeatedly been issued by the Popes; as by Gregory VII., Innocent III., Clemens XI., and Pius IV., who made the liberty to read any vernacular version of the Scriptures, dependent on the permission of the priest. There have been, however, many Romish prelates and theologians who encouraged the general reading of the Bible. The spirit of the Latin Church and the effects of its teaching, are painfully manifested by the fact that the Scriptures are practically inaccessible to the mass of the people in strictly Roman Catholic countries.

The Latin Vulgate.

4. The fourth point of difference concerns the authority due to the Latin Vulgate. On this subject the Council of Trent (Sess. 4), says: “Synodus considerans non parum utilitatis accedere posse Ecclesiæ Dei, si ex omnibus Latinis editionibus quæ circumferentur, sacrorum librorum, quænam pro authentica habenda sit, innotescat: statuit et declarat, ut hæc ipsa vetus et vulgata editio, quæ longo tot seculorum usu in ipsa Ecclesia probata est, in publicis lectionibus, disputationibus, prædicationibus et expositionibus pro authentica habeatur et nemo illam rejicere quovis prætextu audeat vel præsumat.” The meaning of this decree is a matter of dispute among Romanists themselves. Some of the more modern and liberal of their theologians say that the Council simply intended to determine which among several Latin versions was to be 108used in the service of the Church. They contend that it was not meant to forbid appeal to the original Scriptures, or to place the Vulgate on a par with them in authority. The earlier and stricter Romanists take the ground that the Synod did intend to forbid an appeal to the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, and to make the Vulgate the ultimate authority. The language of the Council seems to favor this interpretation. The Vulgate was to be used not only for the ordinary purposes of public instruction, but in all theological discussions, and in all works of exegesis.


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