Sola Scriptura or Non Habemus Papam? A Further Response to Michael HortonJun 14th, 2012 | By Barrett Turner | Category: Blog Posts
“…and so you see, the concept of nothingness employed by these modern physicists is not ‘nothing,’ but is something. Thus the arguments of Hawking and the like do not refute the arguments for why God is necessary for creation. They still have not answered the question of why there is something rather than nothing because they have just redefined some ‘something’ as ‘nothing.’”
“But God can’t exist because of all the evil in the world! And how can you believe that a piece of bread becomes the flesh of a first century Jew?!”
“I’m sorry, I thought we were talking about these arguments by some physicists about how the world really came into being from nothing without God.”
“The Bible is just mythology!!”
“Um, well, thanks for the conversation. Good day to you!”
The atheist in this story commits the logical fallacy of diversion, losing the thread of discussion in the process. He does not rebut the arguments and challenges that the theist raises against the belief that modern physics has proved that something could come from nothing without God. Instead, he throws down irrelevant objections from other quarters, thereby avoiding the real issue.
Recently, Michael Horton has written a series of blog posts responding to questions about the validity of the Reformation principles of sola fide and sola scriptura, which questioning has in some cases led Reformed pastors and seminarians to convert to the Catholic Church. These posts catalogue why Dr. Horton believes people are wrongly attracted to the Catholic faith. The most striking feature of the most recent post, however, is that Dr. Horton indulges the same bad logic as the atheist above. Instead of showing why sola scriptura does not fall victim to the objections we and Catholics through the ages have raised, Dr. Horton changes the topic to why the Catholic Church’s claims are wrong. “But sola scriptura is true because the papacy didn’t exist in the first century!! How can you believe that Scripture is a dark, obscure book!?”
Now, Dr. Horton is within his rights to raise objections to the Catholic faith. But in an article on the authority of Scripture, he is not within his rights to wave his hands over the text of the bible, mumbling, “Non habemus papam!” and then claim that he has really solved the fundamental problems with the sola scriptura paradigm.
In light of such a misdirected response to the problems of sola scriptura, Horton is in a way making the case for agnosticism. If he cannot refute the Catholic objection to sola scriptura, then we have reason for thinking sola scriptura is not true. By implication, we would have reason for thinking traditions untrue that hold sola scriptura to be crucial for understanding reality. On the other hand, if Horton is correct about the Catholic Church’s claims being historically untenable, then Catholicism is not true, either.1 One is left with something other than either the sola scriptura traditions or Catholicism, perhaps a Church-less belief in Jesus Christ or even agnosticism or atheism. But one is not left with a good reason for thinking sola scriptura is the formal principle which Jesus Christ gave his Church for preserving and advancing in their understanding of his saving work.
All this is ironic in light of Horton’s previous dismissal of the claim that either Catholicism is true, or atheism or nihilism is.2 Dr. Horton has, in his own way, given evidence for the claim’s plausibility. The claim, which comes down to us from Bl. John Henry Newman’s history of his religious opinions, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, is not that it isn’t possible to articulate some other view, Anglican or Reformed or whatever. Rather, Newman’s point was to say “that the same bad logic that leads to the rejection of Catholicism necessarily leads also to the rejection of Theism.”3 The meaning of this striking claim is explained by Newman in the Apologia:
Moreover, I found a corroboration of the fact of the logical connexion of Theism with Catholicism in a consideration parallel to that which I had adopted on the subject of development of doctrine. The fact of the operation from first to last of that principle of development in the truths of Revelation, is an argument in favour of the identity of Roman and Primitive Christianity; but as there is a law which acts upon the subject-matter of dogmatic theology, so is there a law in the matter of religious faith. In the first chapter of this narrative I spoke of certitude as the consequence, divinely intended and enjoined upon us, of the accumulative force of certain given reasons which, taken one by one, were only probabilities. Let it be recollected that I am historically relating my state of mind, at the period of my life which I am surveying. I am not speaking theologically, nor have I any intention of going into controversy, or of defending myself; but speaking historically of what I held in 1843-4, I say, that I believed in a God on a ground of probability, that I believed in Christianity on a probability, and that I believed in Catholicism on a probability, and that these three grounds of probability, distinct from each other of course in subject matter, were still all of them one and the same in nature of proof, as being probabilities—probabilities of a special kind, a cumulative, a transcendent probability but still probability; inasmuch as He who made us has so willed, that in mathematics indeed we should arrive at certitude by rigid demonstration, but in religious inquiry we should arrive at certitude by accumulated probabilities;—He has willed, I say, that we should so act, and, as willing it, He co-operates with us in our acting, and thereby enables us to do that which He wills us to do, and carries us on, if our will does but co-operate with His, to a certitude which rises higher than the logical force of our conclusions. And thus I came to see clearly, and to have a satisfaction in seeing, that, in being led on into the Church of Rome, I was not proceeding on any secondary or isolated grounds of reason, or by controversial points in detail, but was protected and justified, even in the use of those secondary or particular arguments, by a great and broad principle. But, let it be observed, that I am stating a matter of fact, not defending it; and if any Catholic says in consequence that I have been converted in a wrong way, I cannot help that now.4
This argument is, it seems, illustrative of another principle of Newman’s, viz, that to just be able to doubt is no warrant for unbelief. The analogy with the arguments for God’s existence is that, though there are philosophical demonstrations of the existence of God, most people in the event do not come to faith in God by following these arguments in detail (few can do that), but by the cumulative force of the testimony of the surrounding culture, incomplete pieces of evidence (external and internal), and imperfectly followed arguments, each attended by difficulties, but nevertheless, on the whole, showing forth the truth, such that one is not excused from the duty of believing by the possibility of a doubt.
Lacking a cogent response to the case against sola scriptura, Horton’s arguments against Catholicism leave his readers with little but doubt. Here at Called to Communion, we believe that faith in Jesus Christ leads one to adopt the truth of divine revelation as expounded by the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, for Christ founded one visible Church endowed with a teaching office which transmits and protects the deposit of faith for as long as the Church is on her pilgrim journey to the Heavenly Jerusalem. The paradigm of sola scriptura has not maintained and cannot maintain the unity of the Church in holding to the truths of the gospel, not even with the Reformed nuance of having a fallible ministerial pastoral office which is a norma normata for which the norma normans is Sacred Scripture.
We have interacted with other points of Horton’s recent post, from arguments for sola scriptura to the criticisms of Catholic teaching about apostolic succession and the papacy. For the consideration of our readers, we offer Bryan Cross’s dialogue with Dr. Horton in the pages of Modern Reformation, to which we have added Bryan’s original final reply, together with an extended response to the numerous claims made by Dr. Horton in his concluding remarks. Most of these claims are repeated in the blog post at White Horse Inn. We also commend to our readers a post written by Dr. David Anders which further points out how objecting to Catholicism when posed with an objection to sola scriptura commits the fallacy of non sequitur (“It does not follow.”).
Other material on the principle of sola scriptura and the nature of ecclesial authority can be found on this site’s Index, particularly under the categories The Church (cf. the sub-categories “Apostolic Succession” and “Authority and Infallibility”) and Sacred Scripture.5
- Horton’s claims would implicate the rejection of Orthodoxy, as well, given that his objections would apply to any system investing interpretive authority in bishops ordained in apostolic succession. [↩]
- Here, third paragraph from the end. [↩]
- The Philosophical Notebook of John Henry Cardinal Newman, ed. Edward Sillem (Louvain, 1968-1970), 2:46, as cited in Ian Ker, John Henry Newman (Oxford, 2009), 565. [↩]
- Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Chapter 4, Part 2, paragraphs 3–6. [↩]
- My thanks to Andrew Preslar and Bryan Cross for their indefatigable and forbearing editorial work. Many thanks, brothers! [↩]