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Both/And Not Either/Or

This morning our local CUF chapter gave a couple of presentations on Papal Primacy / Infalliblity and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Before the presentations started we were having a discussion about the Protestant tendency to “proof-text” in their defense of various Protestant doctrines and the refutation of Catholic ones. Proof-texting is the practice of taking a verse or small section of the Bible and using that to “prove” a point without any consideration of the context or other related texts in the Bible.

For example, they use the text about “only God is good” to disprove the Immaculate Conception while at the same time ignoring the passages in the Bible that speak about “good and faithful servants”.

This led into the Catholic understanding of Scripture which takes the “both/and” approach. For example, the issue of the “rock on which the Church is built is not either Peter or the Word of God, it is BOTH Peter AND the Word of God.

The talk on Papal Infallibility brought this home clearly as well. You don't have to give up collegiality to have Papal Primacy and Infalibillity, you actually can have both. In the early Church, apart from Rome, most of the Church is what we would consider “Eastern”. These churches would convene councils, debate and produce canons which would then be submitted to Rome for final approval – the pope didn't sit in Rome issuing proclamations without any consideration from the rest of the Church.

The doctrine of Papal Infallibility was formally defined at Vatican I and most people assume that the Council simply said that in matters of faith and morals when the pope is specifically declaring something infallible, it is.

While that is true, the council formally declared that the authority of Rome went much further than that:

Wherefore we teach and declare that,

  • by divine ordinance,
  • the Roman church possesses a pre-eminence of ordinary power over every other church, and that
  • this jurisdictional power of the Roman pontiff is both
    • episcopal and
    • immediate.
  • Both clergy and faithful,
    • of whatever rite and dignity,
    • both singly and collectively,
  • are bound to submit to this power by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, and this
    • not only in matters concerning faith and morals,
    • but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the church throughout the world.

Did you catch that last part? Members of the Church don't just have to follow Rome on matters of faith and morals, they also have to follow Rome on matters of discipline and governance. For example, Rome recently revoked the United States practice of having extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist purify the vessels. This is a Church discipline but one that various diocese in the United States have said they are not planning on following Rome on. This is unfortunate because of the next thing the document states:

  1. In this way, by unity with the Roman pontiff in communion and in profession of the same faith , the church of Christ becomes one flock under one supreme shepherd [50] .
  2. This is the teaching of the catholic truth, and no one can depart from it without endangering his faith and salvation.

Some would look at these pronouncements and say that the pope is like a king, wielding authority over every minutia of the Church. But the Church is neither an authoritarian monarchy nor a democracy:

3. This power of the supreme pontiff by no means detracts from that ordinary and immediate power of episcopal jurisdiction, by which bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the apostles by appointment of the holy Spirit, tend and govern individually the particular flocks which have been assigned to them. On the contrary, this power of theirs is asserted, supported and defended by the supreme and universal pastor; for St Gregory the Great says: “My honour is the honour of the whole church. My honour is the steadfast strength of my brethren. Then do I receive true honour, when it is denied to none of those to whom honour is due.” [51]

See? The Church is not either/or it is both/and.

This issue of either/or, both/and has come up for me recently in two separate situations that all have made me wonder if those who within the Church who reject the both/and teaching of the Church also have issues with Infallibility because they all reject the more “traditional” half of various Church teachings.

First, my wife and I went on a Marriage Encounter weekend where two things struck us as very disturbing. One was a portrayal of children almost entirely as a problem to escape from so you can have quality time together. When talking about the life-giving nature of marriage, the couple who gave the presentation equated their involvement in parish activities with having children. The second issue was the presentation of St. Paul's teaching on marriage that completely ignored the headship aspects of the husband and focused exclusively on the mutual submission of husband and wife. We subsequently talked to the couple that had approved the talks and had to argue with them that the Church teaches that marriage is both for having children and for the salvation of the couple. We were told that the Church no longer teaches the part of St. Paul's letter that talks about the headship of the husband. Instead of teaching BOTH aspects of these various beliefs, they focused on one to the conscious exclusion of the other.

Second, my daughter is currently going through First Communion prep and after 10 weeks it is quite clear that the text she is using is intentionally taking the either/or approach to its presentation. The text has presented sections on the saints, reconciliation and baptism without once mentioning either Heaven or Hell and focuses the talk on saints entirely on the social justice good they did. In fact, when talking about the works of mercy, no mention is made of spiritual works of mercy and the corporal works of mercy are just called “The works of mercy”. Which leads me to wonder why you would even bother with baptism or confession if all it got you was friendship with Jesus. And why would you bother being Catholic when you can do “the works of mercy” as a non-Catholic?

All of this has led me to be thankful for the Catholic Faith which always looks for the wholeness of truth instead of just pieces – Christ is both God and Man, the eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ in the appearance of bread and wine, the Church is built on the Word of God and on the succession from Peter. The Church is like a banquet where you get to have everything at the table and not just the rolls on the end.

One comment

  1. What a great idea! A Christmas present to myself 🙂

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