Sola Scriptura?

Austen Ivereigh has done a great service by getting beneath the tabloid headlines about gay bishops and same-sex marriage to point out that the underlying difference in the Anglican Communion, as found in the recent meeting of dissidents in Jerusalem, has to do with the literal interpretation of scripture. The current divisions in the Communion represent the re-emergence of 19th century differences, where Anglo-Catholics in the home country, like the Oxford Movement, appropriated the historic, catholic tradition of the church, while evangelicals brought the faith to the then-colonial peoples. The current restiveness is partly a sign of the emergence of the churches of the global south. It is also part of the resurgence of evangelical religion. As the issues over gay clergy have intensified, it is astounding how stress has been put on scripture as the sole measure of Christian morality (sola scriptura) to the exclusion of other sources of Christian moral insight as found in the Catholic and Anglican traditions: tradition, experience and authority. For the exclusive reliance on scripture, and on a literal interpretation of scripture, especially of the Old Testament, seems to be a matter for uneasy concern among Catholic authorities as well. At least that is my conclusion after reading the recently released Instrumentum Laboris for the upcoming Roman synod on the Word of God. Read our editorial on the synod here. With the wide exposure of evangelical religion and the loss of public moral authority on the part of the Catholic hierarchy due to the sex abuse crisis, evangelical practice has become the media’s standard for committed, orthodox Christianity even in the North Atlantic nations. And the Bible provides an easy referent for the media, when theology and church teaching seem too difficult to communicate by sound-bite. As the preparatory paper for the synod suggests illiteracy and new literacy in places where the Bible is the one book, or the chief among a few books, people know, reliance on short scripture texts free of interpretation, context or traditional readings is also likely. In addition, in the emerging countries where militant Islam confronts Christianity, there is also an impulse on the part of ordinary believers to reply to one literalism with another. So, whether it is in the emerging nations or among the developed ones, literal (fundamentalist) reading of scripture is a growing challenge to the historic Christian churches, for which there will be no easy or quick solution. Drew Christiansen, S.J.
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10 years 6 months ago
You seem to imply that those Anglicans who are against gay bishops and same-sex marriages really owe their views to a literal interpretation of the Bible. May I remind you that the Catholic Church, which relies not only on the Bible but also on Tradition and natural reason, has reached the very same conclusion as those particular Anglicans?
10 years 6 months ago
It is misguided to characterize the recent conference in Jerusalem as an expression of ''literalism'' in interpretation ''especially of the Old Testament'', and of a simplistically evangelical mode of Christian faith that has no conception of ''the historic, catholic tradition of the church''. Much of the secular press has spun this that way, too. Most of those 300+ bishops are well educated, and many are deeply shaped by catholic and indeed Anglo-Catholic tradition. It is scurrilous to accuse them of some sort of knee-jerk fundamentalism. A respectable journal like this can surely do its homework a little more responsibly.


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