From the very limited research that I've done thus far, it seems that the RCC does not hold to the perspicuity of Scripture. I'm not positive that this is true, though it seems to be.

The meaning of "perspicuity of Scripture":

Those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (Wikipedia)

Am I right, and if so, why does the Roman Catholic Church not hold to such a belief?


1 Answer 1


Perspicuity probably isn't gonna be a terribly popular word in the Catholic world. The Catholic Church doesn't hold any scripture to be self-interpreting, not even the things that seem obvious; this is a safeguard to preserve one authentic teaching authority of the Church.

In a document promoting unity between Christian Churches in the 1970's this difference was pointed out between all denominations started after the Reformation:

In the history of the Church, the difference between Catholics and Reformed has always focussed on the alternative: “Scripture and Tradition” and “Scripture only”. Catholics stressed the need for and the authority of the Church’s teaching office in the interpretation of Scripture, whereas the Reformed declared that Scripture interprets itself and, as God’s Word, must be strictly distinguished from all human tradition, desiring in this way to do justice not only to the doctrine of justification but also to the total witness of the Old and New Testaments.


and also, a difference between Evangelicals and Catholics in particular:

Evangelicals acknowledge the wisdom of listening to the Church and its teachers, past and present, as they seek to understand God's Word, but they insist that each believer must be free to exercise his or her personal responsibility before God, in hearing and obeying his Word. While the Church's interpretations are often helpful, they are not finally necessary because Scripture, under the Spirit's illumination, is self-interpreting and perspicuous (clear).

Thus, contemporaneity has come to mean different things in our two communities. Each recognizes that the Word of God must be heard for and in our world today. For Roman Catholics God's Word is contemporary in the sense that it is heard and interpreted within the living Church. For Evangelicals it is contemporary in the sense that its truth has to be applied, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to the modern world.


Catholics have always held there to be three pillars, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and Magisterial Teaching. These three in concert comprise the deposit of Faith. I don't think you'll find evidence to the contrary in the Middle Ages or before about scripture being easy to read. Then, it was definitely up to the Priests to interpret. Passion plays and art were a perspicuous witness to the Gospel, but so were Priests, just like the Apostles were before them.

And the idea that Sacred Scripture is so easy to understand that any dummy can do it is shown as unbiblical by the Bible itself. When Philip popped down for a visit in Ethiopia, the eunuch (who was probably no dummy) said. "How can I understand what I'm reading (talking about Isaiah) unless some man shows me" (Acts 8:31). And St. Peter says that teachings are hard to be understood by the unlearned and the unstable - and they interpret them to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). Hopefully, I'm not misinterpreting that.

Even here, Catholics are wise to say that this is "just my opinion" of sacred scripture (even though I pulled it right out of "A Textual Concordance of the Holy Scriptures") because we don't have any teaching faculty in the Church.

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    Just a note on your second last paragraph: the perspicuity of scripture is not a belief that everything in the Bible is easy to understand, but that only the core and essential teachings of the gospel.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 6:26
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    The information here on what RCC does believe is helpful to this question but you seem to have misunderstood w hat perspicuity of scripture means in the first place and so miss saying anything relevant in regards to it. Nobody claims that "even a dummy can do it" except in a very basic sense of salvitic beliefs. On the contrary most Protestants claim some parts of Scripture are hard to understand or even complete mysteries (see the WCF quote in the question).
    – Caleb
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 7:11
  • @Caleb: Not trying to be mean or disparaging, but is there a point in Scripture being clear just for the very basic salvitic beliefs? If there are parts which are hard to understand, then we need Sacred Tradition and Magisterial Teaching to help us understand those parts, or risk setting aside those parts of Scripture as "too difficult" and proclaiming only part of the Truth.
    – Wtrmute
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 12:01
  • @caleb, the closest thing one would find info on is the self-interpreting nature of scripture. I could offer lots of opinions on the perspicuity of scripture, but those would be less useful. I think a stellar answer would consider how someone knows which parts of scripture are necessary for salvation (i.e. eat my flesh) and if that requires an interpretation handed down by Tradtiion.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 14:25

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