In honor of Reformation Day, I am once again submitting my Papal complaint.
The primary reason that Catholics believe God provided the Roman Catholic Church as an infallible authority is for unity. Christ prayed in the upper room that His people would be one (John 17:21-22). This unification Christ prayed for would most certainly involve some degree of doctrinal solidarity. For the Catholic, the Magisterial authority made up of the Pope and the congregation of bishops along with the Pope serve to keep the peace and unity. In each contemporary situation, if there are issues of doctrine or morals that are causing division, the Magisterium is able to step in and make clear and binding statements of truth concerning the particular issue. Whether it is the issue of birth control or the reality of Hell, the Magisterium will draw from tradition and Scripture and infallibly reveal the truth. Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium; these are the three legs of the Catholic stool that give stability.
From the standpoint of the Catholic, the Magisterium holds the sole right to interpret the “deposit of faith.” This deposit is made up of Scripture and Tradition. Both are given by Christ to the Apostles. The Apostles in turn handed this deposit and authority to others forming an unbroken chain of “apostolic secession.” The Pope resides as the supreme authority as his secession is traced back to Peter, to whom were given the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19).
Since the Magisterium, headed by the Pope, has been handed this deposit of faith and authority, they alone can interpret Scripture with fidelity. In other words, if there is an issue about the interpretation of Scripture, private interpretation is not an option. While Catholics can read Scripture, they are not allowed to interpret it independently.
Contemporary issues that cause division within the church are many. People are divided over inerrancy, the gift of tongues, Open Theism, women in ministry, gay marriage, and many others. While these are significant and divisive, without question the issue that has caused more division in the church over the last century, Catholic or Protestant, is the issue of evolution. The last two blogs on it I posted have gone over 300 and 1000 comments.
While this is a scientific issue, it is also interpretive. How do we understand the early chapters of Genesis? Did God create the earth in six literal days or did He use an evolutionary process taking billions of years? How are we to interpret the word “day” in Genesis 1? Are there gaps in the genealogies? Did the snake really talk? Were Adam and Eve real people or symbolic representations of mankind in general? Those who take a more conservative approach, such as John MacArthur, say that the stakes cannot be higher. Some will say that if you allow for evolution, you have denied the inspiration of Scripture. Others will go so far as to say that if you don’t believe in a young earth, you have denied the reality of sin. The other side battles to protect their scientific integrity by offering alternative interpretations to the creation narrative. Whether it be the day-age theory, gaps in genealogies, or some sort of accommodating language hermeneutic, from their standpoint there are ways for them to interpret Genesis in a way that harmonizes with current scientific trends.
Either way, this issue is as divisive as any issue in the history of the church. The lines have been drawn. The questions is, can Rome come in and fulfill its primary purpose? Can the Magisterium draw from the deposit of faith and interpret the Scripture so that this matter is settled, bringing unity to this religious anarchy among those who claim Christ?
In 1996 Pope John Paul II did step in. This is what he had to say:
“Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical [Humani Generis], new knowledge has led to the recognition in the theory of evolution of more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory” (Message to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences [Oct. 22, 1996] 4. (emphasis mine)
“More than a hypothesis?” Is that it? Is that supposed to bring unity to the Church? With all the authority of his seat, with keys in hand, and shod with the authoritative hermeneutic of peace, the Pope clears the air by saying that evolution is “more than a hypothesis.” I want my money back! Continue Reading →