Tuesday, July 17, 2007

St. Thomas and Sola Scriptura

A Protestant would like us to believe that St. Thomas believed in sola Scriptura. To that end, she has provided (in a post titled, "Early Church Fathers on Sola Scriptura") the following quotation:
For our faith rests on the revelation made to the Prophets and Apostles who wrote the canonical books.
In the first place, St. Thomas was not an "Early Church Father." He was a Scholastic who lived centuries after the Early Church Fathers. Perhaps she has confused the term "Early Church Father" with "Doctor of the Church," but her list contains men who were not Doctors, either (such as Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus). Hence it is unclear why St. Thomas would appear in a list with such a title.

In the second place, the citation for the quotation above is incomplete. She has given it thus: "Summa Theologiae, Question 1, art. 8." The full citation is I, Q1, A8, ad 2 (there are three books in ST; the second book is broken into two parts - I-II and II-II, which may be read as "the first part of book II" and "the second part of book II" - and there is more than one Question 1 in the work as a result - so that the reference as given is not accurate).

In the third place, the quotation above presents only part of a sentence. The full sentence reads:
For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets, who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors.
With the full sentence given it becomes clear that St. Thomas is saying that the Doctors of the Church do not have the same authority as the divine revelation given to the apostles and prophets. Indeed, just before this he adds:
Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason, as Paul quotes a saying of Aratus: "As some also of your own poets said: For we are also His offspring" (Acts 17:28). Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable.
In the fourth place (and by way of digression), this quotation in its context makes clear that the Doctors of the Church are authorities, but not incontrovertibly so. Hence even if it were the case that St. Thomas, St. Augustine, and the rest of those whom she quotes really did believe in sola Scriptura, it would make no difference whatsoever for the content of sacred doctrine, which is safeguarded not by the Doctors of the Church, but by the Magisterium.

In the sixth place, St. Thomas says that our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets, who are the ones who wrote the canonical books. But what Thomas does not believe, and what he does not say, is that the apostles and prophets wrote down the entire divine revelation entrusted to them. How do we know this? Because St. Thomas tells us what he thinks about this question elsewhere in the Summa Theologica.
The Apostles, led by the inward instinct of the Holy Ghost, handed down to the churches certain instructions which they did not put in writing, but which have been ordained, in accordance with the observance of the Church as practiced by the faithful as time went on. Wherefore the Apostle says (2 Thess. 2:14): 'Stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word'---that is by word of mouth---'or by our epistle'---that is by word put into writing" (ST, III, Q25, A3, ad 4).
Human institutions observed in the sacraments are not essential to the sacrament; but belong to the solemnity which is added to the sacraments in order to arouse devotion and reverence in the recipients. But those things that are essential to the sacrament, are instituted by Christ Himself, Who is God and man. And though they are not all handed down by the Scriptures, yet the Church holds them from the intimate tradition of the apostles, according to the saying of the Apostle (1 Cor. 11:34): "The rest I will set in order when I come" (ST, III, Q64, A2, ad 1).
For the apostles, in conferring the sacraments, observed many things which are not handed down in those Scriptures that are in general use (ST III, Q72, A4, ad 1).
As is stated in the last chapter of John (verse 25), our Lord said and did many things which are not written down by the Evangelists; and among them is the uplifting of His eyes to heaven at the supper; nevertheless the Roman Church had it by tradition from the apostles (ST III Q83 A4 ad 2, emphasis added).
Hence we may see that, far from endorsing the idea of sola Scriptura, St. Thomas was a faithful Catholic, who fully believed in the truth and validity of Sacred Tradition.

This being the case, it is really quite impossible to suppose that he intended to endorse the idea of sola Scriptura in ST I Q1 A8 ad 2. To the contrary, what he approves, and that to which he submits, is the whole of divine revelation, whether it be found in Sacred Scripture or in Sacred Tradition. It is on this whole revelation that our faith rests, not only on the Bible.

No comments: