St Anselm of Canterbury and Sola Scriptura


St Anselm of Canterbury, the Magnificent Doctor

‘Therefore, just as at the beginning God marvellously, without cultivator or seeds, created grain and other terrestrial things to nourish people, so too he marvellously, without human learning, made the minds of prophets and apostles and, above all, the Gospels, rich with seeds for our salvation. These are the source of whatever we sow salutarily, in God’s husbandry, for the nourishment of our souls, just as what we cultivate for the nourishment of our bodies derives only from the original seeds of the earth.

‘In fact, we proclaim what is useful for the salvation of souls only what Sacred Scripture, made fecund by the marvellous activity of the Holy Spirit, has produced or contains in its womb. For if at times we assert by a process of reasoning a conclusion which we cannot explicitly cite from the sayings of Scripture or demonstrate from the bare wording, still it is by using Scripture that we know in the following way whether the affirmation should be accepted or rejected. If the conclusion is reached by straightforward reasoning and Scripture in no way contradicts it, then (since just as Scripture opposes no truth so too it abets no falsehood) by the very fact that it does not deny what is inferred on the basis of reason, that conclusion is accepted as authorised by Scripture. But if Scripture indubitably opposes our understanding, ever though our reasoning appears to us to be impregnable, still it ought not to be believed to be substantiated by any truth at all. It is when Sacred Scripture either clearly affirms or in no wise denies it, that it gives support to the authority of any reasoned conclusion.’

-De Concordia 3:6


Is St Anselm supporting some form of the protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, over four centuries before Martin Luther? Sort of.

That’s not to say that this Roman Catholic Archbishop and Doctor of the Church didn’t acknowledge the authority of the Church’s magisterium (i.e. authoritative teaching) however. That the minds of prophets and apostles are the original seeds, seems to imply that that the fruit they bore produced the plants that nourish us now, which must surely be their legitimate successors. For St Anselm, that must have meant the Holy Catholic Church and his fellow bishops. So we can’t say Scripture was for him the sole authority, as Luther made it.

However, he does clearly consider the Scriptures alone to be sufficient to tell between all truth and falsehood, at least regarding ‘what is useful for the salvation of souls’. Everything we teach must either be straight from Scripture, or proceed from straightforward reasoning and not contradict the Scriptures. Simple enough. While every heresy must, however reasonable it may seem, contradict the Scriptures and so be rejected. Revelation must protect us against the horrific reasonableness of heresy, because what else could? Yes, the magisterium of the Church, but the magisterium always refers us back to the revelation given to us once and for all in Jesus Christ.

This is a point we need to be clear on: The Church, as the authoritative interpreter of the Scriptures, has no authority over the Scriptures. Interpretation has come to mean something dishonest in our times; we suppose the meaning is being distorted and lost; in our post-modern world, we’ve started to wonder if there are any “correct interpretations”. Yes, there are. If the Bible is the Word of God, then its meaning is what God means by it, not what I decide to make of it. No one cares what I think. The Church, then, is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture, simply because She is the one who hears God’s voice and listens. The Scriptures were spoken to the Church, the Beloved Bride of Christ, and therefore they are Hers to understand. The Word of God belongs to Her, precisely because She belongs to the Word; ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine’ [Sg 6:3].

Yes, the Scriptures are also written to me particularly, but to me within the Church. They are never my private possession. The faith is mine, because it is ours. It is mine, only because I am a living member of the Body of Christ, and my faith cannot contradict that of the Church. As I wrote in the past, your religion is mine, and mine is yours.


I hope and pray that all Christians can establish true unity with one another. ‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’ Amen.

The River of Tradition

‘In protestantism, the believer is always looking to the fresh rain of the scriptures, but in Catholicism, the believer looks to the fresh rain of the scriptures, as well as the great torrents of the river of reflection and consideration by the saints upon those same scriptures, going back to their source in the incarnate Son of God. To take this analogy a step further, the puddle corrupts and muddies the water it receives far more than the fast flowing river.’

I wrote this in a post a couple years ago, and I just wanted to post it again on its own.


God bless you!

Catholicism is more free than protestantism

Since joining the Catholic Church, I have found that I’m much more free in my theology and spirituality. Confused? I’ll explain.

As a protestant, I couldn’t tell where orthodoxy ended and heresies began. If I was thinking or praying outside the box, I might be thinking or praying outside Christianity itself. And perhaps scarier, was that I couldn’t even know where others drew the line between orthodoxy and heresy. Without any authority on the matter, either our communion was brittle and easily broken, or our theology and spirituality had to become no more than opinions.

But now, as a Catholic, I am not scared of newness in my religion. The Holy Spirit brings new things, and they are wonderful. As Pope Francis loves to remind us, our God is a God of surprises! We don’t have to be afraid of the new, because, by God’s providence, we are sure of the ancient truths, contained in the deposit of the faith.

And if, God forbid, I say something certainly wrong, the Church can correct me. If the Church doesn’t know what to make of it, it won’t feel threatened, and we can figure it out together, knowing we are still together in the one body of Christ.

And so, Catholic theology and spirituality keeps growing ever stronger, even today. I’d like to remind you, that we too are part of the Church’s apostolic tradition, passing on and developing doctrine under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, protestant theology and spirituality is doomed to either breaking up, with each part closing itself off from others, or (more commonly seen) weakening into no more than subjective thoughts and preferences, even on what were once the hallmarks of protestant orthodoxy.

God bless you

The Pharisees and the Catholics

The fault of the Pharisees was their belief that they owned their religion, that they owned God’s law and revelation, and so that they owned God. They were so sure of their religion, that when God’s own Son rebuked them, they were outraged and murdered Him.

The Pharisees’ problem was that they wanted God, but they wanted God to be theirs. Cain wanted God to be pleased with his sacrifice, but in his way, and so rather than improve his sacrifice, he murdered his brother, so that no sacrifice was better than his. He wanted God’s approval by having a monopoly over religion. The prophets were likewise murdered, because they were close to God, and their murderers wished to be. The tenants murdered the heir of the vineyard to become the heir and keep the vineyard.

It is easy to see God’s heirs, His messengers, and reject them as not from Him, because they are poor, weak, and harmless, and they simply do not resemble us. They are unpredictable, and do not follow the manual we have written for “How to obey God”. From the perspective of our religion they are the infidels and heretics.
Are Catholics pharisaical? After all, we believe in an authoritative Church, established by Jesus in the Holy Spirit to speak God’s word to the world. We believe the Church teaches infallibly on matters of faith and morals. Is this owning God’s revelation, and owning God Himself?

No. The Catholic Church is the Body of Christ, and belongs to him through and through. Jesus himself said that the authority of the Pharisees was legitimate (Mt 23:2-3), so that was not their problem.


The trouble comes, when we consider God to be ours more than we are God’s. This is not natural to Catholicism in the slightest. The authority of the Church is because she is Christ’s spouse and mystical body: because God owns her, and uses her, and loves her. Never disobey the servant of God. The Church only teaches what she has received from Christ and the apostles, and is always subject to God’s word.

That’s not to say no Catholics commit the fault of the Pharisees. If only. Some may become so attached to certain common Catholic opinions or tendencies (rather than Church doctrines) or liturgical practices, that they refuse to listen to God, whether He speaks by the magisterium of the Church or in the cry of the oppressed. There are some today, who are so committed to being Catholic, they believe themselves more Catholic than the successor of Peter; just as two millenia ago, some Jews were so committed, they believed they were more Jewish than the Messiah.

To reverse the accusation so common against Catholics, is sola scriptura pharisaical? In itself, no. But have you never seen a protestant with an interpretation, arguing with all sorts of interpretive tools that all Christians ought to believe something they believe (often that’s convenient for them and not really in the text), and that to do otherwise is rejecting God’s word? Within the Catholic Church, we must simply receive what God has given us, but without the Church, we must ourselves formulate God’s word from the books he left us. With sola scriptura, we are left to build a religion for ourselves, judging all previous attempts by our own. Such a task definitely leaves us open to creating and owning our own religion, and so our own god.

We all must be wary, so that in all our seeking after God, we never consider Him, the Supreme Being, as our possession. We must never make ourselves the criterion of the true religion. We must always listen to God’s voice, wherever He chooses to speak, and exclude no one from the possibility of being God’s servant for this moment. We must always hold firm to the faith we have received, from the Church, from the fathers, from the apostles, from Christ, from God.

God bless you, today and forever

Is Christianity Knowable?

One of the main things that drove me from protestantism to Catholicism, was realising that within protestantism, I couldn’t really know about most areas of my religion. One day I could be sure an issue was settled, and the next day I would have seen an argument against my earlier position, and think the matter’s open, and within a few days my mind could completely change on an issue. And each time, I’d have to run about, looking into ancient languages, history, and literary styles, to support my new belief. Often, I was trying (with moderate success) to push my own ideas onto the Bible (I very nearly had a vegetarian Jesus at one point, but there was a pesky fish in the way…).

There could be arguments over what was scripture (“Paul never even met Jesus…”), what the scripture said (“the Hebrew word used, beit-nun-hei, was used to…), and how scripture should be read (“scripture came through men, and cannot be taken at face value”) [I can see the appeal of KJVonlyism]. I read good Christian books and theology, and found they kept referring me to a new “heart of Christianity”. It was when I heard about a Christian who believed we should still follow Jewish dietary laws that I got really fed up. Without hearing him out, I couldn’t dismiss him, as he was probably better informed on the matter than me. But I decided to anyway, because I was tired of being told I didn’t know my religion until I learned about ancient languages and history and the rest. I felt it was settled by St. Paul in the first century Anno Domini. I began to wonder if I had be a full-time scholar to know the “true” teachings of my own religion.

Sadly, these arguments aren’t confined to trivial matters. To this day, there are people arguing from the Bible against Christ’s divinity, God being the Trinity, who God loves, how we are saved, the way to read the Bible, the role of the law, the nature of sin, and much more. Today, protestantism still has to fight many of the heresies dealt with by the early Church. Protestantism is, naturally, in a worse state than the early Church was, because they have only the scriptures to refer to, and so each theologian must start again from the scriptures, whereas the early Church could also refer to the oral teachings of the apostles, and those given authority by the apostles.

As a result of this general uncertainty (and greater geographical mobility), you’ll find most protestants today will only call themselves Christian, and will avoid even calling themselves protestants (perhaps out of politeness also). Few are willing to associate with a denomination, since a better interpretation may come along, or they may move somewhere where that denomination is less to their worship taste. Exactly what constitutes a “Christian” is up for debate, and it’s accepted that on most matters, there is only opinion. As a result, churches only teach basic Christianity.

At the end of the day, the question remains unanswered, “Who is Jesus, and what exactly does he want?” Does he just want to save us, so we can sin as much as we like and still be saved? Does he want to threaten everyone with eternal torture so they obey his blood-thirsty Father? Does he want us to start a revolution? Does he want us to not judge others? Does he want us to follow him even to death? Does he want us to eat his body and drink his blood, and so enter into mystical union with him? Does he want us to be saved for doing good to the needy?

The Solution

Catholicism. Catholic teaching is known, and does not change. The Catholic Church has an immense, two thousand year old intellectual tradition, reasoning through everything thoroughly, and yet, the Catholic faith can be reasonably accepted by illiterate peasants as well as the finest scholars, because it is from the Church that Jesus founded.

The Catholic Church doesn’t struggle with the old heresies anymore, because they were definitively settled more than a millennium ago. The arguments were laid to rest, and we’re done with the matter. That’s not to say there are none left. There are always new heresies, but they’re being dealt with too.

The Church has come a long way since she was the early Church, and has remembered and passed on all of the teachings of the apostles, and ‘treasured all their words and pondered them in her heart’ (Lk 2:19). Indeed, the Church has internalised the understandings of those who originally wrote and received the scriptures, so that the Church’s teachings are naturally the teachings of the scriptures in their proper context. That’s not to say that the Church isn’t looking back to the scriptures though.

In protestantism, the believer is always looking to the fresh rain of the scriptures, but in Catholicism, the believer looks to the fresh rain of the scriptures, as well as the great torrents of the river of reflection and consideration by the saints upon those same scriptures, going back to their source in the incarnate Son of God. To take this analogy a step further, the puddle corrupts and muddies the water it receives far more than the fast flowing river.

‘Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients. Deny this, and you dissolve the unity of the Church.’
St. Thomas Aquinas

Ultimately, the reason I became a Catholic is because I had come to believe that the Catholic Church really knew Jesus. I looked at her teachings, practices, and attitudes (particularly towards poverty and suffering), and I looked at the New Testament, and especially the Gospels, and found she was living in radical continuity with Jesus and the apostles. Catholicism was the real deal. And since the Church really knew Jesus, she really knew his teaching.

God bless you.

My rejection of and return to church

I remember as a child, once asking why the Bible, especially the gospels, were so good, and church was so boring and lame. And I remember that my mother’s response wasn’t that I was wrong about church, but just that she didn’t know. I noticed how little the gospels were referred to, and how little the sermons sounded like something Jesus would say. I noticed that, church just seemed to a place to feel good together, with ideas to make you feel good, but not to really change your way of life.

But in the gospels, I saw a Jesus all about changing lives, and living in the Kingdom of God, and being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. I saw a Jesus who was demanding, and changed lives. Jesus was not a life coach preaching about positive thinking.

Of course, churches vary greatly. I visited a lot, and a lot were quite motivating, and even inspiring. But I didn’t feel it lasted. It seemed to me, a more or less empty entertainment, remembering how good Jesus is, and sometimes suggesting he might want to do something in you. What kind of thing wasn’t ever clear.

It seemed to me, Christianity had been made a private matter, relevant mainly to our feelings. It seemed we were told to love God, and always be feely-goody people. And tell others to do so also.

At one point, I thought Christianity was perhaps best seen as a God-given pyramid scheme, where we believe, and must then get others to believe, even though we were only really believing in believing itself. And by this scheme, we get to heaven. It seemed like the gospel we were meant to spread, was that there was a gospel to be spread.

It’s fair to say, I was very confused. But, I applied good protestant logic, and concluded that the churches had corrupted teachings, and I would be better off on my own with a bible. Which, for a good few years, I did.6660ed346e8634249b75452e7b760dc7f78763d983205a92686184eb05cf9244

[I think it’s good logic from a protestant perspective, because if the Church Jesus himself founded with the apostles could be corrupted (and to maintain protestant beliefs this would have to have happened extremely early on), then it seems inevitable that the churches founded by reformers should also be corrupted even sooner. In view of this fact, I believe the fact that protestant churches are as unified as they are, is a testament to God’s care for them]

So, I became an lone sheep, as soon as my parents stopped making me go to church. But I continued to read the Bible and other Christian books, and I think I grew a lot in those years. My understanding of the scriptures became a lot less muddled and confused. I had decided to ignore Paul at first, because I found him confusing, and I found that suspicious. But I returned to him later, and found he made perfect sense when taken in the light of the gospels I had seen.

I was especially delighted that my new church of one appreciated Jesus’ attitude toward the poor. It wasn’t skipping over Jesus words on selling all you owned and giving it to the poor in order to be perfect and follow Jesus. From early on, I had thought Jesus was talking to me when he said that. I wasn’t obeying it (I was still a child and had no idea how to), but I did look upon it as important. I also noted how Jesus spoke strongly of works when talking about salvation (“as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me”). This tendency, combined with more or less independent political thought, brought me to believe in “Christian anarchism”. [I won’t go into my beliefs in this period of time any further here, but if you like, the last year of this period is somewhat captured in the archives of the first year of this blog]

But then Christian anarchism pointed me towards Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker movement, which is brilliant, which pointed me to Catholic social teaching, which is brilliant, though I wondered about a few points, which then pointed me to Catholic theology, which is brilliant, though it took a lot of wrestling for me to understand and agree, and I just disagreed a lot at first.

It gradually dawned on me, that a Christian is not alone, and should not be alone. And however disappointing I found church, Jesus had put in a lot of effort to found his Church, so I had to go. So, I tried a couple churches on the few Sundays when I was up on time, and was disappointed. Eventually, I tried mass at my little local, Catholic Church.

It was a shocking experience. So much sudden standing, and kneeling, and everyone responding together. I tried my best to go with the flow. I was terrified: heart racing, sweating so much I hate to think how I smelt. I loved that the gospel was read. That really pleased me. In the second half of the mass, what I now know is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I strongly sensed the reverence of those around me, and learned what the word sacred really means. At the sign of peace, I was stupendously happy to be saying, “peace be with you” and shaking hands with those around me, especially the priest when he came down (I suspect they thought me very strange). I didn’t go up for communion, because I didn’t know if I was allowed, and I was unsure on transubstantiation, and whether it could make it a sin for me to take it, if I was wrong about it either way. I remember noticing, that I had a wonderful feeling throughout, after the fear passed, that I had only ever had while reading the Bible. It almost felt like I was in the Bible.

This experience really should have been enough to convince me to begin becoming Catholic. But I decided to wait, and research on my own to make up my mind. I waited far too long. It was at least six months before I asked about becoming a Catholic, and in that time I rarely came to mass or other church (sleep pattern mainly).

I find it funny to think, how the reformation is viewed as rejecting a lifeless institution with a corrupted gospel, to make a better, more biblical church, but I was led to reject what I viewed as weak institutions with a corrupted gospel, in favour of a better, more biblical Church (the one seen in the Bible), and ended up at Catholicism. Ironic.

God bless you

Salvation by “faith alone” limits God’s grace

Advocates of salvation by faith alone have, in the past, argued that anything else is unbiblical legalism, and so makes void God’s grace. This is entirely mistaken.
The reason it limits God’s grace, is that it removes the crucial change that grace causes. Faith doesn’t simply give us the password to heaven, no matter how good the creeds professed. In God’s grace, we are made Godly. By our faith in God, we let in God’s grace, that proceeds to fundamentally change us. God’s grace takes over us, as we allow Him, and fills us with grace also, so that we can say with Paul,

with Christ I have been crucified, and live no more do I, and Christ doth live in me; and that which I now live in the flesh—in the faith I live of the Son of God, who did love me and did give himself for me;
Galatians 2:20


Not having my righteousness, which is of law, but that which is through faith of Christ—the righteousness that is of God by the faith, to know him, and the power of his rising again, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if anyhow I may attain to the rising again of the dead.
Philippians 3:9-11

Don’t mistake it for legalism. It is through God’s grace that the change is had. It is not by man’s effort that salvation is reached (though each can refuse or accept).

for if by the offence of the one the death did reign through the one, much more those, who the abundance of the grace and of the free gift of the righteousness are receiving, in life shall reign through the one—Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:17

It is God’s gift, that those of the true faith will imitate Him they have faith in. It is only natural. [rereading this post, I feel the need to note that it isn’t “only natural”, but is also supernatural]

Jesus talked a lot about what to do to be forgiven and enter the Kingdom of God. You could argue it was all mere legalism before he had taken our place upon the cross, but that would make him irrelevant to us in all apart from his crucifixion and resurrection; It would be a far shorter good news. But we cannot remove Jesus’ redeeming work from his holy teachings.
Anyway, Jesus had to deal with legalism himself(Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:27). Jesus already acknowledged that a list of dos & do nots was insufficient, and mercy was required, so that God also would be merciful.

‘For, if ye may forgive men their trespasses He also will forgive you—your Father who is in the heavens;’
Matthew 6:14

Jesus explains the way he will be manifested to us,

Judas saith to him, (not the Iscariot), ‘Sir, what hath come to pass, that to us thou are about to manifest thyself, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If any one may love me, my word he will keep, and my Father will love him, and unto him we will come, and abode with him we will make;’
John 14:22-23

That the Son, and the Father, and the Comforter will make abode with us is brilliant news. This requires us to love Jesus, and so keep his word. And the Father, and the Son, and the Comforter, will make us holy.

This idea of justification by faith alone is harmful to the Church, because it ignores God’s holy gift.

But I must make this crystal clear: I am not advocating legalism. It is the God-given, miraculous transformation that saves us, coming through faith.

Having been declared righteous, then, by faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have the access by the faith into this grace in which we have stood, and we boast on the hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2

Any deeds are the natural [and again, supernatural] effect, and outward manifestation of God’s seed within us (1John 3:9). They are not what earn salvation.
The repentant criminal on the cross at Jesus side did no act to save himself but trust Jesus and be transformed.

Rejoice in God’s gift. He gives you Himself, to make you holy.

God bless you.

the reason I felt the need to write about this doctrine is that it is so much less than the truth.
I don’t know how common this Lutheran idea is today, but I have come across it a couple times, and it seemed to have general acceptance. The problem is, it makes God’s grace weak, in failing to make us holy inside; and convenient, in changing little of our lives. Also, it isn’t Biblical.
One time I came across this doctrine was in a church drama, set in the airport to heaven. A man in a suit went to get on the plane and mentioned all his good work, but wasn’t allowed on because of his passport not being good enough. Then a criminal was allowed on, using Jesus’ passport. It seemed nice to get on, but I didn’t get why this is a good system. The point of passports is for accurate ID. It didn’t seem right to me, but I figured it was a bad analogy.
I might have misremembered, as this was years ago, and I didn’t listen in Church much back then.
I didn’t suspect it was maybe wrong for years.

God bless you.

Earlier today I was reading about sanctifying grace on the Catholic Encyclopedia website, and that really helped clarify this for me, and provide lots of Bible verses relevant to the matter. A lot of thanks to them.
I had been thinking along similar lines on salvation, though I was phrasing it as “Does God believe in you?” which is far less Biblical language. What I had been saying is that if God doesn’t know you, you are turned away, and I took this to mean if God believes you’re good for him. I was also saying that true faith leads to being the kind of person God believes in.
I’m glad I waited rather than publishing that before I was aware of the more complete answer. Thank God because that post could have been very misleading.

God bless you.