Joseph Richardson who owns The Lonely Pilgrim stopped by last Sunday and asked for some comments on his post, “A Biblical Argument for the Authority of the Papacy”. Judging from this post and a few others I read Joseph is a devout Roman Catholic who is taken with the defense of his denomination. And his title indicates that he believes the Bible gives the Pope his authority.
Joseph begins with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a discussion about Christ as head of the church and quickly proceeds to the Scriptures by stating,
I think an honest reading of Scripture requires one to acknowledge that Jesus did delegate His authority, first to the Twelve Apostles as a group and then to Peter in particular.
Thereafter Joseph relies on the usual Scriptural suspects – Matthew 16:16-18, John 20:21-23, etc. – all the while offering his take on them. And that gives rise to my first comment.
Roman Catholics are not allowed to offer their own interpretations of Scripture.
One of the cardinal points of difference between Rome and Protestants at the time of the Reformation was how one was to interpret the Scriptures. The Protestants held that God worked in both the faithful preaching of the Word and in its faithful reception (i.e. 1 Corinthians 15:1). Rome objected. She felt that this led to “unbridled spirits” interpreting Scriptures in a multitude of possibly conflicting and incorrect ways. So Rome placed this dogma on all faithful Roman Catholics:
Furthermore, in order to check unbridled spirits, it decrees, that no one, relying on his own judgment, shall, in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held and holds, or even contrary to the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, even though such interpretations should never at any time be published. Those who act contrary to this shall be made known by the ordinaries and punished in accordance with the penalties prescribed by the law.[i]
So any interpretation of Scripture used by a Roman Catholic must conform to that “sense which holy mother Church…has held and holds” and they must not be contradictory to the “unanimous teaching of the Fathers.”
But it cannot be shown that what Rome holds today she has always held with regard to any of the Scriptures Joseph cited. And, in fact, it can be shown that the Roman Church has varied its interpretation of Matthew 16:18 so widely that it is impossible to tell what she “has held and holds” with regard to that key verse. So where that leaves us is that Joseph is acting like a Protestant in interpreting the Scriptures to support Roman doctrines. I don’t think that was his intent.
Joseph ends his post with a claim that a “literal interpretation” of Scriptures is friendly to Rome:
“Evidently, we Catholics interpret Scripture more literally and realistically than you, and accept it more readily for what it actually says in its plainest sense.” And that leads to my second and final observation:
A Literal Reading of Scripture is not friendly to Rome.
A few weeks ago, I was made aware of a Presbyterian minister who had converted to Rome. Although I did not listen to the entirety of his interview on EWTN, I do recall that one of his motivations was the “literal meaning” of the Bible and in his case the 6th chapter of John and his understanding of that chapter’s relevance to the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. (It seems very odd to me that someone would use the most allegorical of the Gospels as the basis for a literal interpretation but that is another matter.) My point is that Catholics take a “pick-and-choose” approach to their literal interpretations.
Consider Matthew 16. Verse 18 is the seminal verse most commonly used in support of Rome’s authority. But verse 23 – just 5 short verses later – has Christ Himself calling Peter “Satan”. Is Rome prepared to interpret that verse literally?
And following on to Matthew 16, the Old Testament has dozens of passages that refer to the “Rock” and it is always God, not a man. One example is 2 Samuel 22:32, “For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?” And given that Jesus affirms everything in the Old Testament in this same Gospel (see Matthew 5:17-21) it is highly problematic that a “literal” reading of Scripture means Peter is the Rock of 16:18.
And just a few chapters later, as Christ is preparing His disciples for their mission after His departure He specifically states, “Let no man call you Father.” (Matthew 23:9). And yet, Rome has more than 400,000 “Fathers” who claim to follow Christ. And still more to the point, the Scriptures are very clear that no one is “holy” (Romans 3:10, Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20). And yet Rome calls the pope, “Holy Father.”
So a literal interpretation of the Scriptures is not friendly to Rome’s doctrines.
I am very grateful for the chance to interact with Joseph’s material and thank him for the invitation. I am even more grateful for his interest in the Scriptures, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17).
Soli Deo Gloria.
[i] Fourth Session of the Council of Trent, Decree Concerning the Edition and Use of the Sacred Books, April 8, 1546. See Schroeder, H.J., O.P. Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent; English Translation. Charlotte, N.C. Tan Books, 1978. p. 19. Nihil Obstat (1978 edition): Fr. Humbertus Kane, O.P. Fr. Alexius Driscoll, O.P. Imprimi Potest (1978 edition): Fr. Petrus O’Brien, O.P. Prior Provincialis. Nihil Obstat (1941): A. A. Esswein, Censor Deputatus. Imprimatur (1941): Archbishop John J. Glennon.