All who believe that Christ is God and that the Gospels are authentic records of his teaching must accept his revelation in its entirety. All is God’s word. All is divine truth. Nobody has a right to say, “I do not like this,” “That is out of date,” “We must change that to fit in with modern conditions,” “I wish Christ had taught something else,” and such like. Whether the gospel doctrine commends itself or not, we must accept it because it is the word of infinite Truth. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). The Knox translation brings out the fuller meaning of the following passage from the Sermon on the Mount: “Whoever, then, sets aside one of these commandments, though it were the least, and teaches men to do the like, will be of least account in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19). God’s authority is an infinitely better guarantee of the truth and value of any point of revelation than fallible human reasoning.
Christ said that he sent his apostles in the same way as his Father had sent him. They were to continue his work. He gave them the power of binding and loosing. He commanded them to make disciples as he had done. He made Peter the shepherd in his own place. The apostles and their successors were given enough authority by Jesus Christ to discharge adequately their commission of converting the world.
Because the apostles’ teaching was divine revelation, it could not embrace any untruth. There must be untruth where there is contradiction. Doctrines that contradict one another cannot both be true. Therefore, there can be no contradictions in the teaching of the apostles and their successors. Moreover, because that teaching was to be accepted by faith, under pain of condemnation, the faith of the Church could never embrace or tolerate contradictions.
Some who have recognized this try to camouflage contradictions by the less unpleasant name of “tensions.” But they still remain contradictions. Our Lord promised to be with his Church until the end of time; he guaranteed that the Spirit of truth would be always present. Therefore, his promises were meant not only for the apostles but also for their successors as long as the world would last.
It is the fashion nowadays to have no time for dogmas. It is recognized that certain ethical doctrines—although there is much disagreement about precisely which ones—are good for society. But there is a fairly general revolt against accepting abstract dogmas like that of the Blessed Trinity. The sincere follower of Christ, though, knows that he must accept as divine truth everything that Christ revealed, including what is beyond human reasoning. Revelation was entrusted to the Church and the Spirit of truth given to the Church to guide it and keep it from error.
The fundamental problem, once you accept the divinity of Christ, is this: What sort of Church did Christ found? We might ask at once whether it is possible that the conception of the Church universally held for 1,500 years, even by those who separated themselves from unity, could be wrong. The traditional Catholic view, the only view supported by Scripture and the facts of history, is that Christ did in fact establish a visible, organized Church. It was a church under one head, with a hierarchy of bishops, priests, deacons, seven sacraments, worship centered in the sacrifice of the Mass, and a constitution which by divine right made the Church one in authority, one in worship, one in doctrine—catholic, holy, and apostolic.
Once this is appreciated, the Church’s efforts through 19 centuries to reunite those who have separated will be understood. There has never been the slightest deviation from the belief that the unity established by Christ and conferred by him through his prayer resides in the Church under the pope. Doctor after doctor and saint after saint has regarded those who denied the authority of the Church as heretics, as the branches that cut themselves off from the parent vine. Efforts at reunion ultimately mean their reconversion.
One admires in the World Council of Churches and all movements to unity the great emphasis on mutual charity. That is good, but charity must never be permitted to exclude or submerge truth. In his first epistle, John—immediately after one of the most sublime passages on charity in the New Testament—proceeded to warn his readers against precisely that thing: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Even love can be dangerous and falsified when it means countenancing untruth or regarding contradictories as equally true.
We Catholics love the work of the World Council of Churches insofar as it is a work of truth, insofar as its members are seeking the true mind of Christ. We believe that our separated brethren love truth sincerely. We would never presume to impute to them bad faith. If we did that we would be disobeying the command of Christ: “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37).
There is a state of mind that seems to regard this emphasis on truth as an abstract, rather irrelevant, difficulty. They say that the vital thing is to come together in worship, to pray together. Abstract truth at this stage is not important. In fact, someone did say, whether seriously or in jest, that theology is the root of all evils.
One has read press reports of speeches of eminent religious leaders warning others against being too dogmatic or placing too much importance upon little details like the apostolic succession. Truth should be the ruler of conscience. God’s law must govern conscience. We are never justified in following a course of action that implies contradiction with divine truth.
Thus, we Catholics admire enormously the deep love of our Lord we see in so many who are not of our Church. We appreciate their sincerity, their piety, their devotedness, and their high moral standards. But these things do not allow us to imperil our consciences or compromise truth that we believe is divinely revealed. The Holy Office said that the Holy Spirit has brought together searchers for unity, but the Holy Spirit will not support any deliberations that are not directed towards seeking the truth revealed by God.
We cannot shelve forever such questions as, is unity of doctrine necessary or is it not? You may say that ultimately it will be necessary, but for the present we should act as if it is not. That would be acting against the truth. In practice it would mean assuming that doctrines that contradict one another can both be true.
It is a fact of history that at the Reformation the Protestant churches split off from the Catholic Church. A new idea of the Church, which had not previously been accepted in either the East or the West, had to be evolved. If our separated brethren in this country were to ask us to reunite with them, we would regard that as an invitation to do just what they had done at the Reformation—that is, change the nature of the Church that Christ established, cut ourselves off from the true vine and the true body of Christ. We do not consider ourselves at liberty to alter the idea of the Church that was universally accepted for 1,500 years.
Not long ago, a vicar of the Church of England told me that he prayed every day that “the scales would fall from the eyes of Rome.” I asked him what he meant, and he replied that he regarded the Catholic Church as too exclusive, as being proud in claiming to be the one and only Church established by Christ.
I told him that he should never blame any individual for accepting a conception of the nature of the Church that he believed was divinely revealed. Nobody has yet proved that conception false. It is taught clearly in Scripture. All the great saints of Christendom accepted it—until the Reformation.