Sunday, November 22, 2015

Is Catholicism Biblical? Second Wind

In my previous post I began to answer the question "Is Catholicism Biblical?"  I suggested that this may be the wrong question to start with and presupposes that the Bible is trustworthy in the first place.  After all, the books of the New Testament were declared so simply because they witnessed to the authentic Christian way of life and were those which were most generally read at the celebration of the New Testament/Covenant itself: the Eucharistic Sacrifice. So, asking if Catholicism is biblical is asking the second question first.  The first question ought to be is the BIBLE Catholic? 

To put this into a better perspective for my non Catholic readers - read the word "catholic" as the ancient Christians would:

Follow your bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father. Obey your clergy too as you would the apostles; give your deacons the same reverence that you would to a command of God. Make sure that no step affecting the Church is ever taken by anyone without the bishop’s sanction. The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is one that is celebrated by the bishop himself, or by some person authorized by him. Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as, wherever Jesus Christ is present, there is the Catholic Church (Letter to the Smyrneans 8:2 [A.D. 110]).

When finally he concluded his prayer, after remembering all who had at any time come his way – small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world – the time for departure came. So they placed him on an ass, and brought him into the city on a great Sabbath (The Martyrdom of Polycarp 8 [A.D. 110]).

The Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said (Against Heresies 1:10 [A.D. 189]).

Peter speaks there, on whom the Church was to be built, teaching and showing in the name of the Church, that although a rebellious and arrogant multitude of those who will not hear or obey may depart, yet the Church does not depart from Christ; and they are the Church who are a people united to the priest, and the flock which adheres to its pastor. Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop; and if anyone be not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who creep in, not having peace with God’s priests, and think that they communicate secretly with some; while the Church which is Catholic and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound together by the cement of priests who cohere with one another (Letters 66 [A.D. 253]).

In these selections the Church is called "Catholic" to refer to it's universality all over the world and it's authenticity as that which contains the fullness of Christian doctrine as handed down from the time of the Apostles. Therefore, the Eastern Orthodox or the Lutherans or any other particular group may suppose their brand of Christianity is indeed the most "catholic" even though they do not fully belong to the Roman Catholic Church.  I hope that makes sense.

Today and in the early Church people can identity the true Church (or that which contains the fullness of Christian doctrine and practice) by the "4 marks of the Church."  These are that the TRUE Church is One, Holy, Catholic (properly understood,) and Apostolic. Let us focus on that last mark: Catholicity.

In defending the (Roman) Catholic Church from novel sects that were springing up St. Vincent of Lerins (a Father of the Church and a major contributor to the conversion of Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman from Anglicanism) points to those characteristics as necessary prerequisites for the Church.

Notably, St. Vincent says the following under chapter 2 (paragraph 6) "Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all... We shall follow universality [Catholicity] if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses..."

In other words, if you want to find the fullness of the Christian faith find the expression of it which is spread throughout time and throughout the world.

I know of no other expression of Christianity which accomplishes such universality than the Roman Catholic Church (in conjunction with the eastern rite Catholic churches such as the Byzantines, Syro-Malabar etc.)

Again, to emphasize a point from the previous post, how do WE know that the Bible have any authority at all (particularly the New Testament?) Simply because the Catholic Church has told us so. It wasn't until the late 300's that we would see a historical development of a New Testament canon (list) of inspired writings.  Yet, THOSE books were "canonized" by an extra-biblical authority.  This is a part we don't often think about.

The books of the New Testament were chosen (along with an affirmation of the Septuagint canon of the Old Testament) as canonical because they were Catholic.  Those books affirmed what had been believed "everywhere, always, by all."  

So is Catholicism biblical?  Remember, first things first: who told you that the Bible was even a trustworthy authority in the first place? And if you accept that particular judgement which the Catholic Church made in the late 300's.. then why wouldn't you accept the other beliefs which the Catholic Church held at the time? Here is a final thought to ponder from St. Cyprian (another Father of the Church and therefore a witness of authentic Christianity in the early years of Christianity.)

The Lord says to Peter: "I say to you," he says, "that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" . . . On him he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? [the fullness of the faith] If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church? (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4 [A.D. 251]).