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Prima Scriptura is the doctrine that

canonized scripture is "first" or "above all" other sources of divine revelation. Implicitly, this view acknowledges that, besides canonical scripture, there are other guides for what a believer should believe and how he should live, such as the created order, traditions, charismatic gifts, mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will that do not originate from canonized scripture are perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures. (Wikipedia)

It is said to be in contrast to Sola Scriptura, but it has the same meaning as all the explanations of Sola Scriptura I've ever heard, so I'm not sure why it's portrayed as being in contrast. It also seems to be used both by Methodists and Catholics.

What is the origin of Prima Scriptura? Who first developed it: Methodists, Catholics, or someone else? Was it defined in contrast to Sola Scriptura, and if so, how was Sola Scriptura understood by those who defined Prima Scriptura? Or was it coined as a clearer alternative to Sola Scriptura in the hope it would be misunderstood less (like Definite Atonement instead of Limited Atonement), and only afterwards came to be thought of as different to Sola Scriptura?

  • Different denominations have different forms of "Prima Scriptura". The Methodists have the "Quadrilateral". It is actually highly debatable whether Catholicism subscribes to prima scriptura. The rests of that Wikipedia article discusses these quite well. – Mac's Musings Jan 24 at 3:43
  • @Mac'sMusings The Wikipedia talk page suggests it might be a Catholic term for Protestant doctrine, not a term they use for their own doctrine. It's not a great article in general, discussing related ideas but not clearly identify who actually uses Prima Scriptura and what they mean by it. – curiousdannii Jan 24 at 4:27
  • @Mac'sMusings Catholicism most certainly does not believe in Sola Scriptura nor Prima Scriptura. If anything, Tradition first, since Tradition will determine whether your reading of Scripture could be considered orthodox or heretical, without which you're left with the Sola Scriptura problem of unfalsifiable interpretations and endless unsolved disputes which are not rightly called a 'foundation' of any sort. "stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle." Tradition incorporates Scripture. – Sola Gratia Jan 24 at 22:35
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It dates back at least to Aquinas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prima_scriptura#Catholicism

...[S]acred doctrine...properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1:1:8

It's all about secondary authorities

As far as I can recall, Prima Scriptura is the position that there are binding authorities relating to the Christian life which are outside of the Bible, but the Bible takes first place. Some Roman Catholics may take this position, but it is not official -- I think the official position is "Dual Source", where both Tradition and the Bible have equal authority. Heiko Oberman calls both of these "Tradition II".

Sola Scriptura is the position that while there are many useful, meaningful, or important sources for Christian living, the Bible is the sole binding rule for the Christian life, and it must be interpreted via the Church's use of the Regula Fidei. Tradition must coincide and subordinate itself to the Bible. Most protestant concepts, including Wesley's Quadrilateral, sit under this position. Anglicanism also sits here. Heiko Oberman calls this "Tradition I".

Wikipedia offers another helpful distinction: under Sola Scriptura, "all secondary authority is derived from the authority of the Scriptures and is therefore subject to reform when compared to the teaching of the Bible." Thus, under Prima Scriptura, presumably these secondary authorities can be truly binding, even if they are not informed by the Bible. In that case, they would also NOT be subject to reform.

SIDE NOTE. An extreme position, by the way, is often termed Solo Scriptura, which considers the Bible as not only the only binding source, but also the only useful, meaningful, or important source for Christian living, and doesn't require a Church to curate it, or use the help of history or creeds or councils to inform it. Heiko Oberman calls this "Tradition 0".

A lot of this stuff I've typed is borrowed from this protestant source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shape_of_Sola_Scriptura

  • Do you have a reference to Aquinas using the phrase? Otherwise that's not what I'm looking for. – curiousdannii Jan 24 at 21:54

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