If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

By Whose Authority?

Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority? (Luke 20:2)

In my last post (click the link here) I tried to answer the question, “Isn’t it just possible that no one really knows what God wants?”

Having answered it as best as I can in a short composition, I realized my answer begged another question, “Why do you believe your interpretation of the Bible is better or more accurate than someone else’s?”

It is to that question I now respond.

To start, let me first say I believe the proper understanding of Scripture related to faith (what we must believe about God) and morals (how we must live to please God) is essential to our eternal destination. Get it wrong, and we may find ourselves on the wrong side of forever. So the question about the correct interpretation of Scripture as it affects faith and morals is not only reasonable, but of eternal consequence.

I must also add that my interpretation of the Bible with regard to those critical questions is not my interpretation. As the Holy Spirit said to the Church a long time ago through St. Peter: But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20). Here Peter is speaking not only of foretelling, but also forth-telling – teaching and proclaiming God’s word to others. Then in the next chapter, Peter talks about those false prophets and teachers who secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them (2 Peter 2:1).

Moved and inspired by the Holy Spirit, St. Peter knew in the first century what we in the 21st century need to know – that is, God’s truth.

Since the earliest days of Christianity, heresies and other deceptive teachings entered the Church as the great Deceiver tried to derail true faith. Many of the New Testament epistles were written, at least in part, to correct false teaching. For example, the letter to the church at Galatia addressed the false doctrine circulating among Christians that circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses was necessary for salvation. Another epistle addressed the false teaching at Thessalonica that the Day of the Lord had already come (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5). Letters to the churches at Rome, Corinth, Colossae, and Ephesus addressed various questions of morality (e.g. Romans 1-2; 1 Corinthians 5; Colossians 3; Ephesians 5). The letter to the Hebrews addressed the superiority of Jesus over Moses and the Law, and many scholars believe the apostle John addressed the heresy of Gnosticism in his first epistle.

Of course, none of these false teachings caught God by surprise. One writer put it this way: God’s gaze spans all the ages; to Him there is nothing unexpected (Sirach 39:20). And so, as I cited in my first essay (link here), because God is love, He wants not only to communicate with His beloved, but to protect us from false teaching. Further, because He is omnipotent, He ensured His communication (i.e. the Bible) remained faithful to His heart through the centuries. That is precisely why He established the teaching authority of the Church -- to be a ‘repository’ of truth, as well as to proclaim it to the world. And that is why the Lord Jesus said to Peter, “I give you the keys of the Kingdom” (Matthew 16:19), and later in John’s gospel He said to the Fisherman – three times – “Feed My sheep” (John 21).

No wonder then that even the great St. Paul, recognizing this divinely appointed teaching authority, brought the doctrines he taught to Church leadership for their approval (Galatians 2). And later, he would write to his protégé Timothy, the Church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). And at its first council in Jerusalem, it was Church leadership that decided what was orthodox faith and what was not (Acts 15:1-30).

Which brings me to the question about ‘my’ interpretation.

My understanding of what Scripture teaches about faith and morals is not in the least ‘my’ interpretation. Rather, my faith and morals are rooted in the interpretation of Scripture taught by the Catholic Church under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome (the pope) in union with the Church council, which Catholics call the Magisterium. What frames and informs my faith is the same  interpretation of Scripture held by the Catholic Church for 2000 years. It is the same instruction of faith and morals taught by some of the most brilliant theological minds in church history: Saints Thomas Aquinas, Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Ignatius of Loyola, Athanasius, Jerome, and John Chrysostom.

And so, to answer the question how I know my interpretation of Scripture regarding faith and morals is correct, I know it is so because it is the same interpretation taught by the Church to which God gave the teaching authority.


Paul Schratz said...

Simple and clear. I hope to share this.

Rich Maffeo said...

Thanks, Paul. I hope it informs and encourages others.