Aug 312012
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Why Do We Have A Pope?

Why Do We Have A Pope? is a lecture by Dr. Scott Hahn and is distributed by Lighthouse Catholic Media.  The lecture largely centers around the topic of Petrine succession and the authority of the Pope.  While there is much that could be addressed from the talk, this series of posts will primarily deal with Dr. Hahn’s handling of Matthew 16:16-181 along with some other points of interest that he brings up.  The description of the talk states:

As a former Protestant minister, Dr. Scott Hahn knows very well the common misconceptions non-Catholics have about the Catholic Faith.  In this informative talk, he tackles the tough issue of the Papacy and explains our belief that the Pope is part of Christ’s design for His Church.  This presentation will help you better understand the crucial role of the successor of St. Peter in the Church.

This lecture was enjoyable for several reasons, the primary being that there were a few insights brought up during the course of the talk that are certainly worth further study.  That being said the conclusions that Dr. Hahn comes to seem to stem largely from presuppositions that are already held.  The reason I say this is because there are leaps that have to be taken from the interpretations given (assuming they would be correct) that you simply would not be able to come to on your own.  It’s for this reason that this initial post will deal with the idea and subsequent problem of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture being on equal ground.

Scripture and Tradition

Catholic tradition doesn’t necessarily rely on Scripture.  In fact, Catholicism holds tradition and Scripture in equal parts, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”2

The problems with this are numerous, but the biggest is the reasoning behind it.  Scripture doesn’t provide Catholicism with what it needs in order to maintain the structure of the papacy and the priesthood.  As a result, the infallibility of the pope is presented so that when the pope speaks ex cathedra (from the chair of Peter) he is speaking the voice of Christ.  Dr. Hahn mentions this in his talk on track 3 at the 2:07 mark:

The church teaches, in a simple summary, that the holy father, the pope, the bishop of Rome, as the successor of Peter and the vicar of Christ, when he speaks as the universal teacher from the chair of Peter in defining faith and morals, does so with an infallible charism, or an infallible gift, through the holy spirit so that we can give to him the full ascent of our intellect and of our will.  And we can hear the voice of Christ coming to us through the voice of the pope when he is speaking in this capacity.

The question that must arise in this is ‘by what grounds?’  If the Scripture doesn’t outline this process then you have to have some mechanism to lock it into place.  The result is the tradition that makes this claim, which was defined by the infallible teaching of the pope, and since tradition is held at the same level of Scripture you can use your tradition to eisegete the text.  That’s precisely what we find happening throughout the talk.  This creates a vicious circle.

Infallible Interpretation

Since Scripture is insufficient, you must have something to determine tradition, interpretation and dogma.  The office of the papacy does just that as noted in the previous quoted comments of Dr. Hahn’s.  Once Sacred Tradition is established it can then be used to interpret Scripture.  Dr. Hahn notes the insufficiency of Scripture in track 11 at the 0:50 mark when he states:

In less than 500 years there are literally thousands and thousands of denominations that are becoming ever more numerous continuously because they only go with the Bible.  It points to the fact that we need an infallible interpretation of this infallible book. [Emphasis mine]

Notice what he says there: because they only go with the Bible.  This is absurd.  Granted, evangelicalism is indeed a mess, but to claim it’s because they only go with the Bible is a hasty generalization, not to mention a dig at the Scriptures.  Most would say the exact opposite is true.  The only interpretation that is the infallible interpretation is God’s.  God’s interpretation alone is the correct interpretation and not that of some man who claims to be speaking for Him.  This is why the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is so valuable.  It is the understanding that Scripture interprets Scripture because it is the Word of God.

Part 2 of the 3 part criteria for interpreting Scripture given by the Second Vatican Council states:

Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”)3

What we see happening is the minimization of Scripture and the propping up of tradition.  Tradition, being given by the pope, is thought of as coming from Christ and therefore through this tradition we can understand Scripture.  This is incredibly backwards.  It really should be the other way around.  Tradition should be bound by Scripture, that is the only thing that can keep us rooted in the Word of God.  This is precisely what Jesus held the scribes and Pharisees accountable for in Matthew 15:1-6:

15 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.4

The problem that Jesus is pointing to here is that the propping up of tradition voids the Word of God regardless of how noble the intention may be.  This is not to say that tradition is bad.  It is to say that tradition should never trump Scripture and should always be bound by Scripture.  Scripture and tradition cannot be used to validate each other, that is circular reasoning.  In order to be logically coherent, one must validate the other.  The question is what will it be?

Papal Infallibility

The pope is the only way out of the vicious circle that is created when Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition is put on equal footing.  Matthew 16:16-18 is used by Catholicism to formulate the office of the papacy and papal infallibility.  The problem is the stretch that has to be made to get there which I will address in subsequent posts.  Of course, the words papal infallibility do not exist in Scripture.  Even if the doctrine were correct, we shouldn’t expect them to.  I did find it interesting, however, that in track 15 at the 0:05 mark, Dr. Hahn correctly argues against the idea that the words papal infallibility should exist in Scripture:

Somebody could say “well, wait a second, why wasn’t papal infallibility defined until the 1800’s? The Bible never says papal infallibility.'”  No it doesn’t.  But the Bible never says trinity either.  And all non-Catholic Christians affirm the trinity.  Why wasn’t the word trinity used?  Well because the word trinity was not necessary until heresies arose to force the church to formulate and to defend the doctrine of God, One God in three persons, adequately and sufficiently.  At that point they came up with a very helpful term triunity or trinity to do so.

The reason I found this interesting is because in his talk entitled The Lamb’s Supper Dr. Hahn did the very thing that he is speaking against doing here, which I noted in Part 1 of my review of that lecture.  In my response, I used the word trinity as an example.  It’s not that we would expect someone like Dr. Hahn (or anyone for that matter) to never be inconsistent or make a mistake like this, but we need to recognize that the rule is universal.  You cannot apply it only when it suits your purposes.  While I don’t think Dr. Hahn is doing this intentionally, the rule still applies.


Putting Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition on equal ground introduces a logical incoherence commonly referred to as circular reasoning.  The only way around this is to introduce the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.  The Pope becomes the arbiter; the infallible interpreter of Scripture and the infallible interpreter of faith and morals.  It is for this reason that Matthew 16:16-18 is so important.  If it does not affirm what Catholic teaching says it affirms then the office of the papacy and papal infallibility is indeed in error.

  1. Dr. Scott Hahn is taking the traditional Catholic interpretation of this passage.
  2. Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 2, Paragraph 82 Retrieved from Catechism of the Catholic Church
  3. Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 3, Paragraph 113 Retrieved from Catechism of the Catholic Church
  4. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mt 15:1–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.  Emphasis mine


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