Posts Tagged ‘Supermacy’

“‘They are a power, a command given by God through Christ to all of Christendom for the retaining and remitting of the sins of men.’”  (Reformer Martin Luther on confession, 1531)

Modern day Protestants, especially  Evangelicals,  have a problem with  many  teachings of the Catholic Church. But most of all, for them the claim that the Catholic Church makes as being the ultimate guardian of the Divine Revelation on earth, can sound not only offensive, but arrogant. The fact is that the Catholic Church indeed claims  to be the guardian of the Truth revealed to the Apostles and that she received such  Authority from Christ Himself. Many secondary issues spring from the protestant rejection of the Catholic claim for her Authority, such as the existence or the need  for Popes,  or simply the authority for a priest to forgive sins. 

Pastors and teachers are in charge of interpretation of the Scriptures to keep doctrine whole and pure among believers (Book 4 . 3. 4 – Reformer John Calvin)    

We admit therefore that Ecclesiastical pastors are to be heard just like Christ himself.  (John Calvin – letter to Sadoleto)

Before I go on discussing this, for the sake of clarity, since many non-Catholics lack some basic understanding of what Catholicism actually teaches; I feel that I need to address some fundamental concepts in order to answer this properly: 

I-Ecclesiastical Authority  
II- Apostolic Succession   

Whenever someone says “this” or “that” teaching/doctrine of the Catholic Church is not Biblical; for the sake of discussion, I must to ask them to consider a couple of important points:      

1- For almost 400 years Christianity had no published Bible, in fact, for the next thousand years after the Bible was compiled, until the printing press was invented, there were scant few Bibles available, in a world almost completely illiterate and impoverished. Needless to say that the few lucky ones who possessed a Bible were a wealthy, privileged and literate minority.      

This surely must prompt any reasonable person to ask themselves: how did the early Christians, especially those living in the first centuries of Christianity, learn the Gospel if there was no Bible?      

History tells us that they HAD to rely on the  Oral Tradition, which was passed onto them by the Apostles and then their elected disciples. This is what the Catholic Church calls Sacred Tradition ( with Capital T), which some Protestants prefer to call man-made tradition.      

2- The Church declares she is Apostolic – this is historically documented and can be proven (for instance, we can refer to the oldest document of Christianity,  The Didache 50 AD, discovered in 1886) – and that therefore, her teachings are infallible.  Since the Church is Apostolic, she proclaims also that her Authority comes from Christ. Why does she say that?      

Because Christ founded His Church upon one of the Apostles, Simon Peter or Cephas, who was the first  *overseer of the early Church ( *episcopos in Greek or bishop in English) and thus a Pope (which means father – 1 Cor 4: 14-15), and also because of Jesus’ promises to the Apostles:          

“Then Jesus also said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20).      

Before I give further evidence to this, let us stop here to analyze what his last sentence (in Matt 28:20) means:      

Why would Jesus say: I am with you always, to the end of the age? Surely Jesus knew that the Apostles, like the rest of us, would expire (die) one day. This is because His promise applied not only to the Apostles themselves, but also to the disciples or successors that He, Jesus, had commanded them to make in all nations.  Obviously Jesus, in His Divine wisdom, was foretelling the history the Apostolic Succession in the Church.     

Then we see Jesus promising the Apostles the necessary wisdom to teach the Truth:      

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit comes, he will guide you into ALL TRUTH.” (Jn 16:12-13)  

“This things I have spoken to you, ABIDING with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, 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… When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he shall give testimony of me. And you shall give testimony, because you are with me from the beginning. ( Jn 14:25-26 ; 15:26-27)      

This is where the Catholic & Apostolic Church takes her assurance for her Authority, as well as the comfort for the accuracy of her teachings. Because the truth of the Gospel was received without error by the Apostles, who in turn, transmitted it without error to their disciples (2 Tim 2:2), who are the successors who later formed the Catholic Chuch in the 1st century – As, for instance, St Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of the Apostle John and became the Catholic bishop of Antioch. The Catholic & Apostolic Church has preserved the Apostolic teachings throughout the centuries, and her discernment on dogmas and doctrines comes from the Holy Spirit as per Jesus’ promise, and are, therefore,  free of error.      

Furthermore, Jesus said: As the Father has sent me, I also SEND you. ( Jn 20:21). After giving the Apostles authority and reassurance of wisdom, Jesus makes it clear that His Church, which He founded upon Cephas, His Rock, is to be no less of a teacher than He Himself was.      

Our brothers Protestants may argue that Jesus was giving His authority to the whole body of believers, which was going to become His Church, not only to the Apostles. Well, this is not what Scriptures tell us. Jesus was talking to His chosen disciples not to the crowds. Had He meant that the Teaching Authority of the Church was to be given to the whole body of believers, Jesus would have either told it to all believers or commanded the Apostles to do so. He did neither.  

Furthermore, we can clearly verify how the Apostles embraced this Teaching Authority given to them in the Scripture themselves. Paul talks about this in his letters, when he says that only some have been placed in the Church as TEACHERS, not all (1Cor 12:28-29).      

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. I am your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (1 Cor 4: 14-15)    

3- Confessing to a Priest

Having discussed the issues of Authority as well as Succession, I would like to reiterate that all priests in the Catholic Church are anointed in the Spirit and are, in their priestly ministry, successors of the Apostles.

But why does the Church declare the need for Confession?      

Because Jesus instituted it Himself:      

Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and he whose sins you retain, are retained (Jn 20:22-23)      

Jesus gave the Apostles authority to forgive sins just as He had authority given by the Father to forgive sins on earth as the Son of Man (Matthew 9:6), not as Son of God.  Jesus forgave sins while He was in the world in spite of the Pharisees’ contempt for His authority, because up until that point only God could forgive sins!      

Now, Jesus gave the Apostles the authority to forgive sins, but He did not confer to them the ability to read the minds of the sinners. How could we expect the Apostles to be able to exercise their authority to forgive without accepting that the believer would have to verbally express their sins and repentance to the Apostles?    As we can see in St. Paul’s epistoles  the Apostles did take their role seriously:

[…] ‘What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been [forgiven] for your sake in the presence of Christ.’ (2 Cor 2:10)     

There are plenty of evidence in the writtings of the ealry Christians that the new-believers, just as the Jews would confess publicly their sins, they embraced this Sacred Tradition and confessed their sins. The problem is that many Sola Scriptura Protestants will not accept any historic document that can prove this fact, because they are ruled only by what is explicitly written in the Sacred Scriptures.

Jesus Christ arranged things so that the Sacramental forgiveness would come through the ministry of the priest. If someone argues against that he is not so much arguing with the Catholic Church, but with Christ Himself.  (P. Madri)    

Catholics are members of an Apostolic Church and for this reason we take the Apostolic character of the Church very seriously because the Lord said  to the Apostles:    

“Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me“. (Lk 10:16).     

Lastly, I is important to point out that whenever a Catholic confesses to a priest, he is confessing to Our Lord Jesus through a priest, just as St Paul tells us in (2 Cor2:10). The forgiveness comes from God, not from the priest, who is acting as a ‘alter Christus’ because of the Scriptural authority given by Jesus.   

In spite of private confession, Catholics preserve an ancient Tradition, as the Jews of the OT would do, to admit our sins  at   Mass everyday, when we recite a public Penitential Prayer:      

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angles and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.      

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