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Verse Slinging, Ultimate Authority, and Presuppositionalism

This is part 3 of a 3-part series, though this article can be read on its own. Click here for part 1, and here for part 2. From the "A Catholic on the Areopagus" blog.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscienceMartin Luther

Taking it for granted, that a universal council is a true representation of the Church, they set out with this principle, and, at the same time, lay it down as incontrovertible, that such councils are under the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, and therefore cannot err. But as they rule councils, nay, constitute them, they in fact claim for themselves whatever they maintain to be due to councils. Therefore, they will have our faith to stand and fall at their pleasure, so that whatever they have determined on either side must be firmly seated in our minds...And that my readers may the better understand the hinge on which the question chiefly turns, I will briefly explain what our opponents demand, and what we resist. When they deny that the Church can err, their end and meaning are to this effect: Since the Church is governed by the Spirit of God, she can walk safely without the word; in whatever direction she moves, she cannot think or speak anything but the truth, and hence, if she determines anything without or beside the word of God, it must be regarded in no other light than if it were a divine oracleJohn Calvin

[H]ow many Absaloms have there been in our age, who, to seduce and distort the people of Our Lord from obedience to the Church and her pastors, and to lead away Christian lealty into rebellion and revolt, have cried up and down the ways of Germany and of France: there is no one appointed by God to hear doubts concerning the faith and to answer them; the Church itself, the rulers of the Church, have no power to determine what we are to hold as to the faith and what we are not; we must seek other judges than the prelates, the Church can err in its decrees and rules. But what more hurtful and audacious proposition could they make to Christianity than that? If then the Church can err, O Calvin, O Luther, to whom shall I have recourse in my difficulties? To the Scripture, say they. But what shall I, poor man, do, for it is precisely about the Scripture that my difficulty liesSt. Francis de Sales

Here, possibly, some one may ask, Do heretics also appeal to Scripture? They do indeed, and with a vengeance; for you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy Scripture — through the books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Psalms, the Epistles, the Gospels, the Prophets. Whether among their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavour to shelter under words of Scripture. Read the works of Paul of Samosata, of Priscillian, of Eunomius, of Jovinian, and the rest of those pests, and you will see an infinite heap of instances, hardly a single page, which does not bristle with plausible quotations from the New Testament or the OldSt. Vincent of Lérins


It is a common occurrence in dialogues and debates with our Protestant brothers and sisters that the discussion ends up quickly devolving into a verse-slinging contest:

Protestant: "We are justified by faith alone, not works! Read Ephesians 2:8-9!" Catholic: "No, we are not justified by faith alone! Works justify as well. Read James 2:24!" Protestant: "Baptism doesn't save you! No one is justified by works of the law. Read Romans 3:28!" Catholic: "Baptism does save you! Read 1 Peter 3:21!"

And so on. At times, it is as if we are going up against the Verse-slinging Slasher (hopefully the unbelievably clever reference is clear) himself.

While there is value in engaging in these back-and-forth biblical and exegetical arguments (I have done so myself), what often happens is that a stalemate results in which both sides simply remain committed to their respective interpretations. In other words, dialectical paralysis sets in, and the apologetic task comes to a halt. Presuppositional apologetics offers a way out of this quagmire. Rather than engaging in the low-level details of comparing and weighing Bible verses, the Catholic presuppositionalist goes straight to the foundations and examines the presuppositions behind Protestant interpretations of Scripture. The key presuppositions behind every Protestant exegetical dispute are (1) the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura and (2) the Protestant belief in the absolute right of private interpretation of Scripture. The presuppositionalist will expose these presuppositions to his Protestant interlocutor and will demand that he account for them.

Both of these Protestant presuppositions go hand-in-hand. For if Scripture is the sole infallible theological authority as the doctrine of sola Scriptura maintains, then there is no infallible extra-biblical authority; in particular, there is no infallible interpreter of Scripture. Hence, no individual is privileged over another with respect to the ability to competently and authentically interpret Scripture. So, each individual has the right to privately interpret Scripture such that the individual's private interpretation need not be submitted to the judgement of another interpreter. In other words, each individual has an absolute right of private interpretation. This is obviously not the case for Catholics. Catholics believe in an infallible Magisterium and in a limited right to private interpretation. A Catholic's private interpretation must be submitted before the judgement seat of the Church. And because the judgement of the Church is infallible, the Catholic can thereby know with certainty that his understanding of Scripture is correct.

As a result, from a Catholic perspective, a Protestant's insistence on an interpretation of Scripture that conflicts with Church teaching amounts to an insistence on pitting one infallible authority against another, which is absurd. From a Protestant perspective, this would be like pitting one biblical author against another. The alleged contradiction would necessarily be a contradiction in appearance only. As the Reformed theologian John Frame writes:

We believe that Scripture is logically consistent, but we realize that for many reasons (our finitude, our sin, the inadequacies of our logical systems, the inadequacy of our premises, our understanding of the terms of the argument, etc.) Scripture may appear contradictory. But we do not abandon our faith because of apparent contradiction. Like Abraham, we persevere in faith despite the problems, even when those problems are problems of logic (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, pg. 257-258).

Hence, for the same reason that a Protestant (leaving Luther aside) will not give up belief in the inspiration of one book of Scripture simply because there is an apparent conflict with another book of Scripture that he does not know how to resolve, the Catholic will not give up belief in the infallibility of the Church simply because there is an apparent conflict between Church teaching and a passage of Scripture that he does not know how to resolve. As John Henry Cardinal Newman put it, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt" (quoted in CCC 157). The reason is simple: the teachings of the different books of Scripture and of the Church all come from the same source, namely, God, who is Truth Itself. Hence, they must harmonize even if we cannot see how.

Verse Slinging and Dialectical Deadlock

All of this leads to the dialectical impasse of endless verse slinging. The Protestant slings a verse purporting to contradict a Catholic dogma. The Catholic, knowing that Scripture cannot contradict Catholic dogma, rejects the Protestant interpretation of the verse and offers an alternative interpretation, perhaps even slinging a different verse back at the Protestant that supports Catholic dogma. The Protestant then either doubles down on his interpretation of the verse he slung at the Catholic or looks for another one to sling; additionally, if the verse that the Catholic slung at him contradicts Protestant doctrine, he will reject the Catholic's interpretation of the verse and offer an alternative one that is compatible with Protestant doctrine, perhaps also slinging yet another verse back at the Catholic. And on and on we go!

If the Catholic and Protestant are sufficiently committed to their systems of authority and the Protestant is sufficiently committed to his particular interpretation of Scripture, there is little hope for a resolution. For both the Catholic and the Protestant are seeing Sacred Scripture through the lenses of their systems of authority and interpretive traditions. And so long as these systems of authority and interpretive traditions are not acknowledged and examined, apologetic encounters between Catholics and Protestants will more often than not end in dialectical gridlock. Moreover, Protestants are often blinded to the fact that they are beholden to such interpretational traditions in the first place, and this is typically due to the conviction that their interpretation is simply the "clear teaching of Scripture." Douglas Beaumont describes this interpretational impasse as follows:

What Catholics affirm and Protestants deny (in practice if not theory) is that while Sacred Scripture is the only inspired writings, they must still be interpreted. The thing is, all Christians rely on their particular group’s (or their own private) interpretive “traditions” to understand the Bible. This is why Baptists can “deny” 1 Peter 3:21 on salvation, Calvinists can “deny” Hebrews 6:4-6 on the perseverance of the saints, Armenians [sic] can “deny” James 5:19-20 on the perseverance of the saints, and all Protestants can “deny” James 2:24 on the relation of faith and works: because they aren’t denying these verses, they are (mis)interpreting them according to their own interpretive tradition ("Would it Matter if Catholics Affirmed Sola Scriptura?").

A Way Forward: The Transcendental Argument of Matthew 18

These considerations can seem to paint a rather bleak picture of the apologetic predicament between Catholics and Protestants. However, with all of the foregoing having been said, it must be admitted that sometimes verse slinging is enough to convince the Protestant to change his interpretation of Scripture. But if he really insists on digging in his heals, his system of authority permits him to maintain his interpretation in spite of the slung verses. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that, in these situations of gridlock, in order to advance past the endless verse slinging, the Catholic apologist must go after the Protestant system of authority. If verse-slinging stalemates are to terminate, they must terminate in the problem of authority. If there is an infallible Church, and if that Church declares that a particular interpretation of Scripture is false, then that interpretation must be rejected. Period. So, the way out of the dialectical impasse for the Catholic apologist is to demonstrate the infallibility of the Catholic Church (the positive apologetic task) and to expose the bankruptcy of the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura (the negative apologetic task).

One might draw the further conclusion that these considerations suggest that back-and-forth exegetical arguments are (1) of no value at all and are (2) a complete waste of time. It would be better to simply jump straight to the problem of authority and bypass the verse slinging altogether. But I think that (1) is simply mistaken and that (2) is not necessarily true. (1) is mistaken because the back-and-forth arguments can lead to a greater understanding of Scripture. Even if not always of apologetic value, therefore, exegetical debate is of theological value. (2) is not necessarily true because, as aforementioned, sometimes exegetical arguments do successfully persuade people. To use myself as an example, I was persuaded by exegetical and historical arguments for the "New Perspective" understanding of "works of the law" in Romans and Galatians (see my essay HERE for a discussion of these arguments). As a result, sometimes the exegetical arguments will be enough to persuade someone. It really depends on the strength of the arguments and on how stubborn the Protestant is.

Another consideration is that, often in my experience, when a Protestant slings verses at me and I jump straight to the problem of authority, it comes across to the Protestant as a dodge. It appears as if I don't have a real answer to the exegetical arguments and so I am simply changing the subject. Engaging with the verses that have been slung at me by offering an alternative, Catholic interpretation builds good faith with the Protestant by showing him that I am taking Scripture seriously. There is additionally the chance that I will successfully convince the Protestant of the Catholic interpretation. At that point, the apologetic task is (in this limited context) complete. Minimally, I will hopefully persuade the Protestant that the Catholic interpretation makes sense of the text and so has plausibility. At that point, if the Protestant—though recognizing the plausibility of it—still does not acquiesce to the Catholic interpretation, I then go to the problem of authority. For at this point, it is simply the Protestant's interpretation versus mine. The immediate question that then arises is, whose interpretation is correct, and how do we know? We have a dispute; how do we settle it? This is where the transcendental argument rooted in Matthew 18 (as defended, for example, by the indominable Jeremiah T. Bannister) can be deployed. When there is a dispute, the Church is the final court of appeal that infallibly settles the issue. What the Church binds on earth is bound in heaven:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:15-18).

St. Francis de Sales writes on this foundational passage of Scripture as follows:

But he who shall consider how perfectly authentic is the testimony which God has given of the Church, will see that to say the Church errs is to say no less than that God errs, or else that he is willing and desirous for us to err; which would be a great blasphemy. For is it not Our Lord who says: If thy brother shall offend thee . . . tell the Church, and if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican (Matt, xviii.) Do you see how Our Lord sends us to the Church in our differences, whatever they may be? How much more in more serious offences and differences! (The Catholic Controversy, I.XII).


I will address myself to the Church, whose judgment everyone must submit to. But if she can err then it is no longer I, or man, who will keep error in the world: it will be our God himself who will authorise it and give it credit, since he commands us to go to this tribunal to hear and receive justice. Either he does not know what is done there, or he wishes to deceive us, or true justice is really done there; and the judgments are irrevocable...
I maintain that this judge is no other than the Church Catholic, which can in no way err in the interpretations and conclusions she makes with regard to the Holy Scripture, nor in the decisions she gives concerning the difficulties which are found therein (ibid., I.XII; II.III.II).

So, when there is a dispute between Christians—including doctrinal disputes (since teaching false doctrine is an offense)—the Church is the arbiter that settles the dispute. And the Church's decision to bind or loose is confirmed in heaven, i.e., is confirmed by God. Thus, to say that the Church has erred is to say that God Himself has erred, which is both absurd and blasphemous. Hence, the Church's ruling is final and infallible. And without this infallible ruling, Christians would be lost in a sea of doctrinal relativism and theological guesswork, all while their very salvation hangs in the balance.

Now, the Protestant can of course dispute the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 18. He might argue for a different interpretation and might throw in additional verses to support the alternative interpretation. This might seem to land the Catholic apologist in yet another stalemate. But this is where the transcendental nature of the argument comes into play. For the very authority the Protestant appeals to in order to subvert the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 18, namely Scripture, itself, insofar as it is known and understood as the inspired word of God, ultimately presupposes the authority of the Catholic Church, the Church that Matthew 18 discloses as being able to infallibly settle doctrinal and interpretational disputes, including disputes about the interpretation of Matthew 18 itself! The Protestant can only deny that the Bible (qua infallible word of God) teaches that Christians are to take doctrinal disputes to the infallible authority of the Catholic Church by interpreting the Bible (qua infallible word of God) in such a way as to avoid this conclusion. And the Bible (qua infallible word of God) is only made known in an infallible way (which is the way it must be known if it is to function as the infallible word of God) by the Catholic Church. So, the Protestant's ability to deny the authority of the Catholic Church by way of interpreting the Bible as the infallible word of God in such-and-such a way is dependent on that very authority. This reasoning is not viciously circular; rather, it is simply part and parcel of the inherent and peculiar nature of a transcendental argument. Consequently, whether a Christian accepts the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 18 or rejects it, his appeal to Scripture as the infallible word of God unwittingly presupposes the authority of the Catholic Church, for it was and is the authority of the Catholic Church that made and continues to make Scripture (qua infallible word of God) known and known with infallible certainty.

The Protestant appeals to Scripture as an infallible authority, but unless what Scripture is in the first place is known infallibly, Scripture cannot function as an infallible authority. For if what Scripture even is in the first place is known only fallibly, then Scripture becomes a fallible collection of infallible books, which is incoherent. This can be seen by way of the following argument:

  1. If a collection of books is fallible, then it can be the case that something that one of the books in the collection teaches is wrong (since at least one of the books could be fallible).

  2. If a collection of books is a collection of infallible books, then all of the books in the collection are infallible.

  3. If a book is infallible, then it cannot be the case that something it teaches is wrong.

  4. Therefore, if a collection of books is a collection of infallible books, then all of the books in the collection are such that it cannot be the case that something that one of the books in the collection teaches is wrong (2, 3).

  5. Therefore, if a collection of books is a collection of infallible books, then it is not the case that the collection of books is fallible (1, 4).

  6. Assume for reductio that Sacred Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible books.

  7. Then, Sacred Scripture is not a fallible collection of infallible books (5, 6).

  8. Contradiction (6, 7). Therefore, Sacred Scripture is not a fallible collection of infallible books.

So, if Scripture is to function as an infallible authority, its very contents must be known infallibly. And an infallible effect can only come from an infallible cause. If Scripture, therefore, is known infallibly (as it must be), then whatever made it known infallibly must itself be infallible. Now, it was the Catholic Church that made Scripture known infallibly. Therefore, the Catholic Church is infallible. This argument can be summarized as follows:

  1. Sacred Scripture functions as an infallible authority for Christians.

  2. If Sacred Scripture functions as an infallible authority for Christians, then what Sacred Scripture is must be known infallibly.

  3. Therefore, what Sacred Scripture is must be known infallibly (1, 2).

  4. The Catholic Church ultimately and originally makes known what Sacred Scripture is.

  5. If the Catholic Church ultimately and originally makes known what Sacred Scripture is and what Sacred Scripture is must be known infallibly, then the Catholic Church makes Sacred Scripture known infallibly.

  6. Therefore, the Catholic Church makes Sacred Scripture known infallibly (3, 4, 5).

  7. Whatever makes something known infallibly itself has to be infallible

  8. Therefore, the Catholic Church is infallible (6, 7).

By saying that the Catholic Church ultimately and originally makes known what Sacred Scripture is, I mean that the Catholic Church is essentially the "first cause" (in the order of secondary, i.e., non-divine causes) of the knowledge of what Scripture is. The knowledge of precisely what Scripture is originates with the teaching of the Catholic Church with the formal and normative definition of the canon. This is an important qualification because what Scripture is can today be known by fallible sources (e.g., Protestant pastors). Consequently, it would be illegitimate to conclude that a Protestant pastor makes known what Sacred Scripture is infallibly from the propositions that Protestant pastors make known what Sacred Scripture is and that what Sacred Scripture is must be known infallibly. There can be a chain of causes relaying the knowledge of Sacred Scripture, many of which can only make known what Sacred Scripture is in a fallible way, at least insofar as they are speaking on behalf of themselves or some other fallible authority. If, by contrast, they speak on behalf of the Catholic Church, then they are appealing to the authority of the Catholic Church, not their own authority. Now, since Sacred Scripture must be known infallibly, at least one of the causes that make it known must make it known in an infallible way. The most plausible candidate for this would be the cause that historically made known what Sacred Scripture is first. Since, historically, the canon was first formally defined, promulgated, and definitively made known as normative for all Christians by the Catholic Church (cf. The Case for the Deuterocanon: Evidence and Arguments, pg. 265-276), we should conclude that if there was a cause that communicated what Sacred Scripture is in an infallible way, then the Catholic Church is that cause. Since the antecedent has already been established, we may conclude that the Catholic Church made known what Sacred Scripture is in an infallible way. This fact in conjunction with premise (7) implies that the Catholic Church is infallible.

One significant objection that a Protestant could raise against this argument is that there are traditions specifying the canon of Scripture prior to the Catholic Church's formal definitions at the councils of Rome, Carthage, and Hippo (definitions which were reaffirmed at the Council of Trent). Those traditions, therefore, should have historical priority. Hence, premise (4) is false. Furthermore, at least some of these traditions go back to the Apostles. Now, Protestants can and do grant that the Apostles were infallible. So, if the traditions they handed on specify the canon of Scripture, then the knowledge of the canon is to be traced back to the Apostles, not the Catholic Church. We thus can after all know the canon of Scripture infallibly, and this infallible knowledge is grounded not in the Catholic Church but in the teaching of the Apostles.

In response, I first and foremost want to say that choosing between the Apostles and the Catholic Church is a false dilemma, for the Apostles are the foundation of the Catholic Church, with Christ as the cornerstone (cf. Ephesians 2:20). To say otherwise is simply to beg the question against the Catholic. Second, I want to say that, while there were indeed canon lists that can be found in various Church Fathers prior to the formal definitions made by the Church herself, these lists contradicted each other (a point the full significance of which will be discussed shortly), and they were not normative for the whole Church. It was at the councils that a single, consistent canon was formally defined and promulgated as normative for the whole Church. Given these facts, I maintain that it is most just to give historical priority to the Catholic Church with respect to defining the canon of Sacred Scripture. Thus, I conclude that premise (4) remains secure.

Next, I fully and happily grant the fact that there were indeed these earlier traditions, some of them, indeed, going back to the Apostles. The traditions going back to the Apostles are part of Sacred Tradition, divine revelation communicated separately from Sacred Scripture. As St. Paul teaches, "To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thessalonians 2:14-15, emphases added). So, it is apparently not just the written word that is part of the Gospel but what is handed on in the form of non-written Tradition as well. Paul makes this even clearer elsewhere: "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers" (1 Thessalonians 2:13, emphases added). These considerations by themselves put the Protestant into a bind, for these passages seem to falsify the doctrine of sola Scriptura. If divine revelation is communicated not just through Sacred Scripture but through Sacred Tradition as well, then there is an infallible authority outside of Sacred Scripture, namely Sacred Tradition. Hence, sola Scriptura is false. If, therefore, the Protestant tries to solve the canon problem by appealing to an infallible Sacred Tradition that goes back to the Apostles, then he has given up sola Scriptura and has ceased to be Protestant.

The natural escape route from this conclusion is for the Protestant to maintain that, although there was a Sacred Tradition that was separate from Sacred Scripture during the lifetimes of the Apostles, by the time the Apostles passed away, all of the teachings of that Sacred Tradition were "inscripturated" into the Bible, thereby leaving Christians with sola Scriptura. But if the Protestant takes this escape route, then his previously proposed alternative resolution of the canon problem fails because the canon itself was never "inscripturated." So, the canon problem remains. Moreover, even if a Protestant is willing to become "heterodox" and give up sola Scriptura in order to maintain a solution to the canon problem that does not involve the authority of the Catholic Church, he is still left with a major problem: how does he know with certainty which traditions are truly apostolic? As aforementioned, various lists of the books of Scripture that are found in the Church Fathers contradict one another; ergo, they can't all be right (cf. The Case for the Deuterocanon: Evidence and Arguments, pg. 360-361). It seems that, apart from the authority of the Catholic Church, the Protestant is left with his own private judgement as to which traditions are and are not apostolic. St. Francis de Sales explains this problem as follows:

[I]f each one will bring forward Traditions, and we have no judge on earth to make in the last resort the difference between those which are to be received and those which are not, where, I pray you, shall we be? We have clear examples. Calvin finds that the Apocalypse is to be received, Luther denies it; the same with the Epistle of S. James. Who shall reform these opinions of the reformers? Either the one or the other is ill formed, who shall put it right? Here is a second necessity which we have of another rule besides the Word of God (The Catholic Controversy, II.III.I).

It would seem that, without the authority of the Church to infallibly interpret Sacred Tradition, this quasi-Protestant position reduces Sacred Tradition to a fallible collection of infallible traditions, a notion just as absurd as Sacred Scripture being a fallible collection of infallible books. Thus, the Protestant really has no way of escape from the canon problem. Protestantism is reduced to absurdity by the very authority it swears sole allegiance to.

Having thus established the infallibility of the Catholic Church, we can additionally infer the indefectibility of the Catholic Church. In response to the preceding argumentation, a Protestant might ask how we can know that the Catholic Church that infallibly decreed the canon of Sacred Scripture endures to this day. Perhaps that Catholic Church was infallible, but that Catholic Church has since defected and ceased to exist. But in fact, we can get from the infallibility of the Catholic Church to its indefectibility. For since the Catholic Church is infallible and has infallibly decreed the canon of Sacred Scripture, we know that what we refer to as Sacred Scripture is indeed the inspired, inerrant, and infallible word of God. And according to Sacred Scripture, the Church that was founded by Christ and that was given its authority from Him is indefectible:

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19, emphasis added).

Hence, we know, by divine revelation, that the Catholic Church, the same one that received its infallibility from Christ, endures to this day. The gates of Hades have not and shall not prevail against it. In this way, the authority of the Church and the authority of Sacred Scripture mutually reinforce one another. This mutual reinforcement is not a vicious circularity but follows from the nature of a transcendental argument. Divine revelation discloses the authority of the Catholic Church, and the authority of the Catholic Church makes divine revelation known as the necessary precondition for its being known. Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange puts the matter this way:

[W]hen we speak of the First Truth [i.e., God] who reveals, we must say what St. Augustine said about the Gospel: "I would not believe in the Gospel were the authority of the Church not to admonish me to do so." For the Church infallibly proposes that God has supernaturally revealed [what we must believe], just as she proposes the revealed mysteries. Indeed, the Church's proposing so understood is not the formal motive of faith but, rather, is the [necessary] condition infallibly applying revelation [as communicated in, e.g., Sacred Scripture] to us. Therefore, no vicious circle is involved in this proposing [of supernatural revelation]. Rather, causes are causes of each other, though in different genera of causality. The motive asserts the condition and is applied by it (On Divine Revelation, Vol. I, pg. 723-724, emphases in original).

Garrigou-Lagrange had earlier elaborated on all of this as follows:

[T]he Church's proposing [of divine revelation] does not pertain to the formal motive of faith in any way but instead is only a necessary condition for it. For this proposing does not formally influence the intellect and will of the believer but, rather, only applies already-existing revelation to us. The only thing that moves us to believe is the authority of God actually revealing...Likewise, the intellect gazes upon the truth of the first principles on account of their [self-]evidence, and the explanation of the terms in which these principles are expressed was only a [necessary] condition [for grasping their self-evidence]...Moreover, the testimony of the Church is something created. However, nothing created can enter into the formal motive of faith, nor into hope and charity. Otherwise, they would not be purely divine theological virtues. Nonetheless, against the Protestants, we must hold that the Church's proposing of the truth of revelation is a necessary condition [conditio sine qua non] for our faith. Protestants posit private inspiration in place of this proposing by the Church divinely established by Christ. However, as is shown in the treatise on the Church, this rule is not divinely instituted, nor certain, nor sufficient for settling controversies (ibid., 672-673, emphases in original).

This additionally puts paid to John Calvin's concern with the Church infallibly making known what Sacred Scripture is, which he expressed as follows:

A most pernicious error has very generally prevailed—viz. that Scripture is of importance only in so far as conceded to it by the suffrage of the Church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men. With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be admitted into the canon. (Institutes of the Christian Religion I, 7, 1).

Calvin's concern seems to be that the doctrine that it is the Church that infallibly makes known what Sacred Scripture is implies that the formal motive of believing in the authority and teachings of Sacred Scripture is the Church rather than God. But as we have just seen, this is not the case. The formal motive for believing in the authority and teachings of Sacred Scripture is God, while the Church as God's instrument is the indispensable condition for infallibly knowing what Sacred Scripture is and what it teaches. As Garrigou-Lagrange says, "The motive asserts the condition and is applied by it."

Concluding Remarks

Having thus established the authority and indefectibility of the Catholic Church, which Protestants, whether they know it or not, must presuppose in order for Sacred Scripture to function as their infallible authority, the Catholic apologist is thereby equipped to win any and all biblical debate. For to set Sacred Scripture against the Catholic Church in order to undermine the authority of the Catholic Church is like sawing off the branch of a tree that one is sitting on while hoping to avoid falling to the ground. To undermine the authority of the Catholic Church is to undermine the authority of Sacred Scripture. "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand" (Matthew 12:25). For the authority of the Catholic Church is the necessary presupposition for rendering intelligible the authority of Sacred Scripture. Since, therefore, Protestantism rejects the authority of the Catholic Church, it does not have the resources to render intelligible the authority of Sacred Scripture; consequently, Protestantism's system of ultimate authority—sola Scriptura—is, along with Protestantism itself, reduced to absurdity. Thus, both the positive and negative apologetic tasks are complete.

The transcendental argument of Catholic presuppositionalism, therefore, brings all verse slinging to an end. Even the Verse-slinging Slasher himself is brought to defeat. Of course, defending the transcendental argument against various additional objections that could be made will take additional work, and it is possible that there are some especially stubborn Protestants who will not be driven out from their Protestantism by any arguments whatsoever, no matter how cogent such arguments might be. In such cases, we must recall the words of our Lord: "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29).


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