Conundrums About Interpretation: What Is a Catholic to Do?

Recently here at Crisis Magazine, Casey Chalk published “The Protestant Doctrine That Gave Us Pro-Trans Churches,” detailing the impossible tangle that results from sola scriptura and offering a fine summary of the classic Catholic case for why there must be a God-appointed interpreter of the Bible, since it is not self-interpreting.

As a Roman Catholic traditionalist, I have often pondered certain epistemological dilemmas that confront us today, which bear a likeness to the sola scriptura phenomenon. These dilemmas have always been there, but they’ve usually taken milder forms and concerned only specialists. Today, they take on an acute and undeniable form, and, thanks to social media, everyone who is following Church news with any seriousness is aware of them. One of these dilemmas runs as follows.

No text interprets itself; every text requires an authoritative interpreter. However, the authoritative interpreter’s interpretation is usually transmitted as a text. This text does not interpret itself but requires an authoritative interpretation; and that text requires another. Thus is created the specter of an infinite regress, in which no one can ever be certain that he possesses the correct meaning of a text.

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