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Are Catholics Un-Biblical?

"Where is that in the Bible? is one of those phrases often popped to a priest by his Protestant brothers.
by Brother Paul Stein, LC | Source:
“Where is that in the Bible?” is one of those phrases often popped to a priest by his Protestant brothers. Everything must be based on the Bible, right? So what about the Papacy, eating fish on Fridays, and infant baptism? No wonder Baptists don’t drink beer, smoke, or gamble. Perhaps they’re on the right track and Catholics aren’t.

Those first three examples have Biblical roots. Just check Mt 16:16-19; 9:15; 28:19; Lk 5:35; Acts16:15,33;18:8; 1 Cor 1:16, and remember how Jesus performed the miracle of the wine at Cana: really good wine and over-abundant. Nevertheless, we can’t reduce things only to Holy Writ, especially not as literally understood. If we limited Edvard Munch’s “Scream” to a scientific study of just the paint and the canvas, we would undoubtedly end up with a very different idea, both of what it really is and of what Munch wanted to express. However, this is what the protestant platform of “sola Scriptura,” Latin for “scripture alone,” tries to teach.

It originated a little before Luther, but by the time he died in 1548, it had picked up considerable strength. What does this Lutheran teaching state? That the only basis for the faith, and hence salvation, is the Scripture which the individual interprets.

But the problem is that the Bible is not always easily understood. The whole Book of Revelation is a glaring example. Or what does Luke 23:31 mean? “For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” St Paul’s own contemporaries found him difficult to understand, as St Peter himself states in his second Letter: “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” (2 Pt 2:15-16)

The difficulty of understanding inspired text is clear. As in Acts 8:30-31 when Philip asked the Ethiopian, ‘“Do you understand what you are reading?" he replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?"’ Yet, even if someone should explain it to me, that explanation is interpretation and not Holy Writ. Above and beyond this, since the Bible was originally written in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek, to know how I have to live to please God, I would have to learn three dead languages. The eternal salvation of my soul depends on my capacity for languages and grammar!

On the other hand, nowhere in the Bible is it said that our faith must be reduced to only the words printed in the Bible. In fact in 2 Ths 3:6, Paul writes, “Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us,”…and earlier in 2:15, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.” Paul reminds the young Greek community that the tradition must be kept, yet without the scrupulous exaggerations which some Jews proclaimed as necessary at the time of Christ, leaving aside the essence of the Law. “Then he said to them, ’You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!’” (Mk 7:9) In the same way Christ never condemned religious traditions, but only warned of the exaggeration of and reduction to external acts.

Nor can the Bible be taken literally when it demands otherwise. One who took the Bible as such would discover himself justified in beating his neighbor because he had offended him for the 491st time, since “you must forgive your brother 70 times 7 times”. Or perhaps he wouldn’t need to worry about it in the first place because that neighbor wasn’t his brother anyway. And Christ’s call to “Cut off your hand” would be a direct command to all who once snitched a cookie off the cooling rack. And let’s not think of my eternal condemnation because I once called my brother an idiot. “If you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Mt 5:22) No images could be made of any kind: no TV, no Barbies or GI Joes, no drawing, and no family photos. (To calm your consciences you may turn to Ex 25:15-22, when God orders Moses to place two carved images on the Ark of the Covenant itself.)

Aid is needed, and an assurance of correct interpretation. A common example is the phrase, I never said that. This could mean that I wasn´t the one who said that or that I didn´t say it, but merely hinted at it: placing the emphasis on a certain word gives the whole phrase a different meaning. The need to understand everything in context and to be certain of this meaning is apparent, but where do we encounter help? Only a tradition of understanding and practice along with a Magisterium is needed. (Latin for a gathering of teachers and refers to the body of bishops, together with Peter's successor, the Pope, above all in an Ecumenical Council) These two are only offered by the Catholic Church. Two thousand years of experience, study, and wisdom which started with Jesus’ teachings to the 12 Apostles just can’t be matched.

Brother Paul Stein, of the Legionaries of Christ, studies for the priesthood in Rome.

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