Category Archives: The Authority of the Catholic Church

How Can the Church Teach Angels?

In John 5:43, Jesus declared:

I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.

With the advent of Protestantism and the confusion that followed, and that continues to this day, Christians, outside of the Catholic Church, have, at best, an incomplete understanding of the power of these words. When Jesus says, “I come in my father’s name,” he reveals the nature of the authority he possesses from God, the Father.

We use this phrase—at least, the “in the name of” part—similarly in modern parlance in law enforcement when a police officer may say: “Stop in the name of the law!” In this context the idea of “in the name of” meaning “by the authority of” comes across clearly. But because we have thousands of different religious sects today all speaking “in the name of Jesus,” this phrase has lost some of its punch, so to speak, in modern times.

But make no mistake about it: What Jesus was saying in John 5:43 is this: He comes “in the name of the Father,” which means he speaks with the final and infallible authority of his Father. He leaves no back door open. No wiggle room. If you reject him, or his teaching, you reject the Father! That is the kind of authority Jesus is revealed to have received from his Father in Scripture.

What I find fascinating in speaking with non-Catholics about this is almost all of them agree with a Catholic understanding here when it comes to the authority of Jesus. But here is what they almost universally miss: Just about every time the New Testament reveals the radical nature of Christ’s authority, you will find in close proximity Christ then giving a similar authority to the Church.

Matt. 28:18-20:

… All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (the implication is go with my authority).

John 17:8:

Right after Jesus says in verse 2, “Thou (God, the Father) hast given him (Christ) power over all flesh…” he then says, “For I have given them the words which thou hast given me…”

Luke 22:29:

After saying, “As my Father has appointed a kingdom for me,” he then immediately says, “…so do I appoint for you, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

John 20:21-23:

Jesus said to them (the apostles) again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

Luke 10:16:

In the context of Jesus saying “he who rejects me rejects him (the Father) who sent me,” Jesus said, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

John 16:26:

And finally, when Jesus speaks of himself speaking with the authority of the Father or “in the name of the Father” in John 5:43, he then prophesies that after the coming of the power of the Holy Spirit, “The hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures but tell you plainly of the Father. In that day you will ask in my name…”

Further, we see explicit references in Scripture to the authority of the Church being the final authority given by God to the world.

Matt. 18:15-18:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

I Tim. 3:14-15:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark (foundation) of the truth.

Notice, this last text is given in the context of St. Paul describing some of the offices of the Church; namely, the bishop and the deacon (i.e. earlier in chapter 3).

St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians

The above represent very plain texts. And there are many more we could consider. But for our purpose here, consider St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 1, St. Paul says plainly that the Church is the fullness of Christ in the world today; thus, to reject the Church is to reject Christ:

Eph. 1:20-23:

[God] raised [Christ] from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

In chapter 2, St. Paul tells us the Church is the foundation of our faith (specifically, it says “the apostles and prophets” are the foundation, with Jesus Christ “being the cornerstone”), similar to what he said in I Tim. 3:15:

Eph. 2:19-20:

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.

In chapter 3, St. Paul speaks in the loftiest terms of the nature of the teaching authority of the Church:

Eph. 3:8-10:

To me… this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

St. Thomas Aquinas speculates as to the truth behind this text in his commentary on Ephesians:

The means through which the manifold wisdom of God is made known to [the angels] is designated by his saying “through the church.”

St. Thomas then explains that the angels are far superior to men on earth, when it comes to knowledge, as are the saints in heaven, I would add, through the beatific knowledge that they possess. However, he explains, it is because of the fact that the Church is the instrument of God that her certain teachings have God as their first principle; hence, the Church can truly be said to “teach angels.” He goes on:

Therefore, it must be asserted that the angels are instructed through the church, that is, through the apostolic preaching… in such a way that they are not taught by the apostles, but in them…

… angels know natural things in two ways. They know them in the Word… and they know them in their own proper natures… Further, there exist certain intelligible patterns [operative in] the mysteries of grace which transcend the whole of creation. These intelligible patterns are not impressed on the angelic minds (that would be through the beatific vision) but are hidden in God alone. Thus, the angels do not grasp them in themselves, nor even in God, but only as they unfold in events [which the mysteries] effect.

To put it simply, angels know all they can know of God and their own natures through their perfect natures, the gift of grace, and the beatific vision. So, how could they possibly learn anything? They can learn because when it comes to how God’s grace is going to work in the world of humans, a world alien to them, the angels can and do learn. But as St. Thomas says, this “learning” does not come through the inferior human nature; rather, it comes through the divine gift of God operating in the Church. As St. Paul said in Ephesians 3:10, “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God is made known to the [angels].”

Think about it, folks. If the Church teaches angels who have the beatific vision, how much more do we puny humans need to heed the authority of the Church! Imagine the scene, say, at Vatican II. The bishops of the world were not the only ones gathered for the 21st Ecumenical Council. The angels of God were gathered as well, saying, “What are they going to say next?”

St. Paul then guarantees us (no matter what our Mormon friends may say, who claim “the great apostasy!”) that this Church he is describing will exist “in every generation world without end” in Eph. 3:21.

He then tells us even further that this Church would be characterized by its unity: It would teach:

…one Lord, one faith, one baptism… (Eph. 4:5)

And it would be hierarchical:

Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”… And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 4:8, 11-13).

So why did God give us this glorious Church that possesses the authority of Jesus Christ?

So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine… (Eph. 4:14)

The history of Protestantism is one of “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”

Truth and Consequences

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, in paragraph 2051, that the infallible teaching authority of the Church extends to “all the elements of doctrine:”

The infallibility of the Magisterium of the Pastors extends to all the elements of doctrine, including moral doctrine, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, expounded, or observed.

The reason for this should be obvious to Catholics. Without this great gift of an infallible teaching authority, we would be, as St. Paul says in Eph. 4:14, “… children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.” Yet, too many Catholics take for granted the great gift of the Magisterium of the Bishops in union with the Bishop of Rome that has safeguarded the truth of the Faith for 2,000 years. In fact, there is no human way to explain the reality of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5) that we have experienced in the Catholic Church for two millennia apart from this supernatural gift. But perhaps even fewer of us consider some of the consequences that have come as a result of the absence of this great gift.

In my DVD, Truth and Consequences, I gather multiple examples of what happens when you don’t have the infallible gift of what the Catechism calls “the [infallible] Magisterium of the Pastors.” by way of the real-life teachings of the sons and daughters of the “reformation.” I will toss out three here for us to consider:

Denying Mary, Mother of God

I can remember when the thought of believing Mary to be Mother of God was absolutely crazy to me when I was Protestant. And on the surface, one can perhaps understand the problem: If we say Mary is “the Mother of God” wouldn’t she have to be God? If a dog begets a dog, a cat begets a cat, would not Mary have to be God in order to give birth to God?

In truth? Not at all.

The error here is rooted in a failure to understand that Mary was not the source of Jesus’ divinity, nor was she the source of his human soul. She was merely the source of his Jesus’ body. But that does not mean she was and is not his mother because she did not give birth to a body, a soul, a nature, or even two natures; she gave birth to person, and that person is God. Therefore, Mary is the Mother of God.

But more fundamentally here, we have to ask this question to those who deny Mary is the Mother of God: “If you deny Mary is the Mother of God, who is Jesus?” As I point out in my book, Behold Your Mother – A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines, Dr. Walter Martin gives us an example of what happens when you get this wrong on page 103 of his classic, Kingdom of the Cults (1977 edition):

… there cannot be any such thing as eternal Sonship, for there is a logical contradiction of terminology due to the fact that the word “Son” predicates time and the involvement of creativity. Christ, the Scripture tells us, as the Logos, is timeless, “… the Word was in the beginning” not the Son!

Think about this: In the process of denying Mary to be Mother of God, Dr. Martin lost Jesus. Jesus is no longer the eternal Son. But it gets worse, if that is possible. He also says on that same page:

The term Father incidentally never carries the descriptive adjective “eternal” in Scripture… the words Father and Son are purely functional…

Now he lost the Father. The immediate question arises: Who, then, is God in eternity before there was a creation? I suppose we would have to call God, “The Blah, the Word and the Holy Spirit!”

Double Predestination

In their 1997 book, What Unites Presbyterians, Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick and William Hopper (Kirkpatrick was, at the time, the highest ranking staff member, “the stated Clerk” as they call it, of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., the largest Presbyterian body in the United States), on page 17, state:

Presbyterians have endorsed this conviction (Double Predestination), but with Calvin we have always had trouble with it for two reasons: First, if God predestines every person, and not all are called, elected, or predestined for salvation, then God has predestined some persons to Hell or eternal damnation. Second, if God has determined the ultimate fate of all persons, then the individual has no power to make any important decisions.

Presbyterians have learned to believe, also, in free will, realizing that these two doctrines are logically impossible to hold at the same time, but that each is free as taught in the Westminster Confession.

Those persons who can with a clear conscience accept what they are taught, regardless of apparent inconsistencies, are in some ways better off than those who think. It is almost unfortunate that Presbyterians are a thinking people…

There is always a creative tension between these two because we DO believe both even when we know that they are logically inconsistent.

The Catholic Response can be found in Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 22 (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church), para. 5:

For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery…

I Tim. 2:4 tells us God positively wills “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” while II Peter 3:9 tells us God does not will “that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

To put it simply: In order to go to Hell, the Catholic Church teaches, a person must reject God’s salvific will for him.

I am truly grateful to God that the Catholic Church never asks me to park my brains on the doorstep before I enter the Church.

Abortion

“Thou shalt not kill” is not a Catholic only club. Pope St. John Paul II tells us, when it comes to abortion, in Para. 60 of Evangelium Vitae:

But in fact, “from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and… modern genetic science offers clear confirmation…”

Indeed, it is so clear. And when we consider that the moral law is something that is knowable, at least in theory, by the light of natural reason alone, apart from revelation (though God gives us revelation so that the moral law can be known with facility, certainty, and without the admixture of error), it was all the more disturbing to me that when I was doing the research for Truth and Consequences, I found 18 denominations that teach abortion to be licit in at least some circumstances. And my research was in no way exhaustive. Due to the limits of a blog post, I will cite just half of them here:

1. The Salvation Army

From their international website:

… termination can occur only when: Carrying the pregnancy further seriously threatens the life of the mother; or Reliable diagnostic procedures have identified a foetal abnormality considered incompatible with survival for more than a very brief postnatal period.

In addition, rape and incest are brutal acts of dominance violating women physically and emotionally. This situation represents a special case for the consideration of termination as the violation may be compounded by the continuation of the pregnancy.

2. The Mormons (LDS)

In the February 1973 edition of: “The Priesthood Bulletin,” the First Presidency (Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, Marion G. Romney), p. 1-2:

The Church opposes abortion and counsels its members not to submit to or perform an abortion except in the rare cases where, in the opinion of competent medical counsel, the life or good health of the mother is seriously endangered or where the pregnancy was caused by rape and produces serious emotional trauma in the mother.”

Got to give the “prophet” credit, he held out for 1 month after Roe vs. Wade!

3. The United Church of Christ

If you are not familiar with this sect, just remember Rev. Jeremiah Wright and “Obama’s Church.” That’s them!

This sect has supported the legalization of abortion at least since 1973. They are an official member of the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.” They are so radical that they joined with NARAL (the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) in supporting President Clinton’s veto of the ban on partial birth abortion in 1996 and 1997.

4. The American Baptist Churches

The General Board of American Baptist Churches affirmed that this matter is up to the individual in 1988 and reaffirmed it in 1994.

5. The Southern Baptist Convention

The largest Baptism denomination in the U.S. declared in 1971 that Southern Baptists should “work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

Thank God, they back-pedaled on that in 1980 and declared abortion to be permissible only “to save the life of the mother.” But when you okay murder in any cases, you’re not just on a “slippery slope;” you’ve slid to the bottom of it.

6. Presbyterian Church (USA)

This is the largest Presbyterian body in the United States. They condemned abortion outright in 1965. In 1970, a study report concluded that abortion could well be a “help” in cases of unwanted pregnancies.

Really? A “help?”

By 1983, the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly adopted an official policy in favor of abortion calling it a “stewardship responsibility.” Today, they are official members of the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights.” In 1992, the General Assembly stated “there is a basis in our tradition not only for a woman’s difficult choice for abortion, but also for the preservation of the lives of the unborn…”

In that same year, the Assembly also declared: “Possible justifying circumstances [for abortion] would include medical indications of severe physical or mental deformity, conception as a result of rape or incest, or conditions under which the physical or mental health of either woman or child would be gravely threatened.”

7. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

The ELCA, the largest Lutheran body in the United States, in 1990, adopted a statement that declared abortion to be acceptable in cases of danger to mother’s life, extreme fetal deformity incompatible with life, and in cases of rape and incest. They also declared that they neither support nor oppose abortion-restricting legislation. In 1997, they voted down a proposal to restrict abortion funding to cases of rape, incest, life of the mother. As a result, ELCA now funds elective abortions in their health care coverage and offers elective abortion in some Lutheran-affiliated hospitals. Today, on their website, the ELCA declares, in a 1991 statement of faith declared by a Church-wide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

A developing life in the womb does not have an absolute right to be born, nor does a pregnant woman have an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy.

I suppose the truth is found somewhere in-between?

8. The United Methodist Church

The largest Methodist body in the United States, they helped organize and are members of “The Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights,” founded in 1973 and re-named “The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights” in 1993.

How euphemistic of them!

Along with the United Church of Christ, this denomination officially joined NARAL in supporting President Clinton’s veto of the Partial Abortion Ban in 1996 and 1997. Their “Book of Discipline” remains pro-abortion to this day.

9. The Episcopal Church

In 1958 they issued a strongly pro-life statement. However, at their 1967 General Convention they officially supported pro-abortion legislation for the first time. They stated abortion to be morally acceptable in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, or danger to the physical or mental health of the mother. In 1994, the 71st General Convention expressed:

… unequivocal opposition to any… action… that [would] abridge the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of her pregnancy, or that would limit the access of a woman to a safe means of acting upon her decision.

In 1997, at their 72nd Convention, they expressed their support of partial birth abortion, but only in what they called “extreme situations.”

Their words speak for themselves.

In a future blog post, I will cite some examples among the 25 denominations I found that now support homosexual unions mimicking marriage. Stay tuned!

These are just some of the consequences that follow when you don’t have “the infallibility of the Magisterium of the Pastors” in union with the Bishop of Rome.