A few words on that whole "perspicuity of Scripture" thing: It is a classic case of stapling on a purely human idea to the Tradition and elevating it to the level of equality with the word of God. It works like this: The enthusiast for the doctrine of the "perspicuity of Scripture" reasons, "God always does what is best. Having a Bible that is perspicuous is best. Therefore, God has done that."
(You can play that game with anything you like, by the way: "God always does what is best. Having the gift of tongues is best. Therefore, God demands all believers have the gift of tongues." "God always does what is best. Health and wealth are best. Therefore, God wills all believers to be healthy and wealthy.")
You can always find some sort of biblical justification for your pet idea. Didn’t Paul thank God that he spoke in tongues more than anybody (1 Cor 14:18)? Doesn’t Scripture say of the righteous man that whatever he does prospers (Ps 1:3)? Doesn’t it say that the command of the Lord is clear (Ps 19:9)? Q.E.D.! And with sufficient willpower or ego, you can trumpet your pet idea as the Revealed Will of God Almighty, denouncing anybody who questions your pet theory, not as somebody who questions your pet theory, but as an enemy of God who "rails away" at God Almighty, while "the child of God knows better." It’s a very cozy way to congratulate yourself.
The thing is, the perspicuity of Scripture is one of those ideas, like Marxism, that is the result of theory run amuck and removed entirely from the laboratory of real life. Basically, it’s a creation myth that was cobbled together in order to get rid of the need for the Catholic Magisterium. The reasoning was archetypically fallacious. It went like this: God always does what is best. Communicating His revelation in the form of a book of pellucid clarity is best. Therefore, that’s what He must have done. Otherwise, you condemn the Bible to the dreadful prospect of being interpreted by the Church and, worse still, by a Magisterium that sometimes directly contradicts what I am quite certain it must mean.
Other doctrines have a toehold in empirical observation (though, again, they are not provable by reason alone). A good example of this is original sin. People who deny it and assert the Pelagian notion that we can work our way to God on our own steam find that the Laboratory of Reality has proven this false in every single experiment where it has been attempted. The bulk of what the doctrine of original sin has to tell us about ourselves can be verified by reading a newspaper or turning on the TV.
But people who assert things like the Perspicuity of Scripture as Revealed Truth have to face the fact that the Laboratory of Experience is simply against them. The one thing Scripture is not is perspicuous. That’s not me talking, that’s Scripture:
Standard boilerplate replies from the perspicuity dogmatist generally run toward saying things like, "Paul’s writing is perspicuous, it’s just the ignorant and unstable who screw things up."
Mm-hmm. Except that’s not what it says. It says that there are some things in Paul’s letters that are hard to understand. Yes, the ignorant and unstable muck up the interpretation of those letters. But that’s partly because the letters themselves are "hard to understand." Whatever that is, it ain’t perspicuity. And anybody who reads Paul can testify to that. It was C. S. Lewis who remarked of Paul, "I cannot be the only reader who has wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian) that of lucidity and orderly exposition."
Heck, forget Paul. Anybody who says that Revelation is "perspicuous" is simply a fool. Calvin was smart enough not to attempt a commentary on it, because he knew it would give the lie to the notion of the perspicuity of Scripture. Luther, with his characteristic bluntness, sized the book up by remarking, "A Revelation ought to reveal." He tried to solve the problem by just excising it from the New Testament.
What doctrines like the "perspicuity of Scripture" really mean is, "Scripture means what I take it to mean — no more, no less. The easy-to-understand parts are the parts that agree with what I think. The hard-to-understand parts are the parts that a) talk about unimportant stuff or b) must be subordinated to what I understand."
It’s a useful fiction elevated to the level of Revealed Teaching so that self-appointed, one-man Magisteria can say, "Ignorant and unstable people may twist Scripture, but I am safe from all that so I understand perfectly what Scripture means. And when the Catholic Church disagrees with me, that’s because the ignorant and unstable Church is disagreeing with me, who is not ignorant or unstable."
In short, it’s the rationale for erecting the sundry semi-permeable membranes of the sundry Protestantisms. Not surprisingly, then, the Bible teacher who claims that his special take on Scripture "disproves" the Church will react to criticisms of the absurd doctrine of the "perspicuity of Scripture" with the claim that it is an attack on God Himself. He has to say that, or his whole shell game comes apart. He has to say, in essence, "Oh sure, criticisms on the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture work in reality. But do they work in theory?" Because, as with Marxism, theory trumps reality, not simply in the experience of anybody who has ever attempted to read the Bible, but in the experience of the fragmented and mutually contradictory Protestantisms.
Normally, the standard boilerplate response to that last point is to a) deny the fragmentation of Protestantism by recourse to the "Catholics exaggerate the 33,000 denominations thing" complaint and to accentuate the differences among Catholics (this sort of boilerplate is as ritualized as kabuki).
Fair enough. Let’s grant that Catholic apologist-types beat the 33,000 denominations drum too much and don’t really pay attention to the commonalities that exist in much of Protestant theology. Let us also grant that Catholic apologist types often don’t pay attention, in such polemics, to the divisions in our own house.
But at the end of the day, none of that really helps support the whole "perspicuity of Scripture" bunkum. If we grant that many denominations and little storefront churches are the result, not of some acrimonious split over doctrine, but of an amicable and harmonious church-planting mission or something else; if we grant that, in the words of G. K. Chesterton, "Catholics agree about everything, it is only everything else they disagree about," we are still faced with colossal and mutually contradictory differences between, say, Oneness Pentecostals (who deny the Trinity) and Trinitarian Protestants. We still have serious and flatly contradictory disagreements about whether baptism regenerates, whether children should be baptized, whether communion is or is not the Body and Blood of Jesus, whether marriage is a sacrament, whether anything is a sacrament, which books belong in the Bible, and so forth. You can’t even get agreement on which issues are "core issues" and which are "peripheral."
What could be clearer?