Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
A Roman Catholic Disclaimer
08/25/2007 - James SwanThe following disclaimer appears on the blog of Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong:
"To the best of my knowledge, all of my theological writing is 'orthodox' and not contrary to the official dogmatic and magisterial teaching of 'the Catholic Church. In the event of any (unintentional) doctrinal or moral error on my part having been undeniably demonstrated to be contrary to the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church, I will gladly and wholeheartedly submit to the authority and wisdom of the Church (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Timothy 3:15)."
In the proof text cited above (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus instructs the disciples to teach everything He commanded them. Where do we find the content of these teachings? That's simple, you think: in the Bible. But Roman Catholics claim an unwritten oral tradition contains binding teaching as well. The Catholic apologist cited above informs his readers he, to the best of his knowledge, is in harmony with sacred tradition. But, Catholic apologists don't have to worry about being contrary to the oral tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, because this can't be traced back to the Apostles and objectively identified like Biblical teaching. In other words, they can't point to an objective standard by which to judge the orthodoxy of their writings. Jesus instructs His disciples to teach everything He commanded, yet Rome cannot produce an exhaustive reference to use as a standard.
Next, Roman Catholic apologists have a wide field to play in when working with the Biblical text. In Providentissimus Deus, On The Study Of Holy Scripture (Encyclical Of Pope Leo XIII, November 18, 1893], it is stated,
"...the Church by no means prevents or restrains the pursuit of Biblical science, but rather protects it from error, and largely assists its real progress. A wide field is still left open to the private student, in which his hermeneutical skill may display itself with signal effect and to the advantage of the Church. On the one hand, in those passages of Holy Scripture which have not as yet received a certain and definitive interpretation, such labors may, in the benignant providence of God, prepare for and bring to maturity the judgment of the Church; on the other, in passages already defined, the private student may do work equally valuable, either by setting them forth more clearly to the flock and more skillfully to scholars, or by defending them more powerfully from hostile attack."
Well, just how wide is this field? Consider the following citations:
"Very few texts have in fact been authoritatively determined and there consequently remain many important matters in the explanation of which sagacity and ingenuity of Catholic interpreters can and should be freely exercised..."[Source: Dom Bernard Orchard, M.A., ed., A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: Thomas Nelson, 1953), p.60, first column (as cited by David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground And Pillar of Our Faith Volume 1 (WA: Christian Resources inc, 2001), 223].
"The number of texts infallibly interpreted by the Church is small...It has been estimated indeed that the total of such texts is under twenty, though there are of course many other indirectly determined." [Source: Dom Bernard Orchard, M.A., ed., A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: Thomas Nelson, 1953), p.59, second column (as cited by David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground And Pillar of Our Faith Volume 1 (WA: Christian Resources inc, 2001), 224]
Catholic apologists really don't have too much to worry about when it comes to the Biblical text. Consider Gary Michuta's interpretive paradigm of reading Biblical passages through the virtues of faith, hope, or love. Why shouldn't he be allowed to do this? Perhaps its an oral tradition taught By Jesus to interpret the Bible this way! Without Rome actually defining the Biblical text, the field is so "wide open," cows and crop circles can all equally share the pasture, so to speak.
An irony along these lines would be to ask exactly what are the infallible explanations of Matthew 28:18-20 and 1 Timothy 3:15 used by Mr. Armstrong, and if he can't produce these, to further ask how he knows whether or not his usage of these two texts is orthodox. If I could ask Gary Michuta the same question, I'd further ask him to apply his particular interpretive paradigm, and ask him if he thinks it is assisting the real progress of Biblical science.
So, in terms of a disclaimer, the fine print offered really offers nothing. The Roman Church has not used the holy power of interpretation it claims to posses. Catholic apologists can basically say and write whatever they want to.
Notice in the disclaimer, the words "Bible" and "Scripture" are nowhere referred to as even a possible standard by which to evaluate Mr. Armstrong's work. The standard presented is the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church. But what standard do we find Jesus often referring his hearers and critics to? The Scriptures! Recall the response of Jesus in Matthew 22:31 to the Sadducees, ."..have you not read what God said to you?" Likewise, when dialogging with Catholic apologists, we should point them away from their human authority and towards the same authority used by the Lord. One can spend countless futile hours trying to show a Catholic apologist he contradicts his own Church. Keep in mind though their loopholes explained above: they will always be able to wriggle out, somehow or someway. On the other hand, the words of the Bible, the real ultimate authority, were demonstrated by Jesus to silence those who spoke against Him. Paul tells us the Scriptures will thoroughly equip us for every good work. To expose an authority like Rome that claims to speak infallibly for God is indeed a good work.