VI.9 Unintended consequences

VI.9 Unintended consequences

Major historical events have major unintended consequences. One long-term intellectual consequence wholely unintended by the reformers was arguably to undermine faith in Christianity itself. 

As noted above, Catholicism was founded on the principle of scriptura et traditio, Protestantism on the principle of sola scriptura. Centuries-long polemics between the two antagonistic camps undermined confidence in both.  Protestant polemicists attacked Catholic tradition in many ways, arging that the papacy was a corrupt institution, that the established church was plagued by scandals, and that the Doctors, Fathers and Councils were unreliable and contradictory authorities. Catholics responded by arguing that Scripture was not self-explanatory, that the history of heresies and schisms showed that the authority of the papacy was indispensible, that the very canon of Scripture had been established by Church tradition.  Ultimately, this line of attack inaugurated the new discipline of biblical criticism, which raised disturbing doubts about the process in which the Biblical books came to be written and the canon assembled. 

In effect, as Catholics attacked the principle of Scripture alone and Protestants assaulted Church tradition, the two warring parties jointly undermined the twin foundations of Christian orthodoxy as a whole, ultimately preparing for the sceptical assault of the Enlightenment -- a topic which belongs to the subsequent period.

Commentary. Howard Hotson (April 2021)