Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and the Biblical Gospel

Officially, the Roman Catholic Church is very straightforward about her blending of Scripture and tradition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (henceforth CCC, citations referring to paragraph numbers rather than page numbers), last revised in 1993, acknowledges that the Roman Catholic Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (CCC 82).

Tradition, according to Roman Catholicism, is therefore as much “the Word of God” as Scripture. According to the Catechism, tradition and Scripture are “bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal” (CCC 80). The “sacred deposit of faith” this admixture of Scripture and tradition was supposedly entrusted by the apostles to their successors (CCC 84), and “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone … This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome” (CCC 85).

The Catechism is quick to deny that this makes the church’s teaching authority, called the Magisterium, in any way superior to the Word of God itself (CCC 86). But it then goes on to warn the faithful that they must “read the Scripture within ‘the living tradition of the whole Church'” (CCC 113). The Catechism at this point says, “According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word” (CCC 113).

So in effect, tradition is not only made equal to Scripture, but it becomes the true Scripture, written not in documents but mystically within the church herself. And when the church speaks, her voice is heard as if it were the voice of God, giving the only true meaning to the words of the “documents and records.” Thus, tradition supplants and supersedes Scripture.

In other words, the official Catholic position on Scripture is that Scripture does not and cannot speak for itself. It must be interpreted by the church’s teaching authority and in light of “living tradition.” De facto this says that Scripture has no inherent authority, but like all spiritual truth, it derives its authority from the church. Only what the church says is deemed the true Word of God, the “Sacred Scripture … written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records.”

On one hand faced with the task of defending Roman Catholic doctrine and on the other hand desiring to affirm what Scripture says about itself, Roman Catholic apologists find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. They cannot affirm the authority of Scripture apart from the caveat that tradition is necessary to explain the Bible’s true meaning. In effect, that makes tradition a superior authority. Moreover, if Roman Catholic tradition inerrantly encompasses and explains all the truth of Scripture, then the Bible is superfluous.

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apologetics, church history, justification, Reformation, systematic theology