Essentials of Catholic Theology - Lesson 3

Roman Catholicism and Its Structure of Authoritative Divine Revelation and Interpretation

On what authority does the Roman Catholic Church base their teachings and beliefs? What do they mean by general revelation and divine revelation? How and by whom is revelation transmitted and interpreted? What role does the Bible play in this process? Who makes up the Magisterium and what is their role? Why is the Catholic Bible different from the Protestant Bible? Understanding what the sources of revelation for the Roman Catholic Church are and how they transmit and interpret them will give you insight into their theology and practice. 

Gregg Allison
Essentials of Catholic Theology
Lesson 3
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Roman Catholicism and Its Structure of Authoritative Divine Revelation and Interpretation


A. Protestant teaching of “sola scriptura”

B. The Christ-Church interconnection


A. The revelation of God

B. The transmission of divine revelation

1. Orally

2. Writing

C. Tradition

D. Scripture

E. Magisterium

F. The canon of Scripture


  • Have you stopped to consider what Protestants and Roman Catholics have in common theologically and in practice? Thre are quite a few areas of agreement that can create opportunities for dialogue and fellowship. There are also significant differences in core principles and even differences in the way theological terms are defined. Key theological terms like grace, mercy, justification and sacraments have different meanings for each group. Listening to this lecture is a great opportunity for you to see the main similarities and differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics. It will also provide context for the other lectures in this course. 

  • The relationship between nature and grace, and also the interconnection of Christ and the church are the two foundational axioms on which everything in the Roman Catholic Church is structured. Everything from the nature of God to how creation works to salvation to church services to what happens after you die depends on these two ideas. Everything in Roman Catholic theology and practice is consistent with and determined by these two principles. 

  • On what authority does the Roman Catholic Church base their teachings and beliefs? What do they mean by general revelation and divine revelation? How and by whom is revelation transmitted and interpreted? What role does the Bible play in this process? Who makes up the Magisterium and what is their role? Why is the Catholic Bible different from the Protestant Bible? Understanding what the sources of revelation for the Roman Catholic Church are and how they transmit and interpret them will give you insight into their theology and practice. 

  • What is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church? How are they celebrated? Why are there seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church? What is their significance? What does, "Christ's Pascal mystery" refer to? This course gives you the opportunity to understand more about what the sacraments are, how you celebrate them and why they are a central element of Roman Catholic theology.

  • In Roman Catholic doctrine and practice, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Why is this true? What are the elements of the Eucharist and what takes place with the elements when the Eucharist is celebrated? What effect does it have on the people that participate? How is the Protestant view of the Eucharist different? What difference does it make? Take some time to consider the meaning of the Lord's Supper and why it is important to you.

  • In Roman Catholic theology, what is required for salvation and how do you accomplish it? Part of the answer lies in understanding the interface of law, grace, justification and merit. Also law, remission of sins, regeneration and sanctification are involved, all within the context of the Roman Catholic Churchas both mother and teacher. Listen further to understand how these parts are connected and intertwined. Then compare Protestant theology? Which position is Biblical? 

  • Why is Mary mentioned throughout Roman Catholic liturgy and theology? What is Dr. Allison referring to when he says that Mary is not just a tangent of Roman Catholic faith, but that Mariology epitomizes the core of their theological system? Why is this the case? How does this affect how people worship God and practice their faith? How does this compare with a Protestant view of Mary? As you listen, consider why Mary was important and what her role was in the life and ministry of Jesus. 

This course takes a systemic approach to explain the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and gives a comparative assessment to evangelical theology in the areas of salvation, Jesus, the church, eucharist, baptism, and Mariology.

The quotes that Dr. Allison is reading are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an official catechism approved by the Roman Catholic Church.

Recommended Books

Essentials of Catholic Theology - Student Guide

Essentials of Catholic Theology - Student Guide

This course takes a systemic approach to explain the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and gives a comparative assessment to evangelical theology in the areas of...

Essentials of Catholic Theology - Student Guide

Essentials of Catholic Theology

Dr. Gregg Allison


Roman Catholicism and Its Structure of Authoritative Divine Revelation and Interpretation

Lesson Transcript


Roman Catholicism and its structure of authoritative, divine revelation and interpretation. By way of introduction, the Roman Catholic faith is not based on the Bible alone as the written and authoritative Word of God, but on a much wider, more fluid and ongoing reservoir of divine revelation. According to Rome, God's revelation is ongoing and the present day voice of God is manifest in the official teaching of the church. It may take 1900 years to state a new doctrine, but the fact that Scripture is not the final authority makes the Catholic system unreliable in its very fabric. To greater or lesser degrees. All Catholic doctrines and practices are the result of this theological method that is not governed by Scripture alone, but by a self authenticating tradition which is administered by the authority of the Magisterium or teaching office of Rome. Let's remind ourselves as Protestants of the formal principle of Protestantism, that is Sola Scriptura scripture alone. That is, the reformers disagreed with the Roman Catholic concept of divine revelation as consisting of both Scripture and tradition. Sola Scriptura Scripture alone is the formal principle that governs us as Protestants or evangelicals. As we approach this topic. And as we've already talked about, the Roman Catholic theology is a system grounded on two principles. There are two axioms the nature, grace, interdependence, and the Christ Church interconnection. And these two foundational principles are at the heart of our discussion in this presentation. Roman Catholic theological method. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Roman Catholic theology, like Protestant theology, affirms the revelation of God in two aspects. There's first general revelation and there's secondly, divine revelation. General revelation is God's manifestation, His disclosure of himself and His ways to all peoples at all times and in all places, through various means, through what God is created, through the human conscience, to God's providential care for everything that He has created and through an innate sense of God.


So Roman Catholic theology and Protestant theology agree that God has revealed himself everywhere to all people through at least these four means. Roman Catholic theology and Protestant theology also agree to a certain extent about divine revelation. Divine revelation is God's disclosure of Himself to particular peoples at particular times and in particular places, through, for example, dreams and visions, direct divine speech, his mighty acts of salvation, Jesus Christ. And then also, as we'll see in a couple of minutes, his word, his written scripture. In terms of the transmission of divine revelation, Catholic theology affirms that this divine revelation is transmitted actually through two modes tradition and Scripture. This two fold pattern of communication is grounded in the two ways of preaching the Gospel by the Apostles, as commanded by Christ himself, first orally, by the Apostles, who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave by the institutions. They established what they themselves had received, whether from the lips of Christ, from His way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Second in writing by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing. The first means of transmission, according to Roman Catholic theology, is tradition. The second is scripture to these modes of transmission, the church adds. Its preservation through the Magisterium or the teaching office of the church. It ensures that this divine revelation in tradition and Scripture is properly preserved and authoritatively taught through the Pope and the bishops. Let's focus in on first tradition. Tradition is the teaching of Jesus Christ that He communicated orally to His apostles, who in turn transmitted this teaching orally to their successors.


The Bishops. Today, this teaching is nurtured and on occasion proclaimed officially by the Magisterium. Tradition is also the instruction that the Apostles learned through the urging of the Holy Spirit instruction that they in turn communicated to their successors, and that is likewise fostered by the teaching office, the Pope and the bishops of the Church. Think of two examples of tradition as the two doctrines about Mary, her immaculate conception and her bodily assumption. These are not found in Scripture, but they are disclosed by Catholic Church tradition. So tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God, which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. In a sense, this mode tradition is the broader of the two and encompasses within itself the other mode, which is Scripture. So what is scripture? According to the Roman Catholic Church? Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing, under the breath of the Holy Spirit. The two means are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them flowing out of this same divine wellspring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move toward the same goal. Accordingly, the church 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. This is the view of Scripture and tradition by Catholic theology. What about the Magisterium? The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church and consists of the Pope together with the bishops in communion with him. This association is often called the College of Bishops at the apex of the hierarchical Roman Catholic structure. The Magisterium bears ultimate responsibility for the Catholic faithful.


As for the specific role of the Magisterium, the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. To expand a bit on its responsibilities. The Magisterium determines the canon. The list of authoritative writings of Scripture and offers its official interpretation. Similarly, the Magisterium determines the content of tradition and its official interpretation. For the church. This tripartite three portions structure of authority is divinely designed. It is clear, therefore, that in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others working together. Each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls. That's the Roman Catholic view of these three elements Scripture, tradition and the Magisterium. In other words, just as the three poles of a three legged stool provide support for whatever sits on it, these three elements provide divine revelation and its authoritative interpretation for the Church. The canon of Scripture. The Roman Catholic canon differs from the Protestant canon, and by canon we speak about the list of authoritative writings that belong in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. So the Roman Catholic Bible and the Protestant Bible differ in terms of the writings that are found in Scripture. This divergence does not occur in the New Testament. Both traditions affirm the 27 writings that have been considered canonical from early on in the church's history. Rather, the difference appears in the Old Testament. While both canons include the 39 writings that are found in the Protestant Old Testament, the Catholic canon includes additional materials.


These are seven extra writings called the Apocrypha. They are tobit Judith First and second Maccabees. The Wisdom of Solomon. Ecclesiastical Source. Again, note that ending not ecclesiastic, but ecclesiastical. And Baruch and the books of Esther and Daniel have additional sections. How did this disparity between the two canons of Scripture develop? I have six key points. First, since the close of its writing about 435 B.C., the Hebrew Bible has always contained 39 writings as found in the Protestant Bibles. They may be numbered differently. They may be ordered differently, but they exactly correspond to the writings as found in the Protestant Bible. Second, the Apocrypha was never considered to be part of the Hebrew Bible. The Apocrypha was written in Greek, so these apocryphal writings were included in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and was used by Greek speaking Jews who lived away from Palestine. Third, the early church did not consider the Apocrypha to be the inspired, authoritative revelation of God. Indeed, he church leaders, for example, Melita was Sardis, Origin Athanasius and Jerome. These early church leaders explicitly denied that the apocryphal writings belong in the canon of the Old Testament. Fourth, at the end of the fourth century, Augustine insisted that a new Latin version of the Bible include translations of the apocryphal writings. Against his better judgment, Jerome included those extra writings in his Latin version of the Bible, which is called the Vulgate. Regional Church councils approve the Old Testament with the Apocrypha. Even then, key leaders like John of Damascus, Hugh of St Victor, John of Salisbury and the venerable Bede. He leaders insisted still that the Old Testament canon should not include the apocryphal writings. Fifth at the time of the Reformation, Protestants such as Martin Luther and John Calvin argued against retaining the Apocrypha.


They reasoned that if the Bible of Jesus and the Apostles had been the shorter Hebrew Bible, then the churches Old Testament should not include the apocryphal writings. Moreover, they argued that key leaders in the early church had rejected the Apocrypha as inclusion in the Bible. Additionally, they exposed wrong doctrines and practices that were found in those writings. For example, the Catholic Church pointed to second Maccabees Chapter 12, verses 38 to 45 to ground its doctrine of purgatory and its accompanying practice of indulgences, praying for the dead and saying Masses for the dead. And the Church supported its theology of earning merits before God by appealing to the practice of almsgiving as set forth in ecclesiastical source and tobit. Thus, since the Reformation, Protestant Bibles contain only 39 writings in their Old Testament. Six Then finally, the Catholic Church responded aggressively to this Protestant challenge. The Council of Trent warned, If anyone does not receive as sacred and canonical these books with all their parts as they have been read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition and knowingly and deliberately rejects the above mentioned traditions, let him be anathema that is coerced and sent to hell. Accordingly, a major divide between Roman Catholics and Protestants is the canon of Scripture. A further difference, again underscored at the Council of Trent, is the Catholic Church's insistence that the official version of the Bible is the Latin Vulgate. So we've looked at the Roman Catholic notion of authoritative, divine revelation and its interpretation. According to the Catholic Church, divine revelation consists of two aspects Scripture and tradition, and its interpretation is the prerogative of the Magisterium or the teaching office of the church. And we've also focused with some detail on how the canon of the Old Testament differs between the Roman Catholic Bible and Protestant Bible.


Are there any questions? I have just a couple of clarifying ones. First of all, in the notes that you've handed out, there's quite a few of the sentences that you're reading are, end quote marks. Are these quotes from the book you mentioned the head of the Catholic Church? Yes. Okay. Yes. To make sure I didn't know if it was your book or some other book, that would be the catechism. Okay. You talk about the self authenticating tradition and what sense in Roman Catholic thought is the tradition self authenticating? That's at the very beginning. Is that right? You mentioned in the introduction to this talk because tradition. Doesn't have to be grounded in anything other than itself. But tradition is announced or proclaimed by the Magisterium. Therefore, it is self authenticating. It's not grounded on anything else. Okay. So the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Right. The papal pronouncement of that back in the 19th century did not grounded in scripture, but simply announced it as this is what the church has always believed. And because we've announced it, therefore, therefore, it is good. You talked about how tradition was the broader category in scriptures, a subcategory or whatever, whatever word you could use. What would it And I'm trying to differentiate between the official position of the Roman Catholic Church and maybe how people would think about it. Is tradition more important or less important or equal importance to scripture? Yes, that's that's a great question. It's. Because of the Catholic Church's concern. With, I think, ecumenical dialog with Protestants. This sharp divide between tradition and scripture. The Catholic Church is trying to overcome it and the church really wants to make. Make it seem that. In that tradition is a broader category of which Scripture is a part.


So they're not at odds at all. Scripture would be a form, then the written form of tradition, but would not be supplementing it wouldn't be diverging from it, would never be in conflict with it. But is part of this broader divine revelation. Therefore, you can't say tradition is more important or Scripture is more important. There's different aspects of the same thing. And how do we know the canon of Scripture? How do we know what the tradition is? That's the role of the Magisterium to proclaim, This is scripture. This is tradition. This is the proper interpretation of Scripture. This is the proper interpretation of the tradition. So we have the official interpretive arm of the church being the Magisterium. So it's not comparing apples and apples as apples and oranges. Okay. One last question on the next to the last page. You talked about the tripartite tripartite structure of authority, and I wasn't sure what the three parts were. There's there's, there's canon and then there's the content of the tradition. And then is it the third part, the interpretation by the magisterium? Yes. So those are the three parts. So yeah, to even more simplify, it would be written scripture. So one pole of the way tradition. Another pole. And then the magisterium. Okay. Yeah. So therefore, we have divine revelation, scripture and tradition. We have authoritative interpretation. The Magisterium. The three have to go together. Otherwise, you wouldn't have the fullness of divine revelation. Or you wouldn't have the proper interpretation. So all three are necessary, just like the three legs of a three legged stool.