Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On True and False Teachers



24 Since we have heard that some of our number [who went out] without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, 25 we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(Acts 15:24-26)

The Bible has a lot of interesting things to say about false teachers, especially in the New Testament. Back then, they were basically rigorists who insisted that to be a Christian you had to follow the Jewish Law. The Church teaching authority made clear that the ceremonial and dietary law did not have to be followed, but the false teachers still clung to their position.

It seems like today we have false teachers who declare what they hold is the Church teaching—but it is not held by the teaching authority of the Church. They can stir up a good deal of trouble to those who are unaware, but to one who knows the authority of the Church will not be taken in.

Who Are the True Teachers?

The Magisterium is described by the Catechism as follows:

The Magisterium of the Church

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. (888–892; 2032–2040)

86 “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” (688)

87 Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me,” the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms. (1548; 2037)

The dogmas of the faith

88 The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these. (888–892, 2032–2040)

So, the teaching office is living (not limited to the past) and the job of interpreting of the teaching is the Pope (the successor of St. Peter) and the bishops in communion with him. It has the authority to decide how the Word of God is best carried out, never contradicting the Word of God.

Who Are the False Teachers?

The false teachers are made up of two types:

  1. One who claims binding authority for their teaching when they do not have that authority.
  2. One who says the Church teaching is what it is not, or is not what it actually is.

Radical Traditionalism has long been a source of the first. Claiming to be arbiters over what is or is not authentically Catholic, they have been given no mandate to teach, and in fact rely on what they think pre-Vatican II Church document mean—and it’s always pre-Vatican II. Elevating disciplines into doctrines, claiming that Vatican II was a departure from the true faith—based on their own interpretations. Their position is always begging the question—what gives them the right to declare themselves as having the true faith while the Magisterium which contradicts them does not? The fact is, they merely appeal to the “plain sense” of Church documents in the same way that a Biblical Literalist would appeal to the “plain sense” of the Scriptures.

The point is, when there is a dispute over the meaning of a Church teaching, it is the Magisterium and not the casual reader, who has the final authority. Trying to declare authority over the interpretation of the Magisterium is oxymoronic (and I’m tempted to say, “drop the ‘oxy.’”).

Mind you, it’s not only the radical traditionalists who do this. The modernists who cite Hans Küng as a justification for the rejection of the Magisterium make the same mistake. He’s not part of the magisterium, and his ability to teach as a Catholic theologian was revoked.

The second set of false teachers are those who say the Church teaches a thing that she does not or does not teach something she does teach. The modern media misrepresentation of the Church certainly falls into this category. So do the Catholics who misunderstand the Church teaching or disagree with it. When the media cites Pope Francis saying “Who am I to judge” out of context, they are creating a false teaching.

Did ANYBODY read it in context?

When the conservative Catholic turns the fact that Cardinal Burke’s term of office expired into a “demotion” because of his positions, they too are creating a false teaching. When the SSPXer denies that the Church had the authority to take action against Lefebvre, that is a false teaching.

Our Obligations With the Truth

We are never to do evil so good may come of it (CCC #1789). That means we can’t choose to do or say wrong to further our position. For example, if we lie about the teachings of the Church in order to get more converts, that is to be condemned. If a person dislikes how a certain member of the Church handles their position, we cannot lie about it in order to discourage people from looking at that member positively.

So, when it comes to speaking or writing, we must (as Aristotle says) say of what is that it is, and of that which is not that it is not. So we can’t say that Pope Francis wants to change the Church teaching to allow the same sex couples and the divorced and invalidly remarried couples to receive the Eucharist—because he does not.

Another obligation is to recognize when one does not know the truth. When we encounter something like the expiration of Cardinal Burke’s term and the fact that he was not reappointed to a new position, we do not know the reason as to why the Pope did as he did, but we do know that he opposes careerism and, to date, has not reappointed anybody to the same curial position. So to say he was “demoted” because of his positions at the synod is to speak out of ignorance.

Finally, we have to look for truth. It’s not enough to assume we are right without thinking about it. When we encounter something that makes us think, “What the hell?” the obligation is to find out what the facts and motives are for the action. For example, with all the alleged shocks about Pope Francis over the past year and a half, it has been revealed that not one has been what it was originally represented to be.

In other words, if you don’t know why the Pope did something, don’t assume bad will on his part.

Recognizing Who Speaks With Truth and Authority

As a Catholic blogger, I’ll say this straight out—this blog does not have any binding authority. All I can do is relay the teaching of the Church as accurately as I can and say what I believe follows from those teachings. For example, I can say that given the Church teaching on infallibility, the radical traditionalist seems to come very close to heresy in claiming that Popes have taught error since Vatican II. But I have NO authority to declare them heretical. Likewise, I can say that liberal Catholics embrace heretical positions, but I cannot formally declare them heretical either. All I can do is to contrast their positions with what the Magisterium has said.

That’s the same story for other Catholic blogs. We can only speak to the truth or falseness of a person’s claims—we can’t declare something as Church teaching unless it is Church teaching. We don’t have authority, we have integrity (or a lack thereof) which is measured by how we speak the truth or fail to do so.

Certainly the media cannot speak with authority. They can report the facts or they can go wildly wrong (with culpability depending on whether they thought they were being accurate or pushing an agenda). They don’t have authority—only integrity (and, looking at the coverage of the synod and the Pope, not much of that).

The living Magisterium is the source of authority by which all reports on Catholicism are measured. They have the responsibility to lead the Church and that responsibility is matched with the authority to be heeded and the protection given from God that they do not lead the Church astray.

The Problem Today

The problem today is we are seeing a rejection of the true authority of the Church and a reliance on the self interpretation and on sources that one agrees with but are not sources of authority. It creates anarchy, and is being done by parties on both sides of the political spectrum—and that leads us to the second problem . . . that the teaching authority of the Church is based a political agenda—especially when it goes against our personal preferences. Thus we see Pope Francis accused of being a Marxist and the American bishops simultaneously being accused of being the “Republican Party at Prayer” and “liberal modernists."

When you look at all the conflict within the Church, none of it is based on what the Church has taught. It is based on what people think or fear might happen because of what they think it means.

Who Do You Heed?

The Bible tells us that God does not recognize religious division. The division of Israel into two kingdoms are examples of that. God tolerated a political division, but when the Northern tribes chose to erect their own temple as a rivalry to the Temple of Jerusalem, God sent the prophets to warn them. It didn’t matter that Judea had its problems. That was where God chose His Temple to be. The rebellions against Moses by Korah and by Aaron and Miriam were punished because they were rebellions against who God had chosen.

So, the authority given by God is not to be rebelled against. As Catholics we believe that the Church has her authority from Christ and is given through St. Peter and the apostles, continuing through their successors. If we believe the Catholic teaching, the living magisterium of the Church is not to be rebelled against either. That being the case, being a faithful Catholic means keeping to the teaching of the current Pope. Not keeping to this means not being a faithful Catholic.

This system means we have faith in God to protect the Magisterium from teaching error. If God has tasked His Church with His mission and given the Church His authority, then we trust that God will prevent error from being taught by the Magisterium. We don’t have the authority to rebel. This isn’t “papolatry," trusting in the personal holiness of the Pope (though I believe he is a man of good will seeking to do God’s will). This is recognizing that God is in charge and protecting the Church.

Of course that puts his detractors and those who misrepresent him in a spot. The Church teaches things on morality that liberals do not like—and so they misrepresent what is said to hide what they do not want to obey. Likewise, the Church teaching on changing the discipline (not doctrine) of some areas of the Church does not sit well with some conservatives and traditionalists. Because being a faithful Catholic requires obedience to the Pope, they have to create complex theologies about dissent that makes them the ones to judge the Magisterium. (Ironically, before Pope Francis, liberals used to behave that way. Now they just ignore what they dislike).

Remember, the Vatican I document, Pastor Aeternus, tells us this about the authority of the Papacy:

If then any shall say that the Roman Pontiff has the office merely of inspection or direction, and not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which belong to faith and morals, but also in those things which relate to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world; or assert that he possesses merely the principal part, and not all the fullness of this supreme power; or that this power which he enjoys is not ordinary and immediate, both over each and all the Churches and over each and all the pastors of the faithful; let him be anathema.

Reject that, and you’ve rejected the authority which God has given the Pope.

Pope Francis is Our Pope

With this in mind, we have to apply it to the current successor of St. Peter—Pope Francis. If we would claim to be faithful Catholics we cannot place ourselves in opposition to his teaching as Pope. If he chooses to use his papacy to reach out to sinners, seeking to find a way they can return to the Church, we place our trust in God that whatever way the Church decides to carry it out will not be contrary to God’s will.

When accusations are made against him, they must be proven, not assumed. When a person disagrees with the Pope’s means of carrying out Christ’s mission, the obligation is to pray and to learn the truth first. Thus far, every time a scandal is reported about the Pope, the facts eventually showed that the accounts were wrong in some area and what he said in context was in full keeping with the teaching of the Church.

Perhaps one should keep in mind something that Bishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote in his autobiography:

"Your Holiness, I have just discovered how easy Judgment is going to be."
"Oh," he said, "tell me, I would like to know."
"While I was waiting to come into your presence I had come to the conclusion that I had not loved the Church as much as I should. Now that I come before Your Holiness, I see the Church personalized. When I make my obedience to you, I make it to the Body and to the invisible Head, Christ. Now I see how much I love the Church in Your Holiness, its visible expression."
He said: "Yes, Judgment is going to be that easy for those who try to serve the Lord."

1 comment:

  1. Oh goodness, that is a great post, very thoughtful. I didn't know a lot of that. Please, keep up the terrific writing you are doing here!