Today, I’m thinking about who has authority when it comes to matters of faith. It is a problem in the modern world because it seems everyone has an opinion as to what the truth is and what should be believed. Some say that the Bible, or Sacred Scripture, is the ultimate authority. That is easy to say and easy to be believed. But life is complicated, especially when one person’s interpretation of Scripture passages is different from another’s. Life is further complicated when one considers that there are different translations that have been published over the years. The languages used at the time of Christ and in the ensuing years when the Scriptures were written are very different from the languages used today. My understanding is that two-thousand years ago in Palestine, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic were all used in speaking and writing.
For example, most translations today have references to Christ’s brothers and sisters. Some argue, then, that Jesus had brothers and sisters, that Mary was not a perpetual virgin and that she must have had other children with Joseph. Others say that in the Greek language the one word that was used could also mean cousins. They say that it would be incorrect to interpret brother and sister statements in the Bible to really mean brothers and sisters and not cousins.
Disputes such as this arose in the early church and they were solved by convening worldwide “councils” of church leaders. For example, around the year 325, there was a faction within the Church that claimed that Jesus was not equal to God, that he was not truly divine. It was called the “Arian Heresy.” The Council of Nicaea was convened and the outcome was that no, Christ indeed had a divine nature, that he was “consubstantial” with the God the Father. Other councils have been convened over the years, the most recent being Vatican Council II back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
Disputes such as this, of course, were the cause of the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500’s. I understand that Martin Luther wrote is own translation of the Bible and was accused, for example, of adding the word “alone” after the word “faith” in this translation. Thus began the concept of “sola fide,” or “faith alone” which is the belief that our justification and salvation is based solely on our faith and not our “works.” Unfortunately the rush to believe Luther and the other reformers in this and other areas is what led people away from the Catholic Church and into Protestantism. They had to also believe that the Catholic Church became corrupt early on and got off track. So it was time to get back on track. Of course there are many other issues that we could think about here.
What is my take? Yes, Scripture is an important authority. But who is charged with interpreting Scripture? Before he ascended in heaven, Christ told his disciples that he would give them the Holy Spirit to guide them in all truth (Luke 24:36-49 and Acts 1:1-5). So did the Church become corrupt and lose all track of the truth? No, the Holy Spirit was given to them a few days later (and not 1500 years later). I realize a Protestant today would present arguments to support their perspective. But my authority is the Catholic Church and her teachings always seem to make perfect sense to me. That is not going to change.
The photograph is of the interior of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.