Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Case for Traditional Principles: Part II: The Reality of the Catholic Church

Some might think this is a rather odd title I have chosen for this. I am a firm believer in the concept that all ideas have consequences. When one calls themselves Catholic, there are consequences to such. It is not a title that people can appropriate for themselves as they see fit. Belonging to the Catholic Church is no right, but rather an honor bestowed upon you by God. About the only right humanity has before God is that of damnation for our sins and offenses against him. Yet God, in His infinite mercy chose to call us to Himself, to belong to His ekklesia, the Greek word for Church. It is something far richer than a simple membership in a worship community. Rather, it means we are called from this world, to partake in something greater. There are many responsibilities that come with being able to call yourself a member of the Catholic Church. While there are dogmas one must believe to be a Catholic, there is also an attitude that one must have to be an active member God's ekklesia.

Part of that recognizes ones limits, and their contribution to that overall Church. This is primarily what separates our Protestant brethren from Catholics. Protestants essentially boil it down to themselves being the ultimate authority. Such is not the same for Catholics. We Catholics understand that there are those who govern, and those who are governed. Each have their own rights and responsibilities, and such is by God's design. For the Protestant, he is both governor and the subject being governed.

This principle is outlined splendidly in Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 18:

But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.

While that offense can come about as points of doctrine, this is not necessarily so. The difference between Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18 is the context is that of scandalizing your brother, not an issue of revelation (the identity of the Christ). We are offered practical ideas on how to resolve such scandals, and they almost always involve the least amount of authority possible. First comes a private rebuke. Then comes the witnesses, then finally the manner is taken before the Church. Just like in manners of doctrine, when the Church rules on issues regarding scandal, the issue is settled. Catholicism is more than just following the Gospel. It accepts that there is an authority that can settle disputes that arise, even if it is not necessarily about doctrinal issues.

In these situations, whether or not one likes the result is irrelevant. They are still compelled to listen to the Church. Just as the Jews were not at liberty to resist laws that the High Priest had passed. One may think such laws are silly, but they are still compelled to obey. A lot of times this is overlooked because of a failure to see a certain aspect of the Church: that of the Church being a society. As that society, it has it's laws and regulations, which it's members must obey. For example, if one decides to exceed the speed limit when they are driving, and they get pulled over, are they free to say "well I don't like this law, so I don't have to obey it" or "well in times past this law prevailed, therefore I'm justified in doing so?" The answer is no of course not. One would never think of arguing that line of law.

The same principle applies in this situation. When the leaders of the Church, the government of that society, make a judgement, people are required to follow it. If they refuse to even listen to what the Church says, they are to be treated as an outcast. Even if they might believe all that is necessary to believe as a Catholic, but do not follow the laws of the Church, they are still an outcast. So when we think of "What it means to be Catholic" we should not only think about "Does this person believe the Immaculate Conception or transubstantiation" but also "is his mindset in line with the Church, and respectful of authority?" Believing the dogmas of the Church without the authority of the Church is nothing different than a high Protestantism. It is a bunch of thelogical presuppositions and beliefs. What it is not is Catholic.

God Bless,
Kevin M. Tierney