Wednesday, September 5, 2007

James Swan, Ratzinger/Benedict XVI and the "material sufficiency" of Sacred Scripture.

Earlier today, I noticed a post made by James Swan (09/02/07) at the AOMIN blog ( ). The post caught my eye because it is addressing certain comments I had made days earlier on James Swan's blog, "Beggars All" (08/27/07).

Why James chose to publish his response on James White's AOMIN blog instead of his own blog ( ) is a bit of a mystery to me—perhaps he did not want constructive dialogue on the matter, for as most know, the AOMIN blog does not allow comments—or maybe it was for other reasons known only to himself…

Moving on to James’ AOMIN post, he stated that I have exhibited “confusion” concerning the then Joseph Ratzinger’s position on the material sufficiency of Sacred Scripture. IMHO, Benedict XVI/Ratzinger did not display “ambiguity” concerning his position on this issue as James contends, but rather, clearly affirmed a belief in the material sufficiency of Sacred Scripture, while denying it's formal sufficiency.

James attempts to build his case on selective quotes from Ratzinger’s chapter “The Transmission of Divine Revelation” as found in the Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II , New York: Herder and Herder, 1969 (note: I shall be using the 1989 reprint by Crossroad), edited by Herbert Vorgrimler.

James begins his polemical treatment with:

While still a Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger (now the Pope) stated, " one is seriously able to maintain that there is a proof in Scripture for every catholic doctrine" [See Joseph Ratzinger's "The Transmission of Divine Revelation" in Herbert Vorgrimler, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), Vol. 3, p. 195]. Ratzinger made this comment with the documents of Vatican II (article nine of Dei verbum) in mind. (James Swan, “Material Sufficiency and Joseph Ratzinger” – hereafter JS.)

[As we shall shortly see, James has misunderstood the greater context of the above quote.]

James also wrote:

Earlier though in the same document, Ratzinger states the problem of the material completeness of Scripture was under dispute in 1965, and that "finally the idea of any tradition of this kind was rejected." This would indeed harmonize with Ratzinger's statement, " one is seriously able to maintain that there is a proof in Scripture for every catholic doctrine." Both these sentences reside in the same context. (JS)

First, James misquoted the selective text he provided—“tradition” should read “addition”. Second, the greater context surrounding the selective quote, demonstrates (IMHO) that James has misunderstood Benedict VXI’s/Ratzinger’s actual position. Here is the full context:

If we return to our text, we shall see that, following the stress on the unity of Scripture and tradition, an attempt is made to give a definition of the two entities. It is important to note that only Scripture is defined in terms of what it is: it is stated that Scripture is the word of God. If this makes clear the nature of Scripture, we can see from the detailed characterization of tradition, whose task it is to “preserve (it), explain it, and make it more widely know”, that it is not productive, but “conservative”, ordained to serve as part of something already given.

The next part of the sentence quo fit … hauriat is the result of a modus suggested by 111 fathers. They wanted, with small variations, something like the following addition: quo fit ut non omnis doctrina catholica ex (sola) Scriptura (directe) probari queat. Clearly, the problem of the material completeness of Scripture once more crops up here, the problem that had caused fierce debate in the Council in its first and third sessions. When the question was treated in the Theological Commission on 6 October 1965, a dispute flared up. Mgr. Philips, its secretary, made a conciliatory proposal, which met with no success, so that finally the idea of any addition of this kind was rejected. On 18 October, the President of the Commission, Cardinal Ottaviani, was given a letter written by Cardinal Cicognani at the request of the Pope, which, apart from a few improvements Chapter III, also stated that it would be desirable (magus opportunum) to have an addition at this point. The letter included seven textual suggestions, on which the Secretary of State commented in his letter: “His enim formulis ii etiam assensum ac suffragium praestaturi esse censentur, qui in maiore Concilii parte pollent.” After careful deliberation the Council decided on the third of the suggested formulations, which was probably the work of C. Colombo. It now stands in the text. From an ecumenical point of there can be no objection to it. H. Ott says: “Moreover, it is surely also true for a Protestant who has not forgotten the basis of the Reformation that we do not acquire certainty about God’s revelation only from Holy Scripture, but also through preaching and the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.” Actually, there would have been nothing to object to in the text of the 111 fathers, for no one is seriously able to maintain that there is proof in Scripture for every Catholic doctrine. The ecumenical difficulties of the text lie, as we have seen, in quite different points. Emotions had become attached to a point where they were completely superfluous. Furthermore, when one analyzes text calmly, it appears as a positive contribution towards the clarification of the problem of tradition. The function of tradition is seen here as a making certain of the truth, i.e. it belongs in the formal and gnoseological sphere—and, in fact, this is the sphere in which the significance of tradition is to be sought
(Joseph Ratzinger, “The Transmission of Divine Revelation” in Herbert Vorgrimler, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II - New York: Crossroad, 1989, Vol. 3, pp. 194, 195.)

The “any addition of this kind” clearly refers to preceding the Latin quote, and not to a rejection of the principle of material sufficiency, as James attempts to read into his selective quote.

James continues with:

But perhaps the confusion demonstrated by this Roman Catholic is due to the ambiguity of Ratzinger's words. Ratzinger goes on to point out that even Protestants really don't believe in material sufficiency. Quoting H. Ott, Ratzinger states an ecumenical protestant should realize "... it is surely also true for a Protestant who has not forgotten the basis of the Reformation that we do not acquire certainty about God's revelation only from Holy Scripture, but also through preaching and the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit." In other words, Material sufficiency is false even for Protestants, because God uses means outside of Scripture with his people.

But this is a false understanding of what Protestants mean by material sufficiency. "Acquiring certainty" is not extra-Biblical revelation. 1 John 5:13 states, "These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God." Similarly John 20:31 states, "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." The certainty I have is due to the fact that no authority can stand above God's word to validate God's word. God says in the Scriptures "I can know," and therefore, I can know! Further, by implication, Ratzinger holds that the Roman Church provides certainty, but this indeed is an unproven assertion. (JS)

James is clearly confusing material sufficiency with formal sufficiency; “certainty” (i.e. “proof”) of revealed truths/doctrines comes via the interpretation of the raw material. Ratzinger/Benedict XVI is not saying, "that even Protestants really don't believe in material sufficiency"; no, no, no...what he IS saying is that even Protestants really don't believe in FORMAL sufficiency.

James’ comment that, “Ratzinger holds that the Roman Church provides certainty” is in perfect agreement with the consensus of the Church Fathers (“Roman Church”, being, of course, the Catholic Church), and speaks to a material sufficiency, but not a formal sufficiency of the Sacred Scriptures. Thus Ratzinger/Benedict XVI so cogently states that the “function of tradition is seen here as a making certain of the truth, i.e. it belongs in the formal and gnoseological sphere—and, in fact, this is the sphere in which the significance of tradition is to be sought.”

Backing up just a bit, Ratzinger/Benedict XVI stated in the same document that the “formulations of our Decree” [Dei Verbum], “were the product of the attempt to take into account, to the widest possible extent, the points made by the Reformed Churches and were intended to keep the field open for a Catholic idea of sola Sciptura(ibid. p. 192). By “a Catholic idea of sola Sciptura”,

Ratzinger/Benedict XVI is affirming material sufficiency, while rejecting the formal sufficiency of the Scriptures. He also believes that Protestants cannot objectively hold to the formal sufficiency of the Scriptures for: “Historical research has done away with the Reformation idea that Scripture itself has one clear meaning, or, rather, that this meaning can only have a relative character, namely within the framework of the kerygma(ibid. p. 194).

That Ratzinger/Benedict XVI advocated a belief in the material sufficiency of Scripture is so clear to me, I sincerely wonder how James could miss this. But in all fairness, I am certainly a fallible creature; as such, it is important to listen to what others have to say on the matter. The current professor of Systematic Theology at Seton Hall Univ. had the following comments:

Evangelicals, of course, have generally followed the Reformation dictum of sola scriptura. The essence of this phrase has a long and interesting theological history and is, with nuances, accepted by many, if not most, contemporary Catholic theologians. (Thomas G. Guarino, “Catholic Reflections on Discerning the Truth of Sacred Scripture” in Your Word Is Truth, edited by Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus, 2002, p. 79.)

The conciliar decree is open to this interpretation [material sufficiency] inasmuch as Catholics believe that statements of ecumenical councils are providentially guided by the Holy Spirit. Yves Congar closes by noting that the proper way of summing up the relationship between Scripture and tradition as found in both the Fathers and the pre-Tridentine period is in the formula used by Newman and the nineteenth-century theologian, J. E. Kuhn: Totum in scriptura, totum in traditione.

While Congar and J. Geiselmann believe that Trent left the door open for the thesis of the material sufficiency of Scripture, Joseph Ratzinger stakes the same claim for the Dogmatic Constitution of Vatican II, Dei Verbum #9. This text is “…the product of the attempt to take into account, to the widest possible extent, the points made by the Reformed churches and [was] intended to keep the field open for a Catholic idea of sola scriptura…”[12] If these theologians are correct, and the majority of contemporary Catholic theologians surely agree with them, then Catholics, in their own way, could agree with the position that the entire truth of salvation is found in Scripture.

[Note #12. Joseph Ratzinger, “Commentary on Dei Verbum,” in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. 3, ed. Herbert Vorgrimler (New York: Herder & Herder, 1969) p. 192. Ratzinger notes here both his reservations and those of various Protestant commentators.]
(Ibid. pp. 85, 86.)

I cannot help but think that James’ view rests on very thin ice, not only do I read the greater context differently, but so does our mentioned professor of systematic theology…yet there is more; Ratzinger/Benedict XVI co-authored a book with the highly esteemed Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, and in that book he wrote:

For the moment we shall turn directly to the actual problems themselves which immediately prompt the question, what exactly does “sufficiency of scripture” mean? Geiselmann himself, as a Catholic theologian, has to hold fast to Catholic dogmas as such, but none of them is to be had sola scriptura, neither the great dogmas of Christian antiquity [i.e. the Trinity, two-natures, etc.], of what was once the consensus quinquesaecularis, nor, even less, the new ones of 1854 and 1950. (Ratzinger, “Revelation and Tradition”, in Revelation and Tradition, Rahner and Ratzinger, trans. W. J. O’Hara, p. 33.)

The question whether certain express affirmations were transmitted from the beginning side by side with scripture, whether, therefore, there is a second material principle besides scripture, independent from the beginning, becomes quite secondary in comparison; but it would probably have to be answered negatively. (Ibid. p. 46)

And Karl Rahner in another work states:

I would like, however, to try in the last part of our reflections to bring forward certain reasons for our not needing to accept – not even from a Catholic point of view – a constitutive material function of tradition which goes beyond the testimony of the nature of scripture; that we can say conversely, therefore, that it is entirely possible to formulate a Catholic sola scriptura principle with regard to the Church’s deposit of faith, provided that we understand this in a Catholic sense and therefore understand it to involve also an authoritative attestation and interpretation of holy scripture by the living word of the Church and her magisterium, and an attestation of scripture itself and its authoritative interpretation which cannot be replaced by scripture itself. (Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations vol. 6, p. 107.)

Can it get much clearer?

I think I have said enough on the matter (at least for now); I cannot help but think that an objective reading of the evidence will bring one to the conclusion that Ratzinger/Benedict XVI affirmed the material sufficiency of the Sacred Scriptures, while at the same time clearly denying their formal sufficiency.

Grace and peace,



David Waltz said...

I just now “found” the following article by James Akin; given the topic at hand, I thought it appropriate to post it in its entirety.


by James Akin

MANY Protestants, including James White, have difficulty understanding the Catholic distinction between the material and the formal sufficiency of Scripture. For Scripture to be materially sufficient, it would have to contain or imply all that is needed for salvation. For it to be formally sufficient, it would not only have to contain all of this data, but it would have to be so clear that it does not need any outside information to interpret it.

Protestants call the idea that Scripture is clear the perspicuity of Scripture. Their doctrine of sola scriptura combines the perspicuity of Scripture with the claim that Scripture contains all the theological data we need.

It is important to make these distinctions because, while a Catholic cannot assert the formal sufficiency (perspicuity) of Scripture, he can assert its material sufficiency, as has been done by such well-known Catholic theologians as John Henry Newman, Walter Kaspar, George Tarvard, Henri de Lubac, Matthias Scheeben, Michael Schmaus, and Joseph Ratzinger.

French theologian Yves Congar states, "[W]e can admit sola scriptura in the sense of a material sufficiency of canonical Scripture. This means that Scripture contains, in one way or another, all truths necessary for salvation. This position can claim the support of many Fathers and early theologians. It has been, and still is, held by many modern theologians." . . . [At Trent] it was widely . . . admitted that all the truths necessary to salvation are at least outlined in Scripture. . . . [W]e find fully verified the formula of men like Newman and Kuhn: Totum in Scriptura, totum in Traditione, `All is in Scripture, all is in Tradition.' .. `Written' and `unwritten' indicate not so much two material domains as two modes or states of knowledge" (Tradition and Traditions [New York: Macmillian, 1967], 410-414).

This is important for a discussion of sola scriptura because many Protestants attempt to prove their doctrine by asserting the material sufficiency of Scripture. That is a move which does no good because a Catholic can agree with material sufficiency. In order to prove sola scriptura a Protestant must prove the different and much stronger claim that Scripture is so clear that no outside information or authority is needed in order to interpret it. In the debate James White apparently failed to grasp this point and was unable to come up with answers to the charge that his arguments were geared only toward proving material sufficiency.

( .)>>

Grace and peace,


David Waltz said...

I have been doing a bit of internet “research” (as I am sure, all can discern [grin]), and just now came across the following from the pen of James Swan:

>>For some, it might be strange to hear a Roman Catholic affirm the material sufficiency of Scripture. The idea that the Scriptures are “materially sufficient” simply means the entire content of revelation is in the Scriptures, or that divine revelation is contained entirely in Scripture. That is, all the doctrines Christians are to believe are found in the Bible. Catholic advocates of this view would include John Henry Newman and Joseph Ratzinger, and Yves Congar.

( .)>>

With James’ 09/02/07 AOMIN post fresh on my mind, I can truly say that I am at a complete loss for words…

Grace and peace,


James Bellisario said...

James White, James Swan, the same loser armchair, cut and paste apologetics. It doesn't get any lower than these guys.