You can see an excellent introduction to Whitaker’s work over at Beggar’s All. I don’t need to overlap what he has already said regarding this most excellent work. It has been noted that this work is available on Google books. I would highly encourage the Roman Catholic readers of my blog to read this book along with me. It is usually best to engage the strongest arguments of one’s opponents. This is something Whitaker was remarkably good at doing, as we will see. I don’t know how many posts Whitaker will take up, but I intend to set forth his strongest arguments, and note any updates that need to be applied to his arguments. I would certainly like to encourage readers also, if they think of updates to his arguments that I miss, for them to note said updates in the comments. It is important also to note that Whitaker’s entire project here is to affirm the Protestant position of sola Scriptura over against the Roman Catholic position.
Whitaker says an important word concerning the importance of this doctrine:
The matter of our dispute is certain controversies of religion, and those of the last importance, in which whosoever errs is deceived to the eternal destruction of his soul. In a word, we have to speak of the sacred scriptures, of the nature of the church, of the sacraments, of righteousness, of Christ, of the fundamentals of the faith; all which are of that nature, that if one be shaken, nothing can remain sound in the whole fabric of religion (p. 15).
Whitaker lays out also on page 19 what will be his method:
We must, lest we should seem to construe the doctrines of the papists otherwise than the practice of the Roman church requires, or to take for granted what they grant not, or to ascribe to them opinions which they disclaim, take care to follow this order, namely, first to inquire what the council of Trent hat determined upon every question, and then to consult the Jesuits, the most faithful interpreters of that council, and other divines, and our countrymen at Rheims amongst the rest. And since Bellarmine hath handled these questions with accuracy and method, and his lectures are in every body’s hands, we will make him, so to speak, our principle aim, and follow, as it were, in his very footsteps.
Notice several very important things about Whitaker here. Firstly, he is extremely concerned to state the Roman Catholic position accurately. He notes some of the very common pitfalls in debate. Secondly, he desires to take the stated position of the Roman Catholic Church as the point of departure. This is as it should, for all will allow that conciliar documents are much more clearly the position of a church than any individual opinions are. Later on down the page, he makes note of the fact that he will have to make reference to “the fathers, tradition, and the practice of the church; lest perchance we should appear to shrink from the battle, we have determined to make use of that sort of weapons also.”
His goal is stated very plainly: “I hope to make it plain to you, that all our tenets are not only founded upon scriptural authority, which is enough to ensure victory, but command the additional suffrage of the testimonies of fathers, councils, and, I will add, even of many of the papists, which is a distinguished and splendid ornament of our triumph” (p. 19).
In closing, it should be noted that Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, probably the greatest debater that the Roman Catholic Church had at the time, held Whitaker in very high esteem, even to the point of bringing in Whitaker’s picture to his study (see page x). If this is Bellarmine’s opinion, then modern Roman Catholics would do well to give Whitaker the respect due an adversary worthy of the steel. Bellarmine and Whitaker both could wipe the floor with %99.99 of modern theologians in a debate. And so we will follow the progress of these excellent fencers as they do battle for their respective beliefs.