Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Review of William Whitaker's "A Disputation on Holy Scripture"

Imagine the most lop-sided competition you can think of - Rocky Marciano versus a 0-100 light flyweight, the 1927 Yankees versus the 1962 Mets, Garry Kasparov versus Homer Simpson - that's what this book feels like. 


Whitaker’s magnum opus is a reply to the Jesuit hero of the Counter-Reformation, Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). As good a controversialist as Bellarmine may have been, he was so overwhelmingly outclassed by Whitaker that it was almost embarrassing. Whitaker takes on Bellarmine’s defense of the Roman Catholic “unwritten tradition,” and pounds it into cream. The reason that Whitaker’s work is so overpowering is that he takes Bellarmine apart point by point. This work is not simply a reply to any single work of Bellarmine, but against his career-long apology for Romish ‘tradition.’ 

Whitaker wastes no effort in his manhandling of Bellarmine. A key feature is that, rather than stack up countless Patristic citations against Bellarmine, Whitaker goes to the exact same Patristic sources Bellarmine cites to demonstrate that Bellarmine has both cherry-picked his citations and ignored the larger context of the actual citation. He does this so often that you feel tempted to either pity Ballarmine or simply despise his as a rank fool. 

Whitaker points out the ways in which the Fathers used the word tradition. There are 4 ways, says Whitaker, in which the word ‘tradition’ is used by the Fathers: (1) In reference to the Scriptures, (2) in reference to the doctrines of Scripture, (3) in reference to indifferent traditions, regarding which the Fathers are often at odds with each other, (4) in reference to traditions highly valued by the Fathers which Rome does not practice. Uses 1 and 2 are twisted by Bellarmine into an argument from silence in defense of unwritten tradition. This is something Whitaker shows cannot be sustained by either the immediate context of the Patristic citation in question or the overall work of the Father cited. Uses 3 and 4 are conveniently ignored by Bellarmine. Whitaker gives no quarter.

Another defense Bellarmine has recourse to is the claim that Scripture is not intended to be the rule of doctrine and practice, but merely a ‘commonitory’ i.e., a manual for good living. Whitaker mops the floor with this argument as well. First he notes how deceptive Rome is because they themselves refer to the Scriptures as the “canonical’ Scriptures. ‘Canon,’ by definition means a RULE. Plainly, Bellarmine is being duplicitous, and Whitaker wastes no time pointing this out. Secondly, Whitaker points out that if Scripture were merely meant as a rule-book or manual for good Christian living, it could stand to be a lot shorter. Anyone can see, that by this standard, Scripture contains much that is either irrelevant or superfluous. 

Bellarmine then flips and says that Scripture is indeed a rule, however, not the only rule. Whitaker shows the logical fallacy involved in this position as well. First of all, Bellarmine’s duplicity shows itself in bright colors here since he has just asserted that Scripture is not a rule. When he gets schooled on the very Patristic sources he has used (rather, abused) to promote this assertion, he then attempts to sidestep Whitaker by saying that Scripture is a rule, just not the sole rule. This is, of course, logically inconsistent. Scripture cannot serve as a rule unless it is the only rule. Bellarmine is too smart to get away with such poor reasoning, and Whitaker won’t let him.

A most amusing feature about Bellarmine's defense of 'tradition' against the sufficiency of Scripture, relegating Scripture to functioning as a ‘commonitory,’ is that this is exactly the position argued by so-called ‘Evangelicals’ today. Who would’ve thought that people who are supposedly on Whitaker’s side would be treating Scripture exactly as the Counter-Reformation Jesuit enemies of the Gospel of Whitaker’s day? The fell-good evangelical preachers of our day constantly refer to Scripture as God’s “owner’s manual” for life. I’ve heard it a million times from the popular TV preachers and their multitudinous mimics. Joel Osteen=Robert Bellarmine – who knew? Whitaker must by turning in his grave! 

This is an excellent book and worth the effort on every level. It contains a wealth of Scriptural arguments for the sufficiency of Scripture. I have tangled with a few Romish apologists who like to assert that Scripture doesn't teach our doctrine of ‘sola Scriptura.’ Five minutes with the book will explode that assertion for the idiocy that it is. If you are looking for a defense of the sufficiency of Scripture, look no further.

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