Pilgrim Chronicle

What's a nice guy like me doing in the Catholic Church?

Beyond What is Written

Posted by Kevin on December 3, 2015

You hear it said that 1 Corinthians 4:6 teaches that Christian doctrine must be restricted to what it written in the Bible.

I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, “Nothing beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.

I think these Catholic commentaries are right when they argue that the context suggests a narrower application than the question of how Christian doctrine is determined (which actually has nothing to do with the context):

you might learn that one be not puffed up against the other, and above that which is written, against the admonitions given in the holy Scriptures of being humble: or against what I have now written to you, that we must strive for nothing, but to be the faithful ministers of God, and not seek the esteem of men.

Haydock, G. L. (1859). Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary (1 Co 4:6). New York: Edward Dunigan and Brother.


not to go beyond what is written: Paul cautions believers to stay within the limits of personal humility defined by the Scriptures. He is referring specifically to the string of OT warnings about boasting quoted earlier in the letter (1:19, 31; 3:19–20). Paul’s purpose here is to halt the damaging effects of arrogance in Corinth, as indicated by the clarification that follows. Interpretations of this verse that suggest Paul is restricting the basis for Christian doctrine and morals to what is explicitly set forth in the books of the Bible (sola Scriptura) are misleading and untenable. Nothing in the context points to such a broad concern, and in any case Paul insists elsewhere that even the inspired preaching of the apostles is on a par with the written word of God (1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6).

The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament. (2010). (p. 289). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.


That last reference, 2 Thess. 3:6 provides an important contrast. If we apply the same hermeneutic approach to this verse as the one applied to 1 Cor. 4:6 to legitimize “the Bible alone,” then 2 Thess. 3:6 similarly legitimizes “tradition alone” and we have a contradiction. But if we don’t bring to our reading of either verse considerations about formal principles and allow the respective contexts to point us to a narrower scope of intended meaning, then the contradiction disappears. St. Paul wasn’t saying “Bible alone” in the one verse or “tradition alone” in the other.

Also, 2 Thess. 2:15 deserves notice here.

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.

The immediate context of this passage, in which St. Paul discusses the gospel, salvation and “belief in the truth,” suggests a wider, more general applicability than the aforementioned verses, and is more directly tied to what in later times would be called a formal principle. And here we have direct instruction from an apostle to “hold fast to the traditions” he taught them regardless of whether he did so in written or oral form. This, then, was the formal principle of the early Church: apostolic authority. As witnesses by St. Irenaeus a century afterward, this principle was still operative in the bishops who held this authority by succession. And this was the understanding of all orthodox Christians until 1517.

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The essentials

Posted by Kevin on June 3, 2014

One of the things that surprised me since becoming Catholic is how often I come across a passage in the Bible that I thought I was familiar with, only to have something leap out at me from the text that I never noticed before.  I am not talking about merely interpreting a passage differently than I did as a Protestant; I am talking about a forehead-slapping “Why didn’t I notice this before?” moment.  It happens quite a bit.  Today’s readings had one of these. St. Paul is speaking to the Ephesian elders/priests prior to his departure and said this:

And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.

As a Protestant in the evangelical milieu (though by culture and temperament I have never fit in with American-style evangelicalism) I saw that the most common way that disagreements between individuals and churches over doctrine was handled was by saying that we all agree on the “essential” doctrines, including the Protestant solas, and that other doctrines were of secondary importance.  As long as we loved Jesus and agreed on the basics, we shouldn’t make a big deal of disagreements on other matters.  (As an aside, I can’t help rolling my eyes whenever some secular fundamentalist zealot in the press depicts evangelicals as some sort of monolithic entity  marching in lockstep.  The truth is that on any question, if you ask three evangelicals you will probably get four different opinions!)

Yet St. Paul doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that some parts of the Christian revelation are of “secondary” importance in contrast to the “basics.” His “solemn declaration” above seems to say the exact opposite.  I don’t see how this statement can be taken other than that he regards it all as essential, and not just five to ten (!) bullet statements that can fit on the single page of a church bulletin.  It never did make sense to me that God would give us a book the size of the Bible if so much of its content was not essential.  And then there is the question of who has the authority to determine which bits are essential and which bits are not.  These questions are of vital importance in St. Paul’s view.

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Transience and permanence

Posted by Kevin on February 28, 2013

I was just watching the EWTN coverage of Pope Benedict leaving the Vatican for Castel Gandolfo.  As his helicopter flew over Rome you could see the Coliseum passing below.  The successor of Peter flying above the ruins of the place where Christians were fed to lions.  Rather symbolic, that.

I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  Matt. 16:18


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Either/Or vs. Both/And

Posted by Kevin on January 20, 2013

The biggest objection that Protestants have toward the Catholic Church is that Catholicism teaches things contrary to what the Bible says.  I would argue that it is more accurate to say that Catholicism teaches things contrary to Protestant interpretations of the Bible.  Part of the misunderstanding is due to the fact that there are some differences in approach to interpretation.

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More on interpretation and authority

Posted by Kevin on January 20, 2013

Jennifer writes,

“We reject the Church’s authority only to replace it with another authority: what the scholars we trust say are the rules for interpreting the Bible, and who we decide has correctly applied these rules to arrive at the correct interpretation.”

I guess I take exception to trusting any said ‘church’ or ‘scholar’ for any interpretation. To say one source is better or worse than the other is false. It is also naive to think we are not influenced by any person. Our beliefs have to be based on God’s word alone, but we will always be influenced as to how we interpret them.

Choosing an established church, whether you believe it’s the “one true church” or not, to guide you in your conclusions and interpretations to scripture is in my opinion just as equal to trusting a scholar.

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More on the Magisterium and Infallibility

Posted by Kevin on December 10, 2012

I just came across this explanation of when the Magisterium of the Church does and does speak infallibly.

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Apostolic authority

Posted by Kevin on December 6, 2012

Lisa asks:

Could you explain a little more about why Catholics consider the magisterium infallible? Seems to me that putting one’s trust in one man’s (the pope’s) interpretation of the Bible is no different from the Protestant way of interpreting the Bible.

Good question, Lisa.  I asked that one myself.

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That’s your interpretation

Posted by Kevin on December 2, 2012

I think for me the single biggest problem in my faith before entering the Catholic Church was that I didn’t know when to stop asking questions.  (Now, as a Catholic, I can still ask all the questions I can think of, but they tend to result in answers more than confusion.)

Let me back up a little.  After no religious upbringing in my first decade, our family became involved with a fundamentalist Baptist church.  They were the ones who cared enough about our immortal souls to knock on our door and invite us to church.  The local Catholic priest, shamefully, exerted more energy warning people against sending their kids to this Baptist church than he did inviting people to his Catholic parish.  The message of Christ resonated with me and I jumped aboard with both feet and learned all I could.  The thing with fundamentalism is that they are all for learning, but up to a point.  The essence of fundamentalism, I think, is the maintaining of feelings of certitude by rejecting any information or question that brings their beliefs into doubt.  I had this rather unfortunate habit of thinking and asking questions beyond the level that permits Baptist fundamentalist certitude, and so by my late teens it became apparent that I didn’t fit in.  By my early twenties and for the next twenty years or so I would identify myself only as a Christian, in the “mere Christianity” sense as C.S. Lewis put it.  I held to the eight or ten points of non-negotiable doctrine that most evangelical or “Bible Christians” would hold as the essence of authentic, Biblical Christianity.  I held a lot of the so-called secondary issues rather tentatively.

Even then, there were problems.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Continuity and visible unity

Posted by Kevin on December 2, 2012

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.   Jude 3

[T]hat they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.   John 17:21

Martin Luther started something he never intended to with consequences he likely never imagined.  In taking on the Pope and the Bishops he intended to reform the Church, but the result was a progressive, exponential splintering of the church.  Luther held that Christian truth is determined by the Bible alone: sola scriptura. But very quickly disagreement arose as to what the Bible truly taught on this or that topic, and just as Luther had separated himself and his followers from the Catholic Church, the new Protestants began separating from each other both theologically and ecclesiastically.  Today it is impossible to even count all the different Protestant denominations and teachings, because old ones are dying and new ones are arising, and countless congregations are non-denominational and autonomous.

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Brief intro and overview

Posted by Kevin on December 1, 2012

The following is from an email I sent a while back in response to a friend asking why I and my wife became Catholic.  I am reproducing the relevant part below as a brief overview and introduction to some of the issues involved.  Alterations or explanations are in italics.

On to the Big Question. To do the question justice would probably require writing a whole book. Others who converted have done exactly that and even their books only scratch the surface. Hopefully I can hit the highlights and not be typing til the cows come home…    Read the rest of this entry »

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