Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Past Does Not Support Them Either: Thoughts on Modern Sadducees

Occasionally I have run into Catholics (possibly schismatic) who try to reject the authority of anything that contradicts them. The general assumption by some is that whatever they disagree with must have a heretical basis and, therefore, can be ignored. Others try to claim that the modern interpretation is an error. Either way, they claim that the past teachings must trump the later interpretation—a bizarre idea that denies the Church the authority to determine right and wrong as societies change and science and technology brings about new moral dilemmas.

In pondering this, I am reminded of Our Lord dealing with the Sadducees... a Jewish sect that rejected all parts of Scripture except for the five books (Penteteuch) of the Torah. Because their interpretation of the Torah did not see the Resurrection explicitly mentioned, they denied it. Attempting a reductio ad absurdum, they proposed a hypothetical situation where seven brothers each married the same woman (under the law of the Levirate) and died. The Sadducees saw this as proof that the Resurrection was absurd (who will she be married to?) and used it to challenge the idea.

Our Lord, after showing the flaw in their idea of the Resurrection, goes on to show their flawed reading of the Pentateuch. If God identifies Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and is the God of the living, not the dead, then it follows that there must be a Resurrection. The Sadducees are wrong to limit what is authentic Scripture, but Our Lord demolishes them using the part of Scripture they do accept.

I think of this as we encounter Catholics who try to argue that the defense of Pope Francis and his authority to bind and loose is “ultramontanism” or “papolatry” and was not believed in the past. The problem is, past teachings do not support their claims. Let us consider the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law (translated by Dr. Edward Peters) on the authority of the Pope:

Note that the 1917 canons testify to the fact that the Pope has authority which predates and contradicts the anti-Francis Catholics label of “ultramontane.” One cannot even claim that this only applies to ex cathedra teaching. First of all, the 1917 canons rejects limitations the modern critics claim. Second, Pius IX, in his Syllabus of Errors (#22) condemns the notion. Third, Vatican I (which seems to be increasingly ignored by the critics) rejects their interpretation.

So the Catholic who tries to deny the authority of Pope Francis by arguing his defenders are giving authority never imagined in the past are in the same situation as the Sadducees arguing against the Resurrection. They are not only wrong in their assumptions, but the even the time period of Church teaching they appeal to does not support them.

Maybe it’s time to stop supporting their claims of authority against the Church.

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