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On the Infallibility of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium

1. Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Magisterium are a reflection of the Most Holy Trinity.

Tradition is a reflection of the Father; Scripture is a reflection of the Son; Magisterium is a reflection of the Spirit. Scripture proceeds from Tradition, just as the Son proceeds from the Father. Magisterium proceeds primarily from Tradition and Secondarily from Scripture, just as the Spirit proceeds primarily from the Father and secondarily from the Son. Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium are three distinct aspects of One Divine Gift, just as the Trinity is three distinct Persons of One Divine Being. Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Magisterium are inseparable, just as the Father, Son, Spirit are inseparable. Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Magisterium are infallible because they are a true reflection and a true work of the Infallible Holy Trinity.

2. Sacred Tradition is “the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation.” (Dei Verbum, n. 2).

Sacred Tradition is infallible because it is the deeds of the Infallible and Most Holy Trinity. Everything that God is and everything that God does is One Divine Eternal Infallible Act. Sacred Tradition is infallible because it is a true reflection and a true work of the Infallible Father.

If the deeds wrought by God in salvation history were merely teaching stories or myths, with little or no historical value, then Tradition would cease to be the deeds of the God and would not be infallible.

3. Sacred Scripture proceeds from Sacred Tradition.

Sacred Scripture is infallible because it proceeds from infallible Sacred Tradition. Sacred Scripture is infallible because it is a true reflection and a true work of the Infallible Son. Sacred Scripture is infallible because it is words written by God, and because it is the Word of God, and because it is One Utterance of God.

If Sacred Tradition does not exist, or if it is not the infallible deeds of God, then Sacred Scripture would lose its foundation and would not be infallible. If Sacred Scripture is fallible, then it is not the Word of God. If Sacred Scripture is full of errors, then Sacred Tradition, from which Scripture proceeds, would be full of errors. If Tradition and Scripture are full of errors, then the Teaching of the Church would be full of confusion and error. Such is not the case.

4. Sacred Magisterium proceeds primarily from Sacred Tradition and secondarily from Sacred Scripture.

The Sacred Magisterium can be exercised by the Pope alone, or by the body of Bishops led by the Pope. The Sacred Magisterium is infallible because it is a true reflection and a true work of the Infallible Spirit. The Sacred Magisterium is infallible because it teaches only from Sacred Infallible Tradition and Sacred Infallible Scripture, by the Infallible guidance of the Most Holy Spirit.

If Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are not infallible, then neither can the Sacred Magisterium be infallible, for the Sacred Magisterium teaches only from Tradition and Scripture. The Sacred Magisterium cannot teach that Tradition or Scripture contain errors of any kind, because Tradition and Scripture are the foundation of the Sacred Magisterium.

5. The Canon of Sacred Scripture is the books of the Bible recognized by the Sacred Magisterium.

The books of the Bible include the Old Testament books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Wisdom, Sirach, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees; and the New Testament books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

Included in the Canon of Sacred Scripture are all the words of all of the above books, including the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts in Daniel and Esther, and the prologues of Lamentation and of Sirach, which are found in the Latin Vulgate.

Excluded from the Canon of Scripture are any books from that same general time period but not listed above, including other so-called gospels, epistles, or apocalyptic writings. Also excluded are the apocryphal books (those that are not called Deuterocanonical), including Psalm 151, the prayer of Manasseh, and 1 Esdras. Also excluded from the Canon of Scripture is the alleged document called 'Q' or 'Q-source,' and any hypothetical reconstructions of such an alleged document. Further excluded are any and all hypothetical reconstructions which claim to recover the sayings or words of Jesus better than, or above and beyond, what is Divinely-revealed in Scripture itself.

6. There is no single definitive version or edition of the Bible.

Among the many versions and editions of the Bible, in the many different languages, no one version or edition can stand alone as the definitive version. No one version or edition can claim to hold all the truths of the Bible. No one version or edition can claim to bring an end to the usefulness or necessity of all other versions and editions. Any particular version or edition may clarify certain truths, yet obscure other truths, even within the same verse. No one wording or language brings out every level of truth found in every verse. Comparing the wording of several different versions or editions, especially in different languages, often brings the reader to a greater understanding of the truth than could ever be presented to the reader in only one version or edition or language.

7. There is no single definitive language for the Bible

No one language is definitive over every other language, yet of the various languages used in ancient times, and of those used to translate in modern times, each makes their contribution to the task of making the unfathomable depths of the many levels of Truth found within the Sacred Texts clear and accessible to the faithful.

When the Council of Trent emphasized the importance and indisputability of the Latin Vulgate Bible, the Fathers of that Council did not specify a particular edition to be preeminent above other editions, but rather they taught that the Latin Scriptural tradition, having its roots in the earliest days of the Church, is authoritative, cannot be ignored or rejected or belittled, and must never pass away from usage and veneration in the Church. But neither did they even suggest that the Hebrew or Greek or other languages be ignored or rejected or belittled.

Contrary to the belief and practice of modern scholars, neither the Hebrew nor the Greek text of the Old Testament is definitive. The Greek text of the New Testament is not definitive. Even those languages not used during Biblical times, languages into which the Bible is translated, often bring to the text a new phrasing that clarifies truths which were otherwise quite obscure in the Biblical languages. Every language into which the Bible has ever been written or translated contributes substantially to this holy expression of Truth in written form. Let no one ever say or believe that the true meaning of the Bible cannot be understood apart from the original languages of the Bible. Let no one ever claim that any word or phrase in the Bible can only be understood in its original language. Every word and phrase in the Bible is able to be translated and able to be understood in its translated form.

8. The truths of the Bible are not completely contained, nor fully expressed, in any single edition.

The truths of the Bible subsist across every version and edition put together. Since no one language, translation, version, or edition of the Bible is definitive, the Bible is every manuscript, translation, version, and edition, in every language, put together. All the editions of the Bible are one edition. All the languages of the Bible are one language. All the languages, manuscripts, printings, translations, versions, and editions of the Bible are one Text, in the sight of the One Holy God.

9. Any edition of the Bible may have errors particular to that edition.

God never allows such particular errors to enter every extant edition of the Bible, nor to become lost in a myriad of editions duplicating the same error. These errors are not errors in anything asserted by the sacred writers or by God through the sacred writers. These are the possible errors of copyists, printers, translators, and editors. Yet even these errors are never permitted by God to cause the Truths of the Sacred Word of God to become lost to the faithful. God protects the Truths of Scripture to the extent that copyists, printers, translators, editors, commentators, and readers, on the whole, cannot cause even the slightest truth of Scripture to pass away from the life of the Church on earth. Therefore, the infallibility of Sacred Scripture is a continuous work of the Holy Spirit.

The possible errors of particular editions include copyist errors, printing errors, translating errors, and editing errors. Copyist errors are frequently seen in ancient manuscripts, which include misspellings, dropped or added words or letters, repeated words, or the confusion of one word with another similar word. Printers errors include a similar array of possible mistakes. Translator errors are easily seen by comparing various translations and by finding verses where different translations have opposite or irreconcilable meanings. Editing errors are seen in misleading punctuation or capitalization, in the omission of certain parts of the text or their relegation to a footnote, and in any unwise addition, subtraction, or substantial change in the text. Translators and editors also sometimes make unwise decisions on the overall approach to translating and editing, such as trying to accommodate the text to modern concerns, altering the text to suit the ideas of modern culture and society.

10. Everything asserted by the Bible as true, is infallibly and unerringly true, without exception.

Some assertions are made deliberately and knowingly by the sacred writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Other assertions are made by the Holy Spirit, even beyond the understanding and intention of the inspired writers. In both cases, everything asserted as true by the inspired writers, or by the Holy Spirit through the writers, is infallibly true. These truths include truths of faith and morals, truths of science, history, geography, human nature, human society, and all other areas of knowledge and understanding. These truths include, but are not limited to, those truths written for the sake of our salvation.

11. Apparent errors in the Bible have a number of explanations, in particular: misunderstanding the text, a lack of faith, and even an ill will.

Some passages are mistakenly interpreted an overly literal manner and so seem to be false. Other passages are mistakenly interpreted according to a modern way of thinking. The ancients had a different way of describing and understanding the world. Some readers expect an unreasonable degree of precision from the text. The Bible is both true and accurate in all that it asserts as true, to whatever degree of accuracy it asserts. Some passages are thought to be in error because the order of events is different, but it is a common storytelling technique to present events in other than a chronological order. Quotes in the Bible are not presented as if they were exact word-for-word quotes, such as we write today. They are free quotations, sometimes rewording the quote and sometimes joining it with words from another passage or another speech. This is not an error, but merely a difference between the ancient and modern method of expressing quotes.

Unusual or miraculous events described in the Bible are sometimes used to support a claim that the Bible contains falsehoods. The problem here is not found in the text, but in the lack of faith in the reader concerning the miraculous intervention of God in human events. If, however, there should be any passage or verse which seems to be false and for which no reasonable explanation is presently available, the reader should still believe, with a sincere and constant faith, that the passage or verse is true and without error. For anyone who believes only what he understands possesses understanding, but not faith.

Finally, it is clear that some persons deliberately seek passages that they can distort, so as to claim that the Bible is false and unreliable. Such persons have an ill will toward the Bible because they despise its true teachings on faith and morals. They undermine the authority of the Bible in order to exalt themselves, to justify their own sins, and to teach others the same. They deliberately attack the Bible with false accusations because of the malice in their own souls.

12. The Sacred Magisterium has the ability and the authority to interpret Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture infallibly.

All theologians and Biblical scholars must submit to the authority of the Sacred Magisterium to interpret and to teach from Tradition and Scripture. Each Christian should read or listen to the Bible, learning directly from the text. But each Christian should also form his understanding of the text according to the teachings of the Magisterium.

by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
December 16, 2005

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