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A priest I know, responding to my A Great and Glorious, But Debated, Assumption , sent one observation worth sharing both as an addition to the argument and an illustration of the difficulties of ecumenical exchanges, for those who care. ”I would make one observation,” he wrote.

And I think it is more substantive than a simple matter of words. You state in your article that, “The first two I understand, and respect, because they follow clearly from Protestant commitments to the supremacy of Scripture . . . ”.

Now I am certain that what you mean is that they follow from the Protestant’s commitment to some form of sola scriptura; but I think that needs to be stated more clearly—made more specific. And the reason is this: we as Catholics affirm Prima Scriptura within the larger context of Tradition. And in that sense we would be able to affirm the “supremacy of Scripture”. It’s a matter of clarity, I suppose. But I do think it is important enough to be noticed.

It’s a helpful explanation of the Catholic teaching. It’s also a good illustration of why ecumenical relations can be so difficult. By “Protestant commitments,” I meant what Protestants (the traditional ones, that is) believe about Scripture, but — as my astute friend recognized — the term could  and would be taken to mean that Catholics don’t have so high a view of Scripture.

But the Catholic high view and the Protestant high view differ substantially. Explaining this would have required adding a paragraph or two that wasn’t relevant to the article, and might have seemed defensive, and adding a qualification like “as they understand it” would have seemed snippy or patronizing. And I was writing under a deadline so went with the shorter way of putting it.

In my experience in writing on and talking about these differences, this is always the challenge you face: either speak in short form and risk being misunderstood or explain and risk sounding defensive or aggressive. Charity is needed, simply as a kind of interpretive instrument, or as a way of making sure your interpretive instruments interpret correctly.

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