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Monday, August 08, 2016

Why Catholic?

I got asked this today. I like this question, but I like it even more when cradle Catholics ask me. Why am I Catholic? Because it's true.
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Readers of this blog, however, tend to be Christians, so they don't need to have the concept of divinely revealed truth explained. They do want to know how it can be known that the Catholic Church is the Church, and therefore, why refraining from joining it is a grave sin.

To be as brief as I can, it is not reasonable to believe that the commonalities between various Christian communities--not their differences, mind you--can be explained without reference to the Catholic Church. Understand that differences are easy to explain. A guy says one thing, or a community says one thing, and someone else disagrees. Disagrees passionately enough to start over. It's happened often enough, the details aren't that important. But dogma is an important thing. Most of the time you see this word, it's someone mocking someone else's slavish adherence to some belief or ideology. But its meaning in theology isn't as loaded. A dogma is a statement or formulation of supernaturally revealed truth that would not otherwise be known, but for the fact that God has revealed it. The fact that God is a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, this is a dogma of the faith. Christ's resurrection from the dead on the third day after His death on the cross is another example. I would not otherwise know these things; I cannot reason my way to the Trinity, or scores of other things.

Now, many things are shared between Christians dogmatically, and we are grateful for those things. But some things are not. Many of my Christian brethren would not affirm the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul into Heaven, but that is also a dogma. So we come to realize with a little exploring that different people disagree what counts as dogma. To put it very simply, we have different sources and different methods for knowing what the content of revealed truth is. This problem is no small matter, actually. Faith, properly speaking, is assent to what has been revealed. If Christians do not agree on what has been revealed, then they do not profess a common faith, and those who know nothing of God will not understand what to believe, and why it's important.

I could easily account for my old Reformed and Presbyterian profession: we broke away from those horribly misguided and possibly unsaved Roman Catholics when the great Martin Luther threw off their authority, and got us back to the Scriptures. Actually, that's a pretty standard Protestant storyline, and each group alters the details--and the heroes and villains--to taste.

For one thing, is it true? What if it weren't? How do I find out? Let's even suppose that many people had a sincere desire for moral reform. Why would the dogmas change, if all we need to do is stop sinning?

We had said a great many things about the Catholic Church which were either untrue, or were feelings that couldn't be proved one way or the other. If what we know of the ancient Church is Catholic in their way of believing and doing, then we must condemn them as ignorant at best, because the same sickness that afflicts the Catholic Church has grabbed them also. What we cannot do is exhort ourselves to learn from the ancients, whilst believing that what they professed is impure at best. We had become experts at picking and choosing from the lives of the ancient fathers in ways that would make the most ardent "cafeteria Catholic" blush. Yet perhaps they seem Catholic because they are. Dogma cannot change; it may be formed in feeble human words, but either God said it, or He did not.

It became a much more plausible account to say that we had truncated the faith of the ancients as Protestants, because it became too difficult or strange. We came up with a story to hide the shame of following the men who had attempted to tear the Church into pieces. Those who came later wouldn't know better. We called our story "the gospel" and "the invisible Church throughout the ages."

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