No Christian would deny that all things necessary for salvation are to be found in the Bible; but that is not the same as saying that one’s own reading of the Bible should be the sole guide to religious truth. We are all sheep that have gone astray, and if we guide ourselves, we are liable, through the effects of Original Sin, to fall into the ditch. The texts we accept as Scripture are so because the early Church said they were, so even at this first stage, Tradition is important. Without it, there would no agreement on what Scripture was. The texts were addressed to Christians who were not converted by reading them, but who had been converted by the power of the Holy Spirit through the work of the first Apostles and their disciples; they were never intended to be systematic expositions of doctrine – or to be understood away from the common faith of the Church – hence St Paul’s exhortations to be faithful to the traditions, written and oral, of which he was the inheritor and evangelist. The Bible proves what the Church teaches, but was not used as a teaching tool by the early Church, and, left to itself, it cannot teach us – because by ourselves, we cannot fully understand it.
Our faith does not come from applying our reason to the critical study of the Bible, but by having apprehended, through the power of the Spirit, that it is God’s word; faith precedes our prayerful reading of Scripture. The Church cannot teach what is not in Scripture, but the individual cannot fully comprehend what is in Scripture solely by his or her own unaided efforts, and for the individual, who only knows what Scripture is through the tradition of the Church, to take onto him or herself the task of telling the Church they understand it better than they do, is a form of spiritual pride from which decency ought to cause us to shrink in horror; it is a sign of our fallen state that so many do not. By sharing in the life of a Christian community, by partaking of the sacraments and allowing the grace of God to sanctify us, we can expect to grow in our spiritual life and to better understand the Scriptures.
In understanding the Bible it is indispensable to have some knowledge of the tradition of the Church. The Church not only put the Bible before us (and pace Bosco, it forbade not the reading of Scripture, but the reading and individual interpretation of inaccurate texts, taking the view, which Bosco shows was right, that unaided, the individual would fall into grave error and spiritual pride), it prepares our minds to read it aright and to apprehend its truths. It arranges the doctrines to be found in the Bible for us, it distinguishes the inessentials from the essentials and, by the rich treasury of its interpretations, it helps expand our understanding of the word of God.
We are not the first Christians, and, unless He comes again soon, we shall not be the last. We can elect to proceed as no early Christian ever did – that is to read a book they did not have, decide we know what it means, and go our own way, confident in our personal infallibility; or we can do as they did – listen to Scripture in the body of the Church and grow in our understanding of it through the life of the Church.