|Five solae of the|
|Soli Deo gloria|
Sola scriptura (Latin for 'by scripture alone') is a Christian theological doctrine held by most Protestant Christian denominations, in particular the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, that posits the Bible as the sole infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice. The Catholic Church considers it heterodox and generally the Orthodox churches consider it to be contrary to the phronema of the Church.
While the scriptures' meaning is mediated through many kinds of subordinate authority—such as the ordinary teaching offices of a church, the ecumenical creeds, councils of the Catholic Church, or even personal special revelation—sola scriptura in contrast rejects any infallible authority other than the Bible. In this view, all non-scriptural authority is derived from the authority of the scriptures or is independent of the scriptures, and is, therefore, subject to reform when compared to the teaching of the Bible.
Sola scriptura is a formal principle of many Protestant Christian denominations, and one of the five solae. It was a foundational doctrinal principle of the Protestant Reformation held by many of the Reformers, who taught that authentication of Scripture is governed by the discernible excellence of the text, as well as the personal witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each man. Some evangelical and Baptist denominations state the doctrine of sola scriptura more strongly: Scripture is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter ("Scripture interprets Scripture"), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine.
By contrast, the Protestant traditions of Anglicanism, Methodism and Pentecostalism uphold the doctrine of prima scriptura, with scripture being illumined by tradition and reason. The Methodists thought reason should be delineated from experience, though the latter was classically filed under the former and guided by reason, nonetheless this was added, thus changing the "Anglican Stool" to the four sides of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The Eastern Orthodox Church holds that to "accept the books of the canon is also to accept the ongoing Spirit-led authority of the church's tradition, which recognizes, interprets, worships, and corrects itself by the witness of Holy Scripture". The Catholic Church officially regards tradition and scripture as equal, forming a single deposit, and considers the magisterium as the living organ which interprets said deposit. The Roman magisterium thus serves Tradition and Scripture as "one common source [...] with two distinct modes of transmission", while some Protestant authors call it "a dual source of revelation".
Many Protestants want to distinguish the view that scripture is the only rule of faith with the exclusion of other sources (nuda scriptura), from the view taught by Luther and Calvin that the scripture alone is infallible, without excluding church tradition in its entirety, viewing them as subordinate and ministerial.
In the 14th century, Marsilius of Padua[a] believed that the only authority for a Christian is the scriptures, instead of the pope. The same point was made by John Wycliffe who foreshadowed the sola scriptura doctrine in the 14th century.
Johann Ruchrat von Wesel, Wessel Gansfort and Johannes von Goch also foreshadowed[b] the Protestant view of sola scriptura: they viewed the scripture as being the only infallible authority and denied the authority of the pope or the church as infallible. Peter Abelard believed that human reason was a means of understanding the scriptures, instead of submitting to everything the Catholic Church defines.
Some elements of sola-scriptura are also foreshadowed by William of Ockham and Girolamo Savonarola.
Sola scriptura is one of the five solae, considered by some Protestant groups to be the theological pillars of the Reformation. The key implication of the principle is that interpretations and applications of the scriptures don't have the same authority as the scriptures themselves; hence, the authority of the church is viewed as subject to correction by the scriptures, even by an individual member of the church.
Martin Luther, 16th-century monk and figurehead of the Protestant Reformation, stated that "a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it". The intention of the Reformation was thus to correct what he asserted to be the errors of the Catholic Church, by appealing to the uniqueness of the Bible's textual authority. Catholic doctrine is based on sacred tradition, as well as scripture. Sola scriptura rejected the assertion that infallible authority was given to the magisterium to interpret both Scripture and tradition.
Sola scriptura, however, does not ignore Christian history, tradition, or the church when seeking to understand the Bible. Rather, it sees the church as the Bible's interpreter, the regula fidei (embodied in the ecumenical creeds) as the interpretive context, and scripture as the only final authority in matters of faith and practice. As Luther said, "The true rule is this: God's Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so."
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Lutheranism teaches that the books of the Old and New Testaments are the only divinely inspired books and the only source of divinely revealed knowledge.[c] Scripture alone is the formal principle of the faith in Lutheranism, the final authority for all matters of faith and morals because of its inspiration, authority, clarity, efficacy, and sufficiency.
Lutheranism teaches that the Bible does not merely contain the Word of God, but every word of it is, because of verbal inspiration, the word of God. Most Lutheran traditions acknowledge that understanding scriptures is complex given that the Bible contains a collection of manuscripts and manuscript fragments that were written and collected over thousands of years. For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America teaches that "Lutheran Christians believe that the story of God's steadfast love and mercy in Jesus is the heart and center of what the Scriptures have to say."
As Lutherans confess in the Nicene Creed, the Holy Spirit "spoke through the prophets". The Apology of the Augsburg Confession identifies "Holy Scripture" with the Word of God and calls the Holy Spirit the author of the Bible. Because of this, Lutherans confess in the Formula of Concord, "we receive and embrace with our whole heart the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel". The apocryphal books were not written by the prophets, by inspiration; they contain errors, were never included in the Palestinian Canon that Jesus used, and therefore are not a part of scripture. The prophetic and apostolic Scriptures are said by the Lutheran church to be authentic as written by the prophets and apostles, and that a correct translation of their writings is God's Word because it has the same meaning as the original Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek. A mistranslation is not God's word, and no human authority can invest it with divine authority.
Scripture, regarded as the word of God, carries the full authority of God in Lutheranism: every single statement of the Bible calls for instant, unqualified and unrestricted acceptance. Every doctrine of the Bible is the teaching of God and therefore requires full agreement. Every promise of the Bible calls for unshakable trust in its fulfillment; every command of the Bible is the directive of God himself and therefore demands willing observance.
What is said here of "every statement of the Bible" does not represent the faith of all Lutherans: a 2001 survey showed that 72 percent of members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America do not accept that everything in the Bible is literal, but that it may contain scientific or historical errors or describe events symbolically.
Main article: Clarity of scripture
Lutheranism teaches that the Bible presents all doctrines and commands of the Christian faith clearly; that God's word is freely accessible to every reader or hearer of ordinary intelligence, without requiring any special education. It also teaches that readers must understand the language God's word is presented in, and not be so preoccupied by contrary thoughts so as to prevent understanding. It teaches that, consequently, no one needs to wait for any clergy, and pope, scholar, or ecumenical council to explain the real meaning of any part of the Bible.
Lutheranism teaches that scripture is united with the power of the Holy Spirit and with it, not only demands but also creates the acceptance of its teaching. This teaching produces faith and obedience. Scripture is not a dead letter, but rather, the power of the Holy Spirit is inherent in it. Scripture does not compel a mere intellectual assent to its doctrine, resting on logical argumentation, but rather it creates the living agreement of faith. The Smalcald Articles affirm, "in those things which concern the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one, except through or with the preceding outward Word".
Lutheranism teaches that the Bible contains everything that one needs to know in order to obtain salvation and to live a Christian life. There are no deficiencies in scripture that need to be filled with by tradition, pronouncements of the Pope, new revelations, or present-day development of doctrine.
The Westminster Confession of Faith spoke of the use of "the ordinary means" (such as turning to pastors and teachers) for reaching an understanding of what is contained in scripture and is necessary to know:
Chapter 1, Section VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
Sola scriptura may be contrasted with prima scriptura, which holds that, besides canonical scripture, there are other guides for what a believer should believe, and how he or she should live. Examples of this include the general revelation in creation, traditions, charismatic gifts, mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will, that do not originate from canonized scripture, are in a second place, perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures.
Two Christian denominations that uphold the position of prima scriptura are Anglicanism and Methodism.[d] In the Anglican tradition, scripture, tradition, and reason form the "Anglican triad" or "three-legged stool", formulated by the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker. With respect to the Methodist tradition, A Dictionary for United Methodists states:
Building on the Anglican theological tradition, Wesley added a fourth emphasis, experience. The resulting four components or "sides" of the [Wesleyan] quadrilateral are (1) Scripture, (2) tradition, (3) reason, and (4) experience. For United Methodists, Scripture is considered the primary source and standard for Christian doctrine. Tradition is experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures. Experience is the individual's understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discerning and cogent thought. These four elements taken together bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian faith and the required response of worship and service.[excessive quote]
Sola scriptura rejects any original infallible authority, other than the Bible. In this view, all secondary authority is derived from the authority of the scriptures and is therefore subject to reform when compared to the teaching of the Bible. Church councils, preachers, biblical commentators, private revelation, or even a message allegedly from an angel or an apostle are not an original authority alongside the Bible in the sola scriptura approach.
The Roman Catholic Church, against whom the Protestants directed these arguments, did not see Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the faith as different sources of authority, but that Scripture was handed down as part of Sacred Tradition (see 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 2 Timothy 2:2).
The Catholic Church holds that the Gospel was transmitted by the apostles by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit; as well as by those apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing. "This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it." "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God."
The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. (The Catholic Church distinguishes Sacred Tradition from lesser ecclesiastical traditions—local customs that may be retained, modified or even abandoned.) As explained by Athanasius of Alexandria, "Let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the very beginning, which the Logos gave (edoken), the Apostles preached (ekeryxan), and the Fathers preserved (ephylaxan). Upon this the Church is founded (tethemeliotai)"(St. Athanasius, "First Letter to Serapion", 28)
The doctrines which constitute Sacred Tradition are also perceived by the Church as cohesive in nature. The proper interpretation of the Scriptures was seen as part of the faith of the Church and seen indeed as the manner in which biblical authority was upheld (see Book of Acts 15:28–29). The meaning of Scripture was seen as proven from the faith universally held in the churches (see Phil. 2:1, Acts 4:32), and the correctness of that universal faith was seen as proven from the Scriptures and apostolic Sacred Tradition (see 2 Thes. 2:15, 2 Thes. 3:6, 1 Corinthians 11:2). The Biblical canon itself was thus viewed by the Church as part of the Church's tradition, as defined by its leadership and acknowledged by its laity. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.
The Catholic Dei verbum and the papal encyclicals Providentissimus Deus by Pope Leo XIII and Divino afflante Spiritu by Pope Pius XII set out Catholic teaching on tradition versus individual interpretation.
The Catholic Church teaches that Christ entrusted the preaching of the Gospel to the apostles, who handed it on orally and in writing, and according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time. "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches." For the Eastern Orthodox too, "the Holy Bible forms a part of Holy Tradition, but does not lie outside of it. One would be in error to suppose that Scripture and Tradition are two separate and distinct sources of Christian Faith, as some do, since there is, in reality, only one source; and the Holy Bible exists and found its formulation within Tradition".
Catholics apply to apostolic tradition many of the qualities that evangelicals and other Protestants apply to scripture alone. For example, the 1978 Evangelical declaration Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, states: "We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us. We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind."
Since the Catholic Church professes that apostolic tradition and scripture are both the word of God, Catholics can affirm that many of these propositions apply equally well to tradition: It is the work of the Holy Spirit, which cannot be reduced to human insight or heightened consciousness.
This ties in with the question of what constitutes apostolic tradition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that this tradition is given "by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit".
There remains some confusion on the matter among both Catholics and non-Catholics. This confusion can be seen in those who interpret Catholic researcher James Keenan to claim that the doctrines given by apostolic tradition have changed. Keenan reviewed the history of moral theology, and in particular a change in the approach of moral theologians, specifically in the twentieth century. Keenan noted that Mark D. Jordan said that medieval texts he had reviewed appeared to be inconsistent. This refers to medieval traditions and not to apostolic tradition or doctrine. Keenan, however, says that John T. Noonan Jr. demonstrated that, "despite claims to the contrary, manualists were co-operators in the necessary historical development of the moral tradition". According to Noonan, "history cannot leave a principle or a teaching untouched; every application to a situation affects our understanding of the principle itself."
Following the Protestant churches' separation from the Roman Catholic Church, the relatively new idea of sola scriptura came under serious critique by the Catholic and Orthodox Christians. In his 2001 The Shape of Sola Scriptura,  the Reformed Christian writer Keith A. Mathison mentions several recent examples of such critics.[e] In response, Mathison distinguishes what he considers to be the true doctrine of sola scriptura from the "subjective and individualistic version" of the doctrine that most Protestants have adopted.
The American Roman Catholic author and television presenter Patrick Madrid wrote that sola scriptura is self-referentially incoherent, as the Bible itself does not teach sola scriptura, and therefore the belief that the scriptures are the only source of Christian belief is self-contradicting given that it cannot be supported without extra-scriptural doctrine.
In the 2008 book Catholicism and Science, the authors Peter M. J. Hess and Paul Allen wrote that sola scriptura is "inherently divisive", citing the Marburg Colloquy where Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli debated the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist on scriptural grounds but were unable to reach agreement on Sacramental Union. Hess and Allen argue that, when scripture is seen as the only source of infallible teaching, its interpretation is subject to fallible interpretation, and without an infallible interpreter, a certainty of Christian belief is not possible.
The Roman Catholic Encyclopedia of Theology notes that, since the 27 books that make up the New Testament canon of scripture are not based on a scriptural list that authenticates them to be inspired, their legitimacy would be impossible to distinguish with certainty without appealing to another infallible source, such as the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which assembled and authenticated this list at Synod of Rome and the Synod of Carthage, both of which took place in the fourth century. Before this, a compiled and authenticated Bible as it is now known did not yet exist.
The American Roman Catholic writer Dave Armstrong wrote that there are several examples of Jesus and his Apostles accepting oral and extrabiblical tradition in the New Testament:
Armstrong argues that since Jesus and the Apostles acknowledge authoritative Jewish oral tradition, Christians can therefore not dispute oral tradition's legitimacy and authority. However, according to scripture, Jesus also challenges some man-made Jewish traditions. But Catholics also make a similar distinction today between Sacred Tradition, which is considered inerrant, and lesser ecclesiastical traditions or disciplines, which can be subject to change. In the Catholic view, one can know what belongs to Sacred Tradition and what is an ecclesiastical tradition or discipline by consulting the Magisterium of the Church. The difference between the two, in the Catholic view, is that Sacred Tradition is apostolic and part of the deposit of faith, while ecclesiastical traditions and disciplines are not.
Schaff sums up the three:
John Ruchrath von Wesel, d. 1481, attacked the hierarchy and indulgences and was charged on his trial with calling in question almost all the distinctive Roman Catholic tenets. He was born in Oberwesel on the Rhine between Mainz and Coblentz. He taught at the University of Erfurt and, in 1458, was chosen its vice-rector. Luther bore testimony to his influence when he said, "I remember how Master John Wesalia ruled the University of Erfurt by his writings through the study of which I also became a master." Leaving Erfurt, he was successively professor in Basel and cathedral preacher in Mainz and Worms.
In 1479, Wesel was arraigned for heresy before the Inquisition at Mainz. Among the charges were that the Scriptures are alone a trustworthy source of authority; the names of the predestinate are written in the book of life and cannot be erased by a priestly ban; indulgences do not profit; Christ is not pleased with festivals of fasting, pilgrimages or priestly celibacy; Christ's body can be in the bread without any change of the bread's substance: pope and councils are not to be obeyed if they are out of accord with the Scriptures; he whom God chooses will be saved irrespective of pope and priests, and all who have faith will enjoy as much blessedness as prelates. Wesel also made the distinction between the visible and the invisible Church and defined the Church as the aggregation of all the faithful who are bound together by love—collectio omnium fidelium caritate copulatorum. In his trial, he was accused of having had communication with the Hussites. In matters of historical criticism, he was also in advance of his age, casting doubt upon some of the statements of the Athanasian Creed, abandoning the application of the term Catholic to the Apostles' Creed and pronouncing the addition of the filioque clause—and from the Son—unwarranted. The doctrines of indulgences and the fund of merit he pronounced unscriptural and pious frauds. The elect are saved wholly through the grace of God—sola Dei gratia salvantur electi.
These three German theologians, Goch, Wesel and Wessel, were quietly searching after the marks of the true Church and the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone. Without knowing it, they were standing on the threshold of the Reformation.— Philip Schaff, "Doctrinal Reformers", History of the Christian Church: The Middle Ages, A.D. 1294–1517
A favorite, if overworked, image among Anglicans is that of the three-legged stool, which stands only when all three legs are in place, as a visual way to think of the Anglican view of authority. We acknowledge three sources of authority, and we manage not to fall down when all three are in place. The first and most important of these is the Bible. The Articles of Religion, a Reformation-era statement of Anglican views on questions of the day, says that the Bible "containeth all things necessary to salvation", so that nothing not found in the Bible is to be required as an article of faith.
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