St. Peter in Chains Cathedral EntrywayThere are an unfortunate number of public figures, predominantly of the sort who sit in the nation’s capital, who call themselves Catholic, but who probably strike you as failing to actually exhibit the necessary qualities of a Catholic adult.  Now, be not confused; these qualities are not simply the elements of spiritual maturity.  To be immature in one’s faith does not negate the Catholic moniker.  But let me assure you, to be a Catholic requires something that many are lacking.  So, despite a person’s ardent declaration of his Catholic identity, if he is lacking this characteristic, you need not feel any hesitation in identifying him as a non-Catholic.

Yes, there is a Litmus Test

It’s about authority; it has always been about authority.  When an adult is received into the Catholic Church, in the Rite of Confirmation, the candidate is asked to affirm a statement declaring “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God” (RCIA 491).  Now, the truly interesting thing is that no individual knows all of those things.  No one person, save God Himself, is fully cognizant of all that the Church holds to be revealed by God.  (HACS Alum Stacy Trasancos recently alluded to this.)  This is a practical matter; nobody has that capacity.  No pope, saint, or theologian has plumbed the depths of what has been revealed.  One need only consider the fact that the issue of in vitro fertilization was all but inconceivable a hundred years ago.  Even the Church will affirm this, because although she is the authority, the fullness of time has not fleshed out all of the meanings and ramifications of the deposit of faith.

This reality is one of the reasons why you cannot have Christianity, you cannot have Catholicism, apart from the Church.  But here especially, you cannot have it apart from the Magisterium.  You cannot have Catholicism–that is, the fullness of faith–apart from authority.  Therefore, uttering those words, declaring “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God,” when you do not even know all that those words encompass is to say, “I believe and will believe whatever the Church tells me to believe.”  The one who speaks those words is announcing to God, to the Church, and to the world, that he is choosing to submit himself to the authority of the Catholic Church.  It is a choice to recognize and acknowledge the Catholic Church as THE authority on all matters of faith and morality.

Part of my conversion

In my own battle to discover the truth, this was an enormous revelation.  During my Protestant years (birth-22), I was so bothered by the incongruencies when friends or pastors would talk about authority.  They might quote, for example, St. Paul’s letter to the Romans about being subject to the authority that God has placed over you.  But it all fell flat!

There was not one person I knew who would honestly say, “You need permission before leaving the church you’re in.”  All would agree that every person is free to leave their little (or mega) community and go join the one down the street, the next town over, or wherever.  Yet if that’s the case, you are choosing–in a sense, you are creating–the authority.  It becomes a form of democracy, a fact that is illustrated by the reality that most Protestant pastors can be voted out (usually by trustees).  Moreover, there is then not one authority but thousands.  It boiled down to, “Respect the authority God put over you, but if you don’t like who God put over you, substitute a new one.”

Furthermore, to say that you must respect the authority that God put over you is to say that there is but one authority over all of us!  God did not put thousands of authorities over us, for to do so would have been to divide His own house.  It is possible to have many individuals united in authority, but not many authorities with teachings at variance with one another.  Unity does not exclude multiplicity, but division.  (Granted, variance existed in the early Church, but only for as long as it took for the pope or the college of bishops to settle the matter.  There would be no heresies if there never existed a Magisterium with the authority to definitively declare what is truth.)

Where this leaves us

Returning to that declaration above, those words are, then, not so much a declaration of faith as they are a declaration of one’s allegiance to the Catholic Church and to her teaching authority.  Those words express a recognition that the Catholic Church is my authority, not because of anything I have done, but because Jesus Himself made it so when He gave authority to Peter and the apostles and established His one Church.  And this is where you have the power to discern between Catholics and non-Catholics.  Simply ask, “Does this person recognize and submit to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church?”

You will serve one master, for you cannot serve two.  That being the case, there is only one master on this earth who stands in, who is vicar, for our true Master in heaven, and that master on earth is the Catholic Church.  If you submit to this gracious master, you are Catholic.  If, instead, you refuse to give assent to all of her teachings, you are not Catholic.

Lest anyone think that this is mere opinion, I offer the following, brief, remarks:

Q: What differentiates Protestants from Catholics?
A: A whole host of issues as varied as the absurd number of denominations, not least of all is the near total lack of valid sacraments.

Q: What differentiates the Orthodox from Catholics?
A: Since the Orthodox share greatly in Catholic theology, albeit with different language, and they validly celebrate all sacraments, the only substantial difference is their rejection of the supremacy of the See of Peter.

When everything else is valid and orthodox, and the only element lacking is a recognition of authority, you cease to be Catholic.  Moreover, any rejection of Catholic doctrine is an inescapable and implicit denial of Magisterial authority.  Either you “believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God,” or you step outside the Catholic Church.

The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.