Showing posts with label God protects His Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label God protects His Church. Show all posts

Friday, December 6, 2019

Hijacking Legitimate Authority

As I continue to work my way through the dreary Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, I notice a good deal of what I call hijacking legitimate authority. By this I mean that he claimed his interpretation of Scripture was what Scripture actually means. Then, when the Church rejected his interpretation, he claimed that the Church was at odds with the Bible when it was actually at odds with him

Thus we see in the graphic (from Book IV, Chapter IX, Section 5) that Calvin accuses the Pope and bishops of discarding the truth and instead invent teachings at odds with God’s word. But his accusations only have merit if his interpretation of Scripture (and the teaching of the Church that he claims contradicts it) is correct. This means we must assess his authority to teach in a binding manner before we give him any credibility in condemning the Church.

And that’s where his claims collapse. He presupposed that the Church teaching he disagreed with must be wrong. Then, to deny the Church authority when it justly rebuked him, he lumped together the bad behavior of some Churchmen and heretical councils rejected by the Church as “proof” that the Church could “teach error.” But in all of his writings, he never could demonstrate that the Catholic Church taught error or contradicted herself in matters of doctrine. The best he could do is point to the Church legitimately changing discipline while alleging that the Church changed “teaching” and the corruption from some in the Church were willed as doctrines.

The modern anti-Catholic fundamentalists who, due to being taught from the beginning to (wrongly) think that the founders of Protestantism spoke the truth might have an excuse before God§. But the person who professes to be a faithful Catholic but rejects the authority of the successors of Peter does not have that excuse (see Lumen Gentium #14). We are supposed to believe in a Church established and protected by Christ and which teaches with His authority. If we do believe that, we will trust in Him to protect those who teach with authority—the successors of Peter and the Apostles—from teaching error. When acting in their role (see Lumen Gentium #25), their teaching binds, regardless of what we might think about their personal behavior.

This is not papalotry. This is what the Church has always expected of the faithful. What’s more, when we look at Church history, we see that even when saints rebuked the personal behavior of Popes, the saints always recognized the authority of the Popes to teach. Church History gives us a very different judgment of those who refused to obey the teachings of the Popes—schismatics and/or heretics.

People who struggle with what this Pope teaches should ask themselves this: Is it really possible that God would allow His Church to teach error when even the Ordinary Magisterium binds us to obedience?* Or is it more probable that—if we see “error” in the teachings of the Pope—we have somehow either misinterpreted the Pope or the Scripture and Church teaching we cite against him?

If one is tempted to respond that the Pope is the one in error, such a one should think again. They should look at Calvin and recognize that he is the one they’re emulating, not the saints.



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(§) I say this in the sense of “I do not know their individual culpability before God.” Not in the sense of “What they do is okay.”

(*) See Pius IX Syllabus of Errors #22, Humani Generis #20, Lumen Gentium #25, The Catechism of the Catholic Church #892, Code of Canon Law #752 etc.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Taking Back the Church: It’s NOT What Some Think It Is

Twenty years ago, I had finished my Masters in theology at a university renown for its fidelity to the Church and the Pope. It was clear to everyone that if we would be faithful Catholics, we needed to remain faithful and not fall into dissent. Today, I see many (including some who came from the same university) who now speak contemptuously about the successor to Peter and behave like it falls to them to defend the Church from those tasked with shepherding it, who call the religious submission of intellect and will we all accepted twenty years ago “ultramontanism” or even “papolatry.” 

It is a reminder that no individual can guarantee their remaining faithful to the Church unless they put their trust in God to protect the Church. This protection cannot be sporadic, today protecting the Pope in Rome, tomorrow protecting an archbishop who accuses the Pope. Either God consistently protects the visible magisterium under the headship of the Pope or He does not protect it at all. If He does not protect it at all, then we can never know for certain when the Church taught truth...not even when the Church defined the canon of Scripture.

Some of these Catholics raise slogans that we need to “take back the Church.” I think the slogan is true, but not in the sense these Catholics mean it. To take back the Church is not to take it back in time to where one thinks the Faith was practiced “properly,” eliminating what we dislike. Nor is it “taking the Church back from those successors to the apostles who we dislike.” No, taking back the Church means taking it back to the proper understanding of obedience—something that can exist regardless of who the Pope is and how he applies past teachings to the present age.

To be faithful to God means keeping His commandments (John 14:15). Since He made obedience to His Church mandatory (Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16), if we want to be faithful to Him, we must be faithful to His Church. This was true when the worst of men sat on the Chair of Peter, and it is true now. If Our Lord did not create an exception for obedience with John XII, we can be certain He did not create an exception for obedience with Pope Francis.

There is a deadly movement in the Church. One filled with people who that believes that the magisterium can err but they cannot. They claim to be faithful to the true teachings of the Church but no saints behaved in this way. The saints offered obedience to the Popes and bishops who remained in communion with the Popes... even if these saints turned out to be holier than some Popes. What these members of this movement are acting like are not saints, but like the heresiarchs who insisted that the Church was in error but they were not.

To appeal to the credentials of the current dissenters, I once had a critic of the Pope tell me that one of the people making accusations against the Pope had a doctorate. To which I can only reply, “So did Hans K√ľng, so what’s your point?” Education is not a guarantee of infallibility. The authority of the Pope is not in his education or his reputation for holiness (though this Pope has both). His authority comes from the charism that comes from his office.

Unfortunately critics appeal to a hypothetical crisis to deny the authority of the Pope or a Church teaching that they despise. They ask, “what if a Pope were to teach X?” X being something that clearly contradicts Scripture or Church teaching. The argument is meant to imply that such an error would prove the Pope heretical and therefore we cannot provide the obedience required to the Pope on other areas we think wrong.

The problem is, the Pope has never taught this hypothetical X, no matter how many times people expected it. They constantly claim that the Pope will “legitimize” homosexuality, contraception, remarriages and the like. In fact, he has consistently reaffirmed Church teaching on these subjects. He has simply called for mercy and compassion for those sinners that they might be helped back to right relationship with God and His Church.

The fact is, while we have had morally bad Popes (like Benedict IX and John XII) and suspected theologically bad Popes (like Liberius and Honorius I), they have never taught error. Unfortunately, the anti-Francis critics seem to think infallibility is something like prophecy where the Pope declares a new doctrine. Infallibility is a negative charism that prevents him from teaching falsely. 

An illustration of this could be: if the Pope’s infallibility was in mathematics instead of teaching faith and morals, how many questions on a math test would he have to answer correctly to be infallible? If you answered “all of them,” then you have misunderstood infallibility. The answer is “zero.” The Pope could submit a blank answer sheet.

This is why the Church has always taught that when the Pope teaches—even if that teaching is not ex cathedra—we are bound to obey (canon 752). He is not teaching a mixture of truth and heresy. A future Pope might change discipline in a way that the current Pope does not. A future Pope might address conditions in the world that the Church today doesn’t have to deal with. These things don’t mean that the current Pope is wrong.

But when he teaches as Pope, whether by ordinary or extraordinary magisterium, we are bound to obey. If it seems strange to us, we must realize that we can err and trust God to keep His promises to protect the Church—under the authority of the Pope—from teaching error.

The ones we need to take back the Church from are not predatory priests and bishops who covered up (though we must oppose them while remaining faithful to the Church). We need to take back the Church from those who claim to be faithful while rejecting the successors of the apostles. Until we do, the Church will simply become more factionalized until someone finally commits a formal schism.