Monday, May 6, 2019

We Know Who Our Teachers Are

One comment I frequently encounter in these times of confusion is the one that states. “I don’t know who to follow.” This comment certainly does show confusion in the Church because it shows that some Catholics have lost sight of who teaches,

The Church teaching consistently points out that the Pope is the successor of St. Peter and the bishops are successors to the Apostles. They have the same authority to bind and loose as St. Peter (Matthew 16:19) and the Apostles (Matthew 18:18). Rejecting their teaching is a serious matter (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16).

There is no denying there have been faithless bishops. There is no denying there have been morally bad Popes. But that doesn’t change the fact that God has entrusted His authority with the Apostles and their successors, making no exceptions for our obedience. In fact, The Lord made clear that there was a difference between obeying the authority of the teacher and the hypocritical personal practices of the teacher:

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. (Matthew 23:1-3).

Yes, we may have bishops who act wrongly, and we must not follow that. But when they teach in communion with the Pope, they teach with authority. As Lumen Gentium #23 tells us:

This collegial union is apparent also in the mutual relations of the individual bishops with particular churches and with the universal Church. The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful. The individual bishops, however, are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their particular churches, fashioned after the model of the universal Church, in and from which churches comes into being the one and only Catholic Church. For this reason the individual bishops represent each his own church, but all of them together and with the Pope represent the entire Church in the bond of peace, love and unity.

Since the Pope and bishops are the legitimate authority of the Church, we trust that The Lord, the invisible head of the Church, will protect that authority from teaching error. They have the authority to bind and loose, and even the ordinary magisterium requires religious submission of intellect and will (see canons 752-753) [§].

In contrast to this, we have individuals and groups who presume to speak against this authority. A cardinal, a bishop, a priest, or a member of the laity dislikes what the magisterium says and issues a statement implying or accusing the magisterium of error. But, acting apart from the Pope, they act without authority. It’s like the members of the early Church who tried to argue that to be Christian, one must be Jewish first. In issuing their response, the Apostles rebuked their acting without authority:

Then the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers. This is the letter delivered by them: “The apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings. Since we have heard that some of our number [who went out] without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth: ‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’ ” (Acts:15:22-29)

No doubt those members of the Church thought they were defending what the Church should be, but what they thought right was deemed wrong by St. Peter and the apostles. Those self-appointed defenders of the Church were deemed without mandate and disturbing the peace because they acted without the authority of the Church.

Now some might cite Galatians, where St. Paul opposed St. Peter, but that is a misapplication. The text reads:

And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews [also] acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11–14)

St. Peter’s action was not a false teaching. It was avoiding drama over the controversy about Jews and Gentiles. It caused scandal in the local Church and needed to be corrected. But this is an example of Matthew 23:1-3. Not following the bad example of one who teaches with authority.

We do know who teaches with authority. The Pope and bishops in communion with him. We know that those who presume to act outside of this communion are without a mandate and disturbing the peace. If we are concerned about the magisterium going “the wrong way,” let us remember that The Lord promised to protect His Church and He is entirely reliable.

Yes, a morally or intellectually bad Pope is not impossible—though I deny Pope Francis is one—but this has never falsified Christ’s promise to protect His Church and never will. And this is why I continue to have faith in the Church, regardless of what disturbers of the peace might claim.

[§] the text of the canons, for quick reference:

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