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Archive for May, 2012


The Vicar

Two weeks ago I met with the Vicar at our local parish, I always enjoy spending time with the good Fr. He’s very orthodox in his faith, has a degree in philosophy and theology, and he enjoys a good discussion about faith.

But this time I had a real surprise for him, I told him that I was considering leaving the Catholic faith, and moving into the Eastern Orthodox church. To his credit he only paused for a moment before beginning to ask questions, and find out what was driving my decision. After a lengthy discussion covering a whole spectrum of issue, we  finally got down to the following issues, listed in order of precedence:


1. Papal and Magisterial Infallibility.

2. Universal Authority given to the Papacy in the Gospel of Matthew as taught by the church.

3. Dogmatizing The Assumption of Mary, and The Immaculate Conception.

4. The Churches stance on contraception and Natural Family Planning.

5. What I agreed to without full understanding when I was confirmed.

The conversation covered many other topics, but none really worth writing about in much detail. We talked about the Filoque and what it means from both the Catholic and the Orthodox perspective, liturgical abuses that still take place (even in our own parish), the sorry state of the RCIA programs.

The first issue on the list is the single most important, on it actually rest all the other issues. We discussed church history, and how I could find no real reference in the writings of the church fathers to bolster the Catholic case for infallibility or universal authority for the papacy. Because of other commitments, he handed me a number of books he used when going through the seminary to become a priest, and I promised to read through them and we would meet back up and continue our discussion. We both agreed that if the Schism could be repaired none of this would be needed, but I’ve come to believe that will never happen until Christs return (more on that in a bit).

The three books where on the Magisterium, the councils of the church, and one called ‘All Things Catholic’. I started on the Magisterium book first, while I don’t deny the magisterium as some do. I do not believe that it can be proven to be infallible, I hold the same view with the Papacy. I believe in the primacy of the petrine position, and that each bishop receives the promise given to Peter in Matthew 15. The Papacy played an important role in the early church in regards to protecting dogma, but I have never found any evidence that the Papacy was given universal authority to make dogmatic statements outside of an ecumenical council.

The book I started with is written by Francis A. Sullivan, and while reading through the book, I ran into a section that made me stop and go back to make sure that I had read what he stated was correct. In discussing the authority of the Papacy, he clearly states that up until 1032, when the schism between east and west happened. That the doctrine of Papal authority ONLY existed with the Roman church, and that even when the Papacy made decrees ex cathedra, that the Eastern churches would not accept such declarations until a ecumenical council was held and the decree could be validated against both the deposit of faith, and scripture.

Wait, What?

Here is a Catholic admitting the very thing I’ve been saying all along, that the early church DID NOT, in any way shape or form support the doctrine of divine Papal authority to decree doctrine unilaterally. He also states very clearly something I had never considered before, that after 1032, when the west was no longer being held to account by the East, the doctrine of Papal authority began to to expand quickly.

I had never considered that the union of East and West was a good counterbalance, but he’s right. The seat of Peter being the universal position of power in the church, is NOT taught in the deposit of faith. If it was then the East either discerned it incorrectly or the Apostles made a mistake. Instead what I’ve seen from history is that the East steadfastly held that the authority of the Papacy did not extend universally, and that unlike the decrees of Vatican I, the Papacy DID not have authority to unilaterally make dogmatic decisions. Only when the Papacy AND the bishops met in a truly ecumenical council could such decisions be made.

I had to stop and smile, I know the Vicar was hoping that the book would clear up the issue for me, instead the author in being truthful made the very case I’ve been making all along. Then he asks a question that I was hoping he would get too:

How can we be confident that the Catholic understanding of papal doctrinal authority is a correct insight into what is implicit in the ‘petrine ministry’?
I would say that our confidence is ultimately based on our belief that the Church of Christ is indefectible in its faith, and that it subsists in the Catholic Church. When the Catholic Church accepted papal authority to define dogmas, it was making a judgement about a norm of its faith. A Church that is indefectible in its faith cannot be mistaken about the very norm of its faith. [Magisterium, Francis A. Sullivan, Wipf And Stock Publishers, Pg 77]

 Two things about this statement, by the time the Church decreed as doctrine, infallibility it was no longer the original Catholic Church, it had long since lost the East and the balance that they brought to such decisions. And I would say that she no longer can be called the ‘One True Catholic Church’, without the East, the Church is missing a key component and no longer has any real accountability other than whatever doctrinal development that the Church decrees as core to the dogma of the faith. That’s a harsh statement, but one that I don’t see any way around, the Church believes that both the Assumption of Mary, and the Immaculate Conception are dogmatic, not because the Church can prove them explicitly.  But because over centuries of theologians, and the Magisterium working through the belief, that they where guided by the Holy Spirit to finally be able to conclude that they could authoritatively make those beliefs, even without Apostolic teaching on the matter, dogmatic.

This development of doctrine concept, when combined with the break at 1032, was a slippery slope that allowed the church to slowly move away from the structure of the first millennium, into one where doctrine is no longer accountable. It should concern Catholics that an infallible Papacy and Magisterium, had to declare themselves as infallible in 1870, and not during the first seven ecumenical councils. If such a drastic doctrine is TRULY inspired, then why declare it only after almost two thousand years?. I’ve heard the argument that the Church was forced to do so, because of the protestant revolution, but the doctrine of Papal authority can be seen as being challenged as early as the second century. So that argument doesn’t wash.

To be fair, I’m now reading through the book where he talks about infallibility and breaks it down. And maybe yet he can make a case, and I will finally see the light. I’m trying to keep an open mind, because I could be wrong, but the fact that the Church made both the Assumption, and the Immaculate Conception to be dogmatic, meaning that to be a Christian I HAVE to believe them. Well, that’s a bigger problem than even infallibility. To be clear Orthodox believe in the Assumption (they call it the Dormition), and the Immaculate Conception requires a discussion of original sin, which honestly I don’t have time to address here, but I will at a future point. But you don’t have to believe them to be Orthodox, which is the way it should be.

I’ve made my position clear on contraception, that I believe that in a marriage with medical or external reasons for not having more children, that the Orthodox position is much more grace filled than what you will find with a truly orthodox priest. The point that we did argue on was Natural Family Planning, Catholics just can’t seem to admit that it’s used for contraception. I get that it can be used to conceive, and that’s a GOOD thing. But there is no difference between a married couple using a condom, and using NFP to achieve the same result of no children, sorry there’s no way to spin that one.

I’m reading through this book pretty quickly, and will meet with the Vicar again very soon. As stated before, I still love the Catholic Church, I wish that the schism could be fixed. But that would mean the decree of 1870 would have to be revoked, and that would mean that the whole thing was a mistake. That’s not happening anytime soon…

I cannot in good faith, be forced to believe that the immaculate conception actually took place as taught in the Catholic Faith. And especially that it is an issue of salvation as stated in the decree given by the Papal office. Which means that I don’t believe that office be infallible, it’s all connected. That’s a deal breaker, because the Church has deemed that it has the right after almost two thousand years to change the dogma of the faith. I can’t abide with that, and so it’s East that I continue to go.