Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Response to Comments on Obedience

I received the following comment on my last blog post called "Obedience". I will post the comments and my responses to them below:

Question from J. Merrick:

Hello,Perhaps we are in disagreement, perhaps not. In reading this article I found no real reason answering the question of "why?" why we shouldn't question so many things.I offer Romans 13:1 paraphrased and the following as a possible addition."Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."

Given that the papal system claims the title of the church established by christ - they would therefor be God's earthly authority figures.

I don't think that excludes questioning, just submission to God as we also see in scripture that God wants us to seek him and know him. Like children we can question why we do things or what certain things are of our parents, thus as children of God we can also inquire to the reasons and deeper reason why we practice exactly as we do.

Even the most persistent questioning is not dissent and there is absolutely nothing problematic about desiring to learn God's truth.

We've all heard the quote by Dr. Timothy Leary "question authority", but many others have said likewise such as Buddha, Dalai Lama, Thomas Jefferson, Gandhi, Galileo, Confusious, Socrates, Plato, etc.

In studying each you'll find some are encouraging questioning of tradition, but not advocating abandonment of it, while others are more anarchistic in their statements.We can also spin the phrase "question authority" differently too and make it rather "ask authority questions".Either way we, our questioning should be about seeking truth, and as you said not simply about condemning or judging authorities such as priests and bishops in order to discredit their authoritative position.

With all that said, we can also validate through questioning as well. For example the Roman Catholic church and papal system claims authority as the Christ's church (see below for references opposing). We can also question and validate or discredit claims of authority as well. Ultimately we seek God and must discern false prophets or error in claims. The sun revolves around the earth - Galileo and others were condemned by the church and thankfully the church has progressed beyond condemnation of scientific questioning of matters not directly related to its core beliefs. The vatican is alongside the scientific community at the forefront of science and questions about God's creation. In that respect so can we can pose questions to and about leaders on all matters concerning doctrine, dogma, practices and claims of authority.

There are historical references and evidence that may or may not someday prove the authoritative position the Roman Catholic Church claims thru the papal system. That the Roman Catholic church is not the first church set in place by christ but rather a schism of predating catholicism. The difference between the 2 being the term "Roman". Many questions remain on the factual historical establishment of the Roman Catholic Church as presented in articles pertaining to the history of catholic schisms, nestorian christians and the dead sea scrolls. If in my lifetime the Roman Catholic Church is proven to have been NOT the original but a schism, surely there will be an uproar and even many in denial. This should not however be feared. Doctrine is not infalliable - original dogma is not directly affected.

My Response:
Thank you for your long and well thought-out questions and comments. I will attempt to respond to some of your queries.

In terms of questioning things, I think that's a good thing. In fact, this blog is designed to answer many questions that people have concerning the Catholic faith. In Peter 3:15, he says always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in you. So it advocates apologetics.

Also, the Church is interested in giving people answers, and thus provides resources such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church to provide answers with evidence to questions people pose.
I was not really referring to questioning beliefs or practices, but rather people who spent inordinate amounts of time focusing on the priest or bishop and his proper use of rubrics throughout Mass. For example, whether he said all the prayers correctly, or if his homily was strongly worded enough, etc.

But I also wanted to address the issue of authority. In the Catholic Church there is an authority, which I believe was given to the first apostles by Jesus Christ. He gave them the power to bind and loose. He gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, which in ancient times meant to give someone authority while the king was gone. These are found in the Bible. There is mention by Paul of the priests and bishops and he refers to the ones he is teaching as his children in the faith. So we can see a hierarchical system here. However, we must not confuse this with "power" so to speak. One of the titles of the pope is "the servant of the servants of God". He is the greatest servant, not the most powerful master. He serves the people.

We believe that the bishop has real authority in spiritual matters. In fact, generally speaking, each bishop is the highest authority. The buck generally stops there. The pope of course does have an ultimate authority over the entire church, but each bishop retains a level of authority.

Your quote from Romans 13:1 was quite appropriate for this situation. And you're absolutely right when you say we can and should question things about our faith. Look at the Church Fathers. They were the original followers of Christ who left many texts. In them, they explain and defend the faith. Thomas Aquinas, one of my favorite saints, spent his lifetime compiling answers to every conceivable question people have concerning the faith. His most famous work, the Summa Theologica, is about three times bigger than the Bible.

So questioning is certainly an integral part of the Christian faith. In fact, that's why the Church is such a strong advocate of religious freedom throughout the world. The bishop of New York was in favour of the mosque and community centre being built near ground zero because it represents freedom of religion. The Vatican has decried moves like the minaret ban in Switzerland because it reduces religious freedom. The Church believes we must see the Truth and everyone must have the option to do so.

You mention also Galileo. The Church is our guidance on faith and morals only, and does not deal with science. That's why for example, the Church does not definitively declare the age of the Earth, because it is a scientific issue. You can believe whatever you want about it. Same goes for evolution. Only when it touches matters of faith and morals does the Church move in to say something about it. So with evolution for example, the Church says we must believe that there were two original parents. Now, if we did evolve from a lower life form, we can believe that, but there were two of these lifeforms that were infused with a human soul and thus our first parents. But anyway, I digress, back to Galileo.

In order to respond to what you said about Galileo, I will quote myself from a previous blog post:
Galileo was a strong Catholic who happened to be an astronomer. He was very popular in his day. He made friends with many top Vatican officials, even the future pope. He was well respected. His theory of heliocentrism was nothing new. Copernicus, a loyal Catholic cleric, had pioneered the theory several decades prior. Galileo attempted to further his research in this field.

At the time when Galileo was proposing his theory, another theory, proposed by Ptolemy many centuries prior, was very widely accept by scientists. The theory was that of geocentrism (the Sun revolving around the Earth). This was the dominant view in the scientific community, not just the religious community.

Galileo made several wrong moves when it came to his presentation of his theory. He demanded that church officials accept it as true, even though it was far from proven. Galileo even wrote a book in which he put the popes words and theories into the mouth of a character named Simplicio (similar to Simpleton). Obviously this was very insulting.

The Church said that until a theory can be proven, it should not be presented as fact. This was very wise, especially considering that several aspects of Galileo's theory proved wrong. For example, he believed the Sun was the centre of the universe, whereas we now know that the Sun also moves around an orbit at an even faster rate than the Earth.

The Church was not against science, and certainly not against astronomy. In fact, many churches used their tall towers as planetary observatories. Many of the first astronomers were Catholic and even religious (clergy). The first person to propose the big bang theory was Fr. Lemaitre, a Catholic monseigneur (high ranking priest).

Many want to say the Church has always been against science, but this is simply untrue. Monks were responsible for transmitting practically everything we know of ancient Greek and Roman science and culture. Gregor Mendel, a priest, discovered the field of genetics. The first European universities were founded by popes.

The Church did apologize for how Galileo was treated many years later. He was arrested, but he was put under house arrest in his large home. I think it's important to have the full story on this issue.

You're also right in saying the Church is at the forefront of science. For example the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is a well respected scientific community, which includes Stephen Hawking.
Now I will address your last point about Catholic vs. Roman Catholic. The Church is official called the Catholic Church and always has been. During the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the term "Roman Catholic" does not appear in the literature. The pope is the head of the Catholic Church. In fact, there are 22 other Catholic Churches beside the Roman one. Those are all called Eastern Catholics, but have specific names like Maronite Catholic Church, Chaldean Catholic Church, etc. They are all in communion with the pope. The term Roman Catholic is used to denote the Chair of Peter which is is in Rome. But terms are terms. We must look at the evidence for what is the real Church. You mention a schism, however there is no historical evidence for such a thing happening. The Catholic Church can trace its history all the way back to Jesus through apostolic succession. No one can simply come from the outside and become a leader in the Church. They must be ordained by an existing bishop. This way, there is a preservation of lineage.

This is actually the first time I've even heard that the Roman Catholic Church is a schism of the original Catholic Church. When did this happen? In any event, why did it happen? We can see the practices of the early Christians, all the way back to the first century, and their beliefs and practices correspond to those of the Catholic Church today. You can look to non-biblical sources such as the Didache for examples. Even the Protestant reformers acknowledged that without the Catholic Church there would be no Christianity. All other Churches, including Protestant and Orthodox, are offshoots of the Catholic Church. In order to claim there was a kind of schism, some evidence must be shown. Which pope went from being "Catholic" to "Roman Catholic"? I ask because there is an unbroken line of succession so one of them must have "switched". Where is the record of one church splitting from another? Of course, there are countless heretical churches, but they are all well documented. Until recently, until people started using revisionist history, it has been acknowledged that the Catholic Church has been here from the start when Jesus founded it upon Peter, the Rock.

I hope I was able to answer some of your questions. Thanks for your comments.


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