Catholic Church “Above” the Bible? (vs. Lucas Banzoli)

Catholic Church “Above” the Bible? (vs. Lucas Banzoli) May 25, 2022

Lucas Banzoli is a very active Protestant evangelical apologist in Brazil, who writes quite a bit in opposition to the Catholic Church and Catholic doctrine. He has a Master’s degree in theology, a degree and postgraduate work in history, a license in letters, and is a history teacher, author of 25 books, as well as blogmaster for six blogs. He’s also active on YouTube.

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I am responding to his article, “A Igreja Católica está acima da Bíblia? Cinco sofismas papistas refutados!” (9-10-17) [Is the Catholic Church above the Bible? Five Papist Sophistries Refuted!]. His words will be in blue. I use Google Translate to transfer his Portugese text into English. 

I will be citing the parts of his article that directly relate to the title. He delves into other areas, too, such as the nature of the Church in the New Testament, canon issues, and what various Church fathers believed. Those can be debates for another day (and I’ve already written about and debated all of them many times). Presently, I’m interested solely in this accusation that the Catholic Church supposedly places itself “above” the Bible. One thing at a time . . .

The remarkable thing about this article is that Lucas never cites a Catholic or an official Catholic Church document, in order to establish what he casually assumes: this notion that the Church considers itself superior to the Bible, or that it “gave” the Bible to the world. This would be like a fifteen-year-old tenth-grader writing a book report about, say, Charles Dickens’ view of orphanages, and merely stating over and over, “Dickens thinks so-and-so about orphanages” and “Dickens thinks this [and that] about orphanages” but never actually citing his writings at any time in order to document it.

Such a methodology is fundamentally silly and inexcusable, especially for a man as educated as Lucas clearly is. He knows better. It shouldn’t even be necessary to point this out. I challenge him to provide more documentation of his claims against the Catholic Church in his articles. Otherwise, he will leave himself open to embarrassing refutations, such as this present effort, and exhibit an impression of shoddy, undocumented research. Urging him to do better in this regard is actually an act of charity. I take no pleasure in proving people wrong. I would rather see us agree on things where we ought to agree. There is enough division among Christians without pretending about “disagreements” that in fact do not exist.

In recent weeks, an old argument has resurfaced about who holds the ultimate authority – whether it’s the Bible, or whether it’s the Church. Of course, it is the Papists who propose the argument that it is the Church, meaning, of course, their Church, that is, the Roman Catholic Church. It all started when a relatively unknown priest started spreading nonsense that the Roman Church has authority over the Bible, and gained more popularity after Malafaia gave him an answer on his YouTube channel (see here). After that, social networks were ignited by a veritable festival of Romanist attacks against the authority of the Bible “refuting” Malafaia, with even Father Paulo Ricardo (the one who said “evangelicals are suckers” for going straight to God) recording videos in which he repeats all the same silly, old, outdated and already-refuted arguments, as always.

For Catholics, this is literally a meaningless question. It’s Protestants who hold that the Bible has ultimate authority (sola Scriptura). Because we reject that (for at least a hundred biblical reasons, as I wrote about in my book on the topic), there is a tendency for Protestants to caricature our view as either sola ecclesia or sola traditio. But neither of those positions accurately represents the Catholic rule of faith, which has been called a “three-legged stool” (Bible-Church-tradition). One of the most accurate descriptions of the view of Catholicism and the early Church that I’ve seen comes from Protestant historian Heiko Oberman:

As regards the pre-Augustinian Church, there is in our time a striking convergence of scholarly opinion that Scripture and Tradition are for the early Church in no sense mutually exclusive: kerygma, Scripture and Tradition coincide entirely. The Church preaches the kerygma which is to be found in toto in written form in the canonical books. 

The Tradition is not understood as an addition to the kerygma contained in Scripture but as the handing down of that same kerygma in living form: in other words everything is to be found in Scripture and at the same time everything is in the living Tradition. 

It is in the living, visible Body of Christ, inspired and vivified by the operation of the Holy Spirit, that Scripture and Tradition coinhere . . . Both Scripture and Tradition issue from the same source: the Word of God, Revelation . . . Only within the Church can this kerygma be handed down undefiled . . . (The Harvest of Medieval Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, revised edition, 1967, 366-367)

Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation), from the Second Vatican Council (11-18-65) articulately expresses the Catholic view with great eloquence:

9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence. (6)

10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort. (7)

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. (ch. 2, sections 9-10; my bolded italics and green font color)

I’ve been told by my Brazilian Catholic friends that Fr. Paulo Ricardo is a very brilliant teacher. If I am to form an accurate opinion about what he stated on this topic, I would have to see his words documented, in context. I highly doubt that his teaching in this regard is as “silly” as Lucas claims. The Catholic view is nuanced and subtle enough that it can easily be caricatured and distorted by those who have a hostility against the Church, and who are predisposed to be quite uncharitable towards it: thus leading to straw men and inaccuracies (as we see presently).

I have observed this myself in countless instances, in my 31 years of Catholic apologetics and hundreds of debates. All the more reason to cite one’s opponent, so as to avoid falling into the trap of caricaturing them and fighting a straw man, rather than the actual view. This is a duty that all Christian apologists (of whatever stripe) must strive to abide by.

Here I will not delve into the issue any further than necessary, for the simple fact that this has already been exhaustively done in my book that addresses the topic – In Defense of Sola Scriptura. It has also been covered in numerous articles over the more than 500 already published by me in this blog and in Apologia Cristã, which can be checked in this thematic list of articles. So I will leave this space to make a brief and summarized consideration of the most well-known papist sophistry and traps.

Fair enough. It may be that in this book and on this other blog, actual references and documentation were provided. That’s implied in the above statement. However, I came to this article — with its provocative and polemical title — expecting to find at least a little bit of this documentation. If Lucas reads this, I would like to see him give me a few of those. It would take him less than a minute to cut-and-paste.

I, too, have written quite a bit: more than 4,000 online articles and 50 books, and my web page concerning Bible and Tradition is one of my most extensive. I’ve written more about this crucial debate about Christian authority than on any other topic. We can appeal to our other writings all day long. If we want to play that game, I have eight times more than Lucas (written over a time span longer than he’s been alive), so, no problem. But I want to see documentation from claims made, and especially from the official documents of the Catholic Church.

Sophism 1 – The Church that is superior to the Bible, because it defined the canon of the Bible

This is the most common sophistry. He already starts from two false premises, namely: (1) that this Church that defined the biblical canon was the Roman Church in particular, and (2) that this Church “created” a canon, instead of having only recognized one. . These other sophistries will also be refuted here, but for now let’s take that teaspoon and open the concession that this Church was indeed the Roman Church and did create the canon, for the sake of argument. The point is that even this would not prove the superiority of the Church over the Bible.

We absolutely deny the premise. Don’t believe me? Very well, then, how about the last two ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church?:

First Vatican Council (1870)

These the Church holds to be sacred and canonical; not because, having been carefully composed by mere human industry, they were afterward approved by her authority; not because they contain revelation, with no admixture of error; but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself. (Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, chapter II; italics and green font color added)

Here’s another translation:

These books the church holds to be sacred and canonical, not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the church.

Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)

The divinely-revealed realities which are contained and presented in the text of sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For Holy Mother Church relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn. 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21; 3:15-16), they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation [Dei Verbum], ch. 3, section 11; italics and green font color added)

Likewise, the Council of Trent issued the Decree Concerning the Canonical Scriptures in 1546 (coincidentally the year Luther died). It says nothing about the Church’s supposed “superiority” over Holy Scripture. Rather, it refers to having “preserved” both the gospel and the Bible. That language presupposes being lesser (and in no way “above”) than the thing referred to. A museum of history “preserves” artifacts that are given to it. No one in their right mind would think that the museum created its precious artifacts or that it considered itself “above” them in the scheme of things, simply because it preserves and protects them.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught the same thing in the 13th century (lest someone think this is “new” teaching in Catholicism):

Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth. Consequently whoever does not adhere, as to an infallible and Divine rule, to the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth manifested in Holy Writ, has not the habit of faith, but holds that which is of faith otherwise than by faith. (ST 2-2, q. 5, a. 3c)

[F]aith adheres to all the articles of faith by reason of one mean, viz. on account of the First Truth proposed to us in Scriptures, according to the teaching of the Church who has the right understanding of them. Hence whoever abandons this mean is altogether lacking in faith. (ST 2-2, q. 5, a. 3, ad 2)

Note how Aquinas stated that “the teaching of the Church . . . proceeds” from the Bible, and is “on account of” the truths therein, which are the “one mean.” Elsewhere in his Summa Theologica he wrote:

We ought not to say about God anything which is not found in Holy Scripture either explicitly or implicitly. (ST 1, q. 36, a. 2, ad 1)

This is, of course, a textbook definition of the material sufficiency of Scripture. In my immediately previous reply to Brazilian Protestant apologist Pedro França Gaião, he claimed that material sufficiency within Catholicism was only introduced in the 1950s (others falsely claim Cardinal Newman introduced it to Catholicism a hundred years earlier). He wrote:

I was arguing that material sufficiency, or One Source Theory or Totum-totum is a position formulated by Geiselman in the 50’s as an opposition to the Two Sources Theory. Leandro is denying Geiselman’s point that Bellarmine, Eck and other Catholic apologists were opposed to material sufficiency . . .

Really?  That would be “news” to Aquinas 700 years earlier, since he held the view, as did literally dozens of Church fathers. But no one should think that St. Thomas Aquinas did not also accept the sublime authority of Sacred Tradition. He did:

The Apostles, led by the inward instinct of the Holy Ghost, handed down to the churches certain instructions which they did not put in writing, but which have been ordained, in accordance with the observance of the Church as practiced by the faithful as time went on. Wherefore the Apostle says (2 Thess. 2:14): “Stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word”—that is by word of mouth—“or by our epistle”—that is by word put into writing. (ST 3, q. 25, a. 3, ad 4)

. . . the Romish logic of “the Church created the canon and is therefore superior to the Bible” . . . the 4th century Church recognizing the canon of the Bible does not make it above the Bible.

He again repeats the caricature and distortion and alleged Catholic belief that he hasn’t documented. In great contrast, I produced what Trent, Vatican I, Vatican II, and St. Thomas Aquinas all taught on this topic (I’d love to see whether he produced those citations in his book and other articles, that he said dealt with this topic).

He goes on to make an analogy of secular constitutions which is perfectly valid. But what he doesn’t comprehend is that Catholics already agree with his premise that the Church is not “above” the Bible. This is what we call a non sequitur in logic. In other words, his argument is irrelevant, since (having a false premise) it is against a straw man. Live and learn . . .

Sophism 3 – The Church “created” the canon

It is argued by them that the Roman Church “created” the canon in the 4th century, as if there was no Bible until then. Even they often issue “challenges” such as: “How could there be Sola Scriptura if there was no Bible for three centuries?” (and other such barbarities). This is because, for them, a biblical book could not really be considered “Scripture” until some council met at the end of the 4th century saying so. For example, Luke’s gospel would not be considered an authentic, canonical gospel and an integral part of Scripture until the bishops of Hippo met more than three hundred years after its writing. This is absurd, irrational and senseless.

Yes, we agree, which is why Vatican I and Vatican II expressly stated the same thing.

In many places, both directly and indirectly, Sacred Scripture teaches that it is inspired and infallible. What it doesn’t provide, however, is its own canon (list of books). Simply put: Scripture is what it is. 1 Timothy 3:16 and other passages clearly teach inspiration. The Catholic Church merely acknowledges what is already (by its very nature) Scripture, or inspired revelation from God; it doesn’t make it so.

Why, then, some people ask, do Catholics often act as if there would have been no Bible without the Catholic Church? They claim that this implies that we Catholics think our Church is above the Bible and superior to it. The Protestant position (so they tell us) makes more sense because it places churches and traditions beneath Scripture. This seems obvious because the Bible is inspired and infallible, and men and traditions (which make up churches) are fallible and quite prone to error. So how can it be otherwise?

It doesn’t follow at all, however, that Catholics are placing Church above Scripture, in simply pointing out that human authority was needed in order to determine the canon. An analogy or comparison might be in order, to further explain this.

All agree that the Bible must be properly interpreted. Protestants, to their credit, place a huge emphasis on learning to study the Bible wisely and intelligently (the sciences of exegesis and hermeneutics). Just because learning and study are needed to correctly read the Bible and to attain to truth in theology, doesn’t mean that, therefore, the Bible did not already contain truth, or that human interpretation is “higher” than “God-breathed” biblical inspiration.

Likewise, it was necessary — because there was a lot of significant disagreement regarding several New Testament books — for human church councils to decide on the specific books that were to be included in the biblical canon. This doesn’t imply in the least that the councils (let alone the Church) are “above” Scripture, any more than a Christian communion authoritatively declaring in its creed that Jesus is God in the flesh, makes them “higher” than He is, or superior.

Proclamation of an existing reality has nothing to do with some supposed “superiority” of category. Both the Bible and theological truth remain what they are at all times.

Next question?

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Photo credit: [Pixabay / public domain]

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Summary: Brazilian apologist Lucas Banzoli brings out the “Church ‘Above’ the Bible” caricature of what the Catholic Church has actually taught regarding the biblical canon.


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