As some of you know, I am a re-vert to Catholicism after 30+ years away. During that time, our family flitted between denominations, trying to find where objective truth was. Some came closer than others, but all fell short. Eventually through honest research, we found that objective truth in Catholicism–the Church Christ left us.
O.K., before anyone goes all literal on me, no: Christ did not leave FORMAL Catholicism to the Apostles. However, He left the sacraments and the doctrines available and visible in all He taught. More on that in a minute…
I love going to Mass! And when there is a good homilist, all the better. We attend the Extraordinary Form of the Traditional Latin Mass at our parish, and our parish priest is celebrant and homilist. He is an expert in teaching doctrine and Scripture. Today was no exception.
The Gospel today was John 16:5-14. It is a familiar passage where Jesus, before his Ascension, was giving instruction to the Apostles to whom He had just passed on the Priesthood. In the midst of his Homily, Father Mark said something that truly caught my attention. He said that this is why the Protestants get confused. My ears perked up. Turns out, it revolves around two critical points.
In this passage of Scripture Jesus states,
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” (v.12)
More? An interesting concept, because according to those who profess a belief other than Catholicism, all anyone really needs to know is held within Christ’s teachings in the Gospels. Yet, here Christ contradicts that by saying that there is more that is important, but for whatever reason He knows that the Apostles could not bear it ‘now’…at that particular time. This brings up all kinds of questions:
What could He possibly have of significance that He did not already say?
Why would the Apostles not be able to bear it? Did that mean it was too complex?
Was it too much, in addition to what they had already been taught?
If it was that critical, how would they possibly be able to represent the Faith without it?
Much to ponder. But at least part of it is explained in what Jesus says next:
“But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” (v. 13-14)—bold & underline my emphasis.
When Jesus said that the Spirit would guide these leaders of the Church into all truth, it speaks volumes! The Spirit was to be responsible to disclose ALL truth. In other words, at the moment Christ was taken into the clouds, the Apostles had only received PART of the truth. And through the Spirit, they would be guided to the fullness in order to build up the Church as Christ intended, through Peter as the head. Look back to my series on Authority to find more on this in Parts 1, 2, and 3. But I digress…
What Father Mark meant about Protestants being confused is that the particulars of what Jesus said in the above two verses are not addressed in Protestant Theologies. Why? Because part of what Protestants are missing is what is known as The Development of Doctrine.
The term Development of Doctrine was used by John Henry Newman, former Anglican who converted to Catholicism and is on his way to sainthood. It describes the way teaching has over time become more detailed, more explicit over the centuries. The new, more detailed statements do not contradict the older and are completely consistent. They are merely developed with greater clarity for a new audience.
You may have heard, for instance, that the Doctrine of Purgatory suddenly appeared in the Church at the Council of Trent. True, the Doctrine was defined formally there. However, Purgatory (a place of purification) had been with the Church long before. In fact, Jesus would have been taught about this ‘place’ as a child, because it was part of Jewish Tradition. Did Jesus abolish that teaching? No. It remained. And so the Council of Trent put the actual teaching that had been part of the Church since its beginning (A.D. 33) and before into a formal definition. The doctrine did not change, but it was more explicitly explained.
There is one other thing to factor in as to why doctrine is defined in Church councils, where it appears suspiciously to the outsider as a ‘new’ doctrine. Many times, doctrine is defined in councils in order to address certain heresies of the day. Divinity of Christ. Christ as fully human and fully divine in hypostatic union. And Purgatory was one, since Martin Luther had effectively removed it from Reformed Theology…especially since he removed all the Old Testament books that were proof of its validity.
Of course, there are outsiders who say that Catholicism is an oppressive religion that ‘invents’ certain doctrines in order to control their followers. Sounds believable, right? Dead wrong! In Catholicism, each doctrine and sacrament finds its inception in the life of Christ and the New Testament. There is not time in this short piece to address each doctrine and sacrament and show this to be true. However, there are plenty of theologians and apologists (many of whom are converts from Protestantism) far more knowledgeable than I who you can find through a Google Search (i.e., Jimmy Akin, Tim Staples, Scott Hahn, Karlo Broussard…and many more). It also is easy to find answers to the origin of doctrine in reading the writings of the Church Fathers of the first four centuries. These men represent what the Apostles taught the Early Church about the fullness of all truth. In fact, some were taught directly by an apostle!
Going back to Father Mark’s statement, he is absolutely correct. And Protestants have every right to be confused! Fifteen hundred years of solid scriptural interpretation and councils that addressed heresies running counter to Christ’s teachings are not available to Protestants. Seven critical books of the Old Testament…books to which Jesus and the Apostles referred extensively in the New Testament…are absent from Protestant Bibles. Theirs is a faith that relies only on what Jesus specifically said, rather than what He promised in the development of those teachings to the fullest through the guidance of the Gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. Which he, ironically, also said…
I’ve heard that we should be a Church of the Book. But even the Book says in 2 Thessalonians 2:15…
“Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” (again, bold underline my emphasis)
Not just the book, but the Sacred and Holy Traditions spoken, which by definition were not recorded in the Book. Traditions the Holy Spirit guided them into just as Christ said he would in John 16:14. Traditions preserved by the Catholic Church, thanks be to God.
If you’ve never gone on a true intellectually honest search for God’s complete objective truth, you owe it to yourself. Christ waits for you where He has always been: in the Catholic Church.