What's the Problem?

Does Sola Scriptura work?


Read the following SMORE and answer the questions below. When you go home tonight, watch the video link at the bottom of this page, and answer the questions below it in your OneNote to be checked when I come back on Monday.

What is Sola Scriptura?

Sola Scriptura is the main pillar of protestant belief. Without it, Protestantism cannot stand. Even protestants today will admit that much.

Sola Scriptura, or "Scripture alone", was a belief of Martin Luther and the other first protestants that the Bible is the only source of absolute religious truth-- that Tradition and the Magisterium are man-made and, therefore, fallible (able to be wrong). His belief was that each individual should read and interpret the Bible for himself and let the Holy Spirit show him the truth of those Scriptures.

It was because of his belief that the Magisterium and Tradition were fallible that Martin Luther eventually broke away from the Catholic Church and ended up starting his own church, causing many others to do the same.

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Why did Luther profess Sola Scriptura in the first place?

Let's look at the reasons behind it.

Luther lived at a time when the political and ecclesiastical world were chaotic. The Hundred Years War and the Black Death had caused Europe's political and social structures to shift dramatically and rapidly. The Church had experienced turmoil in the Avignon Papacy (a time when the popes lived in France and were highly affected by the will of the French Crown) and in the Western Schism (when few were aware who the true pope was). He also lived at a time of Renaissance, when many popes and clergy were more concerned with wealth and power than they were with the spiritual needs of the Church.

Needless to say, Luther, a scrupulously pious and highly educated monk, probably wasn't very impressed by the wantonness of those who were supposed to have spiritual and theological authority over him. Some of their practices, especially the practice of selling indulgences in order to raise money for great works of art, disgusted Luther, and rightly so. And when Luther called them out, they responded with a swift denial that Luther had any theological ground to stand on.

It is easy to see why Luther became convinced that Scripture alone was pure. He distrusted the Magisterium and its use of things like indulgences, which can only be found explicitly in the wider Tradition of the Church and not explicitly in Scripture.

After feeling that the Church was not listening to his complaints, he made the decision to split with Rome, breaking his monastic vows, taking a wife, no longer subjecting himself to any authority but the Bible alone, and leading countless others with him.

What was Luther right about?

Luther was certainly right in his disgust for some abuses that were happening in the Church at the time. Indulgences (remission for the temporal effects of sin) should never have been sold. Popes and clergy should never have been more concerned with wealth and power than they were with the spiritual needs of the Church. Living at such a time must have been seriously frustrating and confusing.
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What was Luther wrong about?

Well, a few things. However, his problem with the authority of the Church's Magisterium (and thus, his preaching of sola Scriptura) is the most important thing.


Think about it. If Church authority doesn't exist, then each person can interpret the Bible for himself. Meaning that Luther can teach whatever he wants to based on his own personal interpretation of the Bible.

But if the Church's Magisterium does have authority, than what it says goes.

Why did Luther stop believing in the authority of the Church's Magisterium? A few reasons.

One thing that Luther misunderstood was the doctrine of infallibility. Luther could not understand how a sinful human being could teaching without error or forgive another person's sins or say that the temporal effects of those sins were done away with (indulgences). What he missed was the understanding that it is not the sinful human being doing the forgiving but God. Luther could not accept that God would use broken human beings as instruments through which to dispense his truth, grace, mercy, and forgiveness upon the world.

Another thing that Luther failed to recognize was the necessity of both Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium for the Bible to even exist or be properly understood. There are a few reasons that both are necessary:

1. We would not have the Bible if not from the Tradition of the apostles. In fact, Tradition-- taught by the Magisterium-- is the only thing believers had to go on from the time of Jesus until almost 400 years later. The Bible did not yet exist in its present form.

2. We would not have the Bible if not for the councils (presided over by the Magisterium) which compiled it in the late 300s. There were many books (legitimate and illegitimate) floating around and being read by Christians in the late 300s, and the members of the Magisterium were the ones who sifted through them at the councils to determine which ones were inspired and which ones were not-- in other words, which ones should be considered Scripture and which ones should not. Therefore, rejecting the authority of the Magisterium is rejecting the very authority which said certain books were inspired Scripture in the first place.

3. By doing away with papal or magisterial authority, Luther, in effect, only made each person his own pope. Almost immediately, even during the time of Luther, people started taking his advice and interpreting the Bible for themselves. What resulted was a splintering of Christianity so rapid and so far-reaching, that it still continues to this day.

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Efforts toward unity...

Today, there are many efforts being made toward unity, but it still evades us. This is a tragedy because Jesus wanted his Church to be one-- one in heart and mind and belief.

Read the article below that just recently appeared in the National Catholic Register, an american Catholic newspaper, on January 13th. It discusses Lutheran-Catholic relations today.

Answer the following critical thinking questions on paper and turn them in to the sub at the end of class.

1. What is sola Scriptura, and why do you think it is the main pillar of Protestantism?

2. How did Luther's experiences affect the way that he saw Church authority?

3. Why do you think God chose to use sinful human beings to dispense truth and grace and forgiveness to the world? What might this tell us about God?

4. What was Luther right about? How do you think he could have handled reform differently?

5. What is the problem with sola Scriptura?

6. How many years of the Church went by before the idea of sola Scriptura was proposed by Luther? Does this pose a problem for that teaching? Why or why not?

7. What is the relationship of Lutherans and Catholics today? Are we getting closer together or farther apart? What do you think, based on the article?

Watch the video below when you get home and answer the questions underneath it in your OneNote notebook. I will check them Monday.

Whose Authority?

Watch the following video of Bishop Robert Barron talking about the problem of authority in Protestantism. He had just read a good book by a protestant about authority, and he has some things to say about it. He also uses a good sports analogy to make his point :)

While you watch the video, look at the questions below and answer them on a sheet of paper.

Fr. Robert Barron on Protestantism and Authority

Answer the Following Questions about the Video

(I will check these in your OneNote on Monday)

1. What happened in Luther's lifetime after he proclaimed sola Scriptura and the plain sense of Scripture?

2. What does McGrath (the Protestant author of the book Fr. Barron read) say needs to happen in order for the Church to be one?

3. Why was Fr. Barron not able to accept McGrath's argument? What does Fr. Barron think that we need in order to be one?

4. How many Protestant denominations are there around the world today?

5. What is one of the main reasons St. John Henry Newman became a Catholic after being raised Anglican?

6. What analogy does Fr. Barron use for the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (the authority)?

7. How is the referee different than the Magisterium, however? Why is this so? What does the Magisterium have that a referee doesn't?

8. Why do we need the Magisterium? What's the problem with personal interpretation of Scripture?

9. What is the appropriate role of the Magisterium, according to Newman?