Monday, July 25, 2011

The Bible Needs the Church

I had been looking into Catholicism for a while when suddenly I realized something:

To accept the Bible was to accept the Church.

All of this time I had been comparing whatever Catholic theology I read with what I understood the Bible to say.  The Bible was the only standard for all Christian truth.  Right? 

But somehow in the course of studying Catholicism, of looking into church history, I realized that the Bible was a product of the Church.  True, the Bible is technically a product of the Holy Spirit, but the Church was the vehicle used by the Holy Spirit.  The Church had existed for decades before one page of the New Testament was written.  Furthermore, even after the Epistles and the Gospels had been written, there was debate for hundreds of years about exactly which writings were inspired.  It was the leaders of the Church—the Bishops—who made the authoritative decision about which books the universal Church should consider were actually the Word of God. Without the Church, we wouldn’t have the Bible. 

One Christian scholar told me it wasn’t a question of the leaders of the Church declaring which books were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but rather of them recognizing which books were inspired.  In other words, the Church didn’t—and doesn’t—give the Bible its authority; the Bible has authority of its own.  I agreed, but my question went further.  How do we know that the Church recognized the right books?  Couldn’t they have made a mistake about which books were really Scripture?  Obviously we attribute the inspiration of the Church in this matter to the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the One who guided the Church to recognize truly which writings were actually inspired by God.

But once I admitted that (which seemed obvious), suddenly I had another question.  Why did I not believe that the Holy Spirit didn’t guide the Church in other decisions that were reached in the same manner?  The canon of Scripture was discerned and decided on at different councils at which the bishops were present.  This is also how doctrines such as the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and naming Mary as the Mother of God were formulated.  If I believed that the Holy Spirit guided the Church in recognizing which books belonged in the Bible, why did I not believe He would also guide them in correctly interpreting those books?

As far as I could see it, I either had to believe that I was really reading the Word of God, and therefore accept the authority of the Church that handed on the Word of God to me, or else I had to reject the authority of the Church and also reject any confidence in the inspiration of the canon of Scripture.  But if I chose the latter route, I no longer had any reason to reject the Catholic Church.

At least, I couldn’t use the Bible to argue against it. 


  1. I'm not sure it's strictly accurate to say that the Bible is a product of the Church. The Magisterium teaches that the Deposit of the Faith is made up of two sources: Scripture and Holy Tradition. Scripture originates in the Holy Spirit. Holy Tradition originates in Christ's spoken words and the teachings of the apostles as guided by the Holy Spirit. Both Scripture and Tradition are closely related, since it is assumed the Holy Spirit said the same things to the authors of the Bible and to the apostles. See sections 74ss. of the CCC.

  2. Daniel -- I think she makes the distinction by the end of her piece that there are two sources working.

    NAS -- your Catholic scholar friend was only partially correct. The Church indeed has the authority to declare. They did more than recognize, they declared a Sacred Canon of Scripture. So, in essence, both things were accomplish -- revelation and declaration.

    Nice job -- keep at it. The work of evangelization needs many hands!

  3. Beautiful! I realized the same ad hoc problem of accepting the Church's discernment of the canon but not her discernment of other doctrines, and it led me to the Catholic Church as well.

    God bless!

  4. The Bible comes from the Holy Spirit, but to say that makes it not a product of the Church is a bit farfetched. The Bible was not delivered complete from on high. It was written by members of the Church (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) and compiled by members of the Church (guided by the Holy Spirit). It is the authority of the Church that allows us to be confident in its divine inspiration. That sure says "product of the Church" to me.

  5. I appreciate the way your conversion came about. My story was quite similar. I was received into the Church this past April! Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!

  6. Daniel: Actually, there are several ways to describe the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, and the Magisterium has never officially stated that one of them is the best perspective. The "two sources" viewpoint that you are describing is one of them. Another viewpoint is that Tradition, in the broad sense, includes everything passed down by the Church; some of this Tradition was eventually committed to writing as the Scriptures and some was not.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story! I long to keep reading more.

    I entered the Church two Easters ago, and indeed what joy it has been. I have begun to keep a blog for personal reflections.

    I hope to learn much from you and your writings! =)


  8. Welcome home! :)

  9. Woops. Welcome home sis! I came back after 23 years of sojourning in various evangelical situations.

  10. Welcome home, and thank you for your witness!
    - from a fellow convert... 25 years and counting!

  11. Welcome home!!! I too am a convert from Protestantism - and it always excites me when I see others that have made the same journey by God's good grace.

    This blog post is really good - I have often had this discussion with my Protestant friends, but I don't think that I have ever been able to put it across as simply and profoundly as you just have.

    God bless

  12. Wow everyone, thanks for the comments! These are so encouraging. It's exciting to hear about all of your stories! Thanks for checking out my blog!

  13. Welcome home sis! I once was an atheist... how the scales fall off the eyes... where have we been all the while!?? You are set on the deepest journey of mankind.

  14. Just turned on to your blog by Mark Shea. Awesome stuff. Quick question: Is the church in your profile picture Saint Mary of the Angel's in Chicago? That's where my wife (another convert) and I got married. -Patrick

  15. Again: welcome home. I, too, am a convert. We hear so much talk about freewill these days. But, honestly, what choice do any of us really have? For me it was not so much a matter of choosing the Catholic Church as realizing it was the only option. Further up and further in!

  16. Of course, now that a zillion people are visiting, you'll need to blog at least daily to maintain momentum.

  17. I'm an italian ex-Catholic converted to Baptism (after a long reflection and personal reflection).

    I'm not a theologian, but dating back from my past catholic experience and in my new baptist one (the faith, trust me, is the same), I've learned the followings facts.

    The books from New Testaments were chosen not only “spiritually” with the guidance of the Holy Spirit: they were chosen by the early members of the church from a series of books that, at that time, were circulating among the churches. The ones rejected, the Apocrypha, were also books written by members of some churches but they willfully manipulated the Message to solve some issues inside their own churches.

    The Scriptures, instead, were chosen because they were't conflicting (…) each other and were written by early witnesses.

    You are right: the members of the church chose these books. But they didn't so not for extrapolating a dogma or theory from the Documents. They took in consideration only the books that were written by people who directly witnessed the glory of our Lord, or their disciples, because they knew that time would have corrupted the memory of the communities and soon people would have started changing or manipulating the facts.

    They have done something so popular today: forensic investigation. The Evangelists made historical reference of what they are saying and Luke explain clearly that he has done a research. Along (above that), the holy spirit helped in this process with the help of it's Gifts.

    I can trust the Scriptures because they were written having in mind the promise that our Lord made to his disciples: the Holy Spirit would have let them remember the facts happened during His time on the earth. They are the people who were witnesses and who can, clearly, testify. The early fathers had to face this fact.

    The church of that time was different from the church of 500 a.d. or 1858 a.d.: I don't mean the rites or the cult. I mean the memory. We can trust what was written before 100 d.c. circa because there wasn't an extrapolation of theories or dogmas. Remember: we are human beings.

    Sure, I believe that nothing is impossible to our God. The point of this (like to be off-topic) comment is to stress that we are here to testify our Lord. The fathers of the church (generally referred) had this goal in mind, not extrapolating from the (holy) Scriptures human theories or structures. It's just amazing what our Lord has done and promised, and many time we (me too!) are forgetting this, focusing on human things. We aren't here to build a church in bricks or with human documents.

    We have one Lord and we have to accomplish His will. Claiming to be the right church doesn't help in the spread of our beliefs. Everyone could belong to a church, but in the Word of Jesus we should stay together. Maybe we could have theological differences: we can't base our faith on human matters. We have one Lord to serve and he asked us to serve him with all our hearth. All the churches should jointly bless him and leave any selfish or be-the-best-one-church-will aside.

    Thank you very much for this post. Your search in faith demonstrate a great commitment. You made your decision and I deeply admire you for having done so. Our Lord has given you a goal: from my perspective it doesn't matter what Church you belong to. You are doing a great job. I'm really happy to know that in this world there is one more person who follow Him and testify it to the world.

    May God bless you!


  18. Anon - how do you reconcile the fact that you left the Catholic Church for the Baptists, and maintain that "in the Word of Jesus we should stay together"?

  19. First of all, I'm deeply sorry for the anonymity. I know it's a bad behavior.

    I left the Catholic Church because I lost the contact with our God. I didn't leave because I found the absolute-right-church. We are human, we are fallible. Believe me if I'm say that I'm feeling more united with all believers that I felt when I was in my previous Church.

    I believe that God told us to form a Holy Church united not in its physical/human structure, but in its spirit. Before joining another church, I didn't look at "other christians" as my brothers in faith: I look at them as enemies because they were betraying the human vicar of Christ. I was told that only Catholics have the right faith (I know the Vatican Council II has someway changed this position). Suddenly I discovered that I wasn't here to follow an apostle or another human organization: I was here to believe in Jesus, only him.

    I'm looking carefully and interestingly in your posts about the Holy Scriptures. You are right. We aren't here to believe that they are infallible or whatever else. They are the map we use to fortify our faith. We can't take them and reject Jesus: they were written for him (the Messiah, the Lord) to announce his coming and to testify His life on earth.

    I was converted in Christ in the Catholic Church and I'm proud of it. A deeper reflection on my """religion""" (I started asking myself some key questions) and my prayers have brought me to another church.

    I never left the Church. Right now, I'm part of the same church of all believers: the Church of Christ (not the christian denomination!). I have theological differences with the Roman Pontiff and with the majority of my Country citizens, but when I see a Catholic that prays our Lord, I pray with him. I know seminarists and catechists, even priests: when we stay together, nothing matter more than praying our Lord.

    Sure, there are big differences in other regions aspects. But we feel like a One Holy Church when we sit together and pray Him.

    I'm sorry for my long and repetitive comment.


    P.S. This is one of many reasons that made me move (my human being) to another (human) church. I don't want to bother you with other off-topic reasons that could trigger a hatred discussion (forgive me if my comments looked like one of this kind). I love spending my time trying to talk with other Believers (and not) about our Lord in a open manner without subtle goals.

  20. Patrick--the church in my picture IS St. Mary of the Angels! It's beautiful--I can't imagine getting married there! Must have been wonderful!