Roman Rejection of Catholic Tradition: The Sufficiency of Scripture

While studying the interpretation of scripture during the Reformation, I came across this observation by Richard Muller:

The related identification of Scripture as pure, holy, sufficient, and perfect – pure, holy, and sufficient in its teachings for the preaching of salvation and perfect or complete in its communication of those teachings – is a point of doctrine that marks out a major line of continuity between the medieval scholastics, the Reformers, and the Protestant orthodox. This particular element of the doctrine of Scripture had been developed in considerable detail in the later Middle Ages and was not altered at all in its basic statement. Whereas it is quite true that the concept of the purity, holiness, sufficiency and perfection of Scripture did not, in its original medieval context, point ineluctably toward the Reformation, the Reformers and their orthodox, scholastic successors were able to place the concept into the context of a different view of authority and interpretation and to use it as one of the foundations of their declaration of sola scriptura. Indeed, the radically altered shape of the questions of interpretation and authority in the post-Reformation era placed the Roman Catholic polemcists [sic] in the somewhat unenviable position of arguing against the express statements of great medieval doctors like Aquinas and Scotus concerning the prior authority, sufficiency, and perfection of the text.

Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, volume 2: Holy Scripture, pg. 310. (bold emphasis added)

Every time I come across statements like these (see here, for example), I am reminded of how few people really think critically about the relationship of the Reformation to its Catholic predecessors. The Reformation did not come along and introduce a fundamentally new theology, rather it insisted on things that had long been allowed in the Catholic Church.

And while Muller is absolutely right – we must not be simplistic about identifying medieval theology with fully developed Reformation thought – we must never concede the newness of the Reformation. After all, the Reformers sought to reform the Catholic Church, not to form something new!

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Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church
Anaheim, CA

6 comments on “Roman Rejection of Catholic Tradition: The Sufficiency of Scripture

  1. Alan Beagley says:

    Very interesting, especially since Pelikan was received into the Orthodox Church a few years before his death. I heard him say in a radio interview that he had come to realize that in fact he had been Orthodox his whole life.

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    • Hi Alan – thanks for the comment. Interesting … I wonder if the importance and role of the early church fathers in the eastern liturgies played a role. I think of him mostly as a Patristics scholar, although I might be off base here.

      I hope you all are doing well. Please say hello to your family for me! It’s been several years, I know. Just the other night, however, My dad and I were talking about the “good old days” of using TAPCIS and Compuserve to send messages across the globe to you guys!

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    • Ray Laird says:

      The central issue was one of the place of Tradition for the interpretation of Scripture, the composition of the elements of Tradition, and the final authority among those elements. Both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy maintained the authority of Tradition but differed in the final authority within it. Sadly Protestantism has virtually thrown out Tradition so that every person becomes their own Pope or perhaps even worse, each new departure creates their own tradition, in most cases, if not all, quite inadequate. Is that my old friend, Alan Beagley from Brisbane????

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  2. Alan Beagley says:

    Yes, Andrew. I am the Alan Beagley of whom you were thinking — and I’m sorry I had not responded to you. A Blessed New Year to you and your family also. I think Jeanette and your mother have been in touch recently.

    Ray and I knew each other in Brisbane, Australia, about 30 years ago but have not communicated for years.

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