Many Protestants have misconceptions about the Roman Catholic Church. That Protestantism believes the Bible is the final authority and the only authority, and Roman Catholicism believes that the pope or the church is the only final authority, as if Rome had a low view of sacred Scripture. And I want to put that caricature to rest today as we examine the development of the Roman Catholic view of sacred Scripture. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind on this Monday.
I'm Lee Webb. Over the last five centuries, Roman Catholics and Protestants have disagreed over major points of theology. But what are the real differences, and do they still matter?
R.C. Sproul was of the opinion, yes, they do matter, and it's why he devoted an entire teaching series to explaining and critiquing the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. Now, if you are Roman Catholic, I realize that right now you may be tempted to tune out.
But let me say, and I think from what you just heard, you'll find that Dr. Sproul approaches this controversial subject humbly and fairly. In the sixteenth century, we saw the Protestant Reformation, and it was called Protestant because there was obviously a protest. And the protest of the sixteenth century is often divided between the so-called material cause of reformation, or the material protest, and the formal protest.
So, we make this distinction between the material cause or protest of the Reformation and the formal cause, the material cause being the issue of justification, namely the question, how is a person ultimately redeemed by Jesus Christ? The formal issue, the underlying issue, the issue that was not at the center of the stage in the controversy, but nevertheless was at the center of the whole dispute and the whole debate was the question of authority, and most specifically, the question of the authority of Scripture. So, we're going to begin today with an examination of the Roman Catholic notion of the authority of Scripture and how it is similar and how it is different from the Protestant view of Scripture historically.
Throughout the course, I'm going to deal with five major issues of dispute. This morning, the question of Scripture and authority. Then tomorrow, we're going to look at the Roman Catholic church's notion of the relationship of the church, the visible church, and human redemption. For example, we know that the ancient creed of Roman Catholic development included the notion that outside of the visible church, there was no salvation. And that doctrine of ecclesiastical redemption has developed through the years, and we're going to examine that historical development, particularly noting more recent discussions of that question in Rome. Then the third topic of discussion will be that of papal infallibility, which of course is also an issue of great concern for Protestants. Then we're going to look at the differences between the Roman Catholic view of sacraments and the Protestant view of sacraments.
And in the fifth lecture, we will consider the division of Roman Catholic theology known as Mariology, or the study of the place, the role, and the function of Mary in Roman Catholic theology. All right, well then, for this morning, let's look then at this question of the formal cause of the Reformation, usually indicated by the Reformation slogan, sola scriptura. Just as the material battle cry of the Reformation is sola fide, justification is by faith alone, the formal battle cry of the Reformation was sola scriptura, that the final ultimate authority for the Christian is to be found in the Scriptures alone.
Just a moment of historical background on that point. You will remember, I'm sure, that the Protestant Reformation received its initial impetus from the controversy centering around indulgences in Germany, and there was this Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther who tacked his theses to the church door at Wittenberg asking for a disputation concerning some abuses that he saw in this program of indulgences. And what mushroomed out of this initial protest by Luther got Luther in all kinds of trouble with the Roman church concerning various facets of his theology. And several important debates did take place between Luther and representatives of the Roman Catholic church.
Perhaps the most important initial debate was that debate that Luther had with Cardinal Cajetan, the representative of the Roman hierarchy, that took place in Augsburg, Germany. And in this particular encounter between Cardinal Cajetan and Martin Luther, Luther in the course of the discussion and in the course of the debate stated that in his opinion the pope could make mistakes in his ecclesiastical pronouncements. Well, keep in mind that this is prior to the formal definition of the Roman Catholic church of the infallibility of the pope.
Nevertheless, the idea of papal authority was already tacitly assumed by the people within the Roman Catholic church, although it had not yet been formally and officially defined by the church. But at this debate in Augsburg, Luther challenged the authority of the pope. And then in later debates, particularly with Martin Eck, the master theologian of the Roman Catholic church at this time, in a debate at Leipzig, Luther at this particular occasion denied the infallibility of church councils. Now, keep in mind that historically Roman Catholic theologians were in division and dispute among themselves as to where the ultimate authority was to be found, in church council or in papal decisions. There was a division at that point, and some of them believed that church councils were more authoritative than the popes, and some believed that the popes were more authoritative than the church council.
But here comes Martin Luther down the street, and he says, a pox on both of your houses. I don't believe in the infallibility of either church council or the pope. And this issue came to its crux, of course, at the famous Diet of Worms where Luther was called to stand and defend his cause before the princes of the church as well as before the princes of the state. And as you all know, I'm sure when he was called upon to recant of his views and of his writings, Luther replied, after much consideration, he said, unless I am convinced by the testimony of holy Scripture or by evident reason, I will not, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe, and all of that dramatic gesture. Then whether or not Luther said it or not is questionable, but then he goes on from there to say, here I stand, I can do no other, God help me. But the significant dimension of the statement of Worms is that Luther said, unless I am convinced by the testimony of sacred Scripture, he said, I see that holy Scripture is my only ultimate authority.
The pope can err, the council can err, but for me the Scriptures cannot err. And so the doctrine of Scripture was immediately elevated as a central point of authority for all of the Reformed bodies of the sixteenth century. Now because of that dispute, it is often misunderstood in terms of our understanding of Roman Catholic theology and Roman Catholic development in a sort of Protestant caricature that says that Protestantism believes the Bible is the final authority and the only authority, and Roman Catholicism believes that the pope or the church is the only final authority, as if Rome had a low view of sacred Scripture.
And I want to put that caricature to rest today as we examine the development of the Roman Catholic view of sacred Scripture. One of the most important moments in all of Roman Catholic history is found in the assembling of the Council of Trent, the so-called Tridentine Council that takes place in the middle of the sixteenth century. The Council of Trent remains to this day the most formidable council of dispute between Protestantism and the Roman Catholic church. The Council of Trent was called as a response to the Protestant Reformation, and it is at Trent that Rome gives official definition to their views of justification, to sacraments, and to many other of the issues of the Reformation. And in the fourth session of the Council of Trent, which occurred in 1546, here we see in the Tridentine Declaration that the Scriptures are said to have come to us either directly from the mouth of Christ or from the apostles under the dictation of God the Holy Spirit.
And God is called the author of both Testaments, Old and New Testaments. So here a very high view of Scripture is articulated by the Roman Catholic church, and the most significant word here, of course, is the Latin dictante, the Holy Spirit dictating. There's almost universal agreement among Roman Catholic scholars and historians that Rome did not mean to set for us an elaborate notion of dictation, but is simply using a figurative form of speech in the conciliar statement that is trying to call attention to the fact that the Scriptures have their origin and their authority in the power and authority of God, and namely God the Holy Spirit. Now if we look through the developments of Roman Catholic theology concerning Scripture since the sixteenth century, we see that Rome develops a very strong view of the inerrancy and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture. This is particularly evident in the nineteenth century where in both Protestantism and in Roman Catholic circles the question of the integrity of Sacred Scripture was a central issue in the world of theology, with the rise of the so-called modernist controversy. The modernist controversy, which set conservative Christians over against those caught up in the movement of nineteenth century liberal theology, which focused much of its effort on an attack of the reliability and integrity of the biblical witnesses, was not limited to Protestant circles.
But this modernist controversy, which is so often seen as simply the dispute between so-called American fundamentalism and European and American liberalism, had great impact on the Roman Catholic Church, and Rome spoke very strongly against the modernist movement in various decrees and papal encyclicals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At Vatican Council number one, which met in 1870, and we'll be looking at different dimensions of Vatican I throughout this course, at Vatican I the following statements were made by the Roman Catholic Church. It said regarding the Scriptures, quote, that the Scriptures came under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
They, that is, the biblical writings, have God for their author, again, repeating the pronouncement of Trent. And then finally, at Vatican I, the Council stated, quote, that the Scriptures contain revelation without error. Now, here's the notion of revelation without error, or the concept of inerrancy, being stated at least somewhat clearly by 1st Vatican Council. This notion of inerrancy, the concept of inerrancy, inerrancy was affirmed by Pope Pius X in 1907, which was a pivotal year in the so-called modernist controversy. In 1907, Pius X gave two encyclicals.
One was called Lamentiboli, and the other was Posendi Domenici Gregus. Both in 1907, these two encyclicals by Pius X, affirmed the notion of inerrancy of Scripture and the inspiration of Scripture over against modernism and gave a scathing criticism of the modernist position with respect to Scripture. Hans Kuhn, for example, the contemporary Roman Catholic theologian of great fame and controversy within Rome, makes the following statement. He says, from the time of Leo XIII and particularly in the modernist confusion, the complete and absolute inerrancy of Scripture was constantly explicitly and systematically defended in papal encyclicals. Now, that's the word not from a conservative scholar within the Roman Catholic Church, but the leading liberal scholar of 20th century Roman Catholic theology, the one who's been in more trouble than the Vatican, and you've seen it in Time magazine and newspaper accounts and everything else. Hans Kuhn, his evaluation of the development of the doctrine of Scripture is that the church has clearly, explicitly, constantly, and systematically affirmed what he calls the absolute inerrancy of the Scripture.
Now, of course, Kuhn does not affirm it and believes that the church has made a mistake in these statements, but appealing to these 19th century and 20th century encyclicals, he sees this as being the case. One other important moment is the encyclical called Spiritus Paraclitus, the Spirit of Comfort or the Spirit of Consolation, written in 1920 by Benedict XV, was also one of those encyclicals that reaffirmed the classic view of Rome. Now, when we get into the middle of the 20th century, we find an encyclical by the Roman Catholic Church that has been pivotal in recent discussions as to the latitude that scholars have with dealing with the Bible critically. And that papal encyclical is entitled Divino Afflante Spiritu.
Divino Afflante Spiritu came to us in 1943 by Pius XII. Now, this particular encyclical, as I said, is of pivotal significance for understanding the current controversy within the Roman Catholic Church with respect to their view of Scripture. I have the text of that encyclical before me, and I'm not going to go over it in detail because it's quite lengthy. But just to give you a taste of it, the encyclical begins with the words, venerable brothers, health and apostolic benediction, and then immediately it says, inspired by the divine Spirit, the sacred writers composed those books which God and His paternal charity towards the human race designed to bestow on them for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for instructing in justice that the man of God may be perfect for every good work. It goes on to describe the Scriptures as a heaven-sent treasure, as a most precious source of doctrine, then goes through an interesting historical reconnaissance of what had already been defined by the Roman Catholic Church. So the reason I call attention to that is that in this encyclical, Divino of Lante Spiritu, Pius XII goes back over the previous encyclicals, including Leo's, Providentus Mustaus, and condemns as heretical any view of Scripture that tries to restrict the inspiration and the inerrancy of Scripture to some undefined nature of content of Scripture that relates only to faith and morals, and declares that heretical in this particular encyclical. So in the first page of the encyclical, we see Pius XII coming on very strong, affirming everything that has been said before by his predecessors. Now, in this discussion, he goes on to say that inerrancy does not mean that there is no room in the Bible for the use of figurative language, for what we would call in Protestantism phenomenological language, that is describing things as they appear to the naked eye, like the sun moving across the heaven.
So that's not an error. There is room there for phenomenological language, language of sight, language of vision. There is room for hyperbole. And then he goes on to speak of the necessity of very, very careful examination of the Scriptures in terms of textual criticism and of literary analysis of the text that we might understand the proper forms in which the Scripture comes to us. But because he allows in the principles of interpretation and analysis of literary forms, higher critics within Rome jumped at this point and said, all right, if we're supposed to analyze the Scripture in terms of their forms, that means we can examine it in terms of the form of myth, the form of legend, the form of Saiga, etc. And that statement in this encyclical opened the door just a crack to give some room for the higher critical movement to begin to function openly within the Roman Catholic Church. And that provoked a crisis all of its own. At the Second Vatican Council, there was much agitation on the question of biblical authority and the whole concept of the doctrine of Scripture within the Roman Catholic Church.
And in the caucuses of the meetings and in the disputes and the speeches, the two sides, the conservatives and the liberals, went after each other hammer and tong. Finally, Vatican II issued the so-called dogmatic constitution on divine revelation, dogmatic constitution on divine revelation, which said, and I quote, the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted to put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation. This was the final statement by the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation. Listen to those words carefully. The books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully and without error. There the conservatives were screaming for the inclusion of the term inerrancy or the phrase without error, and at that point they gained the day.
But listen to the rest of the statement. What is it that the books of Scripture are acknowledged as teaching without error? That truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation. That is, all that the Constitution says here is that there is at least that truth which God wanted in the Scriptures for our salvation. That truth is in there without error. But there is not a blanket statement covering all of Scripture. However, if we interpret the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation in light of previous papal encyclicals, what could be the only conclusion you could come to if Rome is unchanging and infallible and systematically coherent?
The only conclusion you could come to is that that's nothing new. They've already said that the truth of Scripture comes without error in all that it says, and that without error is not limited to truths relevant to salvation. But certainly it includes those truths relevant to salvation. In other words, I'm dealing with this how a conservative Catholic would deal with it. The Catholic would say, of course we believe that the Scriptures have without error that truth which God wanted there for the sake of our salvation.
Not only is that truth without error, but all of the truth of Scripture is without error. We're not going to limit it to matters relating to faith and morals because we can't limit it to faith and morals because those who want to limit it merely to faith and morals have already been condemned by the earlier encyclical. The liberals will say, no, this represents the progress in the living, breathing vitality of the church, and now we have another opening to restrict inerrancy to that truth which is of matters pertaining to salvation. But that's the issue for Rome right now is where is the ultimate authority in the church? Is it in councils, in papal encyclicals? Is it in Scripture, or is it in some of those things and not others, or is it in some amorphous, ambiguous mainstream of collective opinion of the church today? That's what's grinding the Roman Catholic Church right now in their own great internal struggle of theology. The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the one true church established by Jesus Christ, but when we look deeper, we see conflicts between Scripture and Roman Catholic doctrine and practice.
All week here on Renewing Your Mind, we are focusing on R.C. Sproul's series on Roman Catholicism. Our point is not to tear down or ridicule. The point of studying these things is to find the truth, the biblical answer to questions of faith and practice.
The sixteenth-century Reformers returned to Scripture as their sole and final authority, and with that foundation in place, Reformation theology was built. We'd like to help you study this topic further. Request the Reformation Resource Drive, and we will send you a USB drive containing six e-books, three digital editions of Table Talk magazine, and seven full audio teaching series, all with an emphasis on the Reformation and the doctrinal distinctives that grew out of it. Plus, we'll provide a digital download of the series we're hearing this week. You can request all of this with a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries.
You can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343, or you can give your gift online at renewingyourmind.org. Dr. Sproul wasn't afraid to tackle controversial subjects like this. He believed the gospel was at stake. We draw from R.C. 's courage and conviction, and by God's grace, we'll continue producing teaching resources centered on God's Word. Would you join us in this effort and become one of our ministry partners? This is a special group of people committed to giving a monthly gift of $25 or more. And while there are benefits, such as a copy of the Reformation Study Bible, exclusive monthly messages, and discounts to conferences, among others, we want you to know that your monthly commitment matters for eternity. Ask about becoming a partner when you call us at 800-435-4343. You can also sign up at renewingyourmind.org. Well, as we conclude today's program, let me ask you to consider a question. Is the pope infallible? Dr. Sproul will address that tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind, and I hope you'll join us. .
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