“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.” (Lk 6:46-48)
After a two year hiatus, EWTN has invited us to once again produce our Deep In Scripture radio program. The goal behind the program has always been to demonstrate why it is important to interpret Scripture within the context of the Church. As is emphasized in the Vatican II document, Dei Verbum, “Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (111-114) goes on to explain what this requires:
1) Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture.”
2) Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church.” According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“…according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”).
3) Be attentive to the analogy of faith. By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.
In the Deep in Scripture program, my guests and I share how and why we have come to discover that sola Scriptura is not a trustworthy means of discerning the fullness of God’s words. Certainly those following the assumptions of sola Scriptura, asking the Holy Spirit to guide them, can end up with orthodox interpretations. The evidence all around us, however, of thousands of sincere Christians who can’t agree on the meaning of Scripture suggests that sola Scriptura and private interpretation are not trustworthy.
The verse I quoted at the beginning of this article is an example. The simple summary of this promise from Christ is that if we “come…hear…and do” His words, our life is built upon a firm, trustworthy foundation. But what does it mean to “come…hear…and do” His words? Some claim that this entire process is summed up in the invitation to “accept the Lord Jesus as your personal savior.” Once this mental and heart-felt “act of faith” is completed, one is “saved,” and can rest the remainder of one’s life in the assurance of salvation. Any further idea of “doing” anything is discounted as a form of “works righteousness.”
There are a myriad of other interpretations that delineate what it means to “come” to Jesus, to “hear” His words, and then to respond in obedience, many of which are distinctly unique to particular Christian traditions. Some are sacramental, some are not; some require membership in a church, others do not; some believe this is a one time event, others a life-long process; some believe this requires some physical act before a gathering of believers, others believe this need be nothing more than a private surrender. And between all these extremes are an unlimited combination of often contradictory convictions.
To me, the bottom line centers on determining what constitutes His “words.” Are these limited to what we have in Scripture, or what has also been passed down from Jesus to His hand-chosen Apostles as the Apostolic Deposit of Faith? As the Catechism teaches (81, 82):
“Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.”
“And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.”
As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”
To truncate the “words” of Jesus to only those found in Scripture is to truncate our faith, and to invite the possibility of setting ourselves — and those we teach — to building a house “on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great” (Lk 6:49). Rather, being “[m]indful of Christ’s words to His apostles: ‘He who hears you, hears me’, the faithful” are to “receive with docility the teachings and directives” of the Church. Then we can have the true assurance of knowing what it means to “come…hear…and do” His words, and of having the graces we need to follow these words of our Lord.