Saturday, August 6, 2016

 Feel free to ignore: just writing an an answer to a common objection to Catholic teaching that a (Catholic) friend has heard raised by others against the Church. It's a rough draft, and could no doubt use some work, as I haven't written anything apologetics related in a long time...but I do hope to get back into the habit of writing, so....


Objection: Catholics don't read the Bible. Catholics that read the Bible are not allowed to interpret it according to the Holy Spirit but rely on someone in Rome to tell them what to think.
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Do Catholics read the Bible? Obviously, such a question depends on the individual Catholic. Certainly, however, Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible by the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, states:

The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful...to learn 'the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,' by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. 'Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.' (#133)
Nor is such an encouragement to read Scripture a novelty, but rather something the Church has striven to encourage her children to do, whenever possible, since the beginning of her existence, for as Pope Leo XIII described it in his encyclical letter Providentissimus Deus (1893), the Bible is "a Letter, written by our heavenly Father, and transmitted by the sacred writers to the human race in its pilgrimage so far from its heavenly country." For this reason, the Church has also always read from the Scriptures in her liturgy, which is, in itself, soaked in Scripture in its prayers and rituals as well. And, indeed, in the wider culture as a whole, the art, literature, music, and other cultural expression Christendom has produced through the ages (in which the frequent biblical allusions show the creators take for granted that the audience is familiar with the contents of the sacred page) are witnesses to the care that the Church has taken for diffusing a knowledge of holy Scripture.

Of course, it is true that most Catholics throughout the Church's history have experienced the power of the Word of God primarily in the context of the liturgy of the church as distinct from personal reading, but this should cause no surprise. First, a great portion of Scripture (such as St. Paul's letters to the various churches, for instance) were originally written precisely to be read aloud in such a context, so it should hardly be surprising that such a pattern has continued in the Church as the primary mode of reaching the masses. And, more obviously, until the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, copies of the Bible had to be copied by hand, and consequently were rare and very expensive. Moreover, most of the population could not read and write in any case.  That being the case, naturally the average Catholic of necessity could not read the Bible for most of the history of the Church (such still holding true even today in many parts of the world). If that is indeed the case, then what else could the Church do other than what she did, in fact, do, but try to make sure that the average Catholic still was aware of the Bible through the liturgy, sermons, plays, art, statues, stained-glass windows, and other forms of teaching which Christendom has produced which are filled with Scripture? Once the printing press was invented, however, editions of the Scriptures in various languages were printed in quick succession, well before the Reformation.

But for the above listed historical reasons, while there is much to recommend the reading and study of Scripture even outside the context of the liturgy, it's most natural home is in the liturgy itself. Certainly the providence of God has arranged for such to be the case, such that what is said of the book of Revelation by the Apostle John would apply to the Bible as a whole. "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy" (Rv 1:3, emphasis mine). For most Christians throughout history, they by necessity could only hear the word of God through its proclamation in the Church, or become familiar with it through its art, or some such method. And even today, so long as they are faithfully attending the liturgy which is the natural home of the Scriptures, then while outside reading is highly encouraged (and done by many Catholics), it is not, strictly speaking, necessary in order to be familiar with the Scriptures. The Church provides the Scriptures to her faithful at every Mass, with the additional security of guidelines for its proper interpretation.

That, in fact, is where the real issue comes into play. It is not that Catholics are not exposed to the Scriptures (as indeed, the Catholic Mass is filled with it, from beginning to end). Rather, the objection is instead to the Church's authority to interpret the Scripture. Many Protestants believe that the individual believer should have an absolute freedom to interpret the Scriptures, relying only on the Holy Spirit to guide them to the correct interpretation. That may sound nice in theory, but there are various problems with it when put into practice.

The most obvious is what happens when two believers disagree on the interpretation of Scripture, yet both are sure they are being "led by the Holy Spirit" to a correct interpretation? Is the Holy Spirit contradicting Himself? It is unlikely anybody would wish to assent to such a statement. Yet if such is not the case, then it would appear that it is not simply a matter of relying on the Holy Spirit to lead one to the correct interpretation of the text as an individual.  Otherwise there should be complete agreement between sincere Christians. (Most especially is this the case when it comes to verses touching the fundamentals of the Christian faith.) Rather, we should proclaim, with the humility of the Ethiopian eunuch when asked if he understood the prophet Isaiah, "How can I, except some man should guide me?" (Acts 8:31). The experiences of believers should show that it is not only the Ethiopian eunuch who is in need of such guidance.   

And, indeed, we see in the New Testament, that when conflicts arose, appeals were not made to the text of Scripture by itself. Rather, the faithful trusted the Holy Spirit to guide them to the truth through the Church, "the pillar and ground of the truth", as the Apostle Paul describes it (cf. 1 Tim 3:15).

Thus, when there arose a dispute on whether it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised when they came into the church, it was settled, not by an appeal to the text of the Scriptures alone, but rather to the authority of the leaders of the Church gathered at the Council of Jersualem, and specifically Peter (cf. Acts 15), who had the Apostolic authority promised them by Christ  "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us..." the apostles wrote (cf. Acts 15:28). They indeed could call Scripture as a witness to their teaching, but it was certainly the interpretation of the Apostolic leaders of the Church that was authoritative, and not the interpretation of individuals who opposed it. The Jewish Christians who believed in the necessity of circumcision for Gentile converts (and who, to say the least of it, could certainly provide Scriptural arguments to back their position from the only Scriptures then existing, the Old Testament) were forced to submit to the authority of the Church, at the risk of being condemned for preaching "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6)

It would appear, then, that based on the practice of the New Testament church, that the Holy Spirit guided the Church's understanding of divine revelation through those whom Christ gave the authority to "bind and loose" (cf. Mt 16:18; 18:18).

It was not through those who refused to submit to that authority. Those who did so chose rather to perish "in the gainsaying of Core [Korah]." (cf. Jude 11). The Apostle Jude, in his condemnation of certain heretics in his time, is alluding to the famous rebellion of Korah that occurred during Israel's journeying in the wilderness after the Exodus, and after the establishment of the old covenant.  Korah's rebellion consisted precisely in protesting that the entire congregation was holy, and therefore need not submit to Moses and Aaron.
"And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?" (Numbers 16:3)
The rebels in the desert maintained that "the LORD is among them", and that therefore they could disregard the authority of Moses and Aaron, whom they accused of lifting themselves "above the congregation of the LORD". It is hard not to see the parallel to the accusations above, of those who claim that they have the Holy Spirit, and therefore need not submit to "someone in Rome", whom they frequently accuse of arrogating himself above other Christians.That the Apostle Jude presents heretics in his day who imitated Korah as having "perished" should be heeded as a warning to those who act in a similar manner today.

Of course, the authority of the Pope in particular is another discussion altogether, and as such not something I am able to discuss in this post. Suffice it to say, that it can be quite easily defended from Scripture. More to the present topic, however, is the fact that in any case, certainly the New Testament does take for granted, that the leaders of the Church have authority which is divinely instituted, and that those who disregard that authority are presented in a most unfavorable light.  And while I could have gone into more detail by providing many more verses to show this to be the case, in order to keep this post from going too long, I stuck to one example, and chose the one I did precisely because of how nicely it parallels the original accusation.

In short, I believe that the Holy Spirit guides believers through the Church, and that the Church was not given teaching authority by Christ just so that it could be disregarded.

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