Accepting Church Teaching by Faith

I participate in many online Catholic discussions, and I read many blog posts and Catholic websites. It is very disturbing to see how many Catholics reject or radically reinterpret Church teaching, because it is contrary to their own understanding. They believe their own opinions; they do not believe anything the Church teaches if it is beyond what they can understand, beyond what seems reasonable to their own minds. They live Catholicism by reason only, not by faith.

If you have a true and strong faith, then you will believe whatever the Magisterium teaches, even when it is contrary to your own understanding or judgment. If you have a strong and true faith, then you will believe whatever the Magisterium teaches, even when it is contrary to the majority opinion of society, or any group of your peers within Catholicism. But most Catholics are weak in faith, and so they reject any teaching that does not seem right to them. Or else they radically reinterpret that teaching, so that it seems to agree with their own point of view.

Examples

Pope Francis is going to teach some controversial but true doctrines at the Bishops Synod. These teachings will not seem right to many conservatives. Pope Francis is going to issue some controversial decision on discipline at the Synod, which will not seem right to many conservatives. Those who only trust in their own understanding, or in the majority opinion of the conservative or traditionalist subcultures, will fall away from the Church. They fall away because they lack faith in God, who protects every Pope from committing apostasy, heresy, or schism, and from teaching any grave error. They fall away because they do not live by faith in the teachings of the Church; they believe whatever their minds tell them is true, just like most persons in sinful secular society.

Is the problem Pope Francis? Not at all. Pope Saint John Paul II taught controversial true doctrines and made controversial changes to discipline. He swept away the 1917 (very conservative) Code of Canon Law, and replaced it with the much more liberal 1983 Code of Canon Law. He taught that persons can be in a state of grace and be saved even if they outwardly reject the Church. He taught the still controversial truth that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention and circumstances — a truth that many liberals and conservatives still reject.

The problem is pride. As time has passed since Vatican II, a reactionary conservative culture has developed, accelerated in recent years by the internet, and that culture speaks as if it determines truth, as if it judges Popes and Councils and all things. Many Catholics identify so strongly with the conservative or traditionalist subcultures that they will adhere to the teachings of that culture in contradiction to Popes and Councils. They denigrate the teachings of Vatican II. They ignore any magisterial teaching that seems liberal to them, or they radically reinterpret it. And they trust only in their own understanding of Catholicism, and that of their chosen peer-group online.

On the subject of intrinsically evil acts: the ordinary and universal Magisterium infallibly teaches that certain acts are inherently immoral (intrinsically illicit) due to an evil moral object. These acts are always immoral, regardless of the purpose for with the act was chosen (intention) and regardless of the circumstances and consequences. Most Catholics, liberal and conservative alike, reject this teaching. Some radically reinterpret the teaching, so that intention is claimed to be able to justify the act by changing the moral object (a claim directly contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium). They radically redefine each intrinsically evil act that they wish to justify, so that a good purpose or intention supposedly transforms the act, making it moral (a claim directly contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium). Why do they reject this teaching on intrinsically evil acts? It is because they do not live by faith, but by reason alone. So when a teaching is difficult to understand, they refuse to humble themselves to accept by faith what they have failed to understand by reason.

Humility and Faith

If you only believe Church teaching when it seems right to your own mind, you do not have the virtue of faith at all. Even an atheist will agree with a Church teaching, if that teaching just happens to be the same as his own opinion. Faith is belief in ideas beyond your own mind and heart. No matter how spiritual and holy your own ideas might seem to be, in your own judgment, you have no faith whatsoever if you are unable to believe teachings that conflict with your own understanding.

The virtue of humility is the right hand of Faith. If you never accept a teaching of the Pope, or a Council, or the Magisterium more generally, unless you understand that teaching and it makes sense to you, then you do not have faith. It is only pride that tells people to believe solely in what seems right to their own minds, and to reject or distort any teaching of the Church contrary to their own thinking. Only by humble prayer and a faith submissive to the Papal Magisterium will Catholics be able to avoid falling into schism and heresy.

My fellow Catholics: you will all be put to the test. The meek will inherit the true faith from the true Church. The arrogant will soon fall away. The humble have built their belief system on the rock that is faith in the teachings of the Church. The proud have built their belief system on the sand that is trust in their own minds and the opinions of their peers.

Go to Confession. Go to Mass. Pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Read the Bible. Accept those teachings of the Church that you have previously found difficult to accept. Reform your life. A storm is approaching, and the house of your belief system will crumble to the ground if it is not based on humble faith.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Accepting Church Teaching by Faith

  1. Michael says:

    Can a Catholic be considered invincibly ignorant under any of these circumstances you mentioned given that they should have been exposed to the truth as a member of the Church?

    • Ron Conte says:

      They could still be invincibly ignorant, because so many false teachers are promoting a wide range of theological errors, it is difficult to discern the truth. Sometimes false teachers radically reinterpret Church teaching, so that they can claim that their errors are actually just the correct understanding of doctrine.

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