Periodical Reviews -- By: James F. Rand
BSac 118:470 (Apr 61) p. 182
Brown, Robert McAfee, “Tradition as a Protestant Problem,” Theology Today, January, 1961.
What is the relationship between Scripture and tradition? Or to be precise, where is the meeting place between sola Scriptura and sola ecclesia? Brown, theology professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, reviews the recent book Holy Writ or Holy Church, The Crisis of the Protestant Reformation, by George Tavard, a French Roman Catholic priest now teaching in the United States, and finds a number of questions which need to be studied bv Protestants. “It is Father Tavard’s conviction that the Reformation understanding of sola Scriptura, ‘Scripture alone,’ led to the disintegration of the relationship between ‘the authority of the written word of God and of Church traditions.’ This relationship, he feels, was normative in the patristic period. At that time it was recognized that there was a Gospel, a kerygma and that it was ‘passed on’ both in the written Word and in the interpretation of the written Word contained in Church tradition.” Tradition is “the overflow of the Word outside of Sacred Scripture. There can be no antipathy between these sources. Sometimes, to be sure, the stress is on Scripture, at other times it is on tradition, and it may even occasionally center on the institution which transmits both.” Where the church went wrong, Tavard asserts, is in the development of an increasing cleavage between Scripture and tradition in the fourteenth century which resulted in “an increasing elevation of the authority of the Papacy,” substituting for the patristic correlation of Scripture and tradition. The Catholic author’s criticism of the Protestant Reformation is that the elevation of Scripture as the sole authority necessitated the elevation of Calvin and Luther as the subjective interpreters of Scripture, a dubious substitute for the tradition of the church. Brown in his criticism of this important work centers it mostly around Tavard’s treatment of Calvin and Luther. The latter, he points out, “listened with the utmost attentiveness to the voice of Scripture, heard within it the Word of God, and acted accordingly in obedience to that Word. It meant disagreement with the convictions and practices of the church, but it was a disagreement in the name of Scripture for the sake of the Gospel, and thus also for the sake of the Church itself.” In his concluding statement, Brown raises the question of “what we really mean by sola Scriptura.” He points out that a doctrine of sola Scriptura “in any pure form” is simply not a possibility for us. The reason this is so is a very basic one. No one in the twentieth century can “leapfrog, as it were, ove...
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