Many a Roman Catholic friend of mine has, when confronted with a portion of Scripture which seems to militate against a particular Roman doctrine, recurred to the argument that the individual can never be sure what Scripture is saying without an authoritative interpreter. I invariably come back with the question, “Well, how can the same individual know for sure what the authoritative interpreter is saying?” I frankly don’t buy the contention that the writings of the holy apostles are so inchoate as to be inscrutable to ordinary human reason; however, to suggest on top of that the Roman magisterial interpretations (conciliar and papal) of these ostensibly inchoate passages of Scripture are less inscrutable is a bridge even farther, and, in my opinion, absurd. The same epistemological and hermeneutical problem that afflicts the individual in the first scenario is in no way eliminated by interpolating the “authoritative interpretation” in the latter. It is merely transferred, and in many ways it is worsened. This isn’t to say that all of Scripture is self-evident, or that its content doesn’t need to be taught — as though it could be absorbed by spiritual osmosis — or that there’s no tradition of exegesis. It’s just saying that within the Roman paradigm the certainty-chimera continues to gambol and frolic several yards ahead of the hounds, still no closer to being captured. Actually, quite a bit farther away, if you think about it, considering how voluminous and complex Rome’s preachments have been and continue to be.
It’s also interesting to note that the supposedly novel Reformation teaching of Scripture as sole rule and norm for faith and practice has plenty of adherents among the Church Fathers — or, rather, I should say, it seems to me that from what they’re saying, they thought that that the Scriptures were pretty perspicuous. Below is a smattering of Patristic quotations which evince this overall opinion.
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St. Irenaeus of Lyons (+ca.195):
We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. (Against Heresies, 3:1.1, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 414.)
St. Athanasius (c.296-373):
The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth. (Against the Heathen, I:3, quoted in Carl A. Volz, Faith and Practice in the Early Church [Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983], p. 147.)
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c.310-386):
For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures. (Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983 reprint], Second Series, Vol. VII, p. 23.)
St. Gregory of Nyssa (330-395):
[W]e are not entitled to such license, namely, of affirming whatever we please. For we make Sacred Scripture the rule and the norm of every doctrine. Upon that we are obliged to fix our eyes, and we approve only whatever can be brought into harmony with the intent of these writings. (On the Soul and the Resurrection, quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971], p. 50.)
Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words. (On the Holy Trinity, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. V, p. 327.)
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430):
Let them show their church if they can, not by the speeches and mumblings of the Africans, not by the councils of their bishops, not by the writings of any of their champions, not by fraudulent signs and wonders, because we have been prepared and made cautious also against these things by the Word of the Lord; but [let them show their church] by a command of the Law, by the predictions of the prophets, by songs from the Psalms, by the words of the Shepherd Himself, by the preaching and labors of the evangelists; that is, by all the canonical authorities of the sacred books. (On the Unity of the Church, 16, quoted in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], p. 159.)
What more can I teach you, than what we read in the Apostle? For Holy Scripture sets a rule to our teaching, that we dare not “be wise more than it behooves to be wise,” but be wise, as he says, “unto soberness, according as unto each God has allotted the measure of faith.” (On the Good of Widowhood, 2, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. III, p. 442. The quotation is from Romans 12:3.)
St. John Chrysostom (c.347-407):
Let us not therefore carry about the notions of the many, but examine into the facts. For how is it not absurd that in respect to money, indeed, we do not trust to others, but refer to [our own] calculation; but in calculating upon [theological] facts we are lightly drawn aside by the notions of others; and that too, though we possess an exact balance, and square and rule for all things, the declaration of the divine laws? Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learned what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things… (Homily 13 on 2 Corinthians, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. XII, p. 346.)
Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast. (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 96, p. 118.)
They say that we are to understand the things concerning Paradise not as they are written but in a different way. But when Scripture wants to teach us something like that, it interprets itself and does not permit the hearer to err. I therefore beg and entreat that we close our eyes to all things and follow the canon of Holy Scripture exactly. (Homily 13 on Genesis.)
There comes a heathen and says, “I wish to become a Christian, but I know not whom to join: there is much fighting and faction among you, much confusion: which doctrine am I to choose?” How shall we answer him? “Each of you” (says he) “asserts, ‘I speak the truth.'” No doubt: this is in our favor. For if we told you to be persuaded by arguments, you might well be perplexed: but if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule. (Homily 33 on the Acts of the Apostles [in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1, 11:210-11; PG 60.243-44])
St. Basil the Great (c.329-379):
They are charging me with innovation, and base their charge on my confession of three hypostases [persons], and blame me for asserting one Goodness, one Power, one Godhead. In this they are not wide of the truth, for I do so assert. Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the Word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. (Letter 189 [to Eustathius the physician], 3, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. VIII, p. 229.)
What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if “all that is not of faith is sin” as the Apostle says, and “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin. (The Morals, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 9, p. 204.)
We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture. (On the Holy Spirit, 7:16.)
St. John of Damascus (c.675-c.749):
It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments. (On the Orthodox Faith, I:2, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 37.)
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So it looks like none of the quotations here articulate the Roman view of the opacity of Scripture sans authoritative interpreter. On the contrary, the perspicuity of Scripture is assumed and explicitly stated.
That’s really all I wanted to post. More can be said, certainly, but that will have to wait for the jib-jab in the comments, if any is forthcoming.