Skip to comments.The Fundamental Problem (a response to those who question apostolic succession)
Posted on 03/08/2013 11:54:31 AM PST by NYer
I HAVE received a number of emails, some from Catholics who aren’t sure how to answer their “evangelical” family members, and others from fundamentalists who are certain the Catholic Church is neither biblical nor Christian. Several letters contained long explanations why they feel this Scripture means this and why they think this quote means that. After reading these letters, and considering the hours it would take to respond to them, I thought I would address instead the fundamental problem: just who exactly has the authority to interpret Scripture?
But before I do, we as Catholics must admit something. From external appearances, and in reality in many churches, we do not appear to be a people alive in the Faith, burning with zeal for Christ and the salvation of souls, such as is often seen in many evangelical churches. As such, it can be difficult to convince a fundamentalist of the truth of Catholicism when the faith of Catholics so often appears dead, and our Church is bleeding from scandal after scandal. At Mass, prayers are often muttered, music is commonly bland if not corny, homilies are oftentimes uninspired, and liturgical abuses in many places have drained the Mass of all that is mystical. Worse, an outside observer might doubt that it is truly Jesus in the Eucharist, based on how Catholics file to Communion as though they were receiving a movie pass. The truth is, the Catholic Church is in a crisis. She needs to be re-evangelized, re-catechized, and renewed in the power of the Holy Spirit. And quite bluntly, she needs to be purified of the apostasy which has seeped into her ancient walls like the smoke of Satan.
But this does not mean she is a false Church. If anything, it is a sign of the enemy’s pointed and relentless attack upon the Barque of Peter.
ON WHOSE AUTHORITY?
The thought that continued to run through my mind as I read those emails was, “So, whose interpretation of the Bible is right?” With nearly 60, 000 denominations in the world and counting, all of them claiming that they have the monopoly on truth, who do you believe (the first letter I received, or the letter from the guy after that?) I mean, we could debate all day about whether this biblical text or that text means this or that. But how do we know at the end of the day what the proper interpretation is? Feelings? Tingling anointings?
Well, this is what the Bible has to say:
Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God. (2 Pet 1:20-21)
Scripture as a whole is a prophetic word. No Scripture is a matter of personal interpretation. So, then, whose interpretation of it is correct? This answer has serious consequences, for Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.” In order to be free, I must know the truth so I can live and abide in it. If “church A” says, for example, that divorce is permitted, but “church B” says it is not, which church is living in freedom? If “church A” teaches that you can never lose your salvation, but “church B” says you can, which church is leading souls to freedom? These are real examples, with real and perhaps eternal consequences. Yet, the answer to these questions produces a plethora of interpretations from “bible-believing” Christians who usually mean well, but completely contradict one another.
Did Christ really build a Church this random, this chaotic, this contradictory?
WHAT THE BIBLE ISAND ISN’T
Fundamentalists say the Bible is the only source of Christian truth. Yet, there is no Scripture to support such a notion. The Bible does say:
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Still, this says nothing about it being the sole authority or foundation of truth, only that it is inspired, and is therefore true. Furthermore, this passage refers specifically to the Old Testament since there was no “New Testament” yet. That wasn’t fully compiled until the fourth century.
The Bible does have something to say, however, about what is the foundation of truth:
You should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth. (1 Tim 3:15)
The Church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of truth. It is from the Church, then, that truth emerges, that is, the Word of God. “Aha!” says the fundamentalist. “So the Word of God is the truth.” Yes, absolutely. But the Word given to the Church was spoken, not written by Christ. Jesus never wrote down a single word (and nor were His words recorded in writing until years later). The Word of God is the unwritten Truth which Jesus passed on to the Apostles. Part of this Word was written down in letters and gospels, but not all of it. How do we know? For one, Scripture itself tells us that:
There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
We know for a fact that the revelation of Jesus was communicated in both written form, and by word of mouth.
I have much to write to you, but I do not wish to write with pen and ink. Instead, I hope to see you soon, when we can talk face to face. (3 John 13-14)
This is what the Catholic Church calls Tradition: both written and oral truth. The word “tradition” comes from the Latin traditio which means “to hand down”. Oral tradition was a central part of Jewish culture and the way teachings were passed on from century to century. Of course, the fundamentalist cites Mark 7:9 or Col 2:8 to say that Scripture condemns Tradition, ignoring the fact that in those passages Jesus was condemning the numerous burdens placed on the people of Israel by the Pharisees, and not the God-given Tradition of the Old Testament. If those passages were condemning this authentic Tradition, the Bible would be contradicting itself:
Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. (2 Thess 2:15)
I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you. (1 Cor 11:2). Note that the Protestant King James and New American Standard versions use the word “tradition” whereas the popular NIV renders the word “teachings” which is a poor translation from the original source, the Latin Vulgate.
The Tradition which the Church guards is called the “deposit of faith”: all that Christ taught and revealed to the Apostles. They were charged with teaching this Tradition and making sure that this Deposit was faithfully passed on from generation to generation. They did so by word of mouth, and occasionally by letter or epistle.
The Church also has customs, which correctly are also called traditions, much the way people have family traditions. This would include man-made laws such as abstaining from meat on Fridays, fasting on Ash Wednesday, and even priestly celibacyall of which can be modified or even dispensed with by the Pope who was given the power to “bind and loose” (Matt 16:19). Sacred Tradition, howeverthe written and unwritten Word of Godcannot be changed. In fact, since Christ revealed His Word 2000 years ago, no Pope has ever changed this Tradition, an absolute testament to the power of the Holy Spirit and the promise of Christ’s protection to guard His Church from the gates of hell (see Matt 16:18).
APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION: BIBLICAL?
So we come closer to answering the fundamental problem: who, then, has the authority to interpret Scripture? The answer seems to present itself: if the Apostles were the ones who heard Christ preach, and then were charged with passing those teachings on, they should be the ones to judge whether or not any other teaching, whether oral or written, is in fact the truth. But what would happen after the Apostles died? How would truth be faithfully handed down to future generations?
We read that the Apostles charged other men to pass on this “living Tradition.” Catholics call these men the Apostle’s “successors.” But fundamentalists claim that apostolic succession was invented by men. That’s simply not what the Bible says.
After Christ ascended into Heaven, there was still a small following of disciples. In the upper room, a hundred and twenty of them gathered including the eleven remaining Apostles. Their first act was to replace Judas.
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:26)
Justus, who wasn’t chosen over Matthias, was still a follower. But Matthias was “counted with the eleven apostles.” But why? Why replace Judas if there were more than enough followers anyway? Because Judas, like the other eleven, was given special authority by Jesus, an office which no other disciples or believers hadincluding His mother.
He was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry… May another take his office. (Acts 1:17, 20); Note that the New Jerusalem’s foundation stones in Revelation 21:14 are inscribed with the names of twelve apostles, not eleven. Judas, obviously, was not one of them, so therefore, Matthias must be the twelfth remaining stone, completing the foundation upon whom the rest of the Church is built (cf. Eph 2:20).
After the descent of the Holy Spirit, apostolic authority was passed on through the laying on of hands (see 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; Acts 14:23). It was a practice firmly established, as we hear from Peter’s fourth successor who reigned during the time that the Apostle John was still living:
Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . [see 1 Tim 3:1, 8; 5:17] Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. POPE ST. CLEMENT OF ROME (80 AD), Letter to the Corinthians 42:45, 44:13
A SUCCESSION OF AUTHORITY
Jesus gave these Apostles, and obviously their successors, His own authority.
Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matt 18:18)
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. (John 20:22)
Jesus even says:
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. (Luke 10:16)
Jesus says that whoever listens to these Apostles and their successors, is listening to Him! And we know that what these men teach us is the truth because Jesus promised to guide them. Addressing them privately at the Last Supper, He said:
…when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. (John 16:12-13)
This charism of the Pope and bishops to teach the truth “infallibly” has always been understood in the Church from the earliest of times:
[I]t is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Churchthose who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. St. Irenaeus of Lyons (189 AD), Against Heresies, 4:33:8 )
Let us note that the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, was preached by the Apostles, and was preserved by the Fathers. On this was the Church founded; and if anyone departs from this, he neither is nor any longer ought to be called a Christian… St. Athanasius (360 AD), Four Letters to Serapion of Thmius 1, 28
THE FUNDAMENTAL ANSWER
The Bible was neither invented by man nor handed down by angels in a nice leatherbound edition. Through a process of intense discernment guided by the Holy Spirit, the successors of the Apostles determined in the fourth century which of the writings of their day were Sacred Tradition—the “Word of God”—and which were not inspired writings of the Church. Thus, the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of St. John, the Assumption of Moses and several other books never made the cut. But 46 books of the Old Testament, and 27 for the New did comprise the “canon” of Scripture (although Protestants later dropped some books). The others were determined as not belonging to the Deposit of Faith. This was confirmed by the Bishops at the councils of Carthage (393, 397, 419 AD) and Hippo (393 AD). Ironic it is, then, that fundamentalists use the Bible, which is part of Catholic Tradition, to refute Catholicism.
All this is to say that there was no Bible for the first four centuries of the Church. So where were the apostolic teaching and testimonies to be found in all those years? Early church historian, J. N. D. Kelly, a Protestant, writes:
The most obvious answer was that the apostles had committed it orally to the Church, where it had been handed down from generation to generation. — Early Christian Doctrines, 37
Thus, it is clear that the successors of the Apostles are the ones who have been given the authority to determine what has been handed on by Christ and what has not, based not upon their own personal judgment, but upon what they have received.
The pope isnt an absolute sovereign, whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary, the ministry of the pope is the guarantor of the obedience toward Christ and his word. POPE BENEDICT XVI, Homily of May 8, 2005; San Diego Union-Tribune
Along with the pope, the bishops also share in Christ’s teaching authority to “bind and loose” (Matt 18:18). We call this teaching authority the “magisterium”.
this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 86)
They alone have the authority to interpret the Bible through the filter of oral Tradition which they have received through apostolic succession. They alone ultimately determine whether or not Jesus literally meant that He was offering us His Body and Blood or just a mere symbol, or whether He meant that we should confess our sins to a priest. Their discernment, guided by the Holy Spirit, is based upon the Sacred Tradition which has been passed on from the beginning.
So what matters is not what you or I think a passage of Scripture means so much as what did Christ say to us? The answer is: we have to ask those to whom He said it. Scripture is not a matter of personal interpretation, but a part of the revelation of who Jesus is and what He taught and commanded us.
Pope Benedict spoke pointedly about the danger of self-anointed interpretation when he addressed the Ecumenical Meeting recently in New York:
Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called “prophetic actions” that are based on a hermeneutic [method of interpreting] not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of “local options”. Somewhere in this process the need for… communion with the Church in every age is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23). POPE BENEDICT XVI, St. Joseph’s Church, New York, April 18th, 2008
Perhaps we can learn something from the humility of St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890). He is a convert to the Catholic Church, who in teaching on the end times (a subject polluted with opinion), shows the proper course of interpretation:
The opinion of any one person, even if he were the most fit to form one, could hardly be of any authority, or be worth putting forward by itself; whereas the judgment and views of the early Church claim and attract our especial regard, because for what we know they may be in part derived from traditions of the Apostles, and because they are put forward far more consistently and unanimously than those of any other set of teachers.
Tinfoil hat alert.
Don't know who said this but he doesn't know the Catholics I know. They are the only people I encounter who seem genuinely to want me to join the church. I never hear anything from any so-called evangelicals. They never ask and apparently couldn't care less.
That sure is an inauthentic sounding anecdote, it sure flies in the face of what most Americans have experienced and would relate.
Well what do you expect when we fail to model the charity of Christ? When those who believe differently are referred to as the tin foil hat crowd? Is this how Jesus asked us to treat each other? Sounds like another stick likely to provoke insult if you ask me. Count me out. I want no further part of a discussion where the poster's first comment refers to fellow Christians with this kind of insult.
May peace be with all my Christian brethren.
Meaning, as you are also the OP, that you will brook no disagreement or criticism.
Acknowledged - and hardly new from Catholics. But I would point out that as a person, a human being before God, you have still chosen to be a Catholic. So while you try to shift the responsibility for your personal faith to the teachings of the Church, just remember, you chose that Church, with those teachings.
And the Church agrees - do and think everything it says you should do or think, but remember, before God you're still personally responsible for everything you do or think, even though you were following Church instructions. So the shifting of spiritual responsibility here is temporal, not spiritual.
Which is kind of a spoiler for the idea of obeying the Church = obeying God. Because if it ain't necessarily so, then what role does the Church play other than advisor? Spiritually, before God, none. Temporally, before the world, however, it provides pretty heavy indemnification and social protection. So I guess it serves the purpose most Catholics want it to serve, and to make up the difference they figure God will be merciful because they "tried."
And hey, I can easily see how the Church is pleased with the deal. But as for Catholics, I don't think they've thought it through as carefully as they claim to have done - otherwise we'd hear a lot more of them admitting personal belief for their thoughts and actions, rather than Church obedience to evade that personal responsibility.
Lest you think this is just a hack attack on Catholics - think again. If you want to understand, really understand, why non-Catholics most often get irritated with Catholics, understand this post. Because everyone has their own ideas about religion and God, but Catholics play both sides against the middle - they hide behind Church teachings when it helps them, and then they claim personal responsibility when that serves them, and it simply comes across as morally dishonest and hypocritical to everyone else, because, in fact, it is. But the kicker is that the Church itself doesn't provide the indemnification before God that most Catholics think it does, so ultimately, this personal fraud certainly will not be ignored.
Benedict himself said that he would rather have a much smaller Catholic Church of members who strictly conformed to Church teachings, than a huge, sprawling inclusive Church where everyone takes their own slant. He was addressing this very issue of hypocrisy. Before God, it's better to honestly not be a Catholic, then to claim Catholicism as some sort of indemnification for your own beliefs, bobbing, dodging and weaving through life in the delusion that somehow you're actually going to fool God in the end as to what you actually stand for.
Let me say up front that I am a Baptist - a Southern Baptist to be exact. I know that Baptists and Catholics have not always had a cordial relationship.
However, I am a Christian first, not a Baptist. I am not hostile to Catholism. In fact, I shared some brief jail time with some Catholic priests following a pro-life abortion clinic rescue. I count Catholics as my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, since we both believe in God, and in His Son Jesus Christ, second Person of the Trinity, who lived among men, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again on the third day. We both believe that salvation is through faith in Christ, by His death for our sins on our behalf, and His resurrection from the dead as He demonstrated His victory over sin and death.
The Bible is God’s word. We both believe that. I believe that if a tradition or a teaching violates the clear teaching of the Scriptures, then we are to avoid that tradition or teaching, we are to repudiate it and show others where that teaching or tradition is violating God’s word. I don’t care where a tradition or teaching comes from, if it contradicts or violates clear doctrine from the Bible, that tradition or teaching is heretical and is to be not only ignored but rejected and rebuked by right teaching.
The writer of the article you posted wants to say that the sole authority for interpreting Scripture is through the heirarchy of the church. I do agree that people who have studied the Scriptures, who know about the languages and translations of the Bible, who know about Biblical and early Church history, who know about proper Biblical hermanuitics (how to interpret the Bible) - but, I do not agree that there is some “sanctified” pristhood or papacy that alone can properly interpret the Bible.
I see no support in the New Testament for a priesthood as practiced by the Catholic church. I see no support for a papacy as an office that has sole authority over Christian teaching and practice or Bible interpretation.
I see no examples of those things in the New Testament. Even if you take the Catholic position that Peter was the “Rock” upon which Christ would build His church - I do not see that acted upon or practice in the early church. In Acts or in Paul’s epistles, nowhere do I see theological controversies settled by a sole, individual pope - Peter in this case.
I never see examples of Peter acting as a sole, all-ecompanssing authority figure in Acts or in any of the letters of the other Apostles. When Peter witnessed to Cornelius, a Gentile, and he saw the Holy Spirit indwell Cornelius and other Gentiles around him - Peter realized that Christ was for everyone, not just the Jewish Believers. When he reported back at Jerusalem, he was not received carte blanche by what he said. He had to convince the other Apostles - AND other leaders in the church (only referred to as “the circumcision party”).
Another example, when the idea that Gentiles had to become “Jewish” (circumsised, follow all the OT laws, etc.) in order to beomce a Christian became topic of debate and controversy. It was settled (see Acts 15) in Jerusalem by all the Apostles, including Paul, and other Elders of the church. Peter does speak to the issue, but all the leaders apparently spoke - in fact, it seems like James had the final say in the matter (see Acts 15:13-19).
Anyway, I don’t wish to argue or fight with my Catholic brethren. Let’s just serve Christ as best we can and be the best witnesses we can be for Him. For, to Him alone will be all glory and honor.
That's because evangelicals know that it isn't the church which saves, but Jesus. Salvation is by grace, through faith in Christ, not church membership.
They'll encourage you to get into right relationship with Him through repentance and confession and acceptance of Him, receiving Him, as the Bible says. And when you become a child of His, you will become part of the church, His body of believers, which is what the true church is.
The real church is an organism, not an organization. We are members of His body through faith in Him. What denomination you affiliate with is your choice. The only criteria they insist on is that the denomination teaches salvation through faith in Christ and the Bible as the final authority. Otherwise, where you worship is irrelevant as far as your salvation is concerned.
That's why church affiliation is a non-issue with Evangelicals.
I can’t recall ever having heard of this person.
It's a big jump from "having the authority" to "getting it right". Ping back to your excellent 2008 thread:
Protestants have reacted strongly against the doctrine of apostolic succession. They have done so in a number of ways, historical and theological. One of these ways is by affirming the apostolicity of the church. Apostolicity may be defined as receiving and obeying apostolic doctrine as it is set forth in the New Testament. In matters of doctrine and life, Protestants permit no ultimate appeal to traditions that are distinct from canonical Scripture....
....Even if it were historically provable that there was an unbroken succession of bishops from the first century to the present day Roman Catholic bishops (and it is not), Protestants would still demur to claims of Roman authority based upon apostolic succession. It is the apostolicity of the church that counts. And it is precisely by the standard of apostolicity that the Roman Catholic Church is measured and found wanting.
-- from the thread Apostolic Succession and the Roman Catholic Church
“But this does not mean she is a false Church. If anything, it is a sign of the enemys pointed and relentless attack upon the Barque of Peter.”
She fails on the sign Jesus himself gave, that his disciples would be known by the love they show among themselves. (John 13:35)
The Catholic Church is the second oldest religious institution in the world and the oldest religious institution in the Western World.
It eliminated paganism, brought the word of God to the earth and set millions who were enslaved free. It created the basis of medieval culture and contributed to a better quality of life due to its patronage of the poor, the sick, science and the arts.
No secular government until the modern era possessed the legitimacy, prestige, authority and reach of the Catholic Church over the minds of men. These are important facts to remember in our post-Christian World. Men of today are even in more need of faith than those who lived before them.
Without a good life and without the blessings of Heaven, none of us will be in a position to appreciate all the good things of this life and they go hand in hand in our journey through this life and we are on one bark now and await another in the next life.
The Church will be around long after we are gone.
Before the Reformation, every one in the West was without exception, apart from the Jews, a Catholic Christian. It was the abuses, scandals and cupidity of the Catholic Church that led to Christians in Northern Europe making the final break with Rome.
These were corrected in the Counter-Reformation led by Catholic reformers. They helped to ensure the Church’s survival in the Latin World in which it recovered from its worst crisis and integrated the faithful to its bosom. There is only one true Church and Catholics and Protestants disagree on who commands the tradition passed on from early antiquity. No Christian though, regardless of whether or not he pays allegiance to Rome, disputes the essence of the Christian faith as belief in Christ and in the succession of the Apostles.
The Church is Christ's bride (Ephesians 5:29) and has "no spot, wrinkle or blemish" (Ephesians 5:27). Christ also stated that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18) so how can the Church commit error? Individual clergy may commit sins, even popes commit sins because in the Church there are both "weeds and wheat" (Matthew 13:30).
The sacrament of holy orders is conferred in three ranks of clergy: bishops, priests, and deacons.
Bishops (episcopoi) have the care of multiple congregations and appoint, ordain, and discipline priests and deacons. They sometimes appear to be called "evangelists" in the New Testament. Examples of first-century bishops include Timothy and Titus (1 Tim. 5:1922; 2 Tim. 4:5; Titus 1:5).
Priests (presbuteroi) are also known as "presbyters" or "elders." In fact, the English term "priest" is simply a contraction of the Greek word presbuteros. They have the responsibility of teaching, governing, and providing the sacraments in a given congregation (1 Tim. 5:17; Jas. 5:1415).
Deacons (diakonoi) are the assistants of the bishops and are responsible for teaching and administering certain Church tasks, such as the distribution of food (Acts 6:16).
In the apostolic age, the terms for these offices were still somewhat fluid. Sometimes a term would be used in a technical sense as the title for an office, sometimes not. This non-technical use of the terms even exists today, as when the term is used in many churches (both Protestant and Catholic) to refer to either ordained ministers (as in My minister visited him) or non-ordained individuals. (In a Protestant church one might hear He is a worship minister, while in a Catholic church one might hear He is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.)
Thus, in the apostolic age Paul sometimes described himself as a diakonos ("servant" or "minister"; cf. 2 Cor. 3:6, 6:4, 11:23; Eph. 3:7), even though he held an office much higher than that of a deacon, that of apostle.
Similarly, on one occasion Peter described himself as a "fellow elder," [1 Pet. 5:1] even though he, being an apostle, also had a much higher office than that of an ordinary elder.
The term for bishop, episcopos ("overseer"), was also fluid in meaning. Sometimes it designated the overseer of an individual congregation (the priest), sometimes the person who was the overseer of all the congregations in a city or area (the bishop or evangelist), and sometimes simply the highest-ranking clergyman in the local churchwho could be an apostle, if one were staying there at the time.
Although the terms "bishop," "priest," and "deacon" were somewhat fluid in the apostolic age, by the beginning of the second century they had achieved the fixed form in which they are used today to designate the three offices whose functions are clearly distinct in the New Testament.
As the following quotations illustrate, the early Church Fathers recognized all three offices and regarded them as essential to the Churchs structure. Especially significant are the letters of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who traveled from his home city to Rome, where he was executed around A.D. 110. On the way he wrote letters to the churches he passed. Each of these churches possessed the same threefold ministry. Without this threefold ministry, Ignatius said, a group cannot be called a church.
Ignatius of Antioch
"Now, therefore, it has been my privilege to see you in the person of your God-inspired bishop, Damas; and in the persons of your worthy presbyters, Bassus and Apollonius; and my fellow-servant, the deacon, Zotion. What a delight is his company! For he is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God, and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ" (Letter to the Magnesians 2 [A.D. 110]).
"Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest" (ibid., 6:1).
"Take care, therefore, to be confirmed in the decrees of the Lord and of the apostles, in order that in everything you do, you may prosper in body and in soul, in faith and in love, in Son and in Father and in Spirit, in beginning and in end, together with your most reverend bishop; and with that fittingly woven spiritual crown, the presbytery; and with the deacons, men of God. Be subject to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ was subject to the Father, and the apostles were subject to Christ and to the Father; so that there may be unity in both body and spirit" (ibid., 13:12).
"Indeed, when you submit to the bishop as you would to Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you are living not in the manner of men but as Jesus Christ, who died for us, that through faith in his death you might escape dying. It is necessary, thereforeand such is your practice that you do nothing without the bishop, and that you be subject also to the presbytery, as to the apostles of Jesus Christ our hope, in whom we shall be found, if we live in him. It is necessary also that the deacons, the dispensers of the mysteries [sacraments] of Jesus Christ, be in every way pleasing to all men. For they are not the deacons of food and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They must therefore guard against blame as against fire" (Letter to the Trallians 2:13 [A.D. 110]).
"In like manner let everyone respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and college of the apostles. Without these, it cannot be called a church. I am confident that you accept this, for I have received the exemplar of your love and have it with me in the person of your bishop. His very demeanor is a great lesson and his meekness is his strength. I believe that even the godless do respect him" (ibid., 3:12).
"He that is within the sanctuary is pure; but he that is outside the sanctuary is not pure. In other words, anyone who acts without the bishop and the presbytery and the deacons does not have a clear conscience" (ibid., 7:2).
"I cried out while I was in your midst, I spoke with a loud voice, the voice of God: Give heed to the bishop and the presbytery and the deacons. Some suspect me of saying this because I had previous knowledge of the division certain persons had caused; but he for whom I am in chains is my witness that I had no knowledge of this from any man. It was the Spirit who kept preaching these words, Do nothing without the bishop, keep your body as the temple of God, love unity, flee from divisions, be imitators of Jesus Christ, as he was imitator of the Father" (Letter to the Philadelphians 7:12 [A.D. 110]).
Clement of Alexandria
"A multitude of other pieces of advice to particular persons is written in the holy books: some for presbyters, some for bishops and deacons; and others for widows, of whom we shall have opportunity to speak elsewhere" (The Instructor of Children 3:12:97:2 [A.D. 191]).
"Even here in the Church the gradations of bishops, presbyters, and deacons happen to be imitations, in my opinion, of the angelic glory and of that arrangement which, the scriptures say, awaits those who have followed in the footsteps of the apostles and who have lived in complete righteousness according to the gospel" (Miscellanies 6:13:107:2 [A.D. 208]).
"When a deacon is to be ordained, he is chosen after the fashion of those things said above, the bishop alone in like manner imposing his hands upon him as we have prescribed. In the ordaining of a deacon, this is the reason why the bishop alone is to impose his hands upon him: he is not ordained to the priesthood, but to serve the bishop and to fulfill the bishops command. He has no part in the council of the clergy, but is to attend to his own duties and is to acquaint the bishop with such matters as are needful. . . .
"On a presbyter, however, let the presbyters impose their hands because of the common and like Spirit of the clergy. Even so, the presbyter has only the power to receive [the Spirit], and not the power to give [the Spirit]. That is why a presbyter does not ordain the clergy; for at the ordaining of a presbyter, he but seals while the bishop ordains.
"Over a deacon, then, let the bishop speak thus: O God, who have created all things and have set them in order through your Word; Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom you sent to minister to your will and to make clear to us your desires, grant the Holy Spirit of grace and care and diligence to this your servant, whom you have chosen to serve the Church and to offer in your holy places the gifts which are offered to you by your chosen high priests, so that he may serve with a pure heart and without blame, and that, ever giving praise to you, he may be accounted by your good will as worthy of this high office: through your Son Jesus Christ, through whom be glory and honor to you, to the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit, in your holy Church, both now and through the ages of ages. Amen" (The Apostolic Tradition 9 [A.D. 215]).
I have no problem with criticism .. so long as it is properly directed and not judgmental.
But I would point out that as a person, a human being before God, you have still chosen to be a Catholic. So while you try to shift the responsibility for your personal faith to the teachings of the Church, just remember, you chose that Church, with those teachings.
Clarification. I was baptized into the Catholic faith as an infant, raised and educated in the faith until adulthood. Like some Catholics, I have strayed over the years. Each time, I have returned to the Catholic Church because it is the Church established by Jesus Christ. Oddly enough, though baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, I practice my faith in the Maronite Church which traces its history back to the time when Peter served as bishop before proceeding to Rome.
And the Church agrees - do and think everything it says you should do or think, but remember, before God you're still personally responsible for everything you do or think, even though you were following Church instructions.
Have you actually read through the above article?
Yes, we were all Catholics before the Reformation. We all weren’t Roman Catholics, however.
I don’t consider myself a Roman Catholic. I consider myself a Catholic.
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