Monday, May 11, 2009

Why do Catholics have the Magisterium?

Why do Catholics let the pope and his bishops tell them how to interpret the Bible? I don’t understand why the average Catholic would accept the pope’s interpretation over their own.

The answer is simple: It’s better than the alternative.

Let’s be clear on one thing; the Magisterium doesn’t tell Catholics to interpret Scripture a particular way. The Magisterium lays out guidelines or framework that the average Catholic is free to interpret within. For example, is the woman in Revelation 12 Mary or is she Israel, or is she both at once or what? The Church doesn’t say you have to take any one stance on that; a Catholic isn’t bound to interpret that passage a particular way. Now if a Catholic looked at that passage and said “it’s not Mary so therefore the Assumption of Mary is invalid” then they’ve just crossed the guideline. If your personal interpretation leads you into contradiction of the Church’s Traditions then your interpretation can’t be correct.

“Oh sure,” you say, “so as long as I conform to the Church’s Traditions then I can interpret how I want? That’s not freedom, that’s just being given boundaries like a kid in a playground.”

Again, it’s better than the alternative. What would you prefer a fence on the playground or your child hit by a car, lost, or worse? Boundaries are there for a reason.

Anyway, let’s say I want to do something I know I shouldn’t. Let’s take something we can all agree is bad; like killing innocent people. The Magisterium is clear that this shouldn’t be done and therefore a Catholic cannot validly interpret Scripture in such a way as to allow it. A non-Catholic, however, doesn’t have those guidelines but yet if they did interpret the Bible in such a way that killing innocent people was justified nearly all Christians would say his interpretation can’t be correct.

How can a non-Catholic say another person’s murderous interpretation is incorrect unless they’re also working under some framework? If there are no boundaries for non-Catholics, how can this be off-limits?

You can’t say the Bible is the framework because it can be taken severely out of context very easily. Without guidelines it’s impossible to say that any interpretation is incorrect. So, what framework do non-Catholics operate within?

I honestly don’t know. My best guess is modern social norms. Let’s look at contraception. Before 1930 all Christians were opposed to it. “Look here” said the good Protestant, “the Bible is so clear, contraception is against God’s plan!”

Today we hear “look here, the Bible is so clear, contraception is just fine!”

What changed? Not even one hundred years ago we all agreed contraception was an intrinsic evil, those who interpreted that it was allowable were condemned by their Protestant brethren. But not anymore. Why? What changed?

The alternative to the Magisterium is the will of the people around us. If I don’t work within the pope’s guidelines then I work within the guidelines of everyone else. I’d rather follow one wise man than all the fools in the world.


dave ruiz said...

let every man be called a liar (and denomination,including catholic).You mention contraception changes ,as if Rome has never changed it's position on anything, in two thousand years ..Let us see, from differing baptisms ,to celibacy, to bible reading in the vernacular, to new doctrines on Mary (how many monks died fighting over that one?). Look,I won't quibble over your assertion on protetsants and contraception, so please do not quibble on one of your changes..... Sticking to your main point: you frame the question of Rome's boundary or no boundaries at all for protetstants, and misrepresent half of christendom for the benefit of your argument (do you really expect me to believe that you honestly do not know or have not heard how the other half of christendom operates on the issue of interpeting scripture ?) Why do I know yours and protestants ? I am no genius or elder etc.....The proper framing of the question is not boundaries vs. no boundaries, but rather having the right boundaries, as has been from the beginning of God's Word to us, way back in Genesis. What, Rome has come up with a full-proof way of interpeting that was not there since the beginning ? There is a full proof way ,and it isn't a church or denomination,for they have always failed, since the beginning. It is easy to point out imperfection to discredit God's method but by His wisdom He has decided to leave the wheat with the tares. Why do you kick against this "apparent" lack of conformity, or lack of boundary ? God knows what the score is. He can handle right ineterpetations and wrong interpettations. To a degree He says what is that to you ? Shall Rome dictate to the world when to celebrate Easter, even against apostolic tradition in the region ? (big deal this was 5th thru 8th centuries I think, to the point of bloodshed)....You have a very noble spirit to follow only wise men, but unfortunately that leaves out a bunch of popes. You mistate others following "whatever"-almost blasphemous to the work of the Holy Spirit, as if He did not exist. I have heard Rome say that the Spirit works ,but He works better and moreso and sometimes only in church officials, and not the same way and it certain cases at all in lay people. Is this why you say we don't know what we follow or have no legitimate guidelines ?

Dan said...

Dave, you said “The proper framing of the question is not boundaries vs. no boundaries, but rather having the right boundaries”

So you’re claiming Protestants have boundaries, too and that God leads you to stay inside them? Great.

Let’s take an obvious boundary like Thou Shall Not Kill. That’s pretty cut and dried right? When is a Christian allowed to cross that boundary? What about self defense? What about just war? What about killing an unborn baby if it will save the life of the mother? What about killing that baby if that will help the mental health of the mother? What about capital punishment? What about euthanasia? What about embryonic stem cell research?

There are a lot of proposed exemptions to Thou Shall Not Kill, aren’t there? Which are valid in God’s eyes and which are not? Where exactly is God’s boundary on the issue? The Magisterium is clear; self defense, death penalty (in extremely strict cases) and just war are valid and the rest are not.

Protestants on the other hand are sharply divided. You can find denominations in favor of this or opposed to that. The individual Christian is pulled in multiple directions and “listening to God’ in this circumstance is like throwing a dart at a dart board because there are presumably trustworthy arguments on all sides.

In the end most people will do whatever is most convenient or will follow the most persuasive argument. The problem is the truth is rarely convenient and those arguing for truth aren’t always the most persuasive. Regardless, neither of these methods really seeks what God wants but what we want. This is never a recipe for success.

You speak of God leaving the chaff with the wheat, which is completely out of context. This is NOT an excuse for the shattering of Christian tradition that we find in Protestantism. How is an honest person supposed to tell chaff from wheat? God always sent messengers to lead people into truth if the people wanted to listen. Who is the messenger today, Dave? You? The baptism minister down the street? The Methodist? I know, I know, I’m just supposed to listen to God… so I become the pope of my own personal church. Gee whiz, that's a lot better.

The original Christians needed the apostles to guide them and I have no issue admitting that I need the apostle’s successors to guide me. The concept that God individually guides people into truth is great, fluffy, and feels very good. It panders to our rugged-individualistic mindset. It makes people say smugly that they don’t need some old man in Rome to tell them what to do; they have God in their back pocket. However, the tree’s worth is shown by its fruit and the fruit of this theology is individualism, division and denominationalism. That’s some rotten fruit to be sure.

Yes, yes, you say Rome has flip-flopped on issues and I agree that the Catholic Church has changed some of its positions over time. You mentioned celibacy as an example but I don’t see how that’s relevant. This is a classic example of assuming all teachings of the Church are the same. The Church doesn’t say a married priesthood is immoral; simply that celibate priesthood is preferred. At times the Church has allowed married priests and at other times has restricted marriage of priests. What does that have to do with my personal relationship with God? Absolutely nothing.

I am unaware of any infallible teachings of the Magisterium that have been countermanded by the Magisterium. So your argument that Catholics are just as bad doesn’t hold any water.

Dan said...

As a follow up, I figured I’d see what some of the early Church fathers said about obedience to bishops:

"For, since ye are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, ye may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire." Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Trallians, 2 (c. A.D. 110).

"And do ye also reverence your bishop as Christ Himself, according as the blessed apostles have enjoined you. He that is within the altar is pure, wherefore also he is obedient to the bishop and presbyters: but he that is without is one that does anything apart from the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons. Such a person is defiled in his conscience, and is worse than an infidel. For what is the bishop but one who beyond all others possesses all power and authority, so far as it is possible for a man to possess it, who according to his ability has been made an imitator of the Christ Of God? And what is the presbytery but a sacred assembly, the counselors and assessors of the bishop? And what are the deacons but imitators of the angelic powers, fulfilling a pure and blameless ministry unto him, as the holy Stephen did to the blessed James, Timothy and Linus to Paul, Anencletus and Clement to Peter? He, therefore, that will not yield obedience to such, must needs be one utterly without God, an impious man who despises Christ, and depreciates His appointments." Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Trallians, 7 (c. A.D. 110).

"I must not omit an account of the conduct also of the heretics--how frivolous it is, how worldly, how merely human, without seriousness, without authority, without discipline, as suits their creed…At one time they put novices in office; at another time, men who are bound to some secular employment; at another, persons who have apostatized from us, to bind them by vainglory, since they cannot by the truth. Nowhere is promotion easier than in the camp of rebels, where the mere fact of being there is a foremost service. And so it comes to pass that today one man is their bishop, to-morrow another; to-day he is a deacon who to-morrow is a reader; to-day he is a presbyter who tomorrow is a layman. For even on laymen do they impose the functions of priesthood." Tertullian, On Prescription Against Heretics, 41 (c. A.D. 200).

“Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honour of a bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: 'I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers." Cyprian, To the Lapsed, 1 (A.D. 250).

Please find me some writings of the early Church fathers saying that bishops do not have authority and that each Christian can listen to God and decide right from wrong for himself. These guys seem to think obedience to bishops is a good thing...

dave ruiz said...

Again ,You know there are bishops outside of your denomination. You know there are other magisteruims. You know there are other christian communities that are built on past church history , teaching etc. You are like a few cults I know of, where they lump everyone else into one clump, and it is "us" against them, and of course "us" is the right ones. Am I not a reformed catholic ? Revelations says churches can stray, and from time to time have to repent or "reform".... Did Jesus ever reject "Judaism" ? According to you He should have. After all, they were without "boundaries" and had differing sects and dogma(ie. -sadducees and pharisees and zionists....)How was there magisterium functioning ? And yet Jesus says, "Salvation is of the Jews"....I understand the human need for rightness and conformity and security therein, a nice "box" to rest in. The Roman Catholic Church is beautifully well crafted to meet those human needs, and it can seem so right and beautiful,and so religious-like "home".Yet millions have made another "home" thru the centuries.....Your argument is a good one, that people really seek their own and not God's way. "For no man seeks after God" But how do you know that does not apply to catholics as well as protestants.You think it is easy to step outside the "Box". The early church was totally outside the "box" and paid with their lives. Many believers have tried to step out of the "catholic box" or the "kings box" and paid with there lives. Were they seeking their own way ? Were they just rugged individuals ? It is only your opinion that it was the context of individual faith ,responsibility ,conscience - this is very protestant. ......The wheat and chaff do apply to our "situation.What context do you put it in ? You mean their is personal ..One must be careful as to who started this whole mess of different churches (as bad fruit).Did it not begin long ago, with boasting of "I am of Paul " or "I am of Peter".? Read your papal history and you will see much strife in Rome asserting itself over the other churches, even going against apostolic tradition of certain geographical areas of tradition, such as when to celebrate Easter ....... Again, it is weak argument to fell "safe and righteous" because you denomination has some level of uniformity ,as if other denominations do not within themselves. Sorry, but to an atheist or Muslim, you are just one more "Christian " denomination.......Then what does "murder and capital punishment etc. etc. and denominational views on that have to do with my personal relationship with God?. You are the one that suggested that lack of uniformity is a judge of a right church ,yet when you change it is O.K.(Priests are just one example as could be baptism or Marionism, or bible reading in the vernacular,etc. etc.. ).....Lastly ,anyone reading this knows that protestants do NOT say do not listen to your elders or teachers or pastors or bishops. Why do you think no other denomination has heirarchy and offices and giftings ? The only relevant question for a seeking soul is what teacher ,pastor or bishop is speaking the truth ,in spirit ? After all, church history (including Catholicism) is full of NOT listening to certain bishops and teachers and elders and monks.Did you listen to Cyprian one issues of popery or when to celebrate Easter ?? I do not think so.