"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Friday, July 08, 2005

Who is the authority?

In the longest thread ever generated over at Dr. Phil Blosser's main blog, somebody posed the following question to a "progressive" priest: What does the term 'orthodox Catholic' mean to you? Without waiting for the rather beseiged priest's reply, I posted a comment on that question. I want to re-post it here.

"That's pretty much the salient question for all thinking Catholics today. Hence it is worth asking not only Fr. O'Leary but everybody across the spectrum. Indeed it is but the specification, periodically revived in Church history, of the broader question constituting the basic controversy of creation itself: "Who is the authority?"

In illo tempore, Lucifer's pride led him to answer that question wrongly, thus leading to his rebellion and downfall. In his envy, rage, and self-deluded hope, he caused our first parents to fall too. That inaugurated the problem to which the solution is the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of God the Son. We await only that return to bring all to glorious fruition. In the meantime, however, the presence of Christ in the world is focused in the Eucharist, his actual body and blood, and extended outward through those who gather round to celebrate it: the Bride of Christ, the Church, which as his bride is one body with him. The visible authority in that Church, to whom the invisible divine authority has been delegated, is the college of bishops in union with their head, the pope. They have such authority not just to govern but to teach. To be an "orthodox" Catholic is just to submit to that authority by trusting implicitly whatever it teaches definitively and irreformably. That is the only acceptable answer, in both theory and practice, to the question: "Who is the authority?"

The scandal of ambiguity in the answers of Christians to that question manifests itself both in the divisions of Christendom and in how the conflict of today's ideology of personal autonomy (non serviam) with the countervailing, salvific truth plays out between and among Catholics themselves. One stark illustration of that among American Catholics is the opposed philosophical views of Justices Kennedy, author of the majority opinion, and Scalia, dissenting, in the Court's Lawrence v Texas (2003) decision striking down state anti-sodomy laws. Another is the difference between a Fr. Richard McBrien and a Cardinal Avery Dulles. Catholics in general, as distinct from the new pope, no longer speak with one voice to the world but with a cacophony of essentially old disputes that have already been resolved in principle. Many either don't care or don't listen because they have answered the specific question wrongly even if they profess the right answer to the general one. Thus they unwittingly follow the primordial lead of the Enemy. The only solution is to make clear what is at stake so that more people will be motivated to do the opposite."
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