Saturday, August 12, 2017

Refusing Obedience is Disobedience


In my morning Bible reading, I’m at the point of 2 Chronicles where Asa and Ahab, in two separate incidents, consider the prophets’ speaking a warning from God as treason on the part of the prophet. While Ahab was an evil king, Asa, up to that point was considered a good king who walked with God. It’s a reminder that such behavior is not just from the godless. Despite how we have lived up to this point, we can still fall away from right relation with God if we put our own preferences first. It’s not just this one instance. The New Testament tells us of the Pharisees—Men who desired to live holy lives in the way they thought best—found themselves in opposition to God. Not because they chose to spurn God. Rather, they thought that Jesus had to be wrong because what He taught was in conflict to what they thought it meant to be faithful.

I think these examples should stand as a warning for us. The Old Testament Kings responded to prophets warning them about their wrongdoing by imprisoning the prophets. The Pharisees responded to Jesus warning them about their wrongdoing by plotting to have Him executed. In losing sight of the fact that we can go wrong, we risk being opposed to God while believing we are in the right.

The Danger for Catholics

This is not something limited to Biblical times. Nor is it limited to one faction within the Church. The danger exists when one of us decides that he doesn’t like how the Church handles something. It might be a dissent associated with “liberalism” like sexual moral teachings. It might be a dissent associated with “conservatism” like social justice teachings. In both cases, the person believes the Church has gone wrong, and will remain wrong until she agrees with them.

Blessed John Henry Newman saw the danger, and described it this way [†]:

I will take one more instance. A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.

John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (London: Burns, Oates, & Co., 1870), 240.

We believe the Church is infallible because we believe she was established by Our Lord, given authority by Our Lord, and protected from error by Our Lord. The individual Churchman or layman can be sinful and be led into error. So, when the Pope teaches, we must decide. Do we believe that God protects him from teaching error? Or do we merely happen to agree with the Church up to a certain point and then reject whatever seems different?
Unfortunately, the lack of certitude seems to be growing. People who assumed that their personal view of the Church was all the Church could be, grew angry when the Church affirmed something they viewed as a political view or error. But, when the Church teaches, we are obliged to recognize her authority as from God. Dr. Peter Kreeft points out:

A “cafeteria Catholic” or a half Catholic or a 95 percent Catholic is a contradiction in terms. If the Catholic Church does not have the divine authority and infallibility she claims, then she is not half right or 95 percent right, but the most arrogant and blasphemous of all churches, a false prophet claiming “thus says the Lord” for mere human opinions. It must be either / or, as with Christ himself: if Christ is not God, as he claims, then he is not 95 percent right or half right or merely one of many good human prophets or teachers, but the most arrogant and blasphemous false prophet who ever lived. Just as a mere man who claims to be God is not a fairly good man but a very bad man, a merely human church that claims divine authority and infallibility is not a fairly good church but a very bad church.


The only honest reason to be a Christian is because you believe Christ’s claim to be God incarnate. The only honest reason to be a Catholic is because you believe the Church’s claim to be the divinely authorized Body of this Christ.


Peter Kreeft, Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001), 105.

If the Church was created by Our Lord and given the authority to teach with His authority, then we must obey the Church teaching if we would obey Him (John 14:15, Luke 10:16, Matthew 18:17). If one rejects Humanae Vitae while accepting Laudato Si, or if one rejects Laudato Si while accepting Humanae Vitae, one is a cafeteria Catholic.
Refusing Obedience is Disobedience
But, instead of accepting the authority of the Church to teach, people prefer to attack. They might attack the entire Church as “being against God,” invoking “mercy” and saying the Church is “judgmental.” Or, they might accuse the Pope and bishops of being in error. In both examples, the assumption is whatever they dislike is error to be rejected. Such a view makes the individual the judge of the Church—changing the Church from Mother and Teacher to Child and Student who must be taught by us.
But under such a view, it makes no sense to be a Catholic because it rejects (overtly, or through failing to think things through) what the Church professes to be. As Dr. Kreeft pointed out, if the Church claims to be what she is not, then the anti-Catholics are right and the Church is a monstrosity. But if the Church is what she claims to be, then we must give assent when she teaches, not offer explanations as to why we can ignore a teaching we dislike.
Be aware that this is not the fault of one faction. During the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, it was easier to see this disobedience among “liberal Catholics.” Under the pontificate of Pope Francis, the dissent of “conservative Catholics” is more obvious. But both kinds of dissent were present in both cases—it was just harder to notice the dissent of conservatives against Popes before 2013, while after 2013 liberal dissent against the Pope does not get reported.
The thing to remember is, while some sins are more deadly than others, the deadliest sin is the one which sends an individual to hell. For the person who has no intention to use the “right” to abortion available in our country, the sin of abortion is not likely to damn him. But another sin could very well condemn him to hell. This is especially true if we try to hide our dissent by pretending the Church must be wrong.
If we do this, we are doing the same thing to the Church that the Old Testament kings did with the prophets and the Pharisees did with Our Lord. Instead of considering and obeying the source of authority, we get angry and attack the Church for not saying what we want to hear, or saying what we don’t want to hear. We can pretend that our disobedience is really obedience to a higher source, but Our Lord does not permit this. He said that the one who rejects the Church rejects Him, and the One who sent Him (Luke 10:16). 
People can try to muddy the waters and try to argue that they can ignore the Pope when He doesn’t teach infallibly (ex cathedra), but that ignores the fact that the binding ex cathedra definition grows out of the binding teaching of the ordinary magisterium. Our Lord has commanded us to obey His Church. This means we trust Him to protect His Church from error. If we refuse to trust the Church and her visible head, the Pope, it means we refuse to trust the Head of the Church—Our Lord. No matter how we twist history to make a private error or band behavior of a medieval Pope justify disobedience of a Pope who does none of that, Our Lord’s command cannot be evaded. If we think otherwise, we will answer for it.
[†] The problem seems to fit “cradle Catholics” as well, and should not be seen as a “convert only” problem. Blessed John Henry Newman’s observation should not be seen as indicting all converts, or only converts.

No comments:

Post a Comment