Three Signs of a New Testament Church and My Journey Home to Rome
I turned to the Apostolic Fathers sort of like the Ethiopian turned to St. Philip
"To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant," famously wrote John Henry Cardinal Newman in his introduction to his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. I can attest to the truth of these words. I started reading the nineteen centuries' old works of St. Ignatius, the third bishop of Antioch when I was a Protestant. By the time I finished, I was well on the road toward becoming a Catholic.
The martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch
The theory of perspicuity advances the notion that a man can sit down at home with a Bible in hand, and, presumably with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will have no problem understanding the Bible's doctrine. There is no need for an intermediary, no need for a teaching Church, no need for an ecclesia docens. There is therefore no need for bishops and certainly no need for a Pope.
Some problems are immediately apparent in holding the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. First of all, there is no place in the Scriptures that states that the Bible is perspicuous. Indeed, there is no place in the Bible that tells us what books compose the Bible, which means that what books are in the Bible is itself not perspicuous. There is simply no Biblical foundation for the doctrine. It finds no warrant in Scripture or the words of Jesus.
In fact, the falsity of the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture appears clearly attested to by Scripture itself, expressly at least as it relates to the epistles of the Apostle Paul and implicitly with respect to Scripture as a whole. St. Peter says: "in them [St. Paul's letters] there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures." (2 Pet. 3:16).
It is perspicuous to St. Peter that the Bible is not perspicuous.
The doctrine of Scriptural perspicuity was never part of the received Church teaching, just like it clearly was not part of what St. Peter believed to be true. It was a Protestant novelty. It is a contrived truth to escape the Church's divinely-instituted teachers--the bishops and the Pope--and to escape the body of Tradition which testifies against its truth.
In addition to its theoretical lack of foundation, there is another problem with this notion: it does not work. The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture has been a practical nightmare. Although a precise count of Protestant denominations is probably impossible, most experts put Protestant denominations at hovering between 21,000 to 33,000 world-wide, each one, of course, with its own view of supposedly perspicuous Scripture that justifies its existence. The number of interpretations of Scripture is legion.
What time has therefore attested to is that Protestant model is intrinsically unstable and uncertain, and that suggests overwhelmingly strongly that it is false. The historical evidence is monolithically against the truth of the doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture. As Origen said in his work On Prayer, "the word of God is one, but many are the words alien to God."
I confronted this problem of interpretational cacophony endemic in Protestantism on my way back to the Catholic Church. Although raised Catholic, by the time I went to college I had left the Church and pretty much rejected Christianity altogether, sort of holding an incongruous blend composed of intellectual agnosticism and practical atheism. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies, however, I had a conversion, but that conversion was to evangelical or fundamentalist Protestantism.
Eventually, I found myself frequenting Southern Baptist Churches. I accepted the authority of Scripture sort of on faith, and assumed that it was readily interpretable as the Southern Baptists taught.
However, I soon grew frustrated with the impracticability and unworkability of the doctrine of Scriptural perspicuity. Take, for example, the words of Jesus in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." (John 6:53) How were these words to be understood? Many of Jesus' disciples obviously had problems with them. The Gospel of John states that many murmured: "This saying is hard; who can accept it?"
For some, the teaching was offensive, and when Jesus confirmed it, they left him altogether, presumably because they understood Jesus to be teaching these words to be literally true--something which, of course, would have offended the sentiments of the ordinary Jew.
Most Protestants will interpret these words figuratively, symbolically, and avoid the difficulty of what seems Jesus' plain ...
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