Why Is Scripture Alone Not Enough? – Vincent of Lérins

Isn’t Scripture by itself enough? After all, that is the old Protestant dictum, isn’t it? Sola Scriptura. Scripture Alone.

So, why do we need to add anything else to it? If we already have the Bible, why do we need to include Tradition as well? Isn’t that just an extra unnecessary layer?

And yet, Vincent of Lérins is very clear on this: We need Tradition. Scripture alone isn’t enough. Why? 

Vincent explains in ch. 2:5 of his Commonitorium:

But here someone perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation?

For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.

Now, note two things. First, Vincent has a very high view of Scripture. For Vincent, the Bible is the ultimate authority on all matters of Christian faith. And it is “more than sufficient” for that purpose.

So, if the Bible is more than sufficient, why do we need to appeal to another authority like Tradition?

Because you and I are prone to misread and misinterpret the Bible. We are prone to misunderstand what the Bible was really trying to say.

This is Vincent’s second point here: You and I are the problem. Nothing is wrong with Sacred Scripture. The Bible is fully sufficient and complete. And in a perfect world it would be more than enough for us. Nothing else would have to be added.

However, you and I have a problem. We tend to read the Bible and come up with an endless variety of unique interpretations.

I read the Bible and take it one way. You read it and take it the exact opposite way. Our good friend next to us reads the exact same passage and takes it another way yet. Often, there are as many interpretations as there are people.

Who of us hasn’t been in a Bible study or small group and had this exact same experience? Each person in the group has a different reading of the text.

And how do we reconcile that? Who’s to say who is right?

Often, with small things of little consequence, it really doesn’t matter that much. So, we just agree to disagree. Live and let live.

However, with the bigger things that matter most, with the things at the heart of the Christian faith, what the Bible means really does matter. Truth is important. And if we have contradictory views there, we can’t both be right. So, how do you determine which view is right, which one is most correct?

In fact, how do you tell which things matter most? How do we know which issues are at the heart of the Christian faith? Is this a vital essential or something we can just agree to disagree about? And who gets to determine that?

The truth is, this is where the church is today, isn’t it? It’s why so many of our denominations are in such heated conflict over a whole variety of issues.

We have multiple groups who claim to have the right interpretation of the Bible. And they are often very well-meaning about it. They sincerely hold to their claim.

However, they can’t all be right. So, how do we discern the truth?

Vincent’s answer is simple: Tradition. The Church’s interpretation of the Bible. When in doubt, we let the Church decide.

After all, the Bible is the Church’s book. Not yours or mine. So, it’s the Church’s interpretation that matters most. All other interpretations must be measured by the Church’s interpretation.

And not just our particular denomination’s current interpretation, but the interpretation of the whole Church.

In the next post, we’ll look at Vincent’s process for determining the Church’s interpretation, his rule of universality, antiquity, and consent.

However, in the interim, the question he raises is this: Are you and I willing to submit to the Church’s interpretation of the Bible? Are we willing to read the Bible through the lens of Holy Tradition?

Are we willing to humbly admit that our own particular reading of the Bible may not be the best, or even truest, reading of the Bible?

We Methodists talk a lot about the Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. But, I often wonder how much we really mean that Tradition part.

Vincent thinks we ought to mean it more.





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