This is a slightly rhetorical Catholic reflection on Protestantism I just had from reading today’s liturgical scripture readings (Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 106:19-23; John 5:31-37). I couldn’t help but think as I read the words of Christ in the Gospel this morning, how that is precisely what Catholics think the Catholic Church continues to say to all protestants:
‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
Not only do the Scriptures testify to the Catholic Church being the inherited kingdom of God on earth (Luke 22:29), as a guide leading us into all truth (John 16:13), to be the city on a hill for the whole world to see (Matthew 5:14), and to be our mother (Revelation 12:17), but the scriptures also call the Church the very pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). The Church is called many other things besides, but it seems to me that there is a deeper point to be made here, concerning the relation of the Scriptures and the Catholic Church. The Scriptures are Her scriptures, just as the Christian faith is Her faith. See this note from Tertullian:
“Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, “as many as walk according to the rule,” which the Church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, “Who are you? When and whence did you come? As you are none of mine, what have you to do with that which is mine? Indeed, Marcion, by what right do you hew my wood? By whose permission, Valentinus, are you diverting the streams of my fountain? By what power, Apelles, are you removing my landmarks? This is my property. Why are you, the rest, sowing and feeding here at your own pleasure? This (I say) is my property. I have long possessed it; I possessed it before you. I hold sure title-deeds from the original owners themselves, to whom the estate belonged. I am the heir of the apostles. Just as they carefully prepared their will and testament, and committed it to a trust, and adjured (the trustees to be faithful to their charge), (compare 1Ti_5:21, 1Ti_6:13; 2Ti_2:14, 2Ti_4:1-4) even so do I hold it. As for you, they have, it is certain, always held you as disinherited, and rejected you as strangers – as enemies. But on what ground are heretics strangers and enemies to the apostles, if it be not from the difference of their teaching, which each individual of his own mere will has either advanced or received in opposition to the apostles?””
~Tertullian, Prescription against the Heretics, Ch. 37
And another interesting passage from G.K. Chesterton which echoes the same sentiments:
I find it very difficult to take some of the Protestant propositions even seriously. What is any man who has been in the real outer world, for instance, to make of the everlasting cry that Catholic traditions are condemned by the Bible? It indicates a jumble of topsy-turvy tests and tail-foremost arguments, of which I never could at any time see the sense. The ordinary sensible sceptic or pagan is standing in the street (in the supreme character of the man in the street) and he sees a procession go by of the priests of some strange cult, carrying their object of worship under a canopy, some of them wearing high head-dresses and carrying symbolical staffs, others carrying scrolls and sacred records, others carrying sacred images and lighted candles before them, others sacred relics in caskets or cases, and so on. I can understand the spectator saying, “This is all hocus-pocus”; I can even understand him, in moments of irritation, breaking up the procession, throwing down the images, tearing up the scrolls, dancing on the priests and anything else that might express that general view. I can understand his saying, “Your croziers are bosh, your candles are bosh, your statues and scrolls and relics and all the rest of it are bosh.” But in what conceivable frame of mind does he rush in to select one particular scroll of the scriptures of this one particular group (a scroll which had always belonged to them and been a part of their hocus-pocus, if it was hocus-pocus); why in the world should the man in the street say that one particular scroll was not bosh, but was the one and only truth by which all the other things were to be condemned? Why should it not be as superstitious to worship the scrolls as the statues, of that one particular procession? Why should it not be as reasonable to preserve the statues as the scrolls, by the tenets of that particular creed? To say to the priests, “Your statues and scrolls are condemned by our common sense,” is sensible. To say, “Your statues are condemned by your scrolls, and we are going to worship one part of your procession and wreck the rest,” is not sensible from any standpoint, least of all that of the man in the street.”
~G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion