Tag Archives: magisterium

The Book of God

30 Sep
St. Jerome

St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church

One of the central documents of the Second Vatican Council was its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. This pivotal conciliar document has called Catholics to draw more effectively upon the life-changing power of Sacred Scripture.

And yet, Dei Verbum is not simply about the Bible. The title of this document itself is instructive. The Council Fathers did not call it Dei Liber (“Book of God”) but Dei Verbum (“Word of God”). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us why this distinction is important:

“The Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand the Scriptures” (no. 108, footnotes omitted).

For All the Saints

One of the principal themes of the Second Vatican Council was the universal call to holiness. The renewal of the Church hinges on the ongoing sanctification of all her members. This is the work of God, but all the faithful must be personally engaged in the process.

Dei Verbum takes us to the point of entry into this new life in Christ Jesus. It comes down to the “obedience of faith” that we give to God as He reveals Himself to us (DV, no. 5). As our Lord Himself says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28).

It is the great mission of the Holy Spirit, the “soul of the Church,” to reveal Christ to us and bring us into communion with Him and all His holy ones. As St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 12:3). The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and to the entire Church surely includes the singular blessing of Sacred Scripture, but encompasses the totality of what Christ bequeathed to His Church, including the sacred liturgy. In this regard the Holy Spirit “is the Church’s living memory” (Catechism, no. 1099), making present and effective in our lives the saving works of Christ. Dei Verbum, no. 9 therefore affirms that Sacred Tradition and Scripture are bound closely together and flow from the same divine wellspring, which is none other than the Holy Spirit.

Bible Christians

While Catholics do not limit God’s self-revelation to the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”), we must affirm with St. Jerome, whose feast we celebrate today, that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The fact of the matter is that Catholics have not been well “versed” in Sacred Scripture. Surely, Catholics know much more of the Bible than we think we do–to the extent we’ve stayed awake at Mass and catechism class. Still, we experience something of an “inferiority complex” when it comes to the Bible. When challenged on the more controversial aspects of our faith with the dreaded “Where in the Bible…?” questions, we are needlessly bewildered and intimidated. Continue reading

What is the Assumption?

15 Aug

AssumptionToday the Church celebrates the great solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s such a significant feast day that the Church considers it a holy day of obligation, on which we are obliged to go to Mass and, to the extent possible, enjoy a day a rest and festivity.

So it’s fair to ask, “What does the Church teach concerning the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?”

The teaching is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 974:

“The Most Blessed Virgin Mary, when the course of her earthly life was completed, was taken up [‘assumed’] body and soul into the glory of heaven, where she already shares in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection, anticipating the resurrection of all members of His Body.” This is a paraphrase of a dogmatic statement issued in 1950 by Pope Pius XII in a document entitled Munificentissimus Deus.

While the dogmatic definition is relatively new, the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption is firmly rooted in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. The key scriptural verse is Genesis 3:15, in which the Lord says that He will put enmity between Satan and the “woman,” who is identified as the Mother of the Redeemer. “Enmity” means “total opposition.” This verse foreshadows Mary’s participation in the complete victory of her seed (Jesus) over Satan. According to St. Paul, the consequences of Satan’s influence on the human race are twofold: sin and death (e.g., Romans 5:21; 6:16; 6:23; 8:2; Galatians 6:7-8; Hebrews 2:14-15). Therefore, Mary, who shared in her Son’s victory over Satan, would have to be saved from both sin and the corruption of death. Thus, the Assumption manifests Our Lady’s “total opposition” to the devil.

In addition to Genesis 3:15, there are several other scriptural passages that point to the Assumption of Our Lady. For example, there is Luke 1:28, since her bodily assumption is a natural consequence of her being “full of grace.” Other passages include Revelation 12:1, in which Mary’s coronation implies her bodily assumption, and 1 Corinthians 15:23 and Matthew 27:52-53, which support the possibility of a bodily assumption. And lastly there is Psalm 132:8, which provides: “Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark which you have sanctified.” Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, who physically bore the presence of God in her womb before bearing Christ to the world.

The Assumption is also witnessed by sacred Tradition. For example, St. Gregory of Tours (d. 593) wrote: “The Lord commanded the holy body [of Mary] to be borne on a cloud to Paradise where, reunited to its soul and exalting with the elect, it enjoys the everlasting bliss of eternity.” The doctrine was also explicitly taught by Church Fathers such as St. Germain of Constantinople, St. Andrew of Crete, and St. John Damascene.

There is a maxim that provides “Lex orandi, lex credendi” (“the law of praying is the law of believing”). This maxim summarizes the truth that the liturgical life of the People of God plays an important role in preserving and celebrating the Faith of the Church. Already in the sixth century there were liturgical feasts dedicated to Mary’s Assumption. And indeed, from the 13th century on, the doctrine of Mary’s Assumption was taught with near unanimity in both the west and east. And the Rosary, which includes the mystery of the Assumption, has been an important part of Catholic piety since the early 13th century.

In defining the Assumption as a revealed dogma, Pope Pius XII did not infallibly answer all the questions that relate to the “where, when, and how” of the Assumption. For example, we do not know how old Mary was and whom she was with at the time. Also, the Holy Father did not attempt to resolve the controversy as to whether she was in Ephesus or Jerusalem, as there was no mention of where she was at the time of her Assumption. In addition, Pope Pius XII’s definition said nothing about Mary’s mediation, her queenship, or other privileges.

And significantly, Pope Pius XII left open the question of whether Mary “died.” Note that the definition intentionally uses the ambiguous phraseology, “having completed the course of her earthly life.” Some maintain that she did not die, because her Immaculate Conception freed her from the effects of original sin, including death. The more probable opinion, endorsed by Blessed John Paul II, is that the Blessed Virgin Mary did die, so that she could be fully conformed to her crucified Son. Thus she freely accepted death in order to more fully associate herself with her Son’s redemption (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, no. 58). It is important to note in this regard that if Mary did die before being assumed into heaven, it did not involve the bodily corruption that usually accompanies death as a consequence of original sin.

The foregoing, in modified form, was originally published by Catholics United for the Faith.

Digesting the Content

27 Jun

Catechesi TradendaeChurch documents can seem a bit daunting at first, especially to lay people who have not studied Catholic theology for any length of time. Yet the writings of the Popes and other Church authorities are far too important to be left merely to scholars or so-called “experts.”

I received a tip many years ago that I have found very helpful: Most Church documents, including Vatican II documents and papal encyclicals, are divided into numbered sections. Each section is bite-sized, usually 1-4 paragraphs in length. The tip is to read the document one numbered section at a time, and then try to summarize the content in one sentence. This may be a little challenging at first, but eventually you will get the hang of it and quickly zero in on the main point of the section.

One of Blessed John Paul II’s longest documents is Catechesi Tradendae, a 1979 apostolic exhortation on Catechesis in Our Time. Below you will find my summary of this document, with a few memory verses thrown in at no extra charge. Especially during this “Year of Faith,” you might want to try this method with one of the documents of Vatican II or an encyclical on a topic you find most interesting. Continue reading

Vatican II on the Word of God

11 Mar

Pope with Book of GospelsIn my last post, I offered some reflections on how Catholics approach Scripture, calling to mind Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). This particular document is one of the four central “constitutions” promulgated at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Given its significance, I thought that before we move on to the next conciliar document I would offer this “top ten list” of key teachings found in Dei Verbum.

The entire document is rich (and it’s by far the shortest of the four constitutions!), but I have found these particular passages especially enlightening as the Church boldly proceeds with a “new evangelization.” The texts in bold italics are direct quotes, with footnotes omitted.

(1) God’s Self-Disclosure

Through divine revelation, God chose to show forth and communicate Himself and the eternal decisions of His will regarding the salvation of men. . . . He chose to share with them those divine treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind (no. 6).

Dei Verbum affirms, with Vatican I, that we can know God’s existence and other religious truths through the use of reason. However, in addition to truths “which totally transcend” human understanding, divine Revelation conveys truths already accessible to human reason so that everyone can know the truth with ease, certitude, and the absence of error (cf. Catechism, nos. 37-38).

(2) Tradition!

[T]he apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) (no. 8).

Apostolic tradition includes everything that contributes to the holiness of life and increase in faith of the People of God. The Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, and all that she believes.

(3) Deposit of Faith

Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church (no. 10).

The Church stresses the unity of the Word of God, as both Scripture and Tradition flow from the same divine wellspring (no. 9).

(4) Role of Magisterium

[T]he task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ (no. 10).

Further, this teaching office is not above the Word of God. The Magisterium serves the Word of God, teaching only what has been handed on. The Magisterium listens to the Word devoutly, guards it scrupulously, and explains it faithfully in accordance with her divine commission. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the Magisterium draws from this one deposit of faith everything which the Church presents for belief as divinely revealed.

(5) Inerrancy of Scripture

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation (no. 11).

This section has been a point of controversy, as the Church’s traditional understanding of the inerrancy of Scripture has come under attack in recent decades, and this particular passage can seem ambiguous on the point. Is Scripture without error (“inerrant”) generally (but properly understood, see no. 6), or is it without error only on matters concerning our salvation?

This controversy can’t be resolved here, but in favor of the former interpretation, DV 11 does footnote sources such as Leo XIII’s Providentissimus Deus that set forth the traditional teaching. In addition, in Latin, the “for the sake of salvation” (causa salutis) is a genitive of purpose. The grammatical construction conveys purpose or motive (why do we have Scripture?), not a limitation upon “that truth.”

(6) Literary and Historical Criticism

However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words (no. 12).

This passage illustrates the Church’s balanced approach that recognizes not only God’s authorship of Scripture, but also the contribution of the human authors, including their historical and cultural context. The use of human sciences only creates difficulties when scholars adopt unscientific presuppositions that contradict the faith (e.g., miracles are impossible) and treat Scripture as merely an ancient human writing.

(7) Incarnation of the Word

In Sacred Scripture, therefore, while the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous “condescension” of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, “that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature.” For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men (no. 13, quoting St. John Chrysostom).

Our God has come looking for us, and He reaches out to us, using our mode of communication!  By “condescension” we mean that God reaches down to us as a Father gets down to be on the level of his child, so that he can embrace him and raise him up.

(8) Role of Old Testament

God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New (no. 16).

This beautifully summarizes our approach to reading the entire Bible, not just the New Testament.

(9) Centrality of the Four Gospels

Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1) (no. 19).

The Church unhesitatingly asserts the historicity of the Gospels. They are reliable accounts of the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We should frequently meditate on these four books.

(10) Ignorance of Scripture Is Ignorance of Christ

Therefore, all the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become “an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly” since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy (no. 25, quoting St. Augustine).

This is related to no. 22, which provides that “easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful.” Vatican II exhorted all the Christian faithful, especially religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8), taking to heart St. Jerome’s famous expression: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

Paragraph 25 urges us to immerse ourselves in Scripture, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine Word, or through devotional reading, or through classes and Bible studies, all with the approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church. We are reminded that prayer must accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together. For as St. Ambrose wrote, “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying.”

Looking for Answers

6 Mar

Word of GodThe following article originally appeared in the October 2000 issue of Lay Witness magazine. I reprint it here as illustrative of Vatican II’s teaching on the Word of God as found in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). In my next post I will provide a “top ten list” of teachings from this important conciliar document.

My algebra textbook in ninth grade had an answer key in the back that enabled me to check my answers upon completing my homework assignment. Most of the time, the answer key simply served to verify that in fact I had arrived at the correct answer.

Sometimes, however, the answer given in the book was different from my answer. What would I do then?

I realized that 99.99 percent of the time the book was right. The book didn’t have to change–I did. I would rework the problem a little more carefully, and usually I would discover and correct my error.

There were still times that I didn’t get the right answer. In those cases I had to admit that maybe I didn’t quite understand the material well enough and needed to consult the teacher. I had a fundamental trust in the reliability of the answer key, as I was humble enough (barely) to recognize that the professional mathematicians who wrote the book were probably right, and I, a cocky adolescent, was probably wrong.

In a very real sense, God’s Word is our answer key, providing answers to our most basic, essential questions. Who made us? What is the purpose of our existence? What good must we do to attain eternal life?

I must admit that every so often there was a typo in the answer key of my algebra book, and I would proudly point it out to my teacher and classmates. But God’s Word is even more reliable. It is utterly free from error. God can neither deceive nor be deceived. His Word will not lead us astray. And that’s not all. We have the best of teachers, Mother Church, to ensure that the Word of God is faithfully communicated through all ages.

Do we take time each day to open the Bible, the written Word of God? Do we listen attentively to God’s Word proclaimed to us in the liturgy? Do we take the time to consider whether our actions are in accord with God’s plan for our lives? Do we accept the role of the Church to authentically interpret God’s Word?

Like the algebra student, there are various approaches we can take to the Word of God. There are, of course, students who are not motivated to learn algebra and don’t bother to do the assignment, let alone check their answers in the back of the book. Sadly, in the classroom of life, there are many who are indifferent to the Word of God. We need to fervently pray that they may have the grace of conversion, that the Lord will inspire them to discover “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

Then there are those who do the assignment and maybe even check their answers in the back of the book on occasion. There’s no problem as long as the answer key agrees with their answers. However, when there’s a discrepancy, they too easily assume the book is wrong, or at least that their answer is equally valid.

This points to an analogous problem in the Church today. Many who consider themselves Catholics believe they are justified in rejecting those teachings with which they don’t agree. Often there is an inadequate understanding of the Church’s teaching, and unfortunately the Church’s teaching on issues such as contraception or homosexuality is caricatured in the media. Yet even the most honest and well-researched disagreement with the Church on an issue of faith or morals is problematic, because it involves replacing God’s laws with our own private judgment.

The antidotes to this problem are faith and humility. We all need to pray or an increase in faith. Faith means that we accept God’s Word not necessarily because we naturally agree with it, but because we accept the authority of God as the source of all truth. The virtue of humility, on the other hand, inclines us to recognize not only our God-given dignity and talents, but also our personal limitations and our need for divine wisdom and grace.

At the other extreme, there are those who short-circuit the educational process by looking up the answers and copying them down without learning and understanding the material. I had classmates who would take this a step further. They would look up the answer and then work backwards so that it would look like they actually solved the problem when they hadn’t. While the problems with these approaches are rather obvious, at least these classmates correctly identified the source of the right answers.

When it comes to God’s Word, we can be tempted to take similar approaches. These approaches are rightly criticized as being fundamentalist (inadequately taking into account the complexities of the human condition and the fact that revealed truths are at the same time “mysteries” of faith) and proof-texting (taking God’s Word out of context and improperly using a passage as a shortcut to defending our understanding of the Church’s teaching).

In a secular age characterized by what is sometimes called a “crisis of faith,” the affirmation of trust in the authority of God’s Word manifested by these approaches can be refreshing and praiseworthy. Yet in the end faith is not about knowing the right answers, but about growing in our relationship with the living God. He wants us to ponder the mysteries of faith in imitation of our Blessed Mother (cf. Luke 2:19, 51), using our intellect and will in cooperation with divine grace to wrestle with real-life difficulties.

Those who simply look up the answers in the back of the book not only cheat themselves, but also aren’t much help when it comes to teaching others. And so for us to participate most fully in the “new evangelization,” we must make our own the truths of the faith, and in word and action bear effective witness to the hope that is within us.

In approaching Scripture, we must avoid the pervasive skepticism and doubt that poison many biblical materials today. This theological skepticism has its roots in 19th-century biblical scholarship, but also draws upon contemporary secularizing tendencies. The answer is not fundamentalism, or a rejection of the various scientific tools that give us important new insights and which have the full blessing of the Church.

Rather, the appropriate response is a fundamental trust in our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Church, especially when we are tempted to doubt. St. Augustine, one of the most brilliant theologians in the history of the Church, aptly summarizes the humility and reverence we should have before the Word of God:

“On my own part I confess to your charity that it is only to those books of Scripture which are now called canonical that I have learned to pay such honor and reverence as to believe most firmly that none of their writers has fallen into any error. And if in these books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty [a defective copy of the Bible], or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.”

May God’s Word be a light for our paths (cf. Psalm 119:105) and draw us all more deeply into the heart of His family, the Church.

Biblical Teaching on the Bible

23 Oct

Today I thought I would provide readers a “top ten list” (not meant to be exhaustive) of biblical teachings about the Bible. I looked not only for inspiring passages, but also passages that help us understand the Scriptures in their proper context.

(1) Scripture is life-changing, as God’s Word is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12). When we hear God’s Word, whether at Mass or in private reading, we should “devour” God’s words to us and allow them to become the joy and happiness of our heart (Jer. 15:16)

(2) The first Christians “were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles” (Acts 2:42; cf. 2 Tim. 1:14) long before the New Testament was written–and centuries before the New Testament canon was settled.

(3) The Bible affirms that Christian teaching is “preached” (1 Pet. 1:25), that the Apostles’ successors were to teach what they have “heard” (2 Tim. 2:2), and that Christian teaching is passed on both “by word of mouth [and] by letter” (2 Thess. 2:15; cf. 1 Cor. 11:2).

(4) Not everything Christ did is recorded in sacred Scripture (Jn. 21:25).

(5) New Testament authors availed themselves of sacred Tradition. For example, Acts 20:35 quotes a saying of Jesus that is not recorded in the Gospels.

(6) Scripture needs an authoritative interpreter (Acts 8:30-31; 2 Pet. 1:20-21, 3:15-16).

(7) Christ left a Church with divine authority to teach in His name (Mt. 16:13-20, 18:18; Lk. 10:16). The Church will last until the end of time, and the Holy Spirit protects the Church’s teaching from corruption (Mt. 16:18, 28:19-20; Jn. 14:16).

(8) The Church–and not the Bible alone–is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

(9) All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), so that we may be equipped to perform good works (2 Tim. 3:17; cf. Jas. 2:14-17).

(10) The Bible does not refer to Scripture as the exclusive source of the Word of God. Jesus Himself is the Word (Jn. 1:1, 14), and in 1 Thess. 2:13, St. Paul’s first epistle, he refers to “the Word of God which you heard from us.” There St. Paul is clearly referring to oral apostolic teaching: Tradition.

For more on how to approach the reading of Scripture, see Catechism, nos. 101 and following, as well as my previous post, “Looking for Answers.”

Who’s Your Teacher?

6 Mar

Every year during Holy Week, my family puts out an Easter display, which, like the more familiar Nativity scenes, provides a tangible image of the events of the particular liturgical season. After the Easter Vigil, we roll the rock away from the opening of the tomb and remove the resurrected Jesus.

One Easter morning, I asked my then-four-year-old son, Samuel, whether he had checked out Jesus’ tomb. He ran downstairs to investigate, much like Peter and John did on the first Easter morning. I was so pleased; everything was going as planned.

However, Samuel soon came back and reported, “He wasn’t in there, so I put Him back in.” (Pause for chuckling.) “Where did you find Jesus?” I asked, to which he innocently replied, “Over by the television.”

Obviously, my wife and I have much more work to do with Samuel and our other children to ensure that they understand the central mysteries of our faith. Like Samuel with the Easter scene, not every lesson has been a smashing success, but we realize that we cannot lose heart, because teaching our children the ABC s of the faith is a crucially important responsibility. The Church tells us, after all, that because we are parents, we necessarily are teachers.

In today’s Gospel we hear, “As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’ [or ‘teacher’]. You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers” (Mt. 23:8). This is from the same discourse in which Jesus says, “Call no one on earth your father” (Mt. 23:9). Does Jesus really mean that we should avoid using these titles? Of course not. After all, these terms continued to be used by Christ’s followers in the New Testament after this discourse, and they have been continuously used throughout the history of the Church.

One incident in St. John’s Gospel sheds particular light on the nature of Christ’s teaching. On this occasion, the Jews marveled at Our Lord’s teaching and asked, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” Jesus responded by saying, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me” (Jn. 7:15-16). Jesus’ religious teaching was authentic because it came from His Father. It was a question of divine authority, not mere human learning or ingenuity, no matter how clever or insightful.

That same principle applies to all of us. We’re authentic teachers (or, more technically, “catechists”) to the extent we communicate the person and teachings of Christ rather than our own opinions or agendas. While we rightly adjust the way we communicate the teaching depending on age, culture, and other variables, Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), and His teachings are true in every age. Christ commissioned the Apostles–and all of us–to pass on His teachings (see Mt. 28:19-20).

As Catholics, we understand that the Church’s magisterium, or official teaching office, alone has “the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition.” This refers to the special gift of the Holy Spirit given to the Apostles and their successors to ensure that no “break” occurs in the teaching chain. In other words, Jesus entrusts what He received from the Father to the Church, so that when the Church teaches, God Himself is teaching (cf. Lk. 10:16).

Some Catholics experience difficulty accepting a “magisterium.” The word comes from the Latin “magister,” which simply means “teacher.” However, for many people the term has negative, perhaps very negative, connotations. If one looks up “magisterial” in the dictionary, one finds secondary meanings such as “dictatorial,” “imposing one’s will,” “overbearing,” and “pompous,” among others. These negative connotations sometimes carry over into one’s perception of the Church.

As we know, the magisterium is hardly a dictatorship. In fact, the Church teaches us that the magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. But let’s face it: In today’s “dictatorship of relativism,” as Pope Benedict has described the present climate, the assertion of objective, revealed truth as represented by the magisterium is an affront and a stumbling block. We are taught to choose and create our own truth, particularly in moral areas in which our inclinations and desires might clash with “magisterial” teaching. Continue reading

God’s Life Savings

6 Sep

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20).

This sort of language is a recurring theme of St. Paul as he instructs his successor Timothy. St. Paul also tells Timothy that “what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2; see also 2 Timothy 1:14).

But what exactly was entrusted to Timothy?

The Church has always understood these passages as referring to the “deposit of faith” (see Catechism, no. 84). This sacred deposit is the entirety of the body of teaching Christ entrusted to His Apostles and, through them, to the Church. It is the full revelation of Jesus Christ–the Word of God–through Scripture and Tradition, ordered to uniting all mankind into the family of God: the Catholic Church.

If the Word of God is to be understood as a sacred “deposit,” I think it’s fair to understand the Church as the “bank.” Why do we entrust our money or other valuables to a bank? The answer is we want to protect our assets, and we want them to bear interest. Continue reading