One of the people I work with received a multi-page document arguing that the Catholic Church is erroneous in our teachings about Mary and the saints. I wrote a reply. The next several posts will be taken from that reply. Enjoy 🙂
I. Catholic Approach to Scripture
My response starts with the way Catholics view Biblical Inspiration. We are not literalists who believe that every word and punctuation mark was dictated by God to a responsive person who wrote it down like a dutiful secretary. God would never destroy our free will by making us automatons who only wrote what he told us to write.
However, we do not view Scripture as a purely man-made endeavor. We see Scripture being inspired by God, but the human authors working with God – using their God given free will – to craft sections of the Bible according to their intelligence, culture, and time. Hence any Catholic approach to Scripture will take into account different questions: who wrote it? why? for whom was it written? when? where? what references (cultural, religious, etc.) could the author take for granted and believe that his audience would also take for granted? We strive to put each book of Scripture into its historical context so as not to read our own limited view of history into the Biblical account.
Coupled with this is the fact that our Bible is not written by one person but by many human authors writing in different ways. Just like a newspaper has different sections, our Bible (which is not one book, but a collection of books, poetry, and letters) has different literary genres. We can see history (many portions of the Old Testament, the Acts of the Apostles), poetry (Psalms, the Song of Songs), fiction (short stories like Job and Jonah), Gospel (a distinct literary style found in, of course, the gospels!), apocalyptic writing (Revelation, portions of the Old Testament), and many others.
We look to the fact that the early Church only had available to them the Hebrew Scriptures – they were all still culturally and religiously Jewish, so references to Scripture in New Testament gospels and letters is always reference to the Old Testament. We have Paul writing his letters starting around 45 AD with the gospels, Acts of the Apostles and Revelation written around 65 – 90 AD.
We have the canon of Scripture (the list of books that are considered the Bible) in nascent form around the year 200. The earliest list we have that matches our current New Testament is found in a letter written by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in 367 AD. In 382 the Council of Rome set the process to define a definitive list of New Testament books. In 393 the Council of Hippo continues the discussion. In 397 the Council of Carthage compiles a definite list and send it to Pope Innocent to be ratified. In 787 the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicea adopted the canon set forth in Carthage (which matches the one used by Catholics today). In 1442 the Council of Florence affirmed and recognized the 27 books that made up the canon of the New Testament for the entire worldwide Church. In 1536 Martin Luther publishes his translation of the Bible, removing four books (Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation) and placing them at the end of the Bible with a note that they are “less then canonical.” In 1546 the Catholic Church once again affirms the list of 27 books at the Council of Trent, placing the list of books as a dogma of the church.
So the Church affirms that even before there was a New Testament (the earliest that all of the books and letters would have been available to the early Church would have been around 100 AD) there was a Church centered on the verbal teachings (traditions) passed down from the Apostles.
For this reason, the Church never places the Bible at the center of our faith – we place Jesus (the Word of God) at the center of our faith, with Scripture and Tradition as coming from the same font of revealed truth.
Blessings & Peace.