Ruins, Pompeii, Italy
Ruin consequentially follows when the boundaries fixed by our forefathers in the faith are trampled down and burst asunder. Every Christian ought to have the conviction that what their faith is not a product of their own ideas, or those of a select group of “enlightened” individuals from a certain period of time, but part of an unbroken chain of witness to the very faith given by Christ to the Apostles, and by the Apostles to the Church. One ought not to depart from what was universally believed and authoritatively taught by the church from ancient times, else each generation must rethink Christianity anew.
Where else does heresy originate except in a definite time and place as a mutation of the apostolic faith handed on in the Church? This is why the supposed “reformers” of Protestantism ought not to be trusted, nor any of their offspring, since they offer novel interpretations of Scripture that directly contradict the faith of the entire church that precedes them. They preach a “gospel” that denies the necessity of the sacraments for salvation, especially baptism and the Eucharist in direct contradiction to the very words of Holy Scripture and the unanimous consent of the church fathers.
As early as the year 110 A.D. we find St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John and bishop of the church in Antioch declaring that those who do not believe that the Eucharist is the very same body of Christ that suffered upon the cross have a “perverted notion” of grace and “reject God’s good gifts.” 5 He does not minced words for those who reject the sacraments of the Church in favor of a novel teachings:
There is only one true Church, one Eucharist, one body of Christ, on altar of sacrifice, and one true gospel taught by the apostles and their successors, the bishops of the Holy Catholic Church. St. Vincent of Lerins expresses this sentiment of the Church in commenting on the anathema of St. Paul in Galatians 1:
Similarly St. Augustine declared,
Catholicity or Caprice?
Catholicism claims to be nothing less then the religion of Christ in the world. The Catholicity of the Church is crucial because it means that the true faith is universal — for all people of all times. This certitude is only applicable if the Catholic Church is a visible institution established by Christ and granted a charism of infallibility to teach in his name until His return. If Christ’s authority is not visibly and historically embodied in the Church then one can simply claim that any given “church” has misinterpreted the Scriptures or gravely misunderstood the teaching of Christ according to their own caprices. It is all too convenient to pick and choose from the faith of so many holy martyrs, priests, bishops, popes, councils, doctors, and saints in order to form a custom-catered Christianity. Such is the religion of the devil and has nothing to do with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith requires that we assent to the authority Christ gave to his apostles and their successors and not our own whims and imaginations. The faith is made for transmission, not tampering; it is to be faithfully handed on whole and intact; not rethought in every generation. As St. Vincent of Lerins explained,
An Integral Unity
It only takes one drop of poison to pollute a whole glass of water, and such is the danger of heresy. In other words a faith that is 99% truth and 1% error is not the true faith and is dangerous to the soul. Now some might think this is extreme, but we have the word of Our Blessed Lord himself promising to send the Holy Spirit to lead the apostles into all truth, not just 85% or 99% of the truth. 10 He himself gave to them the authority to bind and loose, that is, to render authoritative and binding decisions concerning “all that I have commanded you.” 11 To Peter as the first among the apostles he gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the charge to strengthen the brethren and tend his flock. Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church founded upon the rock of St. Peter.
Statues of Christ and the Apostles, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican
The Catholic Church unflinchingly adheres to her teaching and traditions out of fidelity to the commission given to her by the Lord Jesus Christ. The problem with a “church” whose teachings are only 99% true is not only that this makes a mockery of our Lord’s promises but also that it opens the door to the dissolution of truth. The Catholic Church understands that the faith is an integral and indissoluble unity. Even one false teaching is a crack that shatters the entire glass:
The rejection of Catholic truth necessarily leads to a downward spiral of error, disunity, and confusion. Those who remain outside the true church of Christ may maintain some degree of truth but only because it was first taught by the Catholic Church. In this sense all truth is Catholic truth. Protestantism offers no truth original to itself; only heresy. The Catholic Church is the fountain of all truth and bosom of all heavenly blessings. Outside of her there is positively no salvation. The Church would cease to be who she is if she taught as infallible dogma but one single error. She would cease to be the spotless bride of Christ and would succumb to the wiles of the devil. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her.
Submission of Judgment
This leads to the crucial question: if one does not submit their judgment to the Church then to whom do they submit? To claim that one submits to the Word of God alone is a fallacy since we know that every appeal to the Scriptures is mediated through human authority, just as even God’s revelation in Christ was mediated through his humanity. The Catholic submits their judgment to the Church as the divinely appointed teaching authority while the Protestant ultimately submits to the teaching authority of self as aided by subordinate guides (history, pastors, theologians, etc.). Just consider the uncomfortable conclusion that Protestants believe that the individual guided by the Holy Spirit is the highest form of human authority, even after other authorities are referenced and consulted. Ultimately the Protestant believes X because they are personally convinced that X is true. If personal convictions and those of a particular denomination or pastor conflict, the individual’s judgment trumps. The Catholic believes X is true not primarily because they are personally convinced of X, but because the Church teaches that X is true.
That Uncomfortable Conclusion
This all leads to that uncomfortable conclusion that the Church possesses a divinely ordained and binding authority over the individual Christian in matters of faith and morals. This does not mean that one “checks” their critical thinking at the door or that the Scriptures are “subordinated” to the Church. What this means is that Christ intended the true interpretation of the Scriptures and the fullness of the Christian faith is found only in union with the Church He founded. But — some will ask — what if along the way the teaching of the Church deviates from the Scriptures? That will be the day you can proclaim yourself Pope and establish your own pseudo-church, if you haven’t done so already. Until then we would do well to heed the warning of St. Athanasius:
- Proverbs 22:28. ↩
- The Epistle to Diognetus, 11. ↩
- John 6:53. ↩
- John 3:5. ↩
- St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 6-7 ↩
- St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Philadelphians, 3-4. ↩
- St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, 9:24. (434 A.D.) ↩
- St. Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, 5:6 ↩
- St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, 6:16. ↩
- John 14:26; 16:13. ↩
- Matthew 16:19; 18:18 ↩
- St. Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory, 23:58. ↩
- St. Athanasius, First Letter to Serapion, 28. ↩