The Council of Trent and the material sufficiency of scripture


some protestant apologeists such as james white insist that the council of trent denied that scripture is materially sufficient and that some revelation was only partially contained in the bible and the other was partially contained in tradition. Doesn’t this contradict what many modern day catholic apologists say when they claim that scripture is materially sufficient but not formally sufficient? Or is james what just wrong on this.


I don’t see how the Council of Trent could say that scripture is materially sufficient, when there is no way that we can find the canon of the bible in scripture.

And there are many other teachings handed down in Tradition, not found in scripture, such as the teaching that when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus this is accomplished by the Holy Spirit.


Is this a recent claim or something he posted on his site long ago?

If it is old, then this is just fall out from his debate with Patrick Madrid. I think James was blindsided (not surprisingly) when Patrick laid this truth on him.

If it is new, then James is still fixated on that same debate!

Either way, why should you, a Catholic, give two hoots what James White thinks? :stuck_out_tongue:


“For Scripture to be materially sufficient, it would have to contain or imply all that is needed for salvation. For it to be formally sufficient, it would not only have to contain all of this data, but it would have to be so clear that it does not need any outside information to interpret it.” (Jimmy Akin, This Rock, October, 1993, “Material and Formal Sufficiency”).

The topic seems to beg the question, what is “all that is needed for salvation?”

…insist that the council of trent denied that scripture is materially sufficient

What does Trent say to the above question about “all that is needed for salvation?” Where does Trent say that the answer is neither explicitly nor implictly contained in Sacred Scripture?

Catholic Christology is Scriptural. Catholic soteriology, ecclesiology, epistemology, sacramental theology, martyrology, Mariology are all Scriptural, at least implicitly. What de fide dogma of Catholicism is neither contained explicitly nor implicitly in Sacred Scripture?

James White may be blind to what is implicit in Scripture, but that has no bearing on the matter. The Catholic Church, for example, when teaching about its dogmas or preaching it Christian doctrines, knows that such preaching is always nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.


White (in his debate with Patrick Madrid), quoted from Trent:

“It also clearly perceives that 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, transmitted as it were, from hand to hand.”

Where does this say that Scripture is not materially sufficient? The above quote from Trent does not mean (contrary to the poor exegesis of White) that “some truths” are contained in written books while “some other truths” are contained in unwritten traditions. On the contrary, it means that ALL that is sufficient for our salvation is contained BOTH in written AND unwritten tradition.

Well before James White was even born, the Catholic Church taught “*Totum in Scriptura, totum in Traditione.” *Perhaps White should have done better research prior to his debate with Patrick Madrid.

Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman:

all the definitions or received judgments of the early and medieval Church rest upon definite, even though sometimes obscure sentences of Scripture” (Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 72).

St. Vincent de Lerins, 5th century:

“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. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.
(Commonitory 2:5).


Trent dropped the “partly…partly” language which could have contradicted “material sufficiency” while Vatican II is clearer:

“It follows that all the preaching of the Church, as indeed the entire Christian religion, should be nourished and ruled by sacred Scripture.” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 21)

“ALL” and “ENTIRE” sounds like material sufficiency to me. Yves Congar Tradition and Traditions on the subject:

“There is a ‘fact of tradition’ which it is essential to take account of. Personally, I find no difficulty, and not a little joy, in discovering there the positive affirmation that Scripture contains, at least in the form of suggestion or principle, the entire treasury of truths which it is necessary to believe in order to be saved (provided there is an adequate presentation of the Gospel message). To say that, in the sense in which the Fathers and the medieval theologians held it, does not in any way amount to a profession of the principle of Scriptura sola demanded by the Reformers…It was with the intention of restoring the sovereignty of God alone that they presented that of Scripture as exclusive. In order to do this effectively, they affirmed the sufficiency of this Scripture, not uniquely in a material sense, that is to say as the object quod creditur, but in a formal sense, that is to say as the means whereby we know, the constitutive light by which we understand, the principle of the rule of faith…Not only was the whole of faith contained in Scripture, but the Christian, benefiting from the interior witness of the Holy Spirit could find it there.”

“Now, the Fathers and the medieval theologians, whom we have cited: (1) Admit the material sufficiency of Scripture…(2) Ever since they began discussing these matters, consistently affirmed that Scripture by itself cannot adequately present its true meaning; it is only understood correctly in the Church and in its tradition. If there is one position which the Fathers consistently maintained, it is the position that links inseparably Scripture, the Church and Tradition. Far from considering these three realities to be in opposition, they saw them as united and inseparable.” (Congar, p. 116,117)

Phil P


Kinda begs the question that someone must have believed the partim partim view. Apparently both views are acceptable under Trent.


kaycee << Kinda begs the question that someone must have believed the partim partim view. Apparently both views are acceptable under Trent. >>

Both views (material sufficiency vs. partly…partly) are acceptable today since the Church hasn’t decided the matter. I think it is pretty clear some theologians before and after Trent held to “partly…partly” and Webster/King (Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, 3 volumes, 2001) document that pretty well. The point is the Trent documents themselves left out the “partly…partly” (or partim-partim in Latin) language.

“…our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and 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 even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament – seeing that one God is the author of both – as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals…” (Fourth Session)

If the “partly…partly” language was left in a better case could be made that “material sufficiency” is explicitly denied by Trent. To help you out, Karl Keating basically affirms “partly…partly” in his 1988 Catholicism and Fundamentalism, while Patrick Madrid / Jimmy Akin in that article above affirms material sufficiency (MS). The MS view became popular with Catholic apologists after the Madrid vs. White and Madrid/Keating vs. Jackson/Nemec debate at World Youth Day in August 1993. That was the first time I ever heard it. Before that it wasn’t found in the pages of This Rock (I could be wrong there). Yves Congar made the MS distinction in his 1967 volumes on Tradition which is where Madrid/Akin picked it up. :thumbsup:

Phil P


There is no teaching of the Church that says Scripture is materially sufficient.

None of the Church Fathers said that the material sufficiency of scripture was a Tradition that was handed down or always believed, or gave some other indication that it came from the apostles. Therefore none taught that it was a teaching of God.

From what I understand ALL teachings come from Tradition, scripture only repeats some of those teachings, and not very clearly at that.


Jesus is the fullness of revelation. The Old Testament prophets were only a forshadowing of what Jesus would reveal. Since Jesus is God, then of course only He could be the fullness of revelation.
So the basic fact, Jesus is the fullness of revelation, not scripture, not the Old Testament, Not the New Testament.

                                        In Jesus "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Col 2:3

In Christ “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9)

Jesus taught the apostles everything in regards to salvation, either directly or through the Holy Spirit.

                                        Mr 4:34 “He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”

John 15:15 “for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
John 14:26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
There is no teaching of scripture in the Old testament, and there is no teaching of scripture in the New Testament that adds to what the apostles learned from Jesus.

The apostles now have the fullness of revelation. They did not learn the Gospel from scripture but from Jesus, the fullness of revelation.
Not a single teaching of the Gospel comes from scripture, it all comes from Jesus.

                                         The Father revealed everything to Jesus, Jesus revealed everything to His apostles, and then Jesus commanded his apostles to make this known all this revelation to all men when he commanded them to “preach the Gospel”.   

[size=3]This Gospel they preached was to be “the source of all saving truth and moral discipline[/size]”1 and it contains “the fullness of the truth which God has enabled us to know about himself.”2
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church 75e

  [2 ]("")Redemptoris     missio, 5

Therefore, the Gospel the apostles preached was to contain EVERYTHING. There is nothing missing from this Gospel.

Notice, everything so far is Tradition. Jesus taught entirely by Tradition. He did not write any scripture.
The apostles learned everything from Jesus entirely by Tradition, since He did not write scripture.
Jesus commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel. Preaching is totally Tradition. The apostles had to follow the example of Jesus. Since Jesus taught entirely by Tradition, they had to teach entirely by Tradition. Since Jesus handed down everything entirely by Tradition, the apostles did the same and appointed bishops to carry on this teaching.


The Catechism teaches
[size=2]“In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority.”

[/size] [size=2]This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it.[/size]

                                   [size=2]Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes."[1]("")[/size]

Thus the Church teaches that this “living transmission” of the “full and living Gospel” is call Tradition.

The full and living Gospel is the “source of all saving truth and moral discipline” and it contains “the fullness of the truth”, then we must say that all doctrine, teachings, beliefs, etc. are handed down in Tradition. That is why the Catechism says the Church transmits “all that she believes” in Tradition.
Of course, “all she believes” is the Catholic faith.
Thus, the Gospel the apostles handed down in Tradition is simply the Catholic faith. To proclaim the Gospel is to proclaim the Catholic faith. The Catechisms are simply a summary of this Tradition, a summary of what the apostles taught and preached.
Since everything is handed down in Tradition, scripture can add no teaching to Tradition and no teaching of the Gospel comes from scripture.

Thus Tradition contains the whole Gospel (the Catholic faith), which is everything Jesus revealed, and Jesus revealed everything in this Gospel handed down by Tradition

Therefore, as far as teachings go, Tradition cannot be partly, it contains ALL.

                                         [size=3]Later on the Holy Spirit moved some apostles and apostolic men to write the narratives of the life of Jesus, the four Gospels.[/size] 

The Church then teaches:

“The sacred authors, in writing the four Gospels, selected certain of the many elements which had been handed on…”1
1Catechism of the Catholic Church

Thus, the four Gospels only contain certain of the many elements.
The Church says the rest of scripture contains “other” elements of Tradition.

That is why we must interpret scripture by Tradition and not Tradition by Scripture. Tradition contains the full and living Gospel, not scripture.


While all teachings are in Tradition, not everything is in Tradition
Tradition does not have a detalied account of salvation history.
Tradition does not have teachings in actual practice, in action, how Jesus and the apostles lived the teachings.
Tradition does not have how Jesus acted, spoke, everything about His attitude, how He loved, wept, etc. Thus, while we can know all the teachings of Jesus from Tradition, we need scripture to know about Him fully. That is why the Church teaches, "not to know scripture is not to know Christ"
Scripture also contains forshadowings of the teachings or typology, such as the Ark of the Covenant forshadowing Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

And while Jesus and the apostles taught the Gospel entirely by Tradition, they used previously written scripture to nourish their teachings, but not to add new teachings to the content of their teachings.

In the same way, when we teach the Gospel, which is the entire Catholic faith, then the Church teaches we should use scripture as a witness to the teachings, to nourish the teachings, and to illuminate the teachings.

Thus while all the teachings of the Catechism come from Tradition, the Catechism often uses Scripture as a source to express these teachings, and in that way nourishes the teachings and illuminates them.
This is how Jesus and the apostles taught, they used scripture to nourish the teachings.
The Catechism also uses the writings of the Fathers, saints and Councils in the same way.

So the Church teaches that Tradition contains all teachings, since Jesus revealed all to the apostles and they handed down all teachings in the Gospel as the Catholic faith. The bible contains salvation history and certain elements of the Gospel and the living out of many elements of Tradition.


White is wrong. Another way to explain the “formal sufficiency” of Scripture, would say it has to be in the right form and clear on every issue, but that’s not the case. Even the Bible itself says not all Jesus said and did couldn’t be contained in the books written about what He said and also by implicit truth be what He said also.

John 21:25 “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, **I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” **


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit