Why Is There a Crisis of Faith or Confusion of Beliefs Around Me and What Do I Do and Whom Do I Believe?
by Pauly Fongemie
2a. WHAT DO I BELIEVE?
There is but one sure guide, Christ, and through Him, His legacy to His Bride, Holy Church: Sacred Tradition. You might ask, what about Sacred Magisterium and Sacred Scripture, are they not important?
Most surely, they must not be dispensed with, but before we had the Canon of the Bible, that is the collection of books held by the Church as inspired under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, we had Tradition. The Canon was not fixed until after the last of the Apostles had died.
The first Christians did not have a New Testament Bible to read because it was not yet written completely, although it was preached. They could not have said the Bible was their sole guide to faith. How did the first Christians come to know Christ's salvation? They had the Apostles who had lived with Christ and who had received from Him first-hand knowledge and understanding. In fact it was not until the fourth century that the Latin translation of the Bible was undertaken by St. Jerome at the behest of the Pontiff.
The Church teaches that both Scripture and Tradition are the two sources from which She draws the truths which God has revealed to mankind and which is embodied in the Magisterium. The contents of Scripture and Tradition are not separate from each other. But Tradition contains revealed truths not found in Scripture, or explains more definitely and clearly a doctrine less explicit in the Bible.
Sacred Tradition, everything the Apostles learned from Christ which was not recorded in the New Testament, was preserved and handed on by the Apostles, the first bishops of the Catholic Church, in union with the Pontiffs, to their successors.
Before the New Testament was written, the earliest Christians believed, substantially, every Catholic doctrine we believe now. All formal, public revelation, made by Christ and necessary for salvation, ceased with the death of the last Apostle, Saint John.
Since the Church, in the persons of the Apostles and their disciples adopted the Old Testament from the Jews and wrote the New Testament, the faithful have a sure knowledge of the meaning of Scripture through the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.
St. Paul refers to the existence of an oral Tradition alongside his written Epistles when, in 2 Thes. 2: 14, he says: "Therefore then, brethren, stand fast and keep the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle." Paul commands his disciple, Timothy, to pass on to others all that he taught him: "And the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also." (2 Tim. 2: 2) He reminds us that people come to faith through the preached word (Rom. 10: 17). He congratulates the Corinthians for being faithful to Tradition (1 Cor. 11: 2).
The early Christians first heard Christ's message of salvation in spoken form.
St. Peter said, "But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel hath been preached unto you." (1 Pet. 1: 25)
The truths Christ taught which are included in the oral teachings of the Apostles are called Tradition. This "Tradition" is different from the "traditions" of the scribes and Pharisees which Christ so often criticized (Mt. 15: 3, 6-9). Christ's criticism was of the mere human precepts that crept into the Jewish religion and which were often given more importance than the moral law.
The Tradition of the truths of Jesus Christ, orally transmitted by the Apostles [there were no printing presses] constitutes the deposit of Catholic truth that originated with Our Savior Himself. From this deposit the Apostles and Saints who were inspired by the Holy Spirit composed the Canon of the Bible. But the Apostles knew more than what is contained in Scripture as St. John says in Chapter 20, verses 30-31:
"Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this book.
But these are written, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: and that believing you may have life in His Name."
That the Church is the guardian and official interpreter of both Scripture and Tradition, is revealed by Christ in such Gospel passages as: Lk. 10: 16 and Matt. 16: 18. Christ promised the Church would not teach error in truths necessary for salvation by the fact that He intended to send the Holy Spirit, "And I will ask the Father, and He shall send the Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever . . ." (John 14, 16 ff.] If the Church ever taught error, this would make Christ a liar. It would mean He never intended what He promised, namely, to send the Holy Spirit. And the gates of Hell would have prevailed, something He said would not happen.
Peter, the first Pope, certainly excludes all private interpretation of Scripture, by remarking, with reference to Paul's letters in his second Epistle:
"As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.
You therefore, brethren! knowing these things before, take heed, lest being led aside by the error of the unwise, you fall from your own steadfastness.
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and unto the day of eternity. Amen." (Verses 16-18)
According to Catholic teaching, Scripture and Tradition are the two sources from which the Church draws the truths which God has revealed to mankind. Both deserve the same reverence and respect.
When Protestants appeal to Scripture against the Church, they forget that it is from this very Church, and on her authority, that Scripture is received, and that before we had the Bible there was Tradition: The Holy Ghost guides the Catholic Church and it is He that guided the writing of the Holy Scriptures, although there is no guarantee of infallibility attached to later, modern mistranlations, but to the original text and those faithful or authentic translations, the best one available for non-scholars, especially laymen, is the Douay-Rheims. Avoid the New American version as current versions are deficient when not in actual error. There is a New Testament of the Douay-Rheims on line HERE. The entire Bible can be purchased from Catholic Treasures.
Now, since the Holy Spirit protects the Church and the Bible from error, they cannot contradict one another. Any apparent contradiction results from a misunderstanding by people who think they may do their own interpreting. Scripture was written for the Church, to be used by the Church, but as Scripture itself explicitly says, it is not a complete account of all the teachings of Christ, and so there must be another source of faith, Tradition.
Once more I refer you to a number of citations on the necessity of holding fast to Tradition, link further below. What are the sources of Sacred Tradition?
Catholic Tradition is contained mainly in early Church history; in the decrees of early councils; in the early liturgies; in the Acts of the Martyrs, that is, the narratives of the Martyrs' trials and deaths, in the books of the early Fathers of the Church; the Doctors of the Church, such as St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Anthony of Padua, and St. Catherine of Siena, some early monuments from the early period of the Church; the Catacombs; the three Creeds of our faith. Subsequent writings are based on these. Why? Because the deposit of faith as such was set with the Apostles. The Athanasian Creed is based on Apostolic Tradition and is considered a catechism in of itself.
Subsequent patrimony is an extension of these sources and or part of the universal teaching of the Church, universal meaning, always from the beginning and taught and held by the whole teaching Church.
Now, before we proceed, I want you to refresh your memory about the necessity of not straying from Tradition by reading quotes taken from the writings of the Doctors of the Church and the Saints: just click on the link HERE and a popup window will appear from which to read without having to leave this page.
Now, to get you started, in addition to those listed in bold above, I will list a few resources which are indispensable:
Solid Catholic periodicals within almost anyone's price range
CATHOLIC FAMILY NEWS----------Monthly: Saint of the Month, Papal Encyclical, Articles on Currents in the Church, Apologetics, Our Lady
THE REMNANT----------Bi-Monthly: The Mass, The Church and Culture, Apologetics
Catholic News On Line:
NEW OXFORD REVIEW---------Invaluable news source for all things Catholic
Essential Books that explain the current situation facing faithful Catholics
To Purchase On Line:
DEVIL'S FINAL BATTLE
FATIMA IN TWILIGHT
THE GREAT FACADE
The Spiritual Life:
To Purchase On Line:
CHRISTIAN PERFECTION AND CONTEMPLATION, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
On Line Essential Books:
by Michael Davies
Catholic Sanctuary and the Second Vatican Council
Communion in the Hand and Similar Frauds
Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican II: Excerpts
The Reign of Christ the King: Excerpts
A Short History of the Roman Mass
Catechisms, Church Documents, Devotional Sites, Our Lady of Fatima
The Roman Mass and Tradition:
These are 2 directories on line here at Catholic Tradition
Is a Sin
The One True Church
No Salvation Outside of the Catholic Church
of Pius X
Catechism of Thomas Aquinas
Church Documents, Plus
Council of Trent Catechism
Douay-Rheims Bible: New Testament Only
Early Fathers of the Church
First Vatican Council
Papal Encyclicals On Line
CT Encyclicals On Line
Fatima Web site: Includes the Rosary
Traditional Marriage Rite, Plus Baptism and Confirmation:
For the last 2, scroll down to the bottom of page for links
Traditional Resources: Links Page at Seattle Catholic
Traditional Catholic Web sites
FATHER FEENEY INTERNET RESOURCES
NOVUS ORDO WATCH
S. ALBERT'S TRADITIONAL CATHOLIC INFORMATION
ST. AUSTIN PRESS: NEW AND USED TRADITIONAL BOOKS
ST. BENEDICT CENTER
TRADITIONAL CATHOLICISM NET
TRADITIONAL ROMAN CATHOLICISM
This list is incomplete, but it is a good start. Some of these sites have external Traditional links also.
INDEFECTIBILITY AND INFALLIBILITY
You are now beginning to grasp what constitutes Sacred Tradition, and why it must be upheld and passed on: it is the safeguard for everything else. Our Holy Father, John Paul II has said that Vatican II must be interpreted in keeping with Tradition.
So, you ask, well, what about the indefectibility of the Church and papal infallibility? Are not these safeguards in of themselves? Yes, but these guarantees are limited. Recall about the papal coronation oath, that it is possible for the Pope to err in his ordinary governance and those pronouncements that may be imprudent but are not declarations of infallible teaching.
Let's define what the Church means when She teaches that the Church is indefectible and what papal infallibility is:
Indefectibility is the quality possessed by the Church which makes it impossible to fail in its existence. Christ promised that He would be with Her until the end of time in Matthew 28: 20.
But this does not mean that at all times She will be the same size or same strength viz. a viz. the world. Before Christ left His Apostles to ascend to the Father, He promised to send the Paraclete, but He had already predicted that when He came back on earth for the general judgment that faith would be almost non-existent. Thus, while the Church will still be His Bride, She, in all likelihood will consist of but a remnant, just as with the pre-Church of the Old Testament, the faithful Jews were but a small remnant. When He comes at the end of the world, Antichrist will have been reigning with his horrible persecution of the Church, having made his appearance amidst the great apostasy spoken of by Saint Paul.
Only one generation ago vocations were still rising and the Church in America was growing in leaps and bounds, yet look at the Church here now, parishes are closing and the seminaries are mostly empty. Yet the Church exists, still with Her four marks and three powers: The Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic united under the Pontiff and She exists to govern, to teach, and to sanctify. No matter how She is persecuted or how many imprudent decisions Her hierarchy may effect, She will always be here as sign and the only means of salvation for men. This is indefectibility, indestructible, but not free from the dangers of the world.
Infallibility is that quality in the Church by which it is preserved from error in matters of faith and morals. This incapability to err is a special gift of the Holy Spirit Who resides in the Church. Infallibility does not mean that the Church defines new revelations but that it interprets the deposit of faith in the light of new matters that arise in every generation. Infallibility is necessary so that the faithful may be assured of the validity of their beliefs. The doctrine of infallibility was defined by Vatican Council I and promulgated on July 18, 1870. This was not a new doctrine, because there can be no such thing. It had always been implicitly believed and taught, but without a formal declaration. Because controversy had arisen on the matter, the time had come for it to be explicitly defined.
The decree defined infallibility in three areas:
1. In the Pope.
the Pope speaks ex cathedra, i.e., in virtue of his
and apostolic authority, on a matter of faith and morals. Papal
not extend to Church policy, discipline or the Pope's private opinions.
2. In an
council [a council of all the bishops in union with the Pope]. The
of this kind of council on faith and morals when issued with the
and by the authority of the Pope are infallible. Note, the guarantee
not apply to faulty translations and misinformation by those with an
who attempt to impose it on the whole Church through deception, just as
there is no guarantee with faulty translations and error-ridden
of Scripture by those with a similar aim.
3. In the body of bishops. The ordinary teaching of the bishops when in union with the Pope [meaning, who do not stray from Tradition] is infallible. Ordinary teaching refers to the body of Catholic doctrine that has always been taught and believed from the beginning, but is taught again to succeeding generations in the light of new situations that must be dealt with [in vitro fertilization, for instance], but may not be formally defined in an extraordinary manner, such as in an Encyclical, etc. When issuing an ex cathedra statement or formal definition that closes the matter, there can be no error; on other teachings, not formally declared, there is a possibility there could be error, if Tradition is dispensed with or otherwise ignored. If Tradition is upheld, then we are bound to submit to the teaching in obedience. The Church teaches that we are not to stray from Tradition and hence, the papal oath as another safeguard.
The infallibility of the Pope
The doctrine that the Pope is free from error insofar as he is head of the Church on earth and when he speaks in that capacity to define a doctrine of faith or morals. Such statements are irreformable by nature, not by reason of the Church's consent. The infallibility of the Pope is neither impeccability nor inspiration. Infallibility refers only to the Pope's ex cathedra statements and those teachings that have always and everywhere been taught from the time of Christ and the Apostles, not to his every teaching act. Examples of ex cathedra statements are the Dogma of the Assumption, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, many bulls and encyclicals on matters of faith and morals, such as the the Bull, Unam Sanctam, on no salvation outside the Church, in 1302, by Pope Boniface VIII. The Pope has no authority to create new doctrine, he can only declare and define, thereby close a subject off from further debate, on matters already taught by the Apostles either explicitly or implicitly always and everywhere. The Pope is one of the three organs of infallibility of the Church, the other organs being the bishops spread throughout the world in union with the Holy See and the bishops gathered together with the Pope in an ecumenical council. Even when the Pope proclaims that a doctrine must be believed, he can do so only after first examining the belief of the Church in the particular matter. A good example is the condemnation of in vitro conception or fertilization. In the time of the Apostles, there were no medical procedures such as this, so the Apostles could not have had any teaching on it, but they did teach about conjugal matters. Pope John Paul II, after examining the Apostolic Tradition and the teachings of his predecessors, declared the in vitro method of conception immoral, that is, he applied the Apostolic Tradition to a new situation, he did not declare a "new" doctrine.
Private opinions of the Pontiffs, even if they are widely known through the press or oral reports, remain opinions, and only this: Pope John XXII held an erroneous view on Purgatory, while not imposing it as a doctrine to be accepted under pain of sin [he recanted his error before he died]; Pope John Paul II delivered an address to a group of scientists in which he seemed to favor evolution in the terms of the scientists, which is an error. He was not teaching from the Chair of Peter to the whole Church. Of course, since it was widely reported, it was a source of scandal to the faithful. The same can be said of the two Assisi ecumenical prayer days convened by the Pontiff, which gave the impression world-wide that all religions were equal or at least salvific in of themselves; and again the more recent statement from one of the Vatican cardinals that Jews no longer have to convert, with no retraction ordered or other discipline from the Pontiff.
An example of an imprudent ordinance was Pope Liberius of the fourth century who abused his papal authority and exiled St. Athanasius during the Arian heresy. Liberius was weak and made poor judgments on how to handle the matter. Saint Athanasius was one of the few bishops who had not gone into heresy; the overwhelming majority of bishops had become heretics and put a lot of pressure on the Pope, among others with power. Those decrees [there were 5] exiling the Saint, a type of excommunication, if you will, were acts of weakness, but were not part of the Magisterium and had no protection from error. Eventually the matter was justly corrected. At that time Saint Athanasius told his faithful flock: they may have the edifice, but we have the faith. He held firm to Tradition, saved souls, and helped the laity "save the Church". Every time things look bleak here, I always think of this mighty hero of Catholicism and I am once more full of hope. In the last section  we will discuss the Catholic virtue of hope versus the worldly "virtue" of optimism.
Saint Paul warned us:
"But though we, or an Angel from Heaven, preach a Gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you: let him be anathema!"
Galatians 1: 8
"I am proud of being fettered by
dogmas and enslaved by
dead creeds . . . for I know very well that it is the heretical creeds
that are dead, and that it is only the reasonable dogma that lives
long enough to be called antiquated."
G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography
Continue forward for:
2b. WHOM DO I BELIEVE?
Modernists or liberals
Neo-Catholics or conservatives
HOW DO I KEEP THE FAITH AND SAVE MY SOUL?
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