The main principles of the Reformation, we have noted in previous articles, are usually considered to be two: the formal and the material. According to the formal principle, the Reformation acknowledged only one source of authority, the Holy Scriptures. With this principle they stood opposed to Roman Catholicism, False Mysticism (Quakers, Anabaptists, etc.), and to Rationalism. The Roman Catholic Church acknowledged, besides the Word of God, also Tradition as a source of authority; Protestantism recognized only the sixty-six canonical books. The Roman Catholic Church claimed that the right and power to interpret the Bible belonged to the clergy, and this means, we understand; the Pope; Protestantism maintained that every Christian is able and has the right to interpret the Word of God. False Mysticism is characterized by its rejection of the objective authority of the Bible and reliance upon the “inner light”; Protestantism claimed that the objective revelation in Scripture must be the sole and only reliable canon for faith and life. And Rationalism would subject all things, even the Holy Scriptures, to Reason; the Reformers subjected Reason to the revelation of the Word of God. The material principle of the Reformation is expressed in the words: Justification by faith only. And, we understand, of course, that in this expression faith must be viewed as the free and sovereign gift of God, and that therefore our justification is purely a gift of God and not by works in any sense of the word. The Roman Catholic Church had become pelagian in its conception of sin and grace, and held that we are justified also by works. The Reformers rejected this view and maintained that the believer is justified only by faith. And this is surely also the undoubted and undeniable testimony of our Confessions, as we showed in our previous articles.
It lies in the nature of the case that the influence of these principles, the formal and material principles of the Reformation, was great and profound. A considerable part of the Roman Catholic doctrine concerning the Church, the priesthood, the pope, the sacraments, etc., was not based on the Word of God at all, but simply on Tradition and upon the institutions of men. What Scriptural grounds does Rome advance for its conception of the sacraments? Rome has seven sacraments. They are, besides the Lord’s Supper and Baptism: Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, Extreme Unction. What Scriptural grounds and proof does it advance for the sacraments besides the Lord’s Supper and Baptism? Is it not particularly true of these other five sacraments that Rome’s Scriptural proof is woefully weak? What Scriptural ground does Rome have for its conception of the Papacy, with which conception its entire structure stands or falls? Was this conception not based upon two gigantic frauds, the Donation of Constantine and the Isidorian Decretals?
Roman Catholicsm ascribes the same authority to Tradition as it does to the Holy Scriptures. These traditions are called unwritten because they are not contained in the Scriptures. They are, for the most part, now to be found written in the works of the Fathers, decisions of councils, ecclesiastical constitutions, and rescripts of the Popes. The Romish Church teaches that Christ taught many things which were not committed to writing, that is, not recorded in the Sacred Scriptures. Rome also maintains that these instructions have been faithfully transmitted, and preserved in the Church. And that Church also maintains that these traditions constitute a part of the rule of faith for all believers. Moreover, Rome maintains that the Scriptures can be understood and embraced only in the light of Tradition, that only the Church, and this means fundamentally the Pope, is able to explain and interpret these traditions, so that, according to Rome, the faith and doctrine and life of the people of God is exclusively dependent upon the clergy, and this, we understand, means the Pope.
This Roman Catholic position on Tradition is surely set forth in a set of Roman Catholic books, known as “Radio Replies” by the Rev. Dr. Leslie Rumble, M.S.C., and edited in collaboration with Rev. Charles Mortimer Carty, a diocesan missionary. This set of books is a volume of three books which contain questions addressed to and answered by the Rev. Dr. Leslie Rumble. Question 472, Volume II, reads: “Do you place’ more reliance on Catholic dogma and tradition than on the Bible?” And the answer reads as follows: “As remote sources of Christian doctrine Catholics accept equally the Bible and authentic Christian tradition. These constitute the written and unwritten Word of God. The immediate guide of Catholics is the official teaching of the Catholic Church. That Church expresses from time to time in a dogma the exact sense of some doctrine contained either in Scripture or tradition. As divine tradition can never be opposed to Scripture, and Catholic dogma can never be opposed to either Scripture or tradition, there can never be any question of placing more reliance on one than on the others. Of course, where a person’s private interpretation of Scripture conflicts with a dogma of the Church, I would certainly place more reliance on the dogma of the Church than upon that person’s private interpretation of Scripture.” Notice, please, the following in this quotation. First, the Bible and authentic Christian tradition are accepted by Roman Catholicism EQUALLY. Secondly, the immediate guide of Catholics is the official teaching of the Catholic Church. That expresses from time to time in a dogma the exact sense of some doctrine contained either in Scripture or tradition. This means that the clergy, that is the pope, has the sole right in the Roman Catholic Church to interpret and explain Scripture and tradition.
Then, the Rev. Dr. Rumble had been confronted with the proposition: “Tradition is no more reliable as evidence than mere gossip or rumor.” To this Dr. Rumble answers as follows in Answer 473: “You are using the word tradition in a sense other than that intended by the Church in this matter. We intend’ as a source of Christian truth, that divine tradition which is the collection of doctrines taught by Christ and the Apostles, but which were not written in the New Testament. They have been written in various ‘Creeds,’ and ‘Professions of Faith,’ and are supported by the unanimous consent of the Fathers who lived in the first centuries and knew the Apostolic teaching. St. Paul said to Timothy, ‘The things you have heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men who will be fit to teach others also.’ II Tim. 2:2. The early ecclesiastical writers recorded the teachings of these ‘faithful men’: and those teachings are an authentic source of the revelation of Christ to be transmitted to posterity. Later, and merely human traditions, have nothing to do with this divine tradition, which has been specially safeguarded by the Holy Spirit.” In this answer Dr. Rumble replies that the Roman Catholic Church means with tradition a collection of doctrines of Christ and the Apostles that are not written in the New Testament. And we understand, of course, that these sayings of Christ and the Apostles were written down by these men merely from memory. Christ and the apostles did not dictate these sayings to these men who wrote them and which now constitute a part of the Roman Catholic tradition.
In Volume III of this set the Roman Catholic doctrine on tradition is more elaborately set forth, in Questions 516-528. We will quote these quotations.
516. Has the ordinary reader no chance whatever of arriving at the correct sense of Scripture? In very many isolated passages of Scripture he could certainly do so. In a great many passages he would scarcely be able to do so. In many others he would have no chance at all. There is no doubt whatever that the Bible is one of the most difficult books to understand. One needs a vast knowledge of ancient languages, history and customs; and must be quite at home with Hebrew and Greek allegorical, metaphorical, and typical expressions, quite apart from the spiritual insight required to penetrate the loftiest mysteries. How many individuals are thus qualified? The untrained lack the historical and philological information necessary to appreciate the true sense of what is written, and therefore make isolated texts mean what they wish, without adverting to either context or parallel passages. In the “Merchant of Venice” Shakespeare puts upon the lips of Bassanio the famous words, “In religion what damned error’ but some brow will bless it, and approve it with a text.”
517. Even though he were to fail here and there, could not the average reader gain a knowledge from the Bible of the whole body of Christian doctrine in general?
That would not be possible, for Christian doctrine in its totality is not to be found in Scripture. Much of Christian doctrine is contained not in Scripture but in tradition; and a clear understanding of Christian doctrine requires in many cases the precise definitions of the Catholic Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (In connection with these answers 516 and 517, we would make the following observations. First, Protestantism recognizes, of course, the truth that the Scripture is a most profound book. However, we also maintain the perspicuity of the Scriptures. This means that, although it is true, on the one hand, that the Bible is a most profound book, it is also characterized by the fact that it is transparently clear, so that a child can understand its most fundamental teachings. And, secondly, Answer 517 teaches clearly that the Word of God, the Bible, is not sufficient by itself, and that the totality of Christian doctrine is not to be found in Scripture.—H.V.)
518. Tell me this. Are all Roman Catholic doctrines founded upon the Scriptures? Not all Catholic doctrines are to be found in the Bible. But none of them is opposed to any teaching of Scripture. Some Catholic doctrines are found directly recorded in Scripture; others are logically derived from teachings recorded there; others are founded upon divine tradition. Scripture itself guarantees divine tradition to be a sound source of doctrine. Thus St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle.” II Thess. 2:14. The traditions which the early Christians learned by word, and which were not included in the New Testament writings, have been preserved in the Catholic Church. (In connection with this statement we would remark the following. Notice that some of the Roman Catholic doctrines are not founded upon the Scriptures whatever. Some of their doctrines are found directly recorded in Scripture; others are logically derived from teachings recorded there; others are founded upon divine tradition. In other words, some of the Roman Catholic doctrines are not even logically derived from the teachings recorded in the written Word of God. Some of their doctrines have no Scriptural basis whatever. And as far as the reference to II Thess. 2:14 is concerned [should be II Thess. 2:15] we may remark that the Thessalonians are exhorted by the apostle to hold fast that which had been taught them by Paul and other apostles, whether by word or as embodied in his epistles. This has nothing to do with the Roman Catholic doctrine of Tradition, as teaching things not even based upon the Scriptures.—H.V.)