August 25, 2008

The Magisterium and the Catholic Church

If you read my post from earlier today, you might be a little confused about the Catholic Church.

I have two things I need you to keep in mind while you read this post:

1. We are NOT a bunch of senseless drones all following to the letter whatever one man says.

2. As a Catholic, I fully believe that the Church is the right and true power of God on Earth, and I am writing from that perspective.

Now, a few common questions I get from non-Catholics and some non-practicing Catholics about the above statements:

The first statement

Q: How can the Pope always be right about everything?

A: He can't. He isn't. That isn't what Catholics believe. The entity of the Church that is always right is called the Magisterium. The Magisterium is not a person or an office. It is the teaching authority of the church, held by no one person. It is made up of every current bishop in the Catholic church, including the current Bishop of Rome, also know as the Pope. The only time that these people are infallible is when they are using the power of the Magisterium. So, if a bishop of the Church tells someone they are an unforgivable sinner and not going to heaven, he is not only seriously out of line and wrong, he is not infallible. In the preface of Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI, he explicity states that the book is not written from the Magisterium, meaning that his conclusions and opinions stated therein are not infallible, and that Catholics need not agree with or support them. The Magisterium only endorses those beliefs that come about from years of study of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Those beliefs are infallible, and the ones all Catholics are beholden to.

Q: Why is the Pope so important?
A: First, you must understand why we have a Pope. Christ chose St. Peter to lead the Church on Earth. From this, the early church leaders gathered that it was important that there be a representative, or vicar, of Christ on Earth. If this wasn't important, then why did Christ choose one?
So, the Papal office was established. Currently, the pope is selected through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which is shown by the votes of the Cardinals to elect a priest of the church, generally one of their own. The important point here is that he is chosen by the Holy Spirit, through the bishops, which means that God chooses the pope through divine inspiration. This is why the election of a pope can take so much time. If you have ever tried to discern God's Will, you know that it is a time-consuming task, because we are only human, and must learn to tell the difference between what comes from God, what comes from society, and what comes from satan. All of these things influence all of our decisions, every day, and the important decisions are influence moreso. One of the most important decisions in the Catholic church is the election of the Pope, and it is an enormous burden, so it takes time. The Cardinals want to be sure they fully understand God's Will before they select the person who will rule the Church until the end of their life or their abdication under God's direction.

The second statement
Q: Does this mean that you believe only Catholics are going to heaven?
A: No, absolutely not. All it means is that I believe the Catholic Church was the church Jesus established on Earth, following God's Will. I believe that God meant for the Catholic Church to be the only church (catholic means universal), and for believers to be united.

Q: What about Martin Luther? Do you think his points were valid?
A: I am not familiar with all of Martin Luther's protestations against the Church, but yes, I do believe that some were valid. During his time, and before, the Church may have strayed from the true purpose that God meant for the Church when He established it. At the same time, I do not believe that all of his points were valid. It is also important to remember that not all of the Protestant churches were established with Martin Luther's break from the church, or from his church. I think the Anglican church, for example, was established when a king of England was upset that the Pope would now allow him to get an annulment so he could marry someone else. Malachai 2:16 makes God's attitude toward the concept of divorce very clear.
"For I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong," says the LORD of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously." This is what the Catholic attitude toward divorce and annulment comes from, but that's another topic entirely.

Q: Do you believe that only Catholics can do godly and holy works?
A: No! To believe that would be to suggest that the power of God is limited by humans. No human can do a godly and holy work without the power of God. If only Catholics could do such works, then God could only work through Catholics. There is nothing that God cannot do, so to say that he can only work through Catholics is blasphemy. That is the logic behind this standpoint, but the other reasons include watching my Protestant and non-Christian friends do good and holy things for each other and for strangers, learning from people of all faiths (and even those without), and working alongside many people who do not share my faith for the betterment of those less fortunate and to spread the message that God loves everyone, no matter where they currently are or what they currently believe.

I hope that this post has enlightened some about the Magisterium and the Catholic Church. If you have any other questions about the Church, whether or not they pertain to the statements I made earlier, please feel free to ask them. I love to share my faith. I would love it if I could clear up some misunderstandings about the Catholic faith and religion. Just leave me a comment, and I will get back to you.

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