Saturday, April 7, 2018

Same God, Same Church, Same Promise of Protection

In the past week we’ve seen more reminders about the dissent in the Church that claims to be faithful in a higher way. Some show outrage that bishops take a stand against moral wrongs done by the government—but cheered them when they happened to agree to their opposition to previous administrations. We’ve seen people cheer princes of the Church when they undermine the authority of the Pope, implying that the Pope is not following Christ. 

What makes this surreal is the fact that these critics celebrate the past Popes and bishops; saints who not only defended the Church against the wrongdoing of Cæsar, but also recognized that the Pope is the head of the Church and opposed those who claimed that being faithful to Christ meant rejecting the authority of the Pope.

These critics recognize that God protected His Church from error during the reigns of undeniably bad Popes in past centuries. But they will not recognize that God continues to protect His Church today. Instead, they claim that a Church teaching they dislike is not a teaching at all yet, at the same time, argue that when the Pope teaches contrary to Christ, he has no authority.

Canon Law 752-753
So... which one is it? Is it not a teaching at all? If so, the issue of teaching does not apply. But if it is a teaching, then why do they argue that the teaching lacks authority? Personally, I think the issue is these critics are realizing that the Pope is teaching but they do not want to accept it. To avoid violating Canon 752, they argue that a Pope’s teaching is not a valid teaching, and therefore not binding. The problem is the Church is quite clear that nobody has authority to act against the Pope:

Canon Law 1404
Yes, St. Paul can rebuke St. Peter for personal wrongdoing. Yes, we can speak of the shameful behavior of Benedict IX, John XII, Liberius, or Honorius I. But we can’t claim their acts of personal wrongdoing as proofs that we can pass judgment over whether.a teaching is a teaching or not. When the Pope exercises his magisterium, even if not ex cathedra, we are bound to give a religious submission of intellect and will.

To believe that the Pope, exercising his teaching office in the ordinary magisterium, can teach in opposition to Christ is to open a Pandora’s Box that undermines the authority of the Church. It’s a claim that God will let His Church teach error and we have to scrutinize everything a Pope says to be clear he is not teaching error. 

I find that a blasphemous claim—it makes Christ a liar when He says He will be with the Church always (Matthew 28:19-20) and will bind and loose what the Church binds and looses (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). Since Our Lord makes clear that to reject the Church is to reject Him (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16) and that the successor of Peter is the head of the Church (Matthew 16:18), we have a choice. We can either:
  1. Trust that God will not let a Pope bind error or loose truth, OR...
  2. Deny that God protects His Church so she can be the Pillar of Truth (1 Timothy 3:15) and Light of the World (Matthew 5:14-16)
Either we believe that the same God who protected His Church from the beginning protects His Church today, or we have to admit that we cannot know for certain whether God protected His Church in other circumstances. Can we really be certain that the canon of Scripture is correct without the authority of the Church? How about whether we can be sure God protected us in ourTrinitarian belief and that the Church didn’t make a wrong turn in the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) while Arius was right? 

If one wants to claim that God didn’t protect His Church in 1958 (when St. John XXIII became Pope), or in 1963 (when Vatican II began), or in 1970 (When Blessed Paul VI promulgated the new form of the Mass), or in 2013 (when Francis became Pope), then how can you know that God protected His Church in 1570 (when St. Pius V promulgated his Mass) or in 1545 (the beginning of the Council of Trent)?

It is only if we realize that it is the same God, same Church, and same promise of protection that we can trust any teaching of the Church. If one accepts the authority of Pius XII while rejecting the authority of St. John XXIII (or Francis), that person denies God keeps His promise. If one accepts Trent, but not Vatican II as a lawful Council, that person denies God kept His promise. 

Because of my faith in God and His promise, I will trust that when the Church teaches—even when not ex cathedra—she teaches under God’s authority. Because of this, when the Pope teaches one thing and a cardinal, bishop, or priest teaches against him, I will listen to the Pope. I don’t do this out of “papiolatry” or “ultramontanism” that treats the Pope as intrinsically holding inerrancy. I will follow Him because I believe that to do so is to do God’s will.

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