A most pernicious error has very generally prevailed; viz.,that Scripture is of importance only in so far as conceded to it by the suffrage of the Church; as if the eternal and inviolable truth of God could depend on the will of men. With great insult to the Holy Spirit, it is asked, who can assure us that the Scriptures proceeded from God; who guarantee that they have come down safe and unimpaired to our times; who persuade us that this book is to be received with reverence, and that one expunged from the list, did not the Church regulate all these things with certainty? On the determination of the Church, therefore, it is said, depend both the reverence which is due to Scripture, and the books which are to be admitted into the canon. Thus profane men, seeking, under the pretext of the Church, to introduce unbridled tyranny, care not in what absurdities they entangle themselves and others, provided they extort from the simple this one acknowledgement, viz., that there is nothing which the Church cannot do. But what is to become of miserable consciences in quest of some solid assurance of eternal life, if all the promises with regard to it have no better support than man's judgement? On being told so, will they cease to doubt and tremble? On the other hand, to what jeers of the wicked is our faith subjected - into how great suspicion is it brought with all, if believed to have only a precarious authority lent to it by the goodwill of men?1
Yet what is Stapleton's reply? He claims that the Magisterium's judgment is not merely human, but really is both divine and infallible, therefore Calvin's argument fails to be of relevance.
Here Whitaker raises a point I would raise as well, one that is equally relevant today: "But what is the meaning of this assertion, that the church's judgment is not merely human? Be it so. But is it merely divine? For surely it is requisite that the truth of the promises of eternal life should be propped and supported by a testimony purely divine."2
What, exactly, is meant by saying that the nature by which the Magisterium has come to identify the canon for us is not just human opinion, but is divine and infallible, yet not totally divine and infallible? Scripture, we would say, has been inspired by God in a completely and totally divine manner, therefore it is binding and authoritative. The Holy Spirit superintended the writing of the Scriptures such that in no way did any of it originate or arise through human wisdom, creation, thought or contribution (even if human means--learning, intelligence, writing ability, etc.--were still used). It is completely and totally the intentions, thoughts, words, etc. of God toward humanity, therefore we should respect it as if God himself were speaking directly and presently to us.
But does the Magisterium, in its judgment that Scripture is really the Word of God, claim to be inspired, superintended, etc. by the same process as that which the Holy Spirit used to write inspired Scripture? I don't see how that's the case. Consider CCC #66 where the revealing of revelation proper is considered to have ended in the Apostolic era:
The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And since the infallible identification of the canon within Roman Catholicism first occurred at Trent, it cannot be said that this proclamation was purely divine. And if it is not purely divine, why is it ultimately binding?
Only the thoughts of God are infallible. These can be expressed through various means (the burning bush, dreams, written Scripture, etc.), yet all are categorized as revelation. If Roman Catholicism denies that the Magisterium has received additional revelation by which to identify the canon for believers, it is difficult to see how the pronouncements of Trent would be authoritatively binding in any real sense. Where in Scripture are the words of the uninspired ever held to the same authoritative standard as those who said or wrote inspired material? For Scripture there are two categories: inspired and uninspired. By placing itself in the latter camp, the Magisterium has denied itself access to binding, infallible authority.
But, returning to the line of argumentation provided by Whitaker, let us suppose it is divinely inspired in the same manner Scripture is divinely inspired. If it is divine, then it carries the same nature and authority as Scripture. But if that is the case, why do we need the former to know the latter? Cannot the divine nature of Scripture speak to us directly, just as the divine nature of the pronouncements of the Magisterium speaks to us directly? What is preventing us from accessing the authoritative of Words of God in Scripture directly?
1. Henry Beveridge, trans., Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.7.1.
2. William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1894; reprint, Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2005), 340.