Thursday, July 13, 2017

Do You Really Believe in the Power of God?

Pietro Perugino 034The Promise and the Authority was from Christ, Our Lord

On social media, one of the more vocal opinions is the one claiming the Church either has or is in danger of falling into error. It’s not tied to one faction. The liberal who believes the Church is in error on matters of sexual morality and the conservative who believes that Pope Francis/Vatican II is an error are both of the same position—they merely dispute what the Church is in error about

If the Church were merely a human organization, their fears would be warranted. History is full of groups and nations that have been corrupted, becoming something the founders would have hated. But one of the beliefs of the Catholic faith is that the Church is not merely a human institution. We believe that Our Lord intended to establish a Church, built on the rock of the Apostle Peter (Matthew 16:18-19), teaching with His authority (Matthew 18:17-18, Luke 10:16) with the promise that He would be with the Church always until the end of the world (Matthew 28:18-20). This promise did not depend on the worthiness of His ministers. Peter denied. Judas betrayed. All of the disciples ran away. If the personal behavior of the apostles or their successors implied that the Church could teach error, claiming it to be truth, then the promise of Our Lord would have been proven false as soon as the Church began. If this is true, then we can stop fighting over the different topics we like to attack each other over, because it means the Church we are fighting over is a lie.

I personally will not stand for that blasphemy. If Jesus is God (true), and God does not lie (true, see Numbers 23:19), then when He says something, we can rely on His word. That doesn’t mean that there will be no knaves or cowards in the Church. What it means is the actions of sinful man will not prevail over the power of God. We have indeed had some knaves as popes. Benedict IX and John XII come to mind. We’ve had Popes who may have privately held error, like Liberius and Honorius I. John XXII is sometimes put in this list, but I think this is not accurate. He held a private opinion on a disputed subject which the Church had not defined an answer. He was later convinced that this private opinion was not right and changed his mind. But it wasn’t until after his death that his successor formally defined the teaching. But in all of these cases, the problematic popes did wrong in their behavior and personal views. But they never actually taught that error was binding on the faithful. 

But the critics of the Church allege that certain popes or councils they dislike are teaching error as if it was truth. That is something different from our bad popes who were merely in personal error. While I suspect many of the critics did not think it through, they are effectively denying that Our Lord is protecting His Church when they allege the popes and councils they dislike were in error. So, in the name of defending what they think the Church is supposed to be, they undermine the rock on which Our Lord built His Church. They deny that an authoritative teaching is authoritative. Through distortions of Church teaching, they claim that when a Church teaching is not made ex cathedra it can be in error and ignored.

Unfortunately, such a view overlooks the fact that each infallible definition had its roots in the ordinary magisterium. The Church did not define Transubstantiation until AD 1215. But it was true nonetheless. It was not invented. It is what happens to the bread and wine at the moment of consecration. The person who argued before 1215 that, because it was not defined ex cathedra it was not binding, was still a heretic. The difference between Berengarius of Tours and John XXII is this: Berengarius denied what the Church had always taught, even though it was not defined. John XXII held something there was disputed views over and the Church had not settled the matter.

When the Church teaches, even when it is not a formal ex cathedra statement, we are obliged to give assent. When we try to make a teaching into an “opinion” [†], we are being disobedient to the Church, and Our Lord made clear that rejecting the Church is rejecting Him, as cited above.

This brings us to our problem. Why is it that people who invoke being faithful to the words of Christ ignore the words in which he makes known who teaches with His authority? If we profess to believe in God, we must believe in His promises. So, if God promises to protect His Church under the headship of Peter always, we cannot pretend we are being faithful to God by being disobedient to the successor of Peter, even with his human frailties.

When we start undermining the shepherds of the Church when they do not go the way we like, we are rebels. No matter how hard we try, we cannot pretend rebellion is being faithful to God. Scripture and Church teaching do not allow us to get away with it. If we insist, we are only deceiving ourselves about our obedience to God…and, if we are honest with ourselves, we might find that we don’t really believe in our belief in His power either.


[†] For example, Pope Francis clearly identifies Laudato Si as “now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching” (#15) but some of his critics try to portray it as an opinion, and not binding.

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