Ever had a conversation with that person staring back at you in the mirror? I have, on occasion, particularly of late after celebrating yet another birthday, with the exchange starting these days with "Dad!?... is that you?".
But I digress.
Mark Shea has had a conversation with himself and the subject matter is the re-release of a book he wrote called By What Authority?:
Shea: By What Authority? is an explanation of what the Church means by “Sacred Tradition” written in user-friendly language. It is written for Evangelical Protestants and the Catholics who love them. The core argument of the book centers on the question “How do you know what books belong in the Bible?” and the centerpiece of that argument is basically found in Chapter 6, where we discover that the reality is not that Catholics believe in Sacred Tradition and Evangelicals don’t. Rather, it is that Catholics believe in Sacred Tradition and know that they do, while Evangelicals believe in Sacred Tradition and don’t know that they do. The central image I use to try and get at this is that of Light and Lens. Scripture is the Light, but it is often a fuzzy and blurry light. We require a Lens in order to focus that Light. The lens is Sacred Tradition and both Catholics and Evangelicals make use of that Lens all the time—but for Evangelicals, it’s often unconscious.
Shea: Sure. In addition to telling us which books belong in the Bible (the Table of Contents is, after all, not inspired), Sacred Tradition tells us things like “monogamy is the one and only way to conceive of Christian marriage”, “abortion is a sin”, “God is a Trinity”, and “revelation closed with the death of the apostles”. None of those things are clear from Scripture alone. And some of those things are less clear in Scripture than, say, the doctrine that Mary is the Mother of God or the Church’s teaching on Purgatory. I don’t go into it in the book, but you could likewise point out that Scripture does not tell us how to get married (there are examples ranging from “kill all the males in a town and cart the women off as captives” to “take over the harem of your father” that I doubt Focus on the Family or Rome would smile on, but only Rome can explain why these “biblical” examples are not our model as Christians). Nor does Scripture have anything explicit to tell us about why communion is supposed to be a regular sacrament but foot-washing (another ritualistic act performed at the Last Supper) is not.
Bottom line: what matters as much as the bare text of Scripture alone is the way in which the Scripture was read in the context of the life of the Church. The simple fact is, the Church handed down both the book and the way of understanding the book. And so, for instance, it celebrated “the breaking of the bread” regularly, but not the washing of feet. The book was read in light of the rule “Lex orandi, lex credendi”—the way we worship is the way we believe. In weighing doctrinal questions, the Bible was not on the Judge’s Bench, but in the Witness Box. So when the Church came to deliberate, say, the question of whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised (Acts 15), they did not do a topical Bible study on circumcision. Instead they looked at apostolic Tradition, arrived at a decision (“We are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”) and then said, “Hey! Look! The Scriptures agree with us!”). Then they send out a letter with the daring statement, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”
Mark: Yeah. That is pretty daring. And some would say that your crediting of a narrative like that is an example of the fact that you are—not to put too fine a point on it—a boot-licking Vatican toady. Protestant critics have been saying that for years. But in the past year or so, even many Catholics are starting to say the same, given what your critics call your “craven defenses of the Novus Ordo Church”. Many wonder how you can you possibly credit the reliability of Sacred Tradition as it is embodied by the Magisterium of a post-conciliar Church that has lost all its moral authority?
Shea: Funny you should ask. Because that goes right to the heart of one of the two reasons I wanted to revise and expand the book.
Mark: Two reasons?
Shea: Yeah. The first one is the inexplicable popularity of The Da Vinci Code, which came out a few years after my book was published and which millions of presumably educated people took seriously as “impeccable research” on the origins of the Christian faith. Not coincidently, the reason they did so was, in part, due to the second reason: the fact that the Church’s witness went into eclipse due to the priest scandal at just the moment Da Vinci was published.
Mark: And rightly so. How can you make excuses for those horrors or the bishops who covered them up, help facilitate them, and in some cases, even committed them?
There's much more, check it out and learn something.
Me... I'm gonna go talk to the guy in the mirror about getting me a late birthday present... Mark's book.
Hope it's on the Kindle.