Scripture Alone?


1. What do Catholics think of the doctrine of Scripture Alone?

Catholics think we should not go by Scripture alone. Scripture is a good start, but it does not have everything in it. So we as Catholics believe the Bible, but we believe more than the Bible: we believe that the Apostles taught some things by word of mouth that never got put into the Bible, such as the doctrines about Mary and the structure of the Church. Other things are in the Bible but not in complete detail -- such as the Trinity, Purgatory, and the Sacrifice of the Mass. But all Catholic doctrines are built up out of the principles of the Gospel and the specific rites that Jesus wanted His followers to practice, and so all Catholic doctrines are supported in greater or smaller ways by the Bible's sacred teachings.

2. The Bible says not to go by traditions of men.

True, and Catholics don't go by traditions of men. When Catholics speak of Church Traditions, we mean things that the Apostles commanded to be done or believed and that have been done or believed ever since, such as Baptism, Holy Communion, belief in the Trinity, and belief in Mary's special role in God's plan. Traditions of men are things that men introduce to corrupt that -- and Catholics are steadfastly against corruptions of our doctrines.

3. The Bible claims to be inspired by God -- it doesn't say that about Tradition.

Not in those words, but it does say that the Apostles commanded certain things in the form of a Tradition to be passed down, and that those things are necessary parts of the faith. So St. Paul says: "Stand firm, and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught by us, whether by word of mouth or by a letter from us." (2 Thess. 2:15) Catholics at least believe that Traditions are still an important part of the Apostles' message. Protestants have historically said that everything necessary for our faith was written down in the Bible, which gives rise to the question, then why does the Bible command that other things should be followed?

4. The Bible is given "so that you may be complete." If you're complete, there's no more room for Tradition.

You're quoting from 1 Tim. 3:16-17, and as Catholics we believe it: Scripture is given so that we may be complete. But it's not the only part of that completion. Knives and forks are given so that a dining set may be complete, but there is more to a complete dining set than those two things. In the same way, Scripture is part of what we need to be complete, but it's not the only thing. There are some things that are true that the Bible doesn't talk about, and there are some parts of our faith that the Church has received from Apostolic instruction by word of mouth that never got written into the Bible.

5. The Bible says, "Do not go beyond what is written." (1 Cor. 4:6)

Yes, because Scripture sets limits that can't be crossed. If Scripture says I am not allowed to murder, I would be going beyond what is written if I took it upon myself to murder someone. But it does not mean that everything God wants us to believe is in the Bible. That would contradict other passages where the Apostles told people to remember and believe the things they spoke to them in person -- such as 2 Thess. 2:15.

6. In Acts 17:11, the Bereans didn't believe Paul if what he said wasn't in Scripture. That's Sola Scriptura.

No, it falls short of Sola Scriptura, which denies the possibility of anything being infallible other than Scripture. Acts 17:11 does show that the Bereans didn't immediately consider the teachings of St. Paul (and the Church) to be infallible, but Catholics wouldn't expect any different since the Bereans weren't even Christians yet. Because they were Jewish and accepted the Old Testament, though, Paul was able to point them there for confirmation of his teachings. And that makes sense: you use the sources people accept to prove your claims, whenever those sources are authoritative. But after the Bereans joined the Church they accepted Paul's teachings and his authority as being from God, and that goes against Sola Scriptura, not for it.

7. The Bible calls itself "perfect" -- lacking nothing. How can it lack some doctrines?

Because perfect does not mean lacking nothing. It means without error. And the Bible is without error, it just doesn't have everything we are meant to believe in it spelled out for us. That's the fundamental problem with Sola Scriptura: it asserts for Scripture something that Scripture doesn't claim for itself. If you want to read and understand a book properly you ought to know what that book intends to cover. Sola Scriptura greatly over-extends the purpose of the Bible, and so it distorts the proper grounds on which we should be standing when we look to find its meaning. That's why Catholics believe Sola Scriptura is "contra Scriptura" -- it disposes a person to misunderstand the Bible by taking its teachings as the only infallible guide when in fact there is more to be said.

8. The Bible is simple enough for anyone to understand.

That's not what it says. The Bible touches some very big topics and isn't written to make them crystal clear, just to give basic instruction and answers to certain errors that were creeping up in the first century Church. Imagine if I took a short essay written by an economics teacher that was only intended to answer a common error, and made that the only completely reliable guide to economics on the planet. That's what Sola Scriptura does. And the fact is, there's more to be said about all of the topics the Bible covers than just what the Bible says, and many times it only gives us simple principles that guard against common errors. It contains no full treatises on the Trinity, and thus there is much error about the Trinity among groups that claim to go by the Bible alone. It contains no full treatises on Mary, and thus there is much about Mary that Protestants leave out because they say it must not be important since it's not in the Bible. The Bible warns us against this attitude in many places, especially in this passage: "Our brother Paul...in his letters there are some things hard to interpret, which the ignorant and the unstable twist, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16)

9. Even if some of the Bible is difficult to interpret, the main message isn't complicated.

That's true, but the main message isn't the part that Protestants get wrong. They neglect the things that flow from that main message, such as the Sacraments, the authority of the Church Jesus started, and Jesus' mother. There's a lot in those things that the Bible just doesn't unpack for us, and thus Sola Scriptura leads Protestants to throw it out or misunderstand it, which is dangerous. The Bible is a powerful book -- understand it and it can push you to heaven; misunderstand it and things can go south. That's why we need the Church as the faithful interpreter who we can listen to and know what Christ wants for us.

10. What exactly is in Tradition? I want a complete list.

First, Church Tradition is everything the Church teaches. Second, you can't always get what you want. If you want a complete list, I recommend something better: the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It's not a list but it's a pretty comprehensive book and everything we are expected to believe is explained there.