Catholic Classroom: Sola Scriptura
If you have ever studied the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, then you have most likely encountered discussions on the concept of sola Scriptura. Translated as “Bible alone” in English, sola Scriptura refers to the belief that sacred Scripture is the only definitive authority on Christianity, and that the Bible is complete and infallible. This view is prominent among Protestant denominations.
Like Protestants, Catholics also believe that sacred Scripture is the inspired word of God and that it is infallible. However, we believe that Scripture alone does not teach us all the truths of our faith, but that we achieve this fullness through both sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition.
Just like any text or set of laws, the Bible must be interpreted. It is not always easy to understand what Scripture is telling us. This does not mean that it is lacking or wrong, but that we need an authority that can interpret the text while taking into account its context, its references to other parts of the Bible, and many other factors. Jesus gave his Church this authority.
Throughout the history of the Church and even going back to our Judaic roots before Jesus, prophets and leaders have passed down truths of our faith through oral tradition. Belief in the authority of sacred Tradition allows us to incorporate these truths, which come from God, even if they are not directly mentioned in Scripture.
We can see this process of oral tradition in action in the Acts of the Apostles. During the early days of the Church, the apostles and leaders met in councils to make decisions and interpret God’s Law. Then, they sent out messengers to deliver their decisions to believers: “So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth: ‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right’” (Acts 15:27-29). Here, the Church leaders are definitively instructing the people how to live God’s Word.
History has proven that there are many ways to interpret Scripture, and so the Catholic Church recognizes its authority handed down by Jesus to interpret God’s Word and instruct the faithful. There is a beautiful harmony between sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition. As the Second Vatican Council noted in Dei Verbum, “there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end” (9).