Recently, "The Christian News (April 5th, 1993), edited by Herman J. Otten, printed my article, "The Bible Is Not the Ultimate Authority." Therein I had noted that it IS the Catholic Church that is the "ultimate authority" in religious matters since without the Catholic Church as an infallible divine authority giving witness, no one living thousands of years after the Old and New Testaments were written could possibly know with certitude:

  1. that there is such a thing as a "Bible";
  2. that it contains 73 books (recall that Protestants lack seven of these books);
  3. that all 73 are divinely inspired and inerrant; and,
  4. the true meaning of scriptural texts (which remain hotly disputed).

I added that 16th-century Catholic apologists correctly perceived that Protestantism masked an illogical fideism which led directly to infidelity and unbelief regarding divine Revelation. Today we certainly see the utter intellectual bankruptcy of Protestantism as it has dissolved into an agnostic or even atheistic liberalism. A credible belief in a 'Bible' demands a rule of faith external to it and guaranteeing its exact content, inspiration, and proper interpretation. That external rule of faith is the visible Catholic Church which was founded by Christ Himself (cf. Matt. 16:18 ff.).

It is interesting to observe how Protestants fail to recognize that the revealed truths of Christianity are fully known to believers only through their transmission by the teaching authority (Magisterium) of the Catholic Church, i.e., the Pope and bishops as the successors of the Apostles and gifted with the charism of teaching, governing, and sanctifying the People of God.

In rejecting the Church's hierarchical structure, Protestants are left with subjecting the truth or falsity of dogmas to their own private understanding of "the Scriptures" or on their own evaluation of a certain dogma's "reasonableness" or "unreasonableness."

Conveniently forgotten is the truth that "the Scriptures" constitute the Sacred Book of the Church and that they contain things "hard to understand which the unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction" (II Pet. 3:16). The history of scriptural exegesis shows the fantasies indulged in not only by arrogant "modern scholars" who deny practically every key doctrine of historical Christianity but also by such pathological sectarians as Jim Jones or David Koresh. The essence of every species of Protestantism is the denial of the Catholic Church as a divine religion, which, like her Master, speaks "with authority."

Having established His Church as a visible society upon the Rock-foundation of Peter, Jesus Christ declared that the gates of Hell (or the "jaws of death" or the forces of evil) would never prevail against it.

If words mean anything, these words of the Lord of History certainly imply the Church's perpetual retention of the truths taught it. The Church can never become so corrupt as to betray her divine commission. For the Church (One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic) was commissioned by Christ to "teach all nations whatever I have commanded you." To this same Church was given the Spirit of Christ Who is the source of the Church's incorruption in faith and morals.

The basic falsehood promoted by separated churches and sectarians is that the historic Catholic Church became doctrinally corrupt at some time or other, though they all contradict one another as to whether such corruption occurred in the third, fourth, seventh, tenth, thirteenth, or sixteenth century.

To declare that the visible Church established by Christ (at the price of His Precious Blood shed on Calvary) became at any time doctrinally corrupt is to make a liar of Christ and His sanctifying Spirit.

With respect to the Church's indispensable role as the interpreter of Holy Writ, Protestants engaged in endless polemics against various teachings of the Catholic Church could not do better than to meditate on the following words of a doctor of the Church who had an unparalleled knowledge of Scripture. St. Francis de Sales wrote this beautiful "Letter to a Gentleman" in 1619, expressing facts which have brought many to finally embrace the Catholic Church as the "Pillar and Ground of the Truth" (I Tim. 3:15):

...It is very true that Holy Scripture contains a very clear statement of the doctrine necessary for your salvation and I never thought the contrary. It is also true that relating various passages one to another and reducing the whole to an analogy of the faith is a very good method of interpreting Holy Scripture; and this too I have always maintained.

At the same time, I most firmly believe and shall not cease to declare that in spite of the admirable and lovely clarity of the Scriptures in the matter of things necessary to salvation, the human mind does not always find out their true meaning but can err and in fact very often does err in understanding those passages which are most clear and most necessary for establishing the faith: Witness Lutheran errors and Calvinist books which under the conduct of the fathers of the Reformation, so-called, remain in irreconcilable contradiction on the meaning of the words of institution of the Eucharist; and although each side prides itself on having carefully and faithfully examined the meaning of these words by relating and comparing them with other passages in the Scriptures and adjusting the whole to the analogy of faith, they nevertheless continue to differ completely in their way of understanding words of such paramount importance.

Holy Scripture is therefore clear in its words; but the mind of man is dark, and like an owl, it cannot see such a clear light. The method described above is very good, but the human mind does not know how to apply it.

It is God's Spirit, Sir, which gave us the Scriptures, and it is this same Spirit which gives us their real meaning, and gives it only to His Church, "the Pillar and Ground of the Truth"; the Church by the ministry of which this divine Spirit guards and maintains His truth, that is to say, the real meaning of the word; the Church which alone has the infallible help of the Spirit of Truth in finding the truth rightly, surely, and infallibly in God's word.

So that anyone who looks for the truth of this heavenly word outside the Church which is its guardian will never find it; and if anyone wants to know it except by the ministry of the Church he will be espousing a vain cause instead of truth; instead of the sure light of the sacred word he will be following the will o' the wisp of that false angel who disguises himself as an angel of light.

This is what all heretics have always done on the pretext of having a better understanding of Scripture and of wanting to reform the Church, seeking the truth in vain away from the bosom of the Bride to whose keeping the celestial Bridegroom has confided it as to a faithful trustee and guardian. She will distribute it to the dear children of their rightful marriage, which is without stain and will be so forever.

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
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