In the Roman Church’s response to the Reformation, it set forth its view of Scripture and tradition at the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent, declaring:
These truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions which, received by the apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us.… Following, then, the examples of the orthodox Fathers, the church receives and venerates … all the books both of the Old and New Testaments, since one God is author of both; also the traditions, whether they relate to faith or to morals, as having been dictated either orally by Christ or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church.
There is a certain ambiguity in this passage. It speaks simply of Scripture and tradition. Does this mean simply that what God reveals in Scripture also can be found in the later traditions of the church? Or does it mean that, in addition to the revealed truth in Scripture, the Holy Spirit adds more revelation in the tradition?
As a Protestant, I believe that much of the truth of Scripture can also be found in the creeds and confessions of the church and in the teachings of the great theologians of church history. I have enormous respect for that tradition. But I stop short of saying that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. These traditions lack the authority that is found uniquely in Scripture.
The issue of Trent’s intent was clarified somewhat in the twentieth century when an Anglican scholar discovered a remote source that uncovered the first draft of the Fourth Session. In that draft, the council declared that the truth of God was found “partly” (partim) in Scripture and “partly” in tradition. This would have removed any ambiguity and made it clear that Rome officially taught a “dual source” of special revelation, the Bible and church tradition. But when that draft was presented to the council, two delegates protested that the wording would undermine the uniqueness and sufficiency of Scripture. Unfortunately, the record ends there. In the final draft, the words “partly” (partim … partim) were removed and replaced by the simple word “and” (et).
Why the change? Did the council heed the warning of the delegates? Was the change merely stylistic? Was it left intentionally ambiguous? We don’t know. But what is ambiguous at Trent is cleared up by later papal encyclicals (such as Humani Generis), in which the dual-source theory was declared.
This is why sola Scriptura remains a terminal point of division between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. This is why we must continue, in spite of pressure otherwise, to trust in God’s Word as our only rule of faith and practice.