It is important to us that we address a few words to you who already share the fullness of faith in the Roman Catholic Church with us. We do this because of the fact that we address this text not just to our Catholic brothers and sisters, but also to our brothers and sisters from different faith communities. For that reason we want to verbalize a few thoughts to you.
In many ways this text is primarily for us Catholic Christians. This text began in a Catholic faith community and was initially taught in Catholic churches. This text reflects our experience with other Christians who did not know what we believed or knew only error about our Faith.
Many of us Catholics did not receive the fullness of understanding in our Faith as we might have hoped. This may be true for many reasons:
You may notice a different emphasis in the presentation of the Catholic Faith in this text. Our intentional primary emphasis is on the Biblical basis of the Faith. The Bible is not the sole authority for our Faith. The Word of God is greater than His written Word only. This we trust is made clear in the text. That is an important distinction for us.
Another emphasis in the text is that Catholic Christianity is an authoritative Faith. We live as our forefathers and foremothers did under the teaching authority of the Church, the Body of Christ. This means that we are not a democratic body of believers as are some congregational churches. The meaning of the Word of God is the same for all Catholic believers. Individual believers do not determine what they will believe. The Holy Spirit decides. Consider the words of the first council fathers in Acts 15: "The Holy Spirit and we ... " We are a universal church, worldwide, ecumenical. We are concerned with the local church community. We are concerned with the diocesan church community. We are concerned with the national church community. We are concerned with the worldwide church community with whom we share the same one Faith, one Baptism, one Lord, unchanged from Apostolic times.
One caution in understanding your own Faith and in judging the faith of other Christians is to attempt to understand what we mean by the words we use and what they mean by the words they use. We have tried to indicate throughout the text that what we call our Faith content does not determine the content. Words are labels. They change in use and importance. The content does not. It is paramount to ask of your own Faith and the faith of others what is meant. Many Christians today are thoroughly taken with the way they express their faith and its practice. For example, "being saved," "having a personal relationship with Christ," etc., become all too handy labels implying a very narrow and one-sided and simple response. The Catholic church has, from Apostolic times, handled all the truths any Christian group today might want to expound, but in most instances, an almost two thousand year history has given us older and well worn labels for the same phenomena. Most of these labels have come to us from the trustworthy men and women--saints--of ages past. We pray we have addressed most of these truths in this text.
It does make a difference what Christian church one belongs to. Ultimately the question of differences is a very serious question of truth. What is true and how is truth determined? For Biblical truth, it is important to realize that the Bible as a defined canon of just so many books and no others came from the Church of Rome and her authority. The Bible itself says that all truth is not contained therein. As we say in the text, the Bible is the book of the Church; the Church is not a church of the Bible. The same authority who defined what books are included in the Bible also has the authority to interpret those books and it is an exclusive authority. It is not given to everyone as the Bible itself clearly states. Hence, we Catholic Christians hold two authorities for determining truth: the Bible and the Holy Spirit. The nature of truth dictates that the same thing (e.g., a scripture verse) cannot be both true and not true at the same time. In other words, the same scripture verse cannot have two differing and contradictory interpretations. Only one can be true. The question must be asked, if scripture is directed to Christians and if it is the true Word of God, can God leave us to not know how to determine what interpretation is true among many differing interpretations?
Hence, as seen in the text, we are a Church with a living teaching magisterium, teaching authority. In cases of determining truth from error, the Church alone, in those who share the teaching authority--the bishop of Rome and the bishops worldwide--have that authority to decide without any possibility of error. History records the tragedy of losing a teaching authority: the multiplication of Christian fellowship communities and translations of the Bible. But, there is a basis of common truth, the clear truths of the written Word of God: that God is one and three, that God reveals to humankind, that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus founded His Church, that the Word of God can be known among us, that the Holy Spirit is with us, that Jesus will come again.
Because our Church is a worldwide community, differing cultural adaptations exist. These cultural adaptations are not differences in truth but in practice. One example of the way the Church differed culturally is witnessed in the existence of the Uniate Churches, those church communities which worship in cultural styles which differ from the Roman Christian way, e.g., Coptic, Maronite, Greek Byzantine, etc. Some cultural differences may even be wrong, e.g., the apparent mixture of voodoo with Catholicism as practiced in some central and southern American countries. This is not the teaching of the Church. The Church works hard to eliminate such error constantly from those who practice it. But similar to the Nazarenes of Christ's time, let us not miss the divinity (and hence the presence) of Christ by stumbling over His humanity. The Church has a human side as Christ did. The Church is the Body of Christ. But the Church is human: the people Jesus calls to Himself are sinners; they are not healthy. But the divinity of the Church reconciles, heals and embraces sinners. There should never be the alternative to leave the Catholic Faith. In leaving the Faith one becomes a part of the problem, not part of the solution. The Nazarenes picked up stones to stone Jesus to death. The choice we face is a choice similar to Peter and Judas, the classic examples of the failure of the human nature of the church. Choose reconciliation and healing both for ourselves and for all others! Choose, ultimately, life!
Virginia Beach, Virginia, 1991
By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
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Last Updated: January 3, 1997