Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Does your life feel like an opinion poll?

John Henry Newman: the importance of papal infallibility

What should I have for breakfast?

a) Oatmeal with fruit

b) Scrambled Eggs

c) Cereal

d) A Muffin

e) Other

f) No breakfast


What time should I start my homework?

a) 9 am

b) 10 am

c) 3 pm

d) 9 pm


What should I do with my spare time today?

a) Work out

b) Pray

c) Watch TV

d) Read a book

e) Some combination of the above


What religion should I be?

a) Hindu

b) Catholic

c) Episcopalian

d) Baptist

e) New Age


How should I succeed in life?

a) Cheat when necessary

b) Love unrelentlessly

c) Practice humility and serve others

d) Take advantage of anyone who could be of use to you

e) Never invest too much time in personal relationships, it will drag you down


Okay...so you catch my drift by now, right? I'm not trying to say that I feel like my life feels like an opinion poll, but rather draw your attention to the fact that our society seems to want to "weigh in" on what behaviors, actions, habits are good, and what are bad. The problem with that is that the media really has no authority to make such demands of me. Just because something is popular does not mean it is worth devoting my time or energy to it. Especially those last three questions, I think we need to be very discerning, because we must aim towards truth in all aspects of our lives, especially pertaining to how we live in light of our faith and morals.


Where does authority come from? Well in the area of faith & morals, our authority comes from the Pope. As the Vicar of Christ on Earth, he guides the Church so to follow the rule of God in our lives. Human nature longs for an authority. An infallible authority. Only the Church claims to have one.

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Mt 16: 18-19

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman spent a good portion of his life arguing for the necessity of an infallible authority. An Anglican clergyman at the time, this search led him to the Catholic Church. He argued that:

If God is a merciful God who wants to disclose truth to His people, he would find a way to secure the verity of that truth.

We accept that God is a merciful God who wants to disclose truth to His people.

Therefore, He finds a way to secure the verity of that truth.


Convergent probability (that is, we do not doubt facts and information presented to us unless there is truly a reason to be skeptical) informs us that since the Church makes the only claim to infallible authority in the Pope, that is how Christ chose to secure the truths of our faith.


Neither you, nor I is an infallible authority on faith and morals. But the Lord protects the Pope from erring in matters of doctrine and morals to enable him to lead the faithful.


Our consciences, when formed well, can also be a legitimate form of authority according to Newman, however, it is critical that we be discerning. It takes rigorous moral formation to be in a place when our conscience will properly guide us towards truth. Certainly attainable, but always in conjunction with papal authority. Newman even said that if he were to give a toast, he would first give a toast to the conscience (a God-given gift to each person) and secondly to our Holy Father. The Pope is accountable to God and he wouldn't be inclined to make any sort of proclamation on doctrine or morals without deep prayer and consultation with his closest Cardinals. How is papal infallibility guaranteed? By the power of the Holy Spirit working in the person of the Pope.


This is not to say that the Pope cannot speak on a variety of other issues such as war, current events, social justice, environmentalism, etc. and he does, but he is not speaking infallibly. This is an important distinction to make.


I'd love to hear your feedback on this important topic. In a culture teeming with relativism (You do what you want, I'll do what I want) it is important to note that we do have an authority. Christ is our divine authority and our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is our authority on earth. He is a servant of God who truly wants to lead us to true happiness, freedom, and peace in the Kingdom of God. I am only a student, not a professor, so dear Catholic friends, please feel free to correct me if I have misspoken in any areas of this blog, I am not the most eloquent of writers and do not claim to be an expert on theology.


If your authority does not come from Christ speaking through Pope Benedict XVI, where do you get your authority? Is it important for authority to be infallible? Perhaps I will post again on other forms of authority, for example the authority a spouse has over his/her significant other, the authority parents have over their children, et cetera.


Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us!

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!

2 comments:

Abby said...

I love the modus ponens. It was clear and succinct in expressing a point that's not always easy. And it's in clear logical formula, which is just cool.

Liz said...

Thanks Abby! All colleges need to require intro philosophy courses....so useful for day-to-day matters. :-)