When challenging Catholics to make a defence of their beliefs Protestants will often ask the following question: “Where is that in the Bible?”
It is a good question and Catholics ought to have a good answer since all of Catholic doctrine is revealed explicitly (“Eat my flesh and drink my blood” clearly means “eat my flesh and drink my blood”) or implicitly (“Hail [Mary], full of grace” implies indirectly that Mary is sinless) in the Scriptures. There is absolutely no Catholic teaching—properly understood—that contradicts the Scriptures.
Anything that contradicts the Scriptures cannot be considered true Christian doctrine. Take for example the Church’s unmovable stance on homosexuality. The Scriptures are clear. For example:
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Rom 1:26-27).
This is why the Catholic Church cannot budge in its stance on the immorality of homosexuality activity—the homosexual act does not agree with God’s eternal Word. God has spoken through the Scriptures, and if the Church were to change its stance on homosexuality it would contradict the Bible. As the “pillar and foundation of truth” the Church cannot do such a thing (1 Tim 3:15).
This is also why Catholics do not accept the Protestant teaching of sola scriptura which is the belief that only the Bible has the authority to determine what is really Christian truth and practice (it denies the authority of Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium). It is their belief in sola scriptura that drives Protestants to ask: “Where is that found in the Bible?” Ironically, Catholics do not accept this “Bible alone” doctrine because it contradicts what the Bible really says (it also contradicts the first 1500 years of Christian practice).
Is “Bible Alone” Biblical?
The Bible teaches that Scripture is God-breathed, good for training in righteousness, and useful for correction that a Christian man may be complete (or perfect). But it does not say anywhere that only Scripture has those attributes. It’s just not there.
The Protestant belief that the Bible alone is sufficient for indicating how a Christian must live and what a Christian must believe is called sola scriptura. Sola scriptura, which rejects the authority of Apostolic Tradition as equal to the Scriptures, is actually in contradiction with the Bible (see 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Thess 3:6; 1 Cor 11:2; 2 Tim 2:2). Sola scriptura also contradicts the teaching and practice of the early Church as revealed in the writings of the early Christian leaders (such as second century writings by Papias of Hieropolis and Irenaeus of Lyons). So even though we are not obligated to prove every Catholic beliefs directly from the Bible alone (Sacred Tradition and the teaching of the Magisterium of bishops also have a say), we can have absolute confidence that the Bible will help support our case since no Catholic belief truly contradicts Divine Revelation.
But back to the question of “Where is that in the Bible?” It is an important question and we can surely test questions of Faith and Morals by going to the Bible. St Paul writes:
“…test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:21).
The Catholic Church loves the Bible, venerates it and has always done so. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
“…the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body” (CCC 103).
The Catechism also says:
“The inspired books teach the truth. ‘Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures'” (CCC 107)
Since we, as Catholics, recognize that the Scriptures teach truth we too should ask with our Protestant brethren, “Where is that in the Bible?”, when discussing questions of Faith and Morals since it can help us to determine right and wrong, true and false.
Is the Trinity a Protestant’s Dilemma?
But what about mere Christian beliefs like the Trinity? The word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible and can only be drawn implicitly from the Bible. How then can we be sure that God is really one eternal God in three persons—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
The question of God’s nature and how to define Him is an immensely important but difficult question. The definition and understanding of the Trinity was not an easy task for the leaders in the early Church. In fact, the word “Trinity” is not even used in reference to the Triune God in early Christian writings until the third century (see Tertullian’s Against Praxeas 2). Of course, that doesn’t mean God wasn’t a Trinity until then. It just means that the Church’s understanding of God as Trinity took some time to develop.
Because of the early controversy surrounding the proper definition of God, several heresies (wrong beliefs) arose regarding God’s true nature. Arianism, for example, taught in the early centuries that God alone was without beginning and that the Son, Jesus, did have a beginning and had once not existed. Also, because the Trinity appears in the Bible only implicitly this is also the reason why Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses can accept the New Testament books but not accept the doctrine of the Trinity (although their biblical translations are ridden with problems and errors).
For reasons such as these the Catholic Church held ecumenical councils where bishops would discuss, pray and more clearly define the teachings of dogmas like the Trinity through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These councils have historically occurred most commonly when a dispute arises amongst Christians about the truth of a particular doctrine (like the Council of Trent in response to the Protestant Reformation).
God’s Word is living (Heb 4:12) and grows and develops like an acorn develops into an oak tree. It remains the same in essence but its features expand into something even more beautiful. This is why the Bible requires an infallible interpreting authority to be sure that the doctrines derived from God’s Word are properly developed and understood through the ages. This is also why Jesus established a pope and bishops (what we call the “Magisterium”), and why they hold ecumenical councils—”that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (Luke 1:4).
So really if it were not for the Catholic Church, its early Councils and the discernment of its bishops, we Christians would likely be very confused about the true definition of God. If it were not for the Catholic Church we may not have clear answers to questions like: Is God three persons? Are there three Gods? Was Jesus created? But we do have the answers to these questions, and we have had them since long before the Reformation and the rise of Protestantism.
But if Protestants do not believe in apostolic succession (that Catholic bishops are successors to the original apostles) then why should they trust the teaching of the Trinity which the Catholic church developed through the discernment and teaching of its bishops? Sure, Luther and the other fathers of the Reformation believed and taught the doctrine of the Trinity but what makes them so sure the “apostate” Catholic Church got it right? Luther and his comrades are certainly not infallible. Can they be trusted and furthermore, can they trust a Church which they believe to be heretical?
A Big “Thank You” Is In Order
One more point. Actually—it’s more of a personal remark:
If Martin Luther was still alive I think he would owe the Catholic Church a big thank you; after all it was the Catholic Church which discerned, declared and developed with much prayer and perseverance the Trinitarian doctrine that he held and taught. But of course it would be somewhat odd for Luther to give thanks to the Catholic Church for any doctrine at all since his view of the Catholic Church led him to allude to it as the “Whore of Babylon” and to the pope as the “Anti-Christ” (see On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church). Yet, he upheld fundamental doctrines that have their origin with the Catholic Church and its bishops (including the bishop of Rome) and he trusted in the Church’s declaration of such fundamental tenets of Christianity like, for example, the Trinity, the eternal divinity of Christ and the New Testament canon of God-inspired texts. Which leads me to ask one final question in regards to the collection of New Testament books accepted by both Catholics and Protestants: Where is that in the Bible?