Background: This email is about the need to trust in God's Word alone, because spiritual leaders can guide us yet still err in their teachings. Below is my response to an ongoing discussion initiated by some Opus Dei members reaching out to several people including myself.
Dear XXX…and everyone who will reach this email:
“The Bereans were more open-minded than the people in Thessalonica. They listened to the message with great eagerness, and every day they studied the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was really true.” Paul and the Bereans submitted themselves to God’s Word. The Bereans did not follow Paul blindly --- they followed God through Paul.
We are thankful for our spiritual leaders for guiding us toward God. My only point in this entire discussion is to make sure that we are being led towards God and not farther away. Bible-believing Christians point to the Bible as the gold standard to test everything else. But since I am talking to people who either (a) don’t believe the Bible or (b) say they believe the Bible but surrender their reason to other authorities, let’s go to more common ground: history. Here are excerpts from the speech of a Catholic bishop who opposed turning papal infallibility into a dogma:
"Well, venerable brethren, here history raises its voice to assure us that some popes have erred. You may protest against it or deny it, as you please, but I will prove it. Pope Victor (192) first approved of Montanism, and then condemned it. Marcellinus (296-303) was an idolater. He entered into the temple of Vesta, and offered incense to the goddess. You will say that it was an act of weakness; but I answer, a vicar of Jesus Christ dies rather than become an apostate. Liberius (358) consented to the condemnation of Athanasius, and made a profession of Arianism, that he might be recalled from his exile and reinstated in his see. Honorius (625) adhered to Monothelitism: Father Gratry has proved it to demonstration. Gregory I (590-604) calls any one Antichrist who takes the name of Universal Bishop, and contrariwise Boniface III, (607,8) made the parricide Emperor Phocas confer that title upon him. Paschal II (1099-1118) and Eugenius III (1145-53) authorized dueling; Julius II (1509) and Pius IV (1560) forbade it. Eugenius IV (1431-39) approved of the Council of Basle and the restitution of the chalice to the church of Bohemia; Pius II (1458) revoked the concession. Hadrian II (867-872) declared civil marriages to be valid; Pius VII (1800-23) condemned them. Sixtus V (1585-90) published an edition of the Bible, and by a bull recommended it to be read; Pius VII condemned the reading of it. Clement XIV (1769-74) abolished the order of the Jesuits, permitted by Paul III, and Pius VII reestablished it.
"But why look for such remote proofs? Has not our holy Father here present, in his bull which gave the rules for this Council, in the event of his dying while it was sitting, revoked all that in past times may be contrary to it, even when that proceeds, from the decisions of his predecessors? And certainly, if Pius IX has spoken ex cathedra, it is not when, from the depths of his sepulcher, he imposes his will on the sovereigns of the church. I should never finish, my venerable brethren, if I were to put before your eyes the contradictions of the popes in their teaching. If then you proclaim the infallibility of the actual pope, you must either prove, that which is impossible - that the popes never contradicted each other - or else you must declare that the Holy Spirit has revealed to you that the infallibility of the papacy only dates from 1870. Are you bold enough to do this?
"Perhaps the people may be indifferent, and pass by theological questions which they do not understand, and of which they do not see the importance; but though they are indifferent to principles, they are not so to facts. Do not then deceive yourselves. If you decree the dogma of papal infallibility, the Protestants, our adversaries, will mount in the breach, the more bold that they have history on their side, whilst we have only our own denial against them. What can we say to them when they show up all the bishops of Rome from the days of Luke to his holiness Pius IX? Ah! if they had all been like Pius IX, we should triumph on the whole line; but alas! it is not so.
[Cries of 'Silence, silence; enough, enough!']
"Do not cry out, Monsignori! To fear history is to own yourselves conquered; and, moreover, if you made the whole waters of the Tiber pass over it, you would not cancel a single page. Let me speak, and I will be as short as it is possible on this most important subject. - Pope Vigilius (538) purchased the papacy from Belisarius, lieutenant of the Emperor Justinian. It is true that he broke his promise and never paid for it. Is this a canonical mode of binding on the tiara? The second Council of Chalcedon had formally condemned it. In one of its canons you read that 'the bishop who obtains his episcopate by money shall lose it and be degraded.' Pope Eugenius III (IV in original) (1145) imitated Vigilius. St. Bernard, the bright star of his age, reproves the pope, saying to him, 'Can you show me in this great city of Rome any one who would receive you as pope if they had not received gold or silver for it?'
My venerable brethren, will a pope who establishes a bank at the gates of the temple be inspired by the Holy Spirit? Will he have any right to teach the church infallibly? You know the history of Formosus too well for me to add to it. Stephen XI caused his body to be exhumed, dressed in his pontifical robes; he made the fingers which he used for giving the benediction to be cut off, and then had him thrown into the Tiber, declaring him to be a perjurer and illegitimate. He was then imprisoned by the people, poisoned, and strangled. Look how matters were re-adjusted; Romanus, successor of Stephen, and, after him, John X, rehabilitated the memory of Formosus.
"But you will tell me these are fables, not history. Fables! Go, Monsignori, to the Vatican Library and read Platina, the historian of the papacy, and the annals of Baronius (A.D. 897). These are facts which, for the honor of the Holy See, we should wish to ignore; but when it is to define a dogma which may provoke a great schism in our midst, the love which we bear to our venerable mother church, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman, ought it to impose silence on us?
"I go on. The learned Cardinal Baronius, speaking of the papal court, says (give attention, my venerable brethren, to these words), 'What did the Roman church appear in those days? How infamous! Only all-powerful courtesans governing in Rome! It was they who gave, exchanged, and took bishoprics; and horrible to relate, they got their lovers, the false popes, put on the throne of St. Peter' (Baronius, A.D. 912). You will answer, These were false popes, not true ones: let it be so; but in that case, if for fifty years the see of Rome was occupied by anti-popes, how will you pick up again the thread of pontifical succession? Has the church been able, at least for a century and a half, to go on without a head, and find itself acephalous?
"Look now: The greatest number of these anti-popes appear in a genealogical tree of the papacy; and it must have been this absurdity that Baronius described; because Genebrardo, the great flatterer of the popes, had dared to say in his Chronicles (A.D. 901), "This century is unfortunate, as for nearly 150 years the popes have fallen from all the virtues of their predecessors, and have become apostates rather than apostles.' I can understand how the illustrious Baronius must have blushed when he narrated the acts of these Roman bishops. Speaking of John XI (931), natural son of Pope Sergius and of Marozia, he wrote these words in his annals - The holy church, that is, the Roman, has been vilely trampled on by such a monster.' John XII (956) elected pope at the age of eighteen, through the influence of courtesans, was not one whit better than his predecessor.
"I grieve, my venerable brethren, to stir up so much filth. I am silent on Alexander VI, father and lover of Lucretia; I turn away from John XXII (1319), who denied the immortality of the soul, and was deposed by the holy Ecumenical Council of Constance. Some will maintain that this Council was only a private one; let it be so; but if you refuse any authority to it, as a logical sequence you must hold the nomination of Martin V (1417) to be illegal. What, then, will become of the papal succession? Can you find the thread of it?
"I do not speak of the schisms which have dishonored the church. In those unfortunate days the See of Rome was occupied by two competitors, and sometimes even by three. Which of these was the true pope? Resuming once more, again I say, if you decree the infallibility of the present bishop of Rome, you must establish the infallibility of all the preceding ones, without excluding any. But can you do that, when history is there establishing with a clearness equal to that of the sun, that the popes have erred in their teaching? Could you do it and maintain that avaricious, incestuous, murdering, simoniacal popes have been vicars of Jesus Christ? Oh, venerable brethren! to maintain such an enormity would be to betray Christ worse than Judas. It would be to throw dirt in His face. [Cries, 'Down from the pulpit, quick; shut the mouth of the heretic!']
A, thank you for your concern. You seek only to reach out to me and hope that I listen to what you have to say, even including a frowning face. How would you feel if, instead of listening to you, I just google the standard arguments against what you’re saying?
But is this not how some people treat the Holy Spirit? God the Holy Spirit reaches out to each of us, but some would rather just listen to the interpretations of their leaders. Surely the leaders are expected to defend themselves. The followers would then say, “Why, I see no reason for my church to be in error.” I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that they have closed their eyes.
We say that God is Truth, and that truth will prevail. Then why not face the claims made by others outside your faith, instead of relying on interpretation upon interpretation? “You search...but you refuse to come to Me for eternal life.”
A, you say you surrender your reason to the Catholic Church. Why stop there? Wouldn’t it be better to surrender to God instead? Yet even God’s main commandment is to love God with your entire mind, and the rest of yourself. By closing your mind, you are dishonoring your Creator. The truth is, you open your mind to the Catholic Church but close your mind to the Bible. You listen to the interpreters but don't listen to the Word. You tell yourself your mind is limited…while doing your postdoctoral work in physics.
B says faith and reason go together, and I agree. He warns that I might end up like Paul --- actually I already have. Saul persecuted a faith different from his, until Jesus revealed Himself to him. Saul then realized that his rich ancestral lines, his impeccable training, and his clean record are nothing compared to who Christ is and what God did for him. The new “Paul” then preached the good news of grace (undeserved goodness) and boasted not in his credentials but in the one thing that can save: Christ’s sacrifice.
In the same way, I left my self-righteous old ways and let God do the work in me, and through me. Far from being a threat or an insult, upon reading the Bible you’ll see that comparing me to Paul is a compliment. So thank you...numerary? :) And I sincerely hope you end up like Paul too :)
Thanks also, B, for the books you recommended. May I recommend the Bible. For scientists, nobody gets a PhD (creating/discovering for oneself) without going through the core courses (the basics). I hope Opus Dei numeraries do the same.
As for being a parrot…In the past, we (A, B, and I) parroted many sexually profane jokes. What changed? I read from the Bible that only God can save me, and He can restore me as His princess and bride. All I need to do was ask. I asked, and I was changed. Now, I happily parrot the Bible and continue to live it, because I’ve already confirmed it in my life. :)
What about you?
Catholics, atheists, agnostics....To all who read this, I ask only that you keep your mind open. Do not be afraid of the truth --- listen to people other than yourself; test the claims that other people are making. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
And I will not rest my case. :)