Sunday, March 06, 2005

A Christian Constitution?

Sola Scriptura My friend Johnny Dee describes the Protestant dogma of sola scriptura as follows, as something that is not entirely cut off from traditions:
protestants consider the Bible to be like the Constitution, and the theological tradition to be like legal precedents from the Supreme Court. When considering how to interpret the Constitution, it is insightful to draw upon Supreme Court precedents. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court is not on the same authoritative par as the Constitution, and the Supreme Court can be overruled when a more faithful interpretation of the Constitution is demonstrated. Likewise, protestants can consistently claim that Scripture is their highest authority, while continuing to draw from the tradition theological tradition that clearly informs their theology. [emphasis mine]
My friendly Catholic rejoinder is to point to another blogger who gives the other side (especially towards the end of his post). The highlights are that sola scriptura is itself unscriptual, and, more, that the Bible actually points to the church and not itself. For example:
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth. 1 Timothy 3:15 [again, the emphasis is mine. No italics in the Bible that I'm aware of {smirk}]
My own addition to the debate is to observe that most of the books in the Bible are not written as law, but as literature. The rage for constitutions goes back only to the Enlightenment. A legal framework seems to me to impose itself between us and the Book, which could not have been written with it in mind. How could it have been when it was written first? Most of the books in the Bible are about the transmission of a culture and the tools we bring to it ought to take this into account. Laws, after all, flow from cultures. Culture is more durable than law because it is less specific and because it belongs to the entire community and not just to experts. When ruling classes associated with the law become discredited the culture remains - and generates anew. Thus it can accommodate new things without being revised and rewritten to the point where someone might legitimately ask if it is the same old law code at all. A law code being reworked over the years is like a car in which all of the parts are replaced. Is it the same car? My answer would be no. The blueprint that made the car is not affected by the turnover. It is still the original blueprint and this, I think, illustrates some of the wisdom that went into the creation of the Bible. It was always intended to be something deeper and more enduring than the civilization or the nation it happened to find itself in. In a very important sense, Israel is more than a mere nation.

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