Something that I have observed over my 13 years as a member of the Catholic Church is this; many if not most of Catholics who leave the Catholic Church to join other christian ecclesial traditions have a very poor understanding of what the Church truly teaches. While the protestants who leave their ecclesial traditions to join the Catholic Church are very knowledgeable of the faith tradition they are leaving, but have come to understand and embrace that the fullness of the Truth of Jesus Christ that can only be found in the Catholic Church.
Why is this? Well, if the Catholics who leave the Catholic Church truly understood what the Church teaches, its doctrines and dogmas when it comes to faith and morals, and understood the biblical roots and apostolic history of these teachings, and knew that these doctrines and dogmas have not changed since the beginning when Jesus founded the Church, they would have never left. Yet, most protestants who join the Catholic Church often do so because they have come to truly understand these very biblical roots and the apostolic history of these teachings, yet while being very intelligent and knowledgeable of the faith tradition they are leaving. There are many well known examples of this, men like Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi, etc.
Just think about that for a moment. Jesus promised that the Gates of Hell would not defeat His Church when He established it (Matthew 16:18). He also promised to send the Spirit of Truth to guide his Church and to help it understand the Truth in John 16:12-15. If He hadn’t done so, then Jesus would have been a liar. Jesus made these promises and Jesus meant it.
Disciplines vs. Doctrine and Dogma
The confusion for many is when it comes to what the Church teaches and why. Many do not understand the difference between a discipline , doctrine and dogma. Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia defines “discipline” as an “instruction, system of teaching or of law, given under the authority of the Church [which] can be changed with the approval of proper authority, as opposed to doctrine, which is unchangeable” (334). Disciplines are things like unmarried priests. The Church could change this if it wanted to. Doctrines, properly speaking, i]s the received teaching of the Church that began with the earliest Gospels and the first-century Didache, and is today summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As such, a doctrine cannot be changed. When we hear the media use the word “doctrine” they may (innocently or not) mistake discipline for doctrine, and disciplines can be changed.
Sometimes there is so much confusion about what is a disciple and what is a doctrine that the Pope, or other teaching authority must step in and clear up the confusion. For instance on the question of the ordination of women, those who favor it will tend to suggest it’s just a matter of discipline, in hopes that a change may come some day, which is why Pope St. John Paul II actually settled the matter in his brief but definitive apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994):
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful. [emphasis added]
The Church has had to step in many times to clear up any confusion in teachings over the years or even to reemphasize the long held teachings that the Church has always had. IN doing so, they have at times declared certain doctrines dogmatically to effectively say, this is the Church teaching and it will always remain so until the Lord returns. For instance the Church’s teaching on the infallibility of the Pope.
Vatican II explained the doctrine of infallibility as follows: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25).
The infallibility of the pope is not a doctrine that suddenly appeared in Church teaching; rather, it is a doctrine which was implicit in the early Church. It is only our understanding of infallibility which has developed and been more clearly understood over time. In fact, the doctrine of infallibility is implicit in these Petrine texts: John 21:15–17 (“Feed my sheep . . . “), Luke 22:32 (“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”), and Matthew 16:18 (“You are Peter . . . “).
To Be Continued…
I will be using this blog to discuss Church teaching, my thoughts and the results of my discussions with protestants, along with my own personal musings and inspirations.