Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Material Sufficiency Of Scripture vs the Partim Partim View of Scripture in Roman Catholicism

Here's a great link expounding the Roman Catholic issue on the Material Sufficiency Of Scripture vs Partim Partim view of Scripture:

Rome's Apologists At It Again (by James White)

The link contains a section from White's book, The Roman Catholic Controversy (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1996), 76-80.

Catholic Material Sufficiency: The idea that the Scriptures are “materially sufficient” simply means the entire content of revelation is in the Scriptures, or that divine revelation is contained entirely in Scripture. That is, all the doctrines Christians are to believe are found in the Bible. Along with affirming totum in Scriptura, Catholics who maintain material sufficiency also hold “Tradition” likewise contains the entire content of revelation: “totum in traditione”. Thus, two vehicles carry God’s special revelation in total: Scripture and Tradition. Both are infallible in the Catholic view.

Catholic Partim-Partim Sufficiency: Part of God’s special revelation is contained in the Scripture, and part is contained in tradition. In this view, the Bible is “materially insufficient”. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states of those who hold this view, “Neither tradition nor Scripture contains the whole apostolic tradition. Scripture is materially (i.e., in content) insufficient, requiring oral tradition as a complement to be true to the whole divine revelation” [Source: New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) Vol 14, p.228].David King points out that “…nearly every theologian from the Council of Trent to Vatican I (a span of about 300 years) understood the teaching of Trent to be a denial of both the material and formal sufficiency of Scripture” (Source: Holy Scripture, Vol 1, p.183).

Over on the CARM boards, I recently posted on this topic. One response from a Roman Catholic was quite interesting. He said in response at first:“The fact the Bible doesnt list the canon of Scripture can be used to say "material sufficiency" means nothing.” Then he later said: “In general (eg apart from the canon) I believe everything is contained in the Bible either explicitly or implicitly.”

This Catholic has a little dilemma. On the one hand, he posits that "material sufficiency means nothing” because a list of which books belonging in the canon is not contained in the Scripture. But then he affirms material sufficiency, except for the canon. Basically, he's attempting to affirm both material sufficiency and partim-partim while at the same time affirming neither. I think that if he can’t even affirm one of the positions, it seems clear to me that sophistry is at work. I know that sounds derogatory, but I spent the time to outline the two acceptable views of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s logically either one or the other. There wasn’t any intended trickery going on with my post. Perhaps he hasn’t studied this issue, so he's “winging it”. Perhaps he's trying to come up with his own view. His position is demonstrative of how much uncertainty exists with those who hold to Roman Catholicism.

Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner made the following comment in his book, Theological Investigations:

"We will not be able to doubt or dispute the fact that in post-Tridentine theology the main trend of thought has been to maintain, on the basis of an anti-Protestant front, that there is not only the truth of the inspiration and of the canon of scripture but that there are also other truths of faith which are not to be found in scripture, so that for them oral tradition is a materially distinct source of faith" [Source: Theological Investigations (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1969), Vol. VI, 106-107].

The irony is a Roman Catholic that uses the Canon to argue against material sufficiency is left holding the partim-partim view, as was demonstrated in the CARM discussion. The argument demonstrates that the a Roman Catholic cannot affirm material sufficiency without having to change their understanding of Canon certainty. When the partim-partim view is applied to believers who lived during Old Testament times, the paradigm fails. Believers in the Old Testament were able to recognize Scripture without an infallible authority telling them what they were. In other words, they recognized God's voice with out an infallible office. In Matthew 22:29-33, Jesus held people responsible for the teachings contained in the Old Testament.

For a Protestant, the recognizing of the canon is not itslef the product of an infallible tradition or human declaration. God defines the canon by giving us the canon.He did so during the Old Testament period, and did so as well during the New Testament period. The Old Testament saints did not need an inspired infallible tradition to determine the Old Testament canon.

If pressed, I think a Roman Catholic will deny material sufficiency rather than give up a favorite Canon argument. More likely is a redefinition of what material sufficiency means. Sophistry will be very busy for a Roman Catholic who wants both material sufficiency and partim-partim.


FM483 said...

After reading these blogs on Roman Catholicism, including the article by James White concerning the Roman viewpoint on the combination of Scripture/Tradition, I am even more convinced that what is really going on is FEAR. James White and many other Reformed theologians are constantly incredulous at the refusal of Roman Catholics to be objective and honest with respect to this entire issue. What they seem to fail to grasp is that none of these Roman apologists are intentionally intellectually dishonest, but rather are actually fearful of losing their spiritual balance and salvation. To a Reformed person this is absurd, but not to a loyal Roman Catholic. Even the thought that the Roman Catholic Church(RCC) could be wrong is terribly upsetting and cannot be entertained for any length of time. Martin Luther encountered this same fear in the 16th century and addressed this bondage of the people in his treatise “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church”.

The vast majority of Roman Catholics were born into a RC home and merely continue with the faith as understood and practiced in their families. The same can be said of a good Mormon, Buddhist, etc…There is a tremendous pressure upon a person not to reject the religion he or she is raised in. There is tremendous pressure to conform, if for no other reason than to maintain peace and harmony within the family circle. This behavior is consistent with human nature and was directly criticized by Jesus(Matthew 10:25ff). Who a man says Jesus is will quite possibly result in division in the human family. Jesus is the chief cornerstone every person will stumble against as God comes to us in both His word of Law and in Gospel. The same reason a person remains a Mormon, despite the Christian testimony of Holy Scripture, is the exact same reason a person remains loyal to the papacy and the often confusing and contradictory teachings of the RCC. It all revolves around fear. Fear of disrupting the human family harmony. Fear of rejecting teachings embraced by millions of others. Fear of the unknown.

Having recently celebrated the Reformation, I am astounded that so many Roman Catholics are ignorant of history. If they were more widely read on the topic they would see that the 16th century Reformers, such as Luther, Melanchthon, Chemnitz, and others, were very catholic, in the historical and creedal sense of that word. The ancient church Roman Catholics revere was continued in the teachings and sacraments of the Lutheran Church. The only things omitted were those practices and beliefs in direct contradiction to the Word of God. Almost everything else remained. It is surprising to me that a person of the caliber of Scott Hahn overlooked Lutheranism in his search for the historicity of the Christian faith! In Lutheranism you find the historic Church, the Sacraments instituted by Christ, the historic liturgy – all the best of Christianity. Most of all you find the freedom of the believer In Christ. Freedom from fear. Freedom to embrace salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Freedom from the necessity to perform good works for salvation. Freedom to do good works, not out of necessity, but out of true love of God and one’s neighbor. Freedom that only the assurance of salvation as an adopted child of God brings.

Frank Marron

Albert said...


Is there a modern Roman Catholic apologsist who believes in the partim-partim view of Scripture?


PeaceByJesus said...

I think it is regretful that AOM decided to change their website in such a way that past links such as you listed here (, no longer go to the page.

But i am sure some RCs are happy about that much.

James Swan said...

Thanks for pointing out the broken link. I fixed it.