Written By: Gregory Watson
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life;
and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:68-69).
My last article for Serviam Ministries dealt with my local bishop’s recent document on liturgical guidelines, most of which was a reiteration to basically do Mass right, according to the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, but which did have certain extra instructions or limitations included pertaining to how parishes in my diocese are to celebrate and participate at Mass in keeping with the customs of our diocese. My article was written to make the point that the Bishop was within his rightful authority to make these decisions and issue these directives, and that we as faithful Catholics, even if certain of those decisions bother us personally, are morally bound to obey them.
Responses I have received to my article or to the document in question (or, for that matter, to the various things Pope Francis himself has said, or is said to have said, about any and everything) typically are bemoaning the current state of the Church, and commenting on how hard it is to remain a Catholic. One person even told me, citing the Scripture quoted above, that if it weren’t for Peter’s words, he himself might have left the Church.
The comment and the general concerns come back to the fundamental question of just what we believe the Church to be, and Who it is, exactly, that we believe to be running it in the first place. Do we believe that the Catholic Church is in fact the Church that Jesus Christ Himself founded, and promised to preserve indefectible? Do we believe that the Catholic Church is being led by the Holy Spirit into all truth? Do we believe that the Catholic Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth? And do we believe that the Pope, and the bishops collegiately in union with him, speak infallibly when declaring doctrines of faith and morals? If we do, then in faith, we must remain committed to living our own Catholic lives the best that we can, whether we like what’s going on around us, or not. If we don’t believe these things, then what are we calling ourselves “Catholic” for in the first place?
The current controversy I find myself responding to reminds me of a question I was asked several years ago on one of my own blogs before I started writing for Serviam. A non-Catholic with whom I was debating asked me,
Gregory, what would happen to your line of thinking if it could be reasonably shown that doctrinal infallibility is not reasonably pronounced on human understandings of [faith and morals]? What would you lose? What would you gain? How would your faith in Christ be affected?
This was how I responded. It’s still how I respond to the question, “To whom else shall we go?”
What would you lose?
In short, the Catholic Church. It would be shown to be a fraud. Moreover, though, I would lose any possibility of knowing Truth. I would be tossed back on to my own limited and subjective understanding of Scripture, hoping that I was being guided by the Holy Spirit. I would need to reinvent the wheel all over again. Ultimately, I would lose Christianity, since Jesus would have failed to be able to keep His promise that the Gates of Hell would not overcome the Church—for if the Church can err, then it has erred. If it hasn’t erred, then the Catholic Church is still true except in that one error of believing itself infallible. Since Protestantism comes rather late onto the scene, there is then 1500-odd years without a true Christianity, in which time the Gates of Hell did prevail—and more, there is no sure guarantee that any particular version of Protestantism is actually a restored Church. That leaves Orthodoxy, which has formally embraced heresy several times, and then turned back. Thus they have erred, and there is no sure way to tell whether their current state is true or not.
If there is no Church, then there can be no faith in the infallibility of the Scripture, except for circular reasoning of “because the Scripture says so”, but the Scripture also says various other things which would be overthrown in the above-outlined scenario. Moreover, since an erring Church produced the Canon of Scripture, I could not even trust that the Canon I received actually was the infallible Word of God.
If Protestantism is right with regards to Doctrinal Infallibility—in that it is not entrusted to men through the Holy Spirit’s guidance—then I cannot even be a Protestant, and at best must resort to Judaism, or perhaps Islam, or else a hippy-airy-fairy theism. That’s a lot to lose.
What would you gain?
In light of all that I lost? The only possible thing that I could gain was the knowledge that, hey, at least I’m not a dupe! Small consolation.
How would your faith in Christ be affected?
If I could still believe in Christ (since my belief in Christ was initially dependent on the testimony of a Church and a Bible that I apparently can no longer trust), it would seem that He couldn’t be who He claimed He was, at least insofar as He was powerless to actually fulfil His promise to found and preserve a True Church.
Or, as St. Augustine once said much more succinctly, “Truth itself speaks truly, else nothing is true.”
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