What Makes Me Catholic is Why I’m Catholic

Because I want to be sure that my meaning is understood, allow me to restate the title of this article in more explicit terms. The characteristic that defines me as a member of the Catholic Church is also the definitive reason for why I will forever remain a member of the Catholic Church. What is it that defines me as a member of the Church that Christ established? Well, it is the same thing that defines the Catholic Church. And what defines this One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is nothing less than the unique and irrevocable authority of the Magisterium of this Church.

If you venture far from the Petrine house, you will find people who will not affirm the divinity of Christ or the Trinity we adore. Not so far out as that are houses innumerable that are filled with people pulled in every direction, unsure of what they believe. Their only anchor is an unflinching resolution that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are One. They have faith in Jesus as the Christ, but they have only a couple sacraments — and not all of them even have that.

Step outside of the Petrine house only a short distance and you will find neighboring homes where the Trinity is adored, where Christ’s divinity and humanity are absolutely affirmed, and where each sacrament is validly celebrated for the salvation of its inhabitants. These brother and sisters are so incredibly close, that it is hard to believe that they reside under a different roof.

Yet what all of those people have in common, what none of those groups recognize, what none of their members will affirm, is the thing that I affirmed on Saturday, 22 March 2008, when I received into the Catholic Church. Every one of them is unwilling to declare, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

Might I jump ship and still find authentic faith in the hypostatic union? Without a doubt. Might I find belief in the Trinity and salvation through the Incarnate Son of God and his perfect sacrifice on Calvary? Again, yes. Is it even possible for me to find the sacrament of Holy Orders so that I could still avail myself of Reconciliation and receive the Most Blessed Sacrament, our Lord Himself? Yes, this is so. But what neither you nor I will ever find outside the Catholic Church is the authority granted to Peter and the Apostles that safeguards those who recognize and obey it against the deceits of Satan.

I came here for authority; it’s why I’m Catholic. I will remain for authority. Everything, for me, hinges on who holds the Keys to the Kingdom.

Circumcision and Apostolic Authority

“When the whole Church in her every day teaching does in fact teach a moral rule everywhere in the world as a commandment of God, she is preserved from error by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, and this rule is therefore really the will of God and is binding on the faithful in conscience…”

Question: Was the recognition and teaching, by Peter and the other Apostles, that circumcision is not required for entry into the Church fallible?  I don’t believe that I have ever met a Christian who would dare to say, “Maybe.”  So I believe it safe to answer: “No.”

There are many Christian positions regarding Scripture, and there is almost universal agreement that if one’s belief is that Scripture is not the inerrant Word of God, then that person is not a Christian.  After all, Protestants overwhelming profess “Scripture alone” is authoritative, and Catholics too hold Scripture to be authoritative.  God could not include in Scripture, his Holy Word, declarations expected to be accepted as objectively true that were actually false.  To so do would be a contradiction in terms, for God is Truth.  It would no more be possible for God to construct within the same reality an immovable wall and an unstoppable object.

However, Scripture does not contain the fullness of Truth, for that would mean that it contained, or is in its essence, God himself.  No literate person should fail to find the problems with that idea.  So objective truths, such as the fact of my daughter’s birth last year, are no less true by virtue of their absence from Scripture.  My daughter’s birth is just as true as Jesus’s birth, but only Jesus’s birth is part of Revelation.

This leads to my Final Question: If the apostolic decree, although still objectively true, that circumcision is unnecessary was absent from the Scriptures, would you still adhere to it with the same force as you now do, with the same force as the Apostles did?

To answer “No” is to accept that no rules exist that are binding on all the faithful that do not appear in Scripture.  That could also be positively  expressed, “Only those rules expressed in Scripture are binding on all the faithful.”  That in turn means that all declarations by the Apostles lacked authority unless they were eventually included in Scripture.  Consequently, that would mean that no Apostle exercised any real authority, for they and the people they shepherded had no way of knowing which declarations would eventually be included in the Canon, which was only decided at the end of the fourth century.  Furthermore, no verbal declarations exist in Scripture, only written records of verbal declarations.  Therefore, an Apostles spoken words could not be taken to be authoritative any more than their written words.

Finally, if the first Christians recognized this supposed state of affairs, they had one of two choices about how to act.  First, in light of their ignorance, they could have chosen to accept the authority of the Apostles on the grounds that anything said or written by an Apostle had the potential to be authoritative.  Secondly, in light of the only incidental authority, the early Christians could have treated the Apostles’ words as having no authority, or only occasionally individually choosing to adopt particular apostolic direction as authoritative.  In all of these cases, Un-orthodoxy is guaranteed.  After all, if the Apostles’ words are guaranteed orthodox, then they’d be authoritative, something already denied by the earlier premise.  Given no guaranteed source of orthodoxy, each believer adopting only some of the Apostles’ words would be guaranteed on a practical level of choosing improperly.  If the sheep were somehow guaranteed of only ever choosing orthodoxy, then they would, in fact, be the authority.  The fact that inerrant Scripture records that the sheep were occasionally in disagreement with the Apostles and each other invalidates that conclusion.

By process of elimination, there is only one acceptable answer to my Final Question, “Yes, we must assent to all apostolic decrees with the same force as did the Apostles themselves, even if the decree was not recorded in Scripture.”  The logical consequence is belief in apostolic authority and succession.

The United, Tangible Church

I can assert with great confidence: Jesus, promising that his Church would never pass out of existence, conceived of his Church as a single, visible institution.  Therefore, his single, visible Church has survived until this day, united and tangible.
The tangible Church symbolized in the sign of the cross.

4th Century icon of St. Paul making the sign of the cross

 

This claim rests on faith in the inerrancy of Scripture and very simple logic.
  • If Jesus gave Peter the authority to bind and loose, but an invisible group of believers needs no universal disciplinary guides, then the Church must be visible.
  • If Christ instituted Peter as his chamberlain (cf. Is 22), making Peter the earthly leader (of the house of the new David, the Church) in his absence, but an “invisible” (non-institutional, non-authoritative) lot of believers needs no visible leader, then the Church is visible.
  • If Jesus indicated the Church has the power of excommunication (“…treat him as you would a Gentile and a tax collector”—i.e., as an outsider), but an invisible body has no need or power of excommunication (Who would even assert that one may be invisibly treated as an outsider?), then the Church is necessarily visible.
  • If Jesus spoke of the singular “my Church,” not “my churches,” not a collection of visible institutions, then it is singular.
Christ spoke of ecclesia only twice in the gospels—in Matthew 16:18 and 18:18.  In light of these two passages, Christ’s ecclesiology does not allow the idea of an invisible, non-authoritative Church.  Early Church historian J. N. D. Kelly (Early Christian Doctrines) has pointed out that the early Christians did not have the concept of an “invisible” church.
This is one small step in explaining what the Nicene Creed means by “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”