Sun 06 August 2017
(written originally as a comment to the blogpost “How Many Theologians Does it Take To Define Infallibility?” by Melinda Selyms)
I am a Protestant, so I am not entitled to bring much to this discussion, but we were yesterday with my wife in Wittenberg, so I cannot resist to add this quote:
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. [Here I stand, I can do no other.] May God help me. Amen.”
It is almost 500 years old, but I find it refreshingly actual whenever I hear it.
As I understand it, Sola Scriptura originally did not mean (or it should not mean, I don’t see inside of the Luther’s head) something like “Just give me my Bible and ten minutes and we, with the Holy Spirit, come with better solution than two thousand years of people a way more holy, certainly a way more smart than me, who dedicated their whole lives to dealing with such questions full time”. Yes, some Protestants seem to understand it this way, but it seems to me they are more full of that horrible combination of ignorance and arrogance than of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Heck, we have now even 500 years of tradition of creating the church without any tradition! You just cannot get rid of it!
Now, the real question is, how to find out in this cacophony of thoughts quite often contradicting (as Luther correctly noted) what is the right answer for the question at hand. Catholic idea of having somebody appointed who will decide (bishops, pope, or the council) is not that bad, but, again, it has its limitations. Obviously some councils are now more persuasive than others, some are outright problematic (I won't name any, so we don't fall into the endless hole discussing particular decisions of particular council), answers provided by some are obviously dated. I do sincerely believe that the Second Vatican Council was the work of the Holy Spirit in the given moment. However, even accepting that, I can clearly see an effect of more than fifty years since it finished. Some questions which are now hotly debated it didn’t address at all (e.g., Humanae vitae was published three years after it finished), some answers seem to be limiting the church now (that’s for example what I hear from my Catholic friends, theologians, on the issues of ecumenical relations with Protestants), and some answers were not brought into action yet (one Czech Catholic theologian rembered couple of months ago in the newspaper The Pact of the Catacombs; … yes, it was not an official decree of the council).
However, as a Protestant I obviously believe that the decisions made by the hierarchy are not the only solution of making sense of the said cacophony. Whatever the solution is, however, returning to the theme of Sola Scriptura, it should certainly include The Holy Scripture as the guide and map for our life with God. And yes, that is not a simple solution either, because then we get into another swamp, the interpretation of the Scripture.