Keith: John, thank you for your incredible website. It demonstrates that the Catholic faith is truly the religion of the Bible. As you support all of Catholic teaching using the Bible, does this mean you believe in the material sufficiency of Scripture?
J. Salza: Keith, it depends on what you mean by “material sufficiency.” The Church has not defined this term for us; it is simply a theological concept. If “material sufficiency” means that all the doctrines of the Catholic faith can be found, however remotely, in Scripture, well, I believe that www.ScriptureCatholic.com demonstrates that this viewpoint is true. This is to be contrasted with “formal sufficiency,” the erroneous Protestant notion that all doctrines necessary for our salvation are formally presented in Scripture. Whether or not one accepts the “material sufficiency” of Scripture really depends upon the view point of the exegete.
For example, take the Assumption of Mary. When we read in Apocalypse 12 about the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her “feet” and on her “head” a crown of twelve stars, and this is the same woman that gave birth to the Savior, we can conclude that this woman is Mary who was assumed, body and soul, into heaven (we see the presence of her “head” and “feet” which means she has a body in heaven). She is distinguished from the disembodied “souls” of the martyrs in Apocalypse 6:9 who do not have their bodies. Thus, in my opinion, Apocalypse 12:1 is materially sufficient to support the dogma of the Assumption. However, because no Scripture verse says that Mary was explicitly assumed by God into heaven, others may disagree with the materially sufficiency of the verse as regards the Assumption. Again, it depends upon the perspective of the exegete.
We should note that a majority of the early Church fathers believed in the material sufficiency of Scripture. Their writings are replete with comments about Scripture being the “rule of faith” and “sufficient” for instruction. When the Fathers talk about the “sufficiency” of Scripture, however, they never do so at the exclusion of the oral apostolic tradition and living Magisterium of the Catholic Church. To the contrary, those Fathers who wrote about the material sufficiency of Scripture wrote elsewhere about the equally binding apostolic tradition and the authentic interpreter of all Tradition (both written and unwritten), the Catholic Magisterium.
Since Catholic apologists have systematically exposed the heretical ideas of Protestants by using the early Church Fathers, Protestant apologists are trying to mount a counter-attack by appealing to the Fathers themselves. This approach further exposes their error. As regards our current topic, Protestant apologists make the error of cherry picking quotes from the Fathers which talk about the sufficiency of Scripture, without understanding the difference between material and formal sufficiency, and without considering what the Father invariably wrote about the apostolic tradition and Magisterium.
Moreover, the very Fathers Protestants appeal to (e.g., Cyril of Jerusalem) also believed in the sacrifice of the Mass, infant baptism, saintly intercession, purgatory and a whole host of other Catholic doctrines from which they dissent! This puts Protestant apologists in quite a quandary. If they claim that the Fathers taught the doctrine of sola Scriptura, then why don’t they accept the other doctrines these Fathers unanimously taught? On the one hand, they are advancing the Father’s purported interpretation of Scripture (to prove sola Scriptura), and on the other hand, they are claiming that the same Father was a blatant heretic for his Catholic interpretations of Scripture! What a dilemma for the Protestant apologist.
The Protestant appeal to the Fathers underscores the utter fallacy of sola Scriptura. It proves that the Bible does not give us a definitive way of resolving doctrinal disputes. This is difficult for many Protestants to accept, especially when they are quick to dismiss the teachings of the Fathers who were closest to the Apostles, and rely instead upon the teachings of their Western pastors, 20 centuries removed! They must remember that humility precedes faith, just as faith precedes understanding.