Showing posts with label Magisterium. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Magisterium. Show all posts

Friday, July 23, 2021

The glory of Latin, in the Church's words

Following is a sample of texts in Church history pertaining to the Latin language, the nobility and encouragement of the language, as well as the glory of the Latin liturgy. Emphasis added.

If any one saith… that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue only…let him be anathema. (Council of Trent, Session 22, Canon 9, 1563)

Council of Trent by Pasquale Cati 1588
Council of Trent by Pasquale Cati, 1588

Let all everywhere adopt and observe what has been handed down by the Holy Roman Church, the Mother and Teacher of the other churches, and let Masses not be sung or read according to any other formula than that of this Missal published by Us. This ordinance applies henceforth, now, and forever, throughout all the provinces of the Christian world... (Pope Pius V, Quo Primum, 1570)

The previous text from Pope Pius V does later in the apostolic constitution allow for pre-existing liturgies in other forms. However, I have included it above because of the force by which the Latin liturgy is elevated.

The first thing concerns fostering with every care and promoting the study of the Latin language in the literary schools of clerics; and gaining a grasp of this language, by knowing and using it, is important not merely for humanity and literature but also for religion. For the Church, since it contains all nations in its embrace, since it is going to endure until the consummation of the ages, and since it utterly excludes the common people from its governance, requires by its own nature a universal language, unchangeable, not that of the common people. Since Latin is such a language, it was divinely foreseen that it should be something marvellously useful for the Church as teacher, and that it should also serve as a great bond of unity for Christ’s more learned faithful; that is to say, by giving them not only something with which, whether they are separated in different locations or gathered into one place, they might easily compare the respective thoughts and insights of their minds, but also – and this is even more important – something with which they might understand more profoundly the things of mother Church, and might be united more closely with the head of the Church. (Pope Pius XI: Apostolic Letter Officiorum Omnium, August 1, 1922)

The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth. (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 1947)

Nor must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin formal structure. Its “concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity” makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression. … Since “every Church must assemble round the Roman Church,” and since the Supreme Pontiffs have “true episcopal power, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, as well as over the faithful” of every rite and language, it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be uniform and universal, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite. … Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular. In addition, the Latin language “can be called truly catholic.” It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed “a treasure … of incomparable worth.” It is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church’s teaching. It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity. (Pope John XXIII, Veterum Sapientia, 1962)

Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Second Vatican Council, 36.1, 1963)

While there are many motives that might have led a great number of people to seek a refuge in the traditional liturgy, the chief one is that they find the dignity of the sacred preserved there. After the Council there were many priests who deliberately raised ‘desacralization’ to the level of a program ... they put aside the sacred vestments; they have despoiled the churches as much as they could of that splendor which brings to mind the sacred; and they have reduced the liturgy to the language and the gestures of ordinary life, by means of greetings, common signs of friendship, and such things ... That which previously was considered most holy — the form in which the liturgy was handed down — suddenly appears as the most forbidden of all things, the one thing that can safely be prohibited. It is intolerable to criticize decisions which have been taken since the Council; on the other hand, if men make question of ancient rules, or even of the great truths of the Faith — for instance, the corporal virginity of Mary, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the immortality of the soul, etc. — nobody complains or only does so with the greatest moderation. (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Address to the Bishops of Chile, 1988)

I am of the opinion, to be sure, that the old rite should be granted much more generously to all those who desire it. It’s impossible to see what could be dangerous or unacceptable about that. A community is calling its very being into question when it suddenly declares that what until now was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden and when it makes the longing for it seem downright indecent. (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, 1996)

For fostering a true consciousness in liturgical matters, it is also important that the proscription against the form of liturgy in valid use up to 1970 should be lifted. Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing this we are despising and proscribing the Church’s whole past. How can one trust her present if things are that way? I must say, quite openly, that I don’t understand why so any of my episcopal brethren have to a great extent submitted to this rule of intolerance, which for no apparent reason is opposed to making the necessary inner reconciliations within the Church. (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, God and the World, 2000)

On the other hand, a variety of vocabulary in the original text should give rise, insofar as possible, to a corresponding variety in the translations. The translation may be weakened and made trite, for example, by the use of a single vernacular term for rendering differing Latin terms such as satiari, sumere, vegetari, and pasci, on the one hand, or the nouns caritas and dilectio on the other, or the words anima, animus, cor, mens, and spiritus, to give some examples. Similarly, a deficiency in translating the varying forms of addressing God, such as Domine, Deus, Omnipotens aeterne Deus, Pater, and so forth, as well as the various words expressing supplication, may render the translation monotonous and obscure the rich and beautiful way in which the relationship between the faithful and God is expressed in the Latin text. (Fifth instruction for the right implementation of the constitution on the sacred liturgy of the second vatican council, Liturgiam Authenticam, 51, 2001)

The previous text was one that ultimately discussed how to incorporate the vernacular mass, and in doing so, found itself admitting to the advantages of Latin.

The Popes and the Roman Church have found Latin very suitable for many reasons. It fits a Church which is universal, a Church in which all peoples, languages and cultures should feel at home and no one is regarded as a stranger.  Moreover, the Latin language has a certain stability which daily spoken languages, where words change often in shades of meaning, cannot have.  … Latin has the characteristic of words and expressions retaining their meaning generation after generation. This is an advantage when it comes to the articulation of our Catholic faith and the preparation of Papal and other Church Documents. … Blessed Pope John XXIII in his Apostolic Constitution, Veterum Sapientia, issued on 22 February 1962, gives these two reasons and adds a third. The Latin language has a nobility and dignity which are not negligible (cf. Veterum Sapientia, nn. 5, 6, 7). We can add that Latin is concise, precise and poetically measured. (Cardinal Francis Arinze, “Language in Liturgy,” 2006)

The Latin language has always been held in very high esteem by the Catholic Church and by the Roman Pontiffs. They have assiduously encouraged the knowledge and dissemination of Latin, adopting it as the Church’s language, capable of passing on the Gospel message throughout the world. This is authoritatively stated by the Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia of my Predecessor, Blessed John XXIII. (Pope Benedict XVI, Motu Proprio: Latina Lingua, 2012)

Furthermore, after the 1960s, some riches of the liturgy were abandoned, such as its hieratic invariance, but also its geographic and historical unity, which was assured by Latin as the language of the liturgy, by the rites that had been handed down, by the beauty of its art and of the solemnity that accompanied it. The disappearance of linguistic unity in the liturgy in favor of the vernacular languages is, to my mind, one possible factor of division. … The Second Vatican Council explicitly demands that the Latin language be preserved. Have we been faithful to it? The use of Latin in some parts of the Mass can help us to rediscover the profound essence of the liturgy. Being a fundamentally mystical and contemplative reality, the liturgy is beyond the reach of our human activity. Nevertheless, it presupposes on our part some openness to the mystery being celebrated. Thus the conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy recommends a full understanding of the rites, and it prescribes “that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 54). (Cardinal Robert Sarah, The Day is Now Far Spent, p. 137-138, 2019)

It must be remembered that, from a theological point of view, every valid celebration of a sacrament, by the very fact that it is a sacrament, is also, beyond any ecclesiastical legislation, an act of worship and, therefore, also a profession of faith. In that sense, it is not possible to exclude the Roman Missal, according to the UA [Usus Antiquior, i.e. Usage of Antiquity], as a valid expression of the lex orandi and, therefore, of the lex credendi of the Church. It is a question of an objective reality of divine grace which cannot be changed by a mere act of the will of even the highest ecclesiastical authority. (Cardinal Raymond Burke, Statement on the Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes, July 22, 2021)

The Eucharist is to be celebrated in the Latin language or in another language provided the liturgical texts have been legitimately approved. (Code of Canon Law, #928)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: The Broken Path

The Broken Path (2011) by Judie Brown catalogs recent behavior among American Catholic bishops. The title refers to the many instances when bishops have "strayed from the path," so to speak, and acted scandalously or contrary to the teachings of the Church. I give the book 7 out of 10 stars.

This book is not an easy one for faithful Catholics to digest. Reading it made me uncomfortable at times. One is forced to confront the idea that bishops do not always act in defense of life, moral doctrine, or other teachings of the Church. I think recognizing the value of this book demands a certain level of maturity, to be able to admit one's own failings and the failings that take place at high levels in his Church. It also takes a certain degree of catechesis to understand that such failings do not mar the unblemished doctrines of faith and morals within the Church. Sometimes the ignorant or anti-Catholics advance the idea that a failure in individual Church leaders' behaviors is a good apologetic against the Catholic idea of infallibility, but such is not the case. Even the very idea of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is not an "infallible" body. Brown quotes Pope Benedict XVI stating: "episcopal conferences have no theological basis; they do not belong to the structure of the Church as willed by Christ..." (p 64)

Brown details several programs supported by the USCCB, for instance, Catholic Charities or the Catholic Health Association, which often advance anti-Church causes like the Obama Administration's health care plan and all it entails, including funding for abortion, contraception, and sterilization. Other groups mentioned throughout this book have influences within the Church that are opposed to Church teaching. Many of these arrangements have gone without much historical protest from bishops. Groups include Planned Parenthood, the largest U.S. abortion provider; the USCCB's "Safe Environment" office which has been met with opposition for reducing parental influence in their children's sexual understanding; and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a group headed by supporters of abortion, same-sex "marriage," and contraception in schools; to name a few. Brown devotes a number of pages to these and other organization bringing scandal and dissent to the Church.

When some bishops work in tandem with or act passively in the face of such organizations, Catholics are sent a confusing or contradictory message. A good summary of such problems is in Brown's words is: "lack of consistency sends a mixed message to Catholics." (p 156)

One example she gives of the USCCB's confusing action occurred in 2004. Catholic Answers produced a voters guide identifying five "non-negotiables." Brown writes:
The lawyers for the bishops rejected the voting guide, claiming that it was confusing to people and that only its officially approved material should be used. This is strange, indeed, since the Catholic Answers publication agrees 100 percent with Catholic teaching that identifies five 'non-negotiable' subjects by which a politician is to be evaluated: abortion, euthanasia, human embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual marriage. (p 100)
If one researches the background of this matter, it seems the USCCB's lawyers discouraged use of the guide because it could appear to favor a political candidate and thus jeopardize non-profit status. However, it seems there is a difference in actively discouraging something's use versus not legally claiming ownership of it. At the least, the USCCB lawyers' actions and subsequent refusal to clarify causes confusion and scandal in the Church.

One of the problems Brown cites is a culture of "Americanism." By this term, Brown refers to a sentiment prevalent in the United States that "any group, or individual, could 'correct the pope' with impunity..." (p 19) It is "an amalgamation of pluralism, modernism, atheism, Gnosticism, and Arianism." (p 32) The Arian heresy was a 4th century doctrinal scandal in the Church in which the priest Arius sought to correct doctrine taught by the Magisterium. Such attitudes depart from the chain of Apostolic succession through which Christ promised truth would be taught by the Holy Spirit. Individuals and even individual bishops who thus depart from the consistent teaching of the Church cause error, scandal, and confusion.

Brown details a variety of quotations and actions/inactions by individual American bishops in recent years, bringing what is a significant problem in the American Church to the attention of the faithful. For example, she describes the of silence from some bishops who remain idle on the sidelines while openly pro-choice politicians continue to receive Holy Communion while supporting the so-called "right" to terminate an infant in the womb. In chapter 8 of the book, Brown reviews Canon 915 on providing the Eucharist and scandals within the Church violating that Canon.

Another specific example includes a letter written by Bobby Schindler to his bishop, Robert Lynch, in 2007. Schindler was critical of the bishop's lack of voice when his sister Terri Schiavo was publicly starved to death in Florida in 2005 in an act of euthanasia. (p 157ff)

Brown's book is fraught with footnotes linking to various articles and publications. It would be daunting to cross-reference them all, and the ones I perused were sound references. There was one long story she relayed, of which I was familiar, that I found wanting for detail. (p 124ff) In 2010, Phoenix archbishop Thomas Olmsted renounced St. Joseph Hospital's Catholic status and notified an involved nun that she had incurred excommunication. A woman received an abortion at the hospital. Brown did point out that Church teaching forbids surgical abortion, but the story did involve complexities that I thought warranted further explanation. The hospital justified the abortion in the following words:
Tests revealed that [the mother] now had life-threatening pulmonary hypertension. The chart notes that she had been informed that her risk of mortality was close to 100 percent if she continued the pregnancy. The medical team contacted the Ethics Consult team for review. The consultation team talked to several physicians and nurses as well as reviewed the patient’s record. The patient and her family, her doctors and the Ethics Consult team agreed that the pregnancy could be terminated, and that it was appropriate since the goal was not to end the pregnancy but save the mother’s life. (quoted in National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 22, 2010)
Brown's focus in this story was to demonstrate the scandal of nuns involved with the hospital complicit in the abortion against the bishop's position. However, I would liked to have seen Brown provide more information on why the bishop's position was what it was. Bishop Omsted wrote of his decision:
[E]arlier this year, it was brought to my attention that an abortion had taken place at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. When I met with officials of the hospital to learn more of the details of what had occurred, it became clear that, in the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld; but that the baby was directly killed, which is a clear violation of ERD #45. It also was clear that the exceptional cases, mentioned in ERD #47, were not met, that is, that there was not a cancerous uterus or other grave malady that might justify an indirect and unintended termination of the life of the baby to treat the grave illness. In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the Church (Cf. Evangelium Vitae, #62).
In other words, the goal of the procedure was to kill the baby. It was an abortion. The baby was a healthy human being. The baby was not given due consideration as a person. They were not treating the mother's cancer that resulted in the death of the baby. This perspective, though a difficult one, is why the bishop stood his ground.

Another nitpick I had in the book was with this statement: "Magisterial teaching refers to doctrinal pronouncements from the pope on matters of faith and morals." (p 5) That statement is not quite accurate and may give the impression that only the pope ever formulates dogma. From the catechism:
CCC#100 The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.
CCC#892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.
The Pope, though he has a special role, is not on an island. There is a real unity there that includes not only the Pope but the other apostolic successors. Though that was just a small snippet of Brown's book, I know, as one who delves in the world of Catholic apologetics, someone might find themselves confused by, or an anti-Catholic might consider it opportune to utilize Brown's sentence as it is worded.

Brown has a significant amount on President Barack Obama and those who influence the Church. Obama is certainly well-known as perhaps the greatest opponent to Catholic teaching in the history of the United States executive office. The current HHS mandate is a violation of the very rights of religious persons in the U.S. I thought that section tended to carry on lengthily as Brown gave detail after detail of Obama's political appointments, health care, and other actions.

Although many of the politically-intertwined scandals in the Church involve Democrat politicians, Brown does not limit her criticism only to one party. For instance, she praises Bishop John Smith of New Jersey for writing a critical letter to a school for inviting Republican and pro-choice politician Christine Todd Whitman to speak. (p 84) The problem is not one limited to political lines. And as some good writers have pointed out, the Church is neither Republican or Democrat. The Church advances the truth of Christ.

Along with the likes of Bishop Smith, Brown is sure to include a number of uplifting stories throughout the book of brave bishops who have stood up to politicians or other Church dissenters, upholding the teaching of the Church despite the criticism they knew they would receive. So even though the main purpose of the book is to show what is the problem, Brown includes a balance of positive stories for the faithful, offering hope that our bishops often do what they are, as shepherds, called to do.

And even after the writing of this book, perhaps there are more signs of faithful shepherds in the U.S. At one point, Brown writes: "What is it about birth control that scares bishops into silence." And yet in February 2012, after the publication of The Broken Path, 100% of all 181 diocesan U.S. Catholic bishops publicly condemned the HHS mandate, which demanded even religious bodies fund birth control. Perhaps voices like Brown's have helped remind the U.S. Bishops to all stand for the teaching of the Church as many of their peers have done in the past. Her last chapter is called: "Holy Priests are the Cure" which includes sections on several heroic bishops.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Who speaks for Church teaching?

First, I want to point out that this article focuses on comparing dissenting Catholics and the hierarchical Church. This post is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment on the immorality of contraception. In the current public attempt the HHS is making against the Church's conscience, religious liberty is the issue. As Bishop Lori so eloquently put before Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in his "Parable of the Kosher Deli," it could have just as well been an ultimatum forcing Jews to serve pork.

And now, for the rest of the post.

So who speaks for authentic Church teaching? The bishops? Or people who call themselves Catholics who disagree with the bishops?

The correct answer is: bishops.

And those of you with short attention spans can probably stop reading at this point. :) For the rest, consider this from the official Catechism of the Catholic Church:

CCC#85 The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
Unfortunately, this HHS contraception/abortifacient ultimatum has stirred up a variety of lay people identifying themselves as Catholics and decrying their own bishops. For example, Maura Casey, writing an editorial for the Hartford Courant wrote this week:
Like me, many would consider themselves irresponsible mothers if they did not tell their children to ignore the church's teaching on birth control.
Her basis for saying this is not the main point of this post––although she is wrong to have blanketly asserted contraception equals less abortions when the FDA approves drugs that cause abortions as well as other contraceptives (cf., Witherspoon Institute)––not to mention there have been studies, such as this one published in Contraception magazine (also quoted in PDF here at USCCB) that showed, over 10 years an increase of contraceptive use and elective abortions. She also ignores the moral dimension of contraception in itself, justifying its use earlier in her commentary on the basis that her mother once said she lived a sickly life "in hell" without it. It was not a good presentation of moral theology, but I digress.

Casey rooted her argument in the title of her piece, "Catholic women must speak out". Forget for one moment that women are speaking out quite frequently against the bishops, including Sr. Carol Keehan, as mentioned in my previous post. Casey argues that women should defend government mandated "free"1 contraception, because otherwise:

priests, bishops...and scores of male commentators will get away with the pretense that they are speaking for us.
Forget again the scores of female commentators and religious that oppose contraception.2 Search any pro-life or Catholic news site like, or even your local parish for scads of women who agree with the bishops. Forget for another moment the anti-male bigotry underlying her comment, insinuating if bishops are male, they can't correctly teach the God-revealed truth on this matter.

But in one sense, I agree with her on this point:

The bishops don't speak for her.

They speak for what the Catholic Church teaches. If she chooses to "ignore" that teaching and teach her children to "ignore" that teaching, then no, the Church does not speak for her. If she wants to reject Church teaching under the guise that her medical decisions automatically equate to good morality, then no, the Church does not speak for her.

Her implication is that she, and other "Catholic" women (and men, too, I suppose, though she allies herself with none in this article), who "ignore" Church teaching are the true teachers of what is right.

That brings us to a catechetical moment. The sin of contraception3 is a plain, well-known teaching of the Church.

The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity. (Vademecum for Confessors, 2.4)
CCC#2370 [E]very action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.

Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law. (Gaudium et Spes, 52)

In his catechesis on Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II, echoed Paul VI's condemnation of contraception, and later stated: "contraception is not morally correct."

See here ( or Fr. Mitch Pacwa ( for examples of the consistent teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium going back to ancient times.
The list goes on and on. It is no secret that the Church has long taught contraception is sinful. And the faithful are to hold to infallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium. That is Catholic doctrine. Even Casey in her article admits she rejects "the church's teaching on birth control."

That being said, I want to finish with a look at canon law and the status of a person who rejects the Church's teaching on this or that matter of the faith. The Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law reads:
Can. 1364 An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.
"Latae sententiae" literally means "automatic." An apostate, heretic, or schismatic is automatically excommunicated from the Church without the need for some formal declaration. So what is an apostate, heretic, or schismatic?

Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith. Apostasy is the total repudiation of the christian faith. Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.
Now, I'm not going to speak to Casey specifically. Maybe there are factors, misunderstandings, personal struggles, etc., that may extenuate her culpability in publicly denouncing Catholic teaching. Maybe or maybe not. She is unfortunately the writer of an article that I found useful as an example on this issue. She is not specifically the issue here.

The point is, a Catholic who obstinately denies a truth of the faith is a heretic and thus incurs an automatic excommunication. Likewise, a Catholic who refuses to accept the teaching of those under the Pope, i.e. the bishops, is a schismatic, and also incurs automatic excommunication.

No doubt some who still call themselves Catholic (and even some openly ex-Catholics) have no problem rejecting Catholic teaching. But the point is, such a person, by definition, cannot be representative of Catholic teaching. Such a person's Catholic identity itself is broken. At best, the truly excommunicated could only call him/herself a representative of excommunicated Catholics.

Bottom line––keep it simple. When you want to know what is authentic Catholic teaching, go to the "teaching" authority of the Church, that is, the bishops in union with the Pope. Even when I read a lay person's or theologian's works, I always look for Magisterial backup for their work if they propose something that is Catholic teaching.

EDIT TO ADD: A commentator messaged me that appealing to documents by the bishops to defend the bishops' authority is a catch-22. If that was all there was to it, that would be correct. But if I had to explain the inspiration of Scripture and the basis for Church authority in every post I made, my posts would probably double in size. But I thought it worth mentioning a very brief rationale as to why the Church's claim to authority is not self-validating. The argument is similar as to why we accept the Scriptural quality of some books of Scripture in part because they are validated by other books of Scripture. Authority belongs properly to God. We believe that the historical Jesus Christ, the One who died and rose from the dead, was God Incarnate who gave that authority to those apostles and their successors. Scoffers render it impossible for God to have given authority to a successive hierarchical body on the basis that that body cannot claim to have authority. But the early Church testifies to such authority, the subsequent historical Church sustains that heritage, and the Scriptural texts produced by that Apostolic Tradition speaks to this reality. The first Christians consistently looked to the teaching of the bishops as a matter of historical record. Our faith holds that the Church's authority is backed by God. We believe in the authority of the bishops because they trace their appointment to Jesus Christ. It is not a "self-validating" enterprise. But like I said, that is the super-short version without getting into specifics.

See tract on Apostolic succession for another brief article.

1As another aside, this business of justifying contraceptives under the guise that it will be free is absurd on its face. Someone, of course, will pay to provide these products, whether through higher premiums, fees, or directly. Proponents also argue that fewer health problems will result and pay for itself. However, as I stated in my first blog post on this HHS issue, why not hand out free shoes. Or as others have suggested, free toiletries or hygiene products. Furthermore, it remains debatable whether fostering even more sexual activity in this country is going to reduce health issues. Oral contraceptives do not prevent STDs, for instance. And finally, since when would a "cost savings" make something moral anyway? If we murdered 1000 random sickly people per day, we could save a lot of money. Saving money does not make something right.
2Recently, "free contraception" supporters parroted the idea that 98% of Catholic women used birth control. That myth was subsequently debunked. See here (, for example.
3In this, I am not referring to medicinal use of contraceptives where birth control is not the intent (see Humanae Vitae under the subhead "Lawful Therapeutic means").

Friday, July 9, 2010

John MacArthur errs on Catholicism & the Word

Pastor John MacArthur is an evangelical pastor at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA and President of The Master's College in Santa Clarita. He is the author of over 150 books, perhaps best known for his MacArthur Study Bible. He is the son of Jack MacArthur, and the fifth successive pastor in his family. He holds two honorary doctorates, one from Talbot Theological Seminary and one from Grace Graduate School.

I often listen to his radio show
Grace to You in the morning. Often he will offer some decent exegesis and advance good ideals less-common in some Christian preaching like mortification or the need to avoid sexual sin. He has even argued for Peter as the chief apostle. But when it comes to Catholicism, John MacArthur consistently misses the mark and proves himself unable to accurately portray basic Catholic teaching.

His website features a summary article called
Is Roman Catholicism Biblical?, adapted from his book Reckless Faith.

The article begins:
"Is Roman Catholicism simply another facet of the body of Christ that should be brought into union with its Protestant counterpart?"

To give you a flavor for how he approaches the Catholic Church, consider the following MacArthur quote which aired on
The Way of the Master Radio on November 9, 2006:
In the long war on the truth, the most formidable, relentless, and deceptive enemy has been Roman Catholicism. It is an apostate, corrupt, heretical, false Christianity. It is a front for the kingdom of Satan.
One would be hard-pressed to generate harsher language, no? He considers Catholicism the #1 enemy of Christianity. But John MacArthur does not understand Catholic theology. And I'd like to demonstrate that now. The following is a quotation from one of his sermons (aired 8/31/09) on Grace to You:
We certainly have much to thank Martin Luther for, but infant baptism isn't one of the things. Luther's Catechism says this, quote, baptism worketh forgiveness of sins delivers from death and the devil and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe as the Word of the promise of God declare. Well the baby can't believe. That's where Luther jumped in and said, well, surrogate faith on the part of his parents is rendered in his behalf. So baptized babies will be saved. The Lutheran Augsberg Confession says, quote of baptism, Lutherans teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that by baptism the grace of God is offered and that children are to be baptized who by baptism being offered to God are received into God's favor. This view is held by Anglicans, Episcopalians, some Reformed groups. The Roman Catholic Church essentially teaches the same thing, that the removal of sin depends on the sacrament of infant baptism. Without infant baptism, without baptism, no child can be saved. Council of Trent, 1563, based the salvation of infants on Roman Catholic baptism. In 1951, Pius XII taught that, quote, "No other way besides baptism is seen as imparting the life of Christ to little children." The new Catholic Catechism says, "By Christian baptism, one enters into the Kingdom of God, and into the Spirit of the saving work of Christ." So the answer of the sacramentalists is the baptized babies are saved, and the unbaptized babies aren't. Well, this would make salvation not an act of grace but an act of works! That is no credit to the grace of God!
What is perhaps most interesting about this quotation is how exactly it matches page 46 of Ronald Nash's 1999 book "When a Baby Dies." The exact same quotes from Luther's Catechism, the Augsberg Confession, Anglicans & Episcopalians, Council of Trent, Pius XII, and the "Catechism" are on that page, in the same order MacArthur listed them. Unfortunately, not going to a Catholic source resulted in MacArthur erring in saying Catholics teach unbaptized babies are not saved. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC#1261, specifically speaks of the hope and trust in the mercy of God to welcome unbaptized babies into His arms.

I think the following will also show that he often does not give due attention to Catholic sources before he speaks on behalf of Catholic teaching.

In his article
Is Roman Catholicism Biblical?, MacArthur asserts:
In Roman Catholicism, "the Word of God" encompasses not only the Bible, but also the Apocrypha, the Magisterium (the Church's authority to teach and interpret divine truth), the Pope's ex cathedra pronouncements, and an indefinite body of church tradition, some formalized in canon law and some not yet committed to writing. Whereas evangelical Protestants believe the Bible is the ultimate test of all truth, Roman Catholics believe the Church determines what is true and what is not. In effect, this makes the Church a higher authority than Scripture.
So is it true the Catholic Church considers all these things "the Word of God"? No. MacArthur is incorrect.

The ecumenical council of Vatican II produced a document called "Dei Verbum" (Latin for "Word of God"). Paragraph 10 clearly states:
"Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church."

Let's examine the error of some of his other claims. By "Apocrypha," MacArthur is referring to the Deuterocanonical texts of the Old Testaments which do not appear in Protestant Bibles (these books are Sirach, Wisdom, 1 and 2 Maccabbees, Judith, Tobit, Baruch, and parts of Esther and Daniel). In the first several centuries following the actual writing of the New Testament, the Catholic Church discerned by the Spirit what books constituted authentic Scripture. MacArthur, who does not accept that the Catholic Church by apostolic succession bears this guarantee of discerning such things, necessarily assigns that authority to other men that compiled the "Protestant Bible."

He said Catholics include the "Magisterium" as part of "the Word of God." This does not make sense. CCC#100 states:
"The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church..." The Magisterium is composed of the Pope and the bishops in union with him. The Magisterium is not "the Word of God" but rather the interpretive body which Catholics believe has the authoritative guidance of the Holy Spirit when interpreting the Word.

Depending on what he means by "church tradition," MacArthur is correct that a teaching on faith or morals (which would include Papal ex cathedra statements) not explicit in Scripture may come to us by the Spirit via Sacred Tradition. In Catholicism, the term "tradition" is used in a couple ways (see the
CCC for examples). Some Tradition is considered part of the Word of God as it is derived from the deposit of faith. Some tradition is not considered part of the Word, and outside the class of faith or morals. These would be disciplinary or customary practices like what colors the priest wears during what seasons, the Western discipline of celibacy for priests, what songs are sung during the Liturgy, etc. These would not be considered part of divine revelation which Dei Verbum calls "the Word of God." Such practices may change or be reversed in different cultures and eras.

MacArthur is also mistaken to think "canon law" is considered by Catholics part of the divinely revealed "Word of God." The Code of Canon Law is a legislative guide for various norms practiced in the Church. In remarks promulgating the 1983 Code of Canon Law
(Sacrae Disciplinae Leges), Pope John Paul II said, "it appears sufficiently clear that the Code is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace and the charisms in the life of the Church and of the faithful." There may be mentions of matters of faith or morals in Canon Law, but these are not derived from Canon Law, rather Canon Law may mention them.

Aside from his misperceptions on what the Catholic Church considers "the Word of God," MacArthur violates his own criticism. First, he sets forth the rule that "the Bible is the ultimate test of all truth" which nowhere is asserted within the Bible. Second, he criticizes the existence of an interpreting Magisterium while simultaneously appointing himself, de facto, a superior interpreter to the Magisterium. The idea that the Bible is the ultimate test necessarily depends on a human or humans correctly interpreting it by the power of the Holy Spirit.

MacArthur criticizes:
The Church not only infallibly determines the proper interpretation of Scripture, but also supplements Scripture with additional traditions and teaching. That combination of Church tradition plus the Church's interpretation of Scripture is what constitutes the binding rule of faith and practice for Catholics. The fact is, the Church sets itself above Holy Scripture in rank of authority.
The last sentence, which he also claimed earlier, is where MacArthur errs. It is also where he diffuses his own ability to interpret Scripture. Think about it. The Catholic Church considers Herself to have the Spirit-given authority to interpret Scripture. When MacArthur denies any of the Church's interpretations and sets forth the "correct" interpretation, he is placing himself above the Catholic Church, who he says places Herself above Scripture! In other words, it is nonsense to say one is "above Holy Scripture in rank of authority" just because one is interpreting it!

It is also apparent MacArthur is unaware of the Church's understanding of Her relation to Scripture, which is stated in
Dei Verbum:
[The Magisterium] is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed. (Dei Verbum, 10b)
Just as MacArthur believes of himself, the Catholic Church believes She is subject to what God says to us via Scripture. The Church cannot "create" a Tradition that contradicts Scripture, regardless of whether John MacArthur might insist the Church has done so.