I think that the Roman Catholic Church's (RCC's) claims regarding its authority and the Bible are circular. Here's what I mean: The RCC asserts that its authority is based in Scripture and in things said and done by Christ and the apostles in Scripture, in places like Matthew 16 for instance, which Catholics often quote in this regard. The RCC also says that the Bible itself, and a proper interpretation and application of the Bible, are rooted in, and dependent upon, the church's authority. Without the church, it says, we'd have no Bible and no authoritative interpretation of it. But if the church's authority is rooted in the Bible, and if both the Bible's very existence and a reliable interpretation of the Bible are rooted in the church's authority, then we are arguing in a circle. We are arguing that the church's authority arises from the church's authority. To say that A comes from B, and at the same time to insist that B comes from A, is a failed explanation -- especially if A and B turn out to be identical.
Circularity also undermines the assertion that the RCC's authority comes from the Holy Spirit, a claim that depends for its authentication, at least according to common Catholic argument, upon the Bible, which, because we supposedly owe the Bible to the church, is to base the church's authority on the church's authority. In other words, we are still arguing in a circle. If the RCC wants to invoke the Holy Spirit as the Guarantor of its authority, it cannot base that invocation, as it does, upon the Bible and upon the church's own allegedly authoritative interpretation and application of the Bible because that would be to base the church's authority upon itself and then to label the entire circular enterprise the work of the Spirit.
The RCC's claim to apostolic succession and, therefore, to apostolic teaching authority and reliability fares no better because the church rests the authentication of its claim to apostolic teaching authority and reliability upon the Bible in places like Matthew 16, John 16, and 1 Timothy 3. The church also asserts that the Bible, to which it appeals here in order to authenticate the church's authority, arises from the church's authority. By rooting its claim to apostolic authority and reliability in things said and done in the Bible, and by employing its own alleged authority to interpret and apply those passages reliably and authoritatively, the church is already assuming and employing what it seeks to prove. By arguing this way, the church is already employing its alleged apostolic authority to teach reliably on the issue of its alleged apostolic authority to teach reliably. In other words, the church is presuming to teach reliably and authoritatively before it has proved that it has the apostolic authority and reliability by which to teach reliably and authoritatively on apostolic authority and reliability. By the same token, when the RCC insists that the very promise given to the apostles to be led into "all truth," devolves upon the RCC, it is already employing the church's alleged authority to establish the Bible and to interpret and apply the Bible authoritatively and reliably in order to establish the church's authority to teach the Bible authoritatively and reliably, all of which it then calls "apostolic." If they say that one does not require the church's authority in order to read the Bible correctly, then the church is arguing that the Protestant principle of interpretation and the Protestant principle of the perspicuity of Scripture are correct. (I shall argue in the next chapter that the RCC's interpretation of the passages at issue here is incorrect, not simply an example of circular reasoning.)
If the RCC wishes to escape this conundrum by appealing to a tradition outside the Bible in order to establish the church's authority, it cannot establish the authority, the existence, the boundaries, the theological content, or the truthfulness of that tradition by any means other than its own self-referral, or self-authentication. According to the RCC, we can know what constitutes that authoritative extra-biblical tradition, how to weigh the various parts of that tradition against each other and against things outside it, and whether or not the tradition thus identified and thus interpreted were authoritative, only if we assumed the RCC's authority to identify, preserve, and interpret that tradition for us -- an authoritative tradition the RCC claims authoritatively to say establishes its authority.
If, to try a completely different tack (as some Catholics do), one were to argue that we could go to, say, the gospel of Matthew, in which the relevant words of Jesus and Peter are found, and establish the authenticity, historical reliability, and proper meaning of that book without recourse to ecclesiastical authority, that argument would fail because it would show that indeed we do not need an authoritative RCC in order to establish a reliable, believable, and properly understood Biblical text, a proposition which the RCC strongly denies -- but a proposition which, as a Protestant, I myself strongly support, and which Protestants have asserted for centuries. We can, indeed, determine such things, and we do not require the pronouncements of Rome in order to determine them.
Notice that I am making an argument from reason, not from my own alleged authority. To refute it, therefore, requires not an argument against me myself, or against my alleged authority -- I have none -- but rather a better, and non-circular, argument for RCC authority, an argument based upon something other than that authority.
Each of the arguments cited above comes from one or more Catholic apologists. Interestingly, however, I have heard from other Catholic apologists that these arguments are not really what the church teaches -- which brings us back to the issue of the elusive monolith, mentioned earlier.
To approach this issue from a completely different angle: The entire argument proffered here by the RCC goes astray because it is wrongly conceived, wrongly based. The point is not whether the Bible gives rise to the church or the church gives rise to the Bible. The point is that the gospel gives rise to the church, and that the church is, and always must be, subject to the gospel, never vice versa. If ever the gospel is subjected to the church, then the church must be changed, reformed, in order to preserve the gospel. In that light the Reformation was not about repudiating the church but about preserving the gospel and calling the church back to it, back to the message of grace that had given the church its very life and which the church was intended to preserve and to propagate, but which, instead, it had suppressed for centuries.