Pope Benedict and Sola Scriptura--unbelievable...
What I mean by unbelievable is the quality of the discussion over at Dawn Eden. Stunning. This might be the finest discussion and the most thought-provoking discussion of the issue that I've ever read. Click the comments when you go to the post and start reading.
This is important because this is potentially a key area where Pope Benedict XVI has an excellent opportunity to build bridges between evangelicals and Catholics.
A few comments here:
1. The first person that I know of in Church history to use the phrase sola scriptura is St Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on John: sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei--the canonical scriptues alone are the rule of faith.
2. St Thomas consistently affirms that the Bible itself gives to the bishops standing in apostolic succession the authority to make final rulings on the meaning of scripture (cf. Mt 16.18, Acts 6.1-6, Acts 14.23, 1 Tim 4.14, 2 Tim 1.6, 2 Tim 2.2). Hence any denial of the Church's authority to issue binding rulings on the meaning of scripture is contradicted by the Bible itself.
3. The Reformers used the term sola scriptura in a variety of conflicting and mutually exclusive ways. The most balanced use of sola scriptura was not that all doctrine could be derived from scripture, but that all doctrine necessary for salvation could be found in scripture. This moderate view would appear to be consistent with the Catholic faith.
4. Most remarkably, this appears to be also the view of Pope Benedict XVI: A dogma by definition is nothing other than an interpretation of scripture. I'm citing from memory--I will try to get the exact citation up later tonight.
5. It is for this reason that Pope Benedict as the theologian Joseph Ratzinger regularly made it clear that in his view sola fide, sola gratia, and sola scriptura are areas where Catholics and Protestants are in basic agreement. That is very important since these issues have often been taken as the theological causes of the schism at the time of the Reformation. For Pope Benedict to make it clear that these issues are bridges, rather than causes of division, is potentially very constructive for evangelical-Catholic alliances.
Finally: my own professional work is largely with the ancient biblical papyri. In my judment, any strict view of sola scriptura is untenable, simply because the originals of the bible do not exist and have to be reconstructed out of the manuscript tradition. Every evangelical New Testament textual scholar that I've ever discussed the issue with has agreed with me on this point. The more moderate view of sola scriptura sketched in point 3 above would in my judgment be consistent with both Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism.