Sunday, 6 May 2012

What is the Church?

The glory and riches of the Catholic Church, the gift of Almighty God to His human family. 

Joe writes:    In the just ended ecclesia effort by the Church in South Africa to catechise its members, we witnessed the coming into fruition of a ‘not so new concept’, which teaches that we are Church. May be it would be good at this point to examine why the doctrines and dogmas and even liturgy cannot be changed. 

The papal oath first taken by Pope Saint Agatho on June 27, 678 says:

[1st stanza] I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition, and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein;

[2nd stanza] To the contrary: with glowing affection as her truly faithful student and successor, to safeguard reverently the passed-on good, with my whole strength and utmost effort;

[4th stanza] I swear to God Almighty and the Saviour Jesus Christ that I will keep whatever has been revealed through Christ and His Successors and whatever the first councils and my predecessors have defined and declared.

… etc.

This is a pretty strong declaration that compels the Holy Father to honour Sacred Tradition, to uphold and lead through his example that truly the Church’s soul and guide is the Holy Spirit, from that first Pentecost to our day.

The Baltimore Catechism defines Church as:

The Church is the congregation of all those who profess the faith of Christ, partake of the same Sacraments, and are governed by their lawful pastors under one visible head.

In question 120, the same catechism asks why Christ founded the Church and answers:

Christ founded the Church to teach, govern, sanctify, and save all men.

The Catechism of Pope St Pius X defines the Church as:

The Catholic Church is the Union or Congregation of all the baptized who, still living on earth, profess the same Faith and the same Law of Jesus Christ, participate in the same Sacraments, and obey their lawful Pastors, particularly the Roman Pontiff.

Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi (1943) expresses the faith of the Church in the statement:

… if we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ– which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church– we shall find no expression more noble, more sublime, or more divine, than the phrase which calls it ‘the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.

Even a passing look at these teachings and many others expresses a fundamental convergence at the union in faith upheld by believers in the Messiah Jesus Christ to which each of them is initiated through the waters of baptism and glued together by a common faith nourished by the Sacraments. Needless to say, such a ‘common faith’ cannot by necessity be reduced to the feelings and emotions of each individual believer. Feelings and emotions are of the physical senses and these are inconsistent, easily swayed and cannot be used to define doctrine. ‘What do we believe?’ or rather ‘What should be believed?’ Questions such as these gave rise to ‘doctrine and dogma’, because to enter a ‘communion of faith’ demands the pre-existence of decreed truth to which as a believer I must freely consent or else there is no communion in faith. For the Christian this assertion is rooted in the teaching of ‘The Christ’ (a real person) who died and rose from the dead. There are a number of curious statements in the teachings of Jesus Christ and writings of the gospels that requires our understanding to see how it is possible for the Church to have its decreed doctrines and I will list a few here:

John 14:26
But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.

John 16:11-13
And of judgment: because the prince of this world is already judged. I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will teach you all truth.

John 21:25
But there are also many other things which Jesus did which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were guided by the law of the prophets, in the New Testament Christ says in Matthew 5: 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” However, this law was not to remain on dead stone for the reverence of unthinking men but to be written by God on the hearts of the faithful. The New Testament thus brought the law of faith to those that walk by the Spirit of God, of whom St Paul refers to as the Temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Where the law was to keep people from what not to believe, thus in the New Testament, it is the doctrine of Jesus Christ that accomplishes that.

If we believe that Jesus Christ is God, then we must therefore believe that He is as He claimed “The Truth”. If we believe this then we should believe Him when He says, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). One of these commands was to ordain St Peter as the prince of the apostles (Matt 16:19) to whom we must listen, the symbol of our unity (Isaiah 22:22).

Thus looking at all this we must conclude therefore that the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, with Christ Himself as the Head and the Pope as the visible rock, the Vicar of Christ on earth. We must also conclude that the faith is guided by the doctrine of the Church that is inspired by the Holy Spirit from the first Pentecost right down to our day through the Pope. Thus, St Paul would say “…you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

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