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Necessity of Instruction in the Catholic Faith: Part 8


Talk 8: Roman Catechism. THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

“The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 234). “The central mystery of the faith and of Christian life is the mystery of the most holy Trinity. Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 44).

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity can be summarized in the following four truths: 1. In the one divine Nature, there are three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. 2. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost is not the Father: no one of the Persons is either of the others. 3. The Father is God, the Son is God, The Holy Ghost is God. 4. There are not three Gods but one God.

We follow the explanation of Father Francis Spirago on the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity: “At the baptism of Jesus Christ all the three persons of the Blessed Trinity manifested themselves; the Father by a voice from heaven, the Son through His baptism, and the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove (Matt. iii. 16).

  1. The Blessed Trinity is one God in three persons.

The three persons are called Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

The number three is often found both in nature and in religion. There are three persons in the Holy Family; three parts in the sacraments (intention, matter, and form); Our Lord hung for three hours on the cross, and remained three days in the grave. He taught on earth for three years, and has the triple office of Prophet, Priest, and King. So in time there are past, present, and future; three kingdoms in creation, the material, the vegetable, and the animal worlds. The number four is also of frequent occurrence; there are four gospels, four cardinal virtues, four seasons of the year. The number seven is also common; there are seven days of the week, seven sacraments, seven works of mercy, seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, seven sacred orders ending in the priesthood, etc. Three is sometimes called the number of God, four the number of the world, by reason of the four continents, and seven represents the combination of the two.

  1. We cannot, with our feeble understanding, grasp the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, and it is therefore called a mystery.

We are unable to comprehend that there are three persons in God, yet only one God. He who gazes at the sun is dazzled by it; if he continues to gaze at it he loses his sight. So is it with the Blessed Trinity; he who inquires into it is dazzled. He who refuses to believe in it because he does not understand it, is like a blind man, who will not believe in the existence of the sun because he cannot see it. How many things there are in nature that we cannot understand! We cannot understand the growth of plants, trees, and animals; we cannot understand the nature of electricity and magnetism. We cannot understand how the color red is formed by the vibration of the ether at the rate of one hundred and thirty millions of vibrations in a second, or violet by double that number. To count the vibrations of the ether that take place in one second in the forming of the color violet, we should have to go on counting for more than ten thousand years without ceasing either day or night. Much less can we understand what belongs to God. Jeremias says, “Great art Thou, O Lord, in counsel, and incomprehensible in thought” (Jer. xxxii. 19). “No one understands what Thou art, O God, except Thou Thyself.” We can, however, understand something of the nature of the Blessed Trinity by comparing it with certain facts of nature which in some way correspond to and illustrate it. The flames of three candles placed together form but one flame; the white light can be divided into red, yellow, and blue rays, which, however, together form but one light. The orb of the sun, its light, and its heat, are three different things, which are at the same time really one. The soul of man contains memory, understanding, and will, which are but different manifestations of the same spiritual substance. Yet all these are but imperfect analogies, and cannot carry us very far in attempting to understand something of the in comprehensible mystery of the Blessed Trinity. Unbelievers sometimes say: “How is it possible that three can be one, and one three?” They show that they do not know what the teaching of the Church really is. “They blaspheme those things that they know not” (Jude 10) . The Church does not say there are three persons and one person, but there are three persons, and one nature or essence.

  1. The nature, the attributes, and the works of the three persons of the Blessed Trinity are common to all of them.

There are therefore not three gods, but one God.

The Father is therefore different from the Son, because He is a different person; but He has not a different being, because He has the same nature.

For this reason each of the three persons is, in exactly the same sense, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, and absolutely perfect, as are the other two.

When Our Lord spoke of His return to the Father, He said, “My Father is greater than I” (John xiv. 28). Here He was speaking of Himself as man; else He could not have spoken of His return to the Father.

Hence the creation of the world, the redemption and the sanctification of men is wrought by all the three divine persons together.

Yet we are accustomed to say: “The Father made the world, the Son redeemed it, and the Holy Ghost sanctifies it.”

  1. The three divine persons are divided only in their origin.

In a tree the trunk comes forth from the root, and from both comes the fruit. Such is the relation between the three divine persons.

God the Father has no origin and proceeds from no other person; God the Son proceeds from the Father; God the Holy Ghost proceeds both from the Father and from the Son.

In order to mark the order of procession, we name the Father first, the Son second, and the Holy Ghost third. But there is no succession in time; the Son proceeds from the Father from all eternity, and so does the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son. The Son is begotten of the Father before all creation. The Father produced, by an act of divine knowledge, the Son as an image like to Himself in all things, just as we, when we think, produce an intellectual image in our minds. We may illustrate this by the relation existing between fire and light. Light proceeds from fire, but is contemporaneous with it. If there were an eternal fire, there would also be an eternal light. The Son is the brightness of God’s glory (Heb. i. 3), the unspotted image of His majesty (Wisd. vii. 26). Just as one torch is kindled from another, without the first losing any of its light, so the Son is begotten of the Father, without taking anything away from Him. The Son is called the Word of the Father (John i. 1). Just as the word formed in our minds (the thought) is made manifest by the external or spoken word, so the Word of God, dwelling in the bosom of the Father, was made manifest to the world when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John i. 14). As the Son has His origin in the knowledge of God, so the Holy Ghost has His origin in the love of God. The Holy Ghost is none other than the mutual love of the Father and the Son. He is the Spirit of love, who engenders in our hearts the love of God and of each other. The word spirit is well chosen, because by it we express the attractiveness and the force of love: The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son, as warmth proceeds from the sun and its light.

On account of the difference in their origin we appropriate to the Father the works of omnipotence, to the Son the works of wisdom, and to the Holy Ghost the works of love.

These various works have a certain correspondence with the attributes of the persons, that are connected with their origin. The Father begets the Son; for this reason there is appropriated to Him the bringing of perishable things also, out of nothing, i.e., of creation. He is therefore called the almighty Father. He is also called the God of compassion, because He is ever ready to receive the sinner who comes back to Him in a true spirit of penance. The Son is the eternal wisdom of the Father. To Him therefore is appropriated the beautiful arrangement of the world. As the artist, through the working of his reflective mind designs the plan of his work, so the Father, through His Son, produced order in the world. To the Son, too, is ascribed the restoration of order, as for this end He took upon Himself the nature of man. To the Holy Ghost, as the mutual love of the Father and the Son, are ascribed all the benefits of God to man; especially the bestowal upon him of his natural life in creation (the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters), and of his spiritual life by his sanctification through grace. To Him, as the finger of God’s right hand, are ascribed all miracles, and above all the work of the Incarnation, as being of all miracles the greatest. The love of God has ever occupied itself with men, but the Incarnation of the Son of God by the operation of the Holy Ghost surpassed all other benefits wrought by Him. It brought mercy to sinners, truth to the erring, life to those who were dead, and hope and faith to the whole world.

  1. We are taught the mystery of the Blessed Trinity by Christ Himself, but it was partly known in the time of the Old Testament.

We know, from the fact of creation, the infinite power, wisdom, and goodness of God, but it does not reveal to us the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. Nor is there any proof of this doctrine to be found in nature, though we may find certain analogies to it, some of which we have given. But the mystery itself can only be made known to us by revelation. “The Father no man knoweth but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal Him” (Matt. xi. 27). Our Lord revealed this mystery to His Church when He said to His apostles before His ascension, “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. xxviii. 19). In the time of the Old Testament the Jewish priests, when they blessed the people, had to repeat the name of God three times (Numb. vi. 23). Isaias tells us that the seraphim in heaven cry, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts” (Is. vi. 3). Before the creation, God said, “Let us make man” (Gen. i. 26). David says, “The Lord said to My Lord, sit on My right hand.” But before the Incarnation the mystery of the Blessed Trinity was veiled in a cloud which was only dispelled under the New Law. “The Church,” says St. Hilary, “knows this mystery. The Synagogue believed it not. Philosophy understood it not.”

  1. The belief in the Blessed Trinity is expressed in the Apostles Creed, in Baptism, and in the other sacraments, in all consecrations and blessings, and in the feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

The mystery of the Blessed Trinity is the foundation of our religion. Without a knowledge of this truth we cannot understand our redemption by the Son of God. We ought frequently to make an act of faith in this mystery, especially by the repetition of the Gloria Patri We should repeat it whenever we receive any benefit from God, and also when He sends us any cross or trial.”

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the deepest and at the same time the most beatifying truth, which reasonable creatures can know. Father Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, O.C.D. presents us the following meditation on how we can live in our daily life this most sublime mystery of our Faith: «If we wish the great gift of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity to bear its full fruit of intimate friendship with the three divine Persons, we must become accustomed to living with the Trinity, since it is impossible to have a real bond of friendship with someone if, after offering him the hospitality of our home, we immediately forget him. In order to live with the Trinity, it is not necessary to feel God’s presence within us; this is a grace which He may give or withhold. It is sufficient to be grounded in the faith by which we know with certitude that the three divine Persons are dwelling within us. By relying on this reality which we cannot see, feel, or understand, but which we know with certainty because it has been revealed by God, we can direct ourselves toward a life of true union with the Blessed Trinity.

First, we should consider the three divine Persons present within us, in Their indivisible unity. We already know that everything done by the Trinity “ad extra,” that is, outside the Godhead, is the work of all three divine Persons without distinction; hence, this applies to Their action in our soul. All Three dwell equally in us. They are there simultaneously and They all produce the same effects in us. All Three diffuse grace and love in us; They enlighten us, offer us Their friendship and love us with one and the same love. Still this does not prevent each of Them from being present in our soul with the characteristics proper to His Person: the Father is there as the source and origin of the divinity and of all being; the Word is present as the splendor of the Father, as light; the Holy Spirit, as the fruit of the love of the Father and of the Son. Each divine Person, then, loves us in His own personal way and offers us His special gift. The Father offers us His most sweet paternity; the Son clothes us with His shining light; the Holy Spirit penetrates us with His ardent love. And we, insignificant creatures, should try to realize that we have such great gifts, so that we may fully profit by them.» (Divine Intimacy).

Blessed John Henry Newman gives the following explanation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity: “As the Attributes of God are many in one mode of speaking, yet all One in God; so, too, there are Three Divine Persons, yet these Three are One. When we speak of God as Wisdom, or as Love, we mean to say that He is Wisdom, and that He is Love; that He is each separately and wholly, yet not that Wisdom is the same as Love, though He is both at once. Wisdom and Love stand for ideas quite distinct from each other, and not to be confused, though they are united in Him. In all He is and all He does, He is Wisdom and He is Love; yet it is both true that He is but One, and without qualities, and withal true again that Love is not Wisdom. Again, as God is Wisdom or Love, so is Wisdom or Love in and with God, and whatever God is. Is God eternal? so is His wisdom. Is He unchangeable? so is His wisdom. Is He uncreate, infinite, almighty, all-holy? His wisdom has these characteristics also. Since God has no parts or passions, whatever is really of or from God, is all that He is. The Eternal Three are worshipped by the Catholic Church as distinct, yet One;—the Most High God being wholly the Father, and wholly the Son, and wholly the Holy Ghost; yet the Three Persons being distinct from each other, not merely in name, or by human abstraction, but in very truth, as truly as a fountain is distinct from the stream which flows from it, or the root of a tree from its branches.” (Sermon 24)

Archbishop Fulton Sheen gave the following catechesis on the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, saying: “Three in one, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; three persons in one God; one in essence, distinction of persons — such is the mystery of the Trinity, such is the inner life of God. Just as I am, I know, and I love and yet am one; just as the three angles of a triangle do not make three triangles but one; just as the heat, power, and light of the sun do not make three suns, but one; just as water, air, and steam are all manifestations of the one substance; just as the form, color, and perfume of the rose do not make three roses, but one; just as our soul, our intellect, and our will do not make three substances, but one; just as one times one times one times one, does not equal three, but one — so too in some much more mysterious way, there are three Persons in God and yet only one God. e Trinity is a revelation that, before creation, God enjoyed the amiable society of His three Persons, the infinite communion with Truth and the embrace of infinite Love, and hence had no need ever to go outside Himself in search of happiness. The greatest wonder of all, then, is, that being perfect and enjoying perfect happiness. He ever should have made a world. And if He did make a world, He could only have had one motive for making it. It could not add to His perfection; it could not add to His truth; it could not increase His happiness. He made a world only because He loved. It is the mystery of the Trinity, which gives the answer to the quest for our happiness and the meaning of Heaven. Heaven is not a place where there is the mere vocal repetition of alleluias or the monotonous fingering of harps. Heaven is a place where we find the fullness of all the fine things we enjoy on this earth. Heaven is a place where we find, in their plenitude, those things which slake the thirst of hearts, satisfy the hunger of starving minds, and give rest to unrequited love. Heaven is the communion with perfect Life, perfect Truth, and perfect Love, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be all honor and glory forever and ever.”

One of the clearest and surest syntheses of the Faith in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, is the Creed, called the “Creed of Saint Athanasius” (Symbolum Athanasianum), which the Church uses in the Liturgy of the Divine Office (according to the more ancient Roman Rite). We quote the most relevant expressions: “This is what the Catholic faith teaches: we worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit. But the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and coeternal majesty. What the Father is, the Son is, and the Holy Spirit is. The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated. The Father is boundless, the Son is boundless, and the Holy Spirit is boundless. The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal. Nevertheless, there are not three eternal beings, but one eternal being. So there are not three uncreated beings, nor three boundless beings, but one uncreated being and one boundless being. Likewise, the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, the Holy Spirit is omnipotent. Yet there are not three omnipotent beings, but one omnipotent being. Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. However, there are not three gods, but one God. The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord. However, there as not three lords, but one Lord. For as we are obliged by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person singly to be God and Lord, so too are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords. The Father was not made, nor created, nor generated by anyone. The Son is not made, nor created, but begotten by the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is not made, nor created, nor generated, but proceeds from the Father and the Son.  There is, then, one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits. In this Trinity, there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less. The entire three Persons are coeternal and coequal with one another. So that in all things, as is has been said above, the Unity is to be worshipped in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity. He, therefore, who wishes to be saved, must believe thus about the Trinity.”

We conclude with the prayer of Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity: “O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to become utterly forgetful of myself so that I may establish myself in you, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. Let nothing disturb my peace nor draw me forth f from you, O my unchanging God, but at every moment may I penetrate more deeply into the depths of your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it your heaven, your cherished dwelling-place and the place of your repose. Let me never leave you there alone, but keep me there, wholly attentive, wholly alert in my faith, wholly adoring and fully given up to your creative action.  O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, I long to be the bride of your heart. I long to cover you with glory, to love you even unto death! Yet I sense my powerless and beg you to clothe me with yourself. Identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, submerge me, overwhelm me, substitute yourself for me, so that my life may become a reflection of your life. Come into me as Adorer, as Redeemer and as Saviour.  O Eternal Word, utterance of my God, I want to spend my life listening to you, to become totally teachable so that I might learn all from you. Through all darkness, all emptiness, all powerlessness, I want to keep my eyes fixed on you and to remain under your great light. O my Beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may never be able to leave your radiance. O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, overshadow me so that the Word may be, as it were incarnate again in my soul. May I be for him a new humanity in which he can renew all his mystery. And you, O Father, bend down towards your poor little creature. Cover her with your shadow, see in her only your beloved son in who you are well pleased. O my `Three’, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to you as your prey. Immerse yourself in me so that I may be immersed in you until I go to contemplate in your light the abyss of your splendour!”

Necessity of Instruction in the Catholic Faith: Part 7


Talk 7 Roman Catechism “I believe in One God”

The Roman Catechism teaches: The meaning of the words “I believe in One God” is this: I believe with certainty, and without a shadow of doubt profess my belief in God the Father, the First Person of the Trinity, who by His omnipotence created from nothing and preserves and governs the heavens and the earth and all things which they contain; and not only do I believe in Him from my heart and profess this belief with my lips, but with the greatest ardour and piety I tend towards Him, as the supreme and most perfect good. From what has been said it follows that he who is gifted with this heavenly knowledge of faith is free from an inquisitive curiosity. For when God commands us to believe He does not propose to us to search into His divine judgments, or inquire into their reason and cause, but demands an unchangeable faith, by which the mind rests content in the knowledge of eternal truth. And indeed, since we have the testimony of the Apostle that God is true; and every man a liar, and since it would argue arrogance and presumption to disbelieve the word of a grave and sensible man affirming anything as true, and to demand that he prove his statements by arguments or witnesses, how rash and foolish are those, who, hearing the words of God Himself, demand reasons for His heavenly and saving doctrines? Faith, therefore, must exclude not only all doubt, but all desire for demonstration.

Saint Thomas Aquinas explains (The Catechetical Instructions, Article 1) the first article of the Creed as follows: “There are those, however, who believe that God rules and sustains all things of nature, and nevertheless do not believe God is the overseer of the acts of man; hence they believe that human acts do not come under God’s providence. They reason thus because they see in this world how the good are afflicted and how the evil enjoy good things, so that Divine Providence seems to disregard human affairs. But this is indeed absurd. It is just as though a person who is ignorant of medicine should see a doctor give water to one patient and wine to another. He would believe that this is mere chance, since he does not understand the science of medicine which for good reasons prescribes for one wine and for another water. So is it with God. For God in His just and wise Providence knows what is good and necessary for men; and hence He afflicts some who are good and allows certain wicked men to prosper. But he is foolish indeed who believes this is due to chance, because he does not know the causes and method of God’s dealing with men. “I wish that God might speak with thee, and would open His lips to thee, that He might show thee the secrets of wisdom, and that His law is manifold: and thou mightest understand that He exacteth much less of thee than thy iniquity deserveth.” (Job, 11: 5-6)

We must, therefore, firmly believe that God governs and regulates not only all nature, but also the actions of men. “And they said: The Lord shall not see; neither shall the God of Jacob understand. Understand, ye senseless among the people, and, you fools, be wise at last. He that planted the ear, shall He not hear, He that formed the eye, doth He not consider? . . . The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men.” (Ps. 93: 7-11) God sees all things, both our thoughts and the hidden desires of our will. Thus, the necessity of doing good is especially imposed on man since all his thoughts, words and actions are known in the sight of God: “All things are naked and open to His eyes.” (Heb. 4: 13)

We believe that God who rules and regulates all things is but one God. This is seen in that wherever the regulation of human affairs is well arranged, there the group is found to be ruled and provided for by one, not many. For a number of heads often brings dissension in their subjects. But since divine government exceeds in every way that which is merely human, it is evident that the government of the world is not by many gods, but by one only.”

The Roman Catechism teaches us as follows: “There is but one God, not many gods. We attribute to God the highest goodess and perfection, and it is impossible that what is highest and absolutely perfect could be found in many. If a being lack that which constitutes supreme perfection, it is, therefore, imperfect and cannot have the nature of God” (“The Creed,” First Article, 7).

Saint Thomas Aquinas speaks about errors relating to the first article of the Creed: “There are three errors concerning this truth which we must avoid. First, the error of the Manicheans, who say that all visible created things are from the devil, and only the invisible creation is to be attributed to God. The cause of this error is that they hold that God is the highest good, which is true; but they also assert that whatsoever comes from good is itself good. Thus, not distinguishing what is evil and what is good, they believed that whatever is partly evil is essentially evil–as, for instance, fire because it burns is essentially evil, and so is water because it causes suffocation, and so with other things. Because no sensible thing is essentially good, but mixed with evil and defective, they believed that all visible things are not made by God who is good, but by the evil one. Against them St. Augustine gives this illustration. A certain man entered the shop of a carpenter and found tools which, if he should fall against them, would seriously wound him. Now, if he would consider the carpenter a bad workman because he made and used such tools, it would be stupid of him indeed. In the same way it is absurd to say that created things are evil because they may be harmful; for what is harmful to one may be useful to another. This error is contrary to the faith of the Church, and against it we say: “Of all things visible and invisible.” “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” (Gen. 1: 1) ”All things were made by Him.” (John 1: 3)

The second error is of those who hold the world has existed from eternity. They are led to this view because they do not know how to imagine the beginning of the world. This is also contrary to the faith of the Church, and hence we say: “the Maker of heaven and earth.” For if they were made, they did not exist forever. “He spoke and they were made.” (Ps. 148: 5) The third is the error which holds that God made the world from prejacent matter (ex praejacenti materia). They are led to this view because they wish to measure divine power according to human power; and since man cannot make anything except from material which already lies at hand, so also it must be with God. But this is false. Man needs matter to make anything, because he is a builder of particular things and must bring form out of definite material. He merely determines the form of his work, and can be only the cause of the form that he builds. God, however, is the universal cause of all things, and He not only creates the form but also the matter. Hence, He makes out of nothing, and thus it is said in the Creed: “the Creator of heaven and earth.” We must see in this the difference between making and creating. To create is to make something out of nothing; and if everything were destroyed, He could again make all things. He, thus, makes the blind to see, raises up the dead, and works other similar miracles. “Thy power is at hand when Thou wilt.” (Wis. 12: 18) (The Catechetical Instructions, Article 1)

The First Vatican Council teaches us: “The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church believes and acknowledges that there is one true and living God, creator and lord of heaven and earth, almighty, eternal, immeasurable, incomprehensible, infinite in will, understanding and every perfection…Since he is one, singular, completely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, he must be declared to be in reality and in essence, distinct from the world, supremely happy in himself and from himself, and inexpressibly loftier than anything besides himself which either exists or can be imagined.” – (Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter 1).

THE DIVINE ESSENCE (from The Catechism Explained, by Fr Francis Spirago)

What God is in His divine nature or essence is known to us partly from created things, but more clearly from His revelation of Himself.

St. Paul tells us that, “The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom. i. 20). Creation is a sort of mirror that reflects the divine perfections; thus from the beauty of things created we can infer the greater beauty of Him Who created them (Wisd. xiii. 1). So again from the order that prevails in the visible world we can conclude that He Who made it is a Being of surpassing wisdom, and from its vastness we learn the power of Him Who upholds and supports it. Yet the knowledge thus obtained is always imperfect and obscure. From a beautiful picture we do not learn much about the character of the painter. In creatures we see God only as through a glass and in a dark manner (1 Cor. xiii. 12). The heathens, before the coming of Christ, were sunk in the grossest vices, and this darkened their intellect and rendered them still less able to arrive at a knowledge of God from His works (Wisd. ix. 16). In order to en lighten this ignorance God revealed Himself to men, speaking to them by the mouth of the patriarchs and prophets, and above all by the mouth of His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. i. 1, 2). It was Christ Who gave to men the clearest manifestation of the nature of God; all the rest spoke somewhat obscurely, for none of them had seen God face to face.

Even since God’s revelation of Himself, man is not capable of a thorough or complete knowledge of the nature of God; the reason of this is that God is infinite, and man is only finite.

Just as we cannot inclose a boundless ocean in a little vessel, so we cannot take in the infinite majesty of God with our finite understanding. “Behold, God is great, exceeding our knowledge” (Job xxxviii. 26). “The things that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. ii. 11). We can neither express in words nor conceive in thought what God really is. It is easier to say what God is not than what He is. He who attempts to fathom the majesty of God becomes profane. It is told of Icarus in the old mythology, that he fastened wings to his sides with wax, and attempted to fly up to heaven; but when he came too near the sun, it melted the wax and he fell into the sea and perished. So it is with those who seek to fathom the nature of God; He casts them down into the sea of doubt and unbelief. He who gazes upon the sun becomes dazzled; so is it with those who seek to penetrate into the nature of God. Even the angels veil their faces before God (Ezech. i. 23). The most perfect of them cannot comprehend His majesty. They are like a man who looks upon the sea from some high point; he sees the sea, but he does not see the whole of it. How can we expect to reach heights which even the angels cannot attain to?

We can only give an imperfect and incomplete explanation of the nature of God, viz.:

  1. God is a self-existent Being, infinite in His perfections, glory, and beatitude, the Creator and Ruler of the whole world.

When Moses asked almighty God His name, on the occasion of His appearing in the burning bush, God answered, “I am Who am” (Exod. iii. 14) i.e., “I exist of Myself, I derive My being from Myself.” All other beings derive their existence from God, and there fore in comparison of Him are as nothing. Hence David says, “My substance is as nothing before Thee” (Ps. xxxviii. 6). God also possesses the highest perfection. We see how some beings upon the earth are more perfect than others. Some things have only existence with out life, as stones and metals; others have life, but without sensation, as trees and plants; others have sensation and movement as well, as birds and beasts; man has a spiritual life, with intellect and free will. Above man there are countless numbers of pure spirits, each with a special perfection of its own, and each increasing in virtue as it ascends towards the throne of God. But they can never arrive at infinite perfection, since the most perfect among them can always attain to some higher excellence. Hence we must believe in a Being of infinite perfection, from Whom all other beings derive their virtues, Who possesses in Himself, and Who is infinitely exalted beyond, all existing or possible perfections that can be found in all other beings than Himself. Nothing greater than God can either exist or even be thought of. God is also infinite in glory and beauty. For if on the earth there exist so many beautiful things, how far greater must be the beauty and glory of God, since it is He Who gave them all their beauty. He could not have given it unless He already possessed it. He is like the boundless ocean, and the beauty of all created things is like a series of drops taken from the ocean. God is also infinite in His supreme happiness or beatitude. He lives in endless and infinite joy; no creature can interfere with the perfection of His happiness. None can either increase or diminish it (1 Tim. vi. 15). As the sun needs no light from other bodies, because it is itself the light, so God needs nothing from others, because He is Himself in possession of all good. We can only give Him what we have already received from Him. God is the Creator of the whole world, of heaven, earth, and sea. He is also the King and Lord of all, and has made all things outside of Himself subject to certain fixed laws. The earth is subject to fixed laws. It goes round the sun in three hundred and sixty-five and a quarter days, and revolves on its own axis in twenty-four hours. All the heavenly bodies move according to fixed laws, so that we can foretell eclipses of the sun and moon, etc.; there* are laws which regulate all the material things on the face of the earth. Plants, trees, and animals have their growth and development governed by stated laws. The actions of reasonable beings are also governed by laws, which, however, by reason of their free will, they are able to disobey. The penalties for transgression are laid down by almighty God. God is the King of kings, the eternal King (Tob. xiii. 6). The majesty of the greatest of earthly kings is but a feeble and faint reflection of the majesty of God. Hence we are bound to obey Him, because He is our King and He will have all subject to Him, either willingly in this life, or against their will to their eternal misery.

  1. We cannot see God, because He is a spirit, i.e., a being without body, immortal, possessed of intellect and free will.

Our Lord says: “God is a spirit, and they that adore Him must adore Him in spirit and in truth” (John iv. 24). It is because God is a spirit that the Jews were strictly forbidden to make any image of Him (Exod. xx. 4). God cannot be seen by man; there is a veil between us and God. We cannot see the stars during the day, but only when darkness comes on. So we cannot see God during the day of our life on earth, but only when the darkness of death comes over us. In this life God is a hidden God (Is. xlv. 15). He inhabits the in accessible light (1 Tim. vi. 16).

Yet God has often assumed visible forms.

Thus He appeared to Abraham as a traveller, at the baptism of Our Lord under the form of a dove, and in the shape of tongues of fire at Pentecost. But the external form under which God appeared was not God Himself. In the same way we often read of the eyes, ears, etc., of God; but this is only to impress upon us the fact that God sees us, hears us, etc.

  1. There is one God, and one only.

The most perfect being in the world must be only one. The tallest tree in the wood is but one. To say that there are more Gods than one is like saying that there can be more than one soul in a human body, or more than one captain on a ship. Even the pagan Greeks and Romans honored one god as supreme among the rest. The plurality of gods probably arose from the plurality of the forces of nature (such as thunder, lightning, fire, etc.), which filled the beholders with fear, and caused them to adore these forces as gods. Or it may have arisen from the deification of heroes, or from the power of the evil spirits which, having attracted notice, caused them to be worshipped as gods.

Saint Thomas Aquinas gives us the following explanation (The Catechetical Instructions, Article 1): “If a maker is greater than the things he makes, then God is greater than all things which He has made. “With whose beauty, if they being delighted, took them to be gods, let them know how much the Lord of them is more beautiful than they. . . . Or if they admired their power and their effects, let them understand by them that He that made them, is mightier than they.” (Wis. 13: 3-4) Hence, whatsoever can even be affirmed or thought of is less than God. “Behold: God is great, exceeding our knowledge.” (Job 36: 26) We are led to give thanks to God. Because God is the Creator of all things, it is certain that what we are and what we have is from God: “What hast thou that thou hast not received.” (1 Cor. 4: 7) “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and all they that dwell therein.” (Ps. 23: 1) “We, therefore, must render thanks to God: What shall I render to the Lord for all the things that He hath rendered to me?” (Ps. 115: 12) (ibid.)

With the Church we can pray: “O Lord, although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness, but profit us for salvation, through Christ our Lord” (Roman Missal, Common Preface IV) Truly “heaven and earth is full of They glory!”

Necessity of Instruction in the Catholic Faith: Part 6


The Magisterium of the Church.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 85 -87)

Pope Leo XIII gives as the following explanation: “As the Church was to last to the end of time, something more was required besides the bestowal of the Sacred Scriptures. It was obviously necessary that the Divine Founder should take every precaution, lest the treasure of heavenly-given truths, possessed by the Church, should ever be destroyed, which would assuredly have happened, had He left those doctrines to each one’s private judgment. It stands to reason, therefore, that a living, perpetual “magisterium” was necessary in the Church from the beginning, which, by the command of Christ himself, should besides teaching other wholesome doctrines, give an authoritative explanation of Holy Writ, and which being directed and safeguarded by Christ himself, could by no means commit itself to erroneous teaching” (Encyclical Caritatis Studium on the Church in Scotland, July 25 1898)

The Magisterium of Catholic Church teaches the faithful in three ways:

  • Solemn Magisterium: It is used only rarely. This includes dogmatic definitions by Ecumenical Councils or Popes teaching “ex cathedra”. The form of this teaching has infallible character.
  • Ordinary universal Magisterium: the teaching of Divine truths by the enterety of the episcopate constantly and unchangingly along all ages. The form of this teaching has infallible character as well.
  • Authentic or daily Magisterium is exercised:
  1. By the official pronouncements, preachings and written documents of the Roman Pontiff (among the most common are Encyclicals, Apostolic exhortations, Apostolic letters, Apostolic Constitutions).
  2. By the pastoral and disciplinarian documents of Ecumenical Councils and by doctrines which a concrete Council is not proposing definitely, as it did for instance the Second Vatican Council or the Council of Florence, when it taught about the matter of the sacrament of the Orders.
  3. By the Synods on various level (the Synod of Bishops in Rome, Plenary, Provincial and Diocesan Synods).
  4. Doctrinal documents unanimously approved by the episcopate of a concrete country or region, that means by Bishops’ Conferences.
  5. By the teaching office of the diocesan bishops.

The authentic or daily Magisyterium does not possess an infallible character, and in theory can contain even doctrinal errors, which is however rare. Theological errors or doctrinal ambiguities occurred in some Papal documents (for instance in the letters of Pope Honorius I concerning the two wills of Christ, in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitiae of Pope Francis).

Theological errors and ambugities occurred also in some non strictly definitive doctrinal documents of Ecumenical Councils (for instance the errors regarding the matter of the sacraments of Orders by the Council of Florence, some ambiguous and erroneous formulations in some documents of the Second Vatican Council concerning for example the alleged common adoration of Catholics and Muslims of the one God, affirmations about the non-Christian religions, about the ecumenism, about the alleged natural rights of people who are propagating religious errors and false religions, about the social kingship of Christ in all human societies).

However, the overwhelwing majority even of not strictly definitive doctrinal affirmations of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Popes contain no errors, nonwithtanding the fact that they do not posses in these cases the charism of the infallibility. Usually Divine Providence grants the holders of the Magisterium also in the daily exercise of their teaching office the graces of state.  In order that in the authentic or daily Magisterium the Pope and bishops may avoid ambiguities or errors, it is demanded from them an assiduous personal collaboration with the graces of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. This collaboration with the grace on behalf of the Pope and of the bishops presupposes the cultivation of the supernatural faith in the personal life, a life of prayer and virtue, fidelity to the Tradition and to the teaching received by all the Roman Pontiffs, by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

Regarding the object of an infallible pronouncements of the Pope and logically also of a Council, we have this dogmatic pronouncement of the First Vatican Council.

These are the conditions for a Pope and logically also for a Council for an infallible pronouncement, called “ex cathedra”:

  • It has to be directed to all faithful of the entire Church.
  • It has to be exercised in the quality of the supreme apostolic authority.
  • It has to oblige the entire Church to hold that specific doctrine.
  • The doctrine which is obliged to believe must refer to faith and morals.

The object of an infallible pronouncement must be contained in the written Word of God or in Tradition. An infallible pronouncement must be believed, therefore, by divine and Catholic faith.

The Pope or a Council are very much limited in their choices, actions and formulations when they issue an infallible doctrinal statement. There is nobody less free and there is nobody who must more scrupulously cling to the constant doctrinal tradition of the Church than the Pope, when he issues an infallible doctrinal statement. Very aptly the First Vatican Council states, that “the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).

The very aim of an infallible pronouncement of a Pope or a Council consists in the following:

  • The defense of all faithful from the poison of doctrinal and moral errors. That “the whole flock of Christ, be kept away from the poisonous food of error” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4). Hence this means refusal of any error and ambiguity. If a doctrinal pronouncement or an affirmation of a Pope or of a Council shows unclarity or ambuiguity, it lacks by this very fact infallibility, since infallibility demans by its nature highest clarity and precision.
  • The nourishment of all faithful with the sureness and clarity of the doctrine of the Divine Revelation. That “the whole flock of Christ might be nourished with the pasture of heavenly doctrine” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
  • The prevention or removal of the occasion of schisms and divisions, caused by errors, doubts and ambiguities regarding the doctrine of faith and morals (cf. ibid.)
  • The maintance and guarantee of the internal and external unity of the entire Church, that means among the bishops themselves, among the bishops and the faithful and among all the faithful. “And so the whole Church might be kept one” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).
  • The spiritual equipment of the entire Church against the attacks of the evil spirits. Since the most insidious and dangerous attack of the evil spirits consists in spreading heresies, which spiritually defiles the chaste and virginal purity of the Church. “That the whole Church might stand firm against the gates of Hell” (First Vatican Council, Pastor aeternus, chap. 4).

“The Roman Pontiff – like all the faithful – is subject to the Word of God, to the Catholic faith, and is the guarantor of the Church’s obedience; in this sense he is servus servorum Dei. He does not make arbitrary decisions, but is spokesman for the will of the Lord, who speaks to man in the Scriptures lived and interpreted by Tradition; in other words, the episkope of the primacy has limits set by divine law and by the Church’s divine, inviolable constitution found in Revelation.33 The Successor of Peter is the rock which guarantees a rigorous fidelity to the Word of God against arbitrariness and conformism: hence the martyrological nature of his primacy.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Primacy of the successor of Peter in the mystery of the Church, October 31, 1998)

In 1875 the German Bishops issued a declaration, in which they explain the true meaning of Papal infallibility: “The affirmation which says that the Pope in virtue of his infallibility is an absolute souvereign, is based upon an erroneous concept of the dogma of the Papal infallibility. The Papal Magisterium covers exactly the same field as the infallible Magisterium of the Church itself. The Papal Magisterium is bound by the content of the Holy Scripture and the Tradition and as well by doctrinal decisions of the Church’s Magisterium.”

In teaching the truth of the Divine Revelation every Pope and every Council should have the attitude of Blessed Pope Pius IX, who when asked by a group of bishops to make a little change in the text of the Canon of the Mass (adding the name of Saint Joseph), answered: “I cannot make a change, since I am only the Pope!”

Indeed, all holders of the Magisterium in the Church, in first place the Pope, should categorically avoid an attitude, which seeks novelties and changes in doctrine. The Pope should be that member of the Church, who clings most obediently to the unchanging truths of the Divine Revelation and of the doctrinal Tradition of the Church, since his most apt title is “the servant of the servant of God”.

The following words of Pope Pius VI, with which he in 1794 condemned the cunning and Protestantizing affirmation of the Synod of Pistoia, remain valid and very much up to date for our times and for the Shepherds of the Church in our time: “There is the erroneous pretext that the seemingly shocking affirmations in one place are further developed along orthodox lines in other places, and even in yet other places corrected. By this they allow the possibility of either affirming or denying a statement, or of leaving it up the personal inclinations of the individual. However, such has always been the fraudulent and daring method used by innovators to establish error. It allows for both the possibility of promoting error and of excusing it. Whenever it becomes necessary to expose statements which disguise some suspected error or danger under the veil of ambiguity, one must denounce the perverse meaning under which the error opposed to catholic truth is camouflaged.”

“Ambiguity can never be tolerated in a synod [I would add: in any document of a Pope or of an Ecumenical Council], since its principal glory consists above all in teaching the truth with clarity and excluding all danger of error.”

The Seconed Vatican Council explained deeper the truth regarding the teaching infallibility of the Church: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One (1 John 2:20, 27) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (St. Augustine, Praed. Sanct. 14, 27) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. (1 Thess. 2: 13) Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints, (Jude 3) penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life.” (Lumen gentium, 12)

Impressive remains the oath, which every Pope traditionally had to take when coming into his Papal office: “I vow to change nothing of the received Tradition, and nothing thereof I have found before me guarded by my God-pleasing predecessors, to encroach upon, to alter, or to permit any innovation therein; To the contrary: with glowing affection as her truly faithful student and successor, to safeguard reverently the passed-on good, with my whole strength and utmost effort; To cleanse all that is in contradiction to the canonical order that may surface; To guard the Holy Canons and Decrees of our Popes as if they were the Divine ordinances of Heaven, because I am conscious of Thee, Whose place I take through the grace of God, Whose Vicarship I possess with Thy support, being subject to the severest accounting before Thy Divine Tribunal over all that I shall confess; I swear to God Almighty and the Savior Jesus Christ that I will keep whatever has been revealed through Christ and His Successors and whatever the first councils and my predecessors have defined and declared. I will keep without sacrifice to itself the discipline and the rite of the Church. I will put outside the Church whoever dares to go against this oath, may it be somebody else or I. If I should undertake to act in anything of contrary sense, or should permit that it will be executed, Thou willst not be merciful to me on the dreadful Day of Divine Justice. Accordingly, without exclusion, We subject to severest excommunication anyone — be it ourselves or be it another — who would dare to undertake anything new in contradiction to this constituted evangelic Tradition and the purity of the Orthodox Faith and the Christian Religion, or would seek to change anything by his opposing efforts, or would agree with those who undertake such a blasphemous venture.”

The greatest concern and fear of each holder of the Magisterium, be it a bishop or the Pope himself, should be not to change, even not in the slightest, the doctrines of the Divine Revelation. Consequently, every true Catholic bishop and Pope should say, using the formulation of the traditional Papal oath and of the Apostle Saint Paul, “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a Gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.” (Gal. 1: 8).

May this oath be restored in our days, so that the darkness of errors, ambiguities and novelties in doctrine may be dispelled and the light of the truths of the Divine Revelation may shine in the minds and hearts of all Catholics, and in the first place of all Shepherds of the Church.

Pope Pius X left us the following inspiring words, even though they were written hundred years ago, they remain fresh and very much up to date: “Our Apostolic Mandate requires from Us that We watch over the purity of the Faith and the integrity of Catholic discipline. It requires from Us that We protect the faithful from evil and error; especially so when evil and error are presented in dynamic language which, concealing vague notions and ambiguous expressions with emotional and high-sounding words, is likely to set ablaze the hearts of men in pursuit of ideals which, whilst attractive, are nonetheless nefarious. Such were not so long ago the doctrines of the so-called philosophers of the 18th century, the doctrines of the Revolution and Liberalism which have been so often condemned; such are even today theories which, under the glowing appearance of generosity, are all too often wanting in clarity, logic and truth. These theories do not belong to the Catholic Spirit. We must repeat with the utmost energy in these times of social and intellectual anarchy when everyone takes it upon himself to teach as a teacher and lawmaker – the City cannot be built otherwise than as God has built it; society cannot be setup unless the Church lays the foundations and supervises the work; no, civilization is not something yet to be found, nor is the New City to be built on hazy notions; it has been in existence and still is: it is Christian civilization, it is the Catholic City. It has only to be set up and restored continually against the unremitting attacks of insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants. OMNIA INSTAURARE IN CHRISTO.” (Encyclical Notre Charge Apostolique, August 25, 1910)

Necessity of Instruction in the Catholic Faith: Part 5


THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL

  1. The truths revealed by God to men were, by God’s command, proclaimed to all nations of the earth by the Catholic Church, and especially by means of the living word, that is, by preaching.

The command to proclaim to all nations of the earth the truths revealed by God, was given to the apostles by Our Lord at the time of His ascension.

Our Lord, before ascending into heaven, spoke to His apostles as follows: “All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth; going, therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: . . . and behold I am with you all days, even to the end of the world” (Matt. xxviii. 18-20). For this reason the apostles and their successors have never allowed themselves to be prohibited by any earthly authority from preaching the Gospel (Cf. Acts v. 29). Nor has the Church ever been turned aside from fulfilling her mission of preaching the Gospel, by the opposition of the world. Even now in many countries the State seeks to make the Church dependent on her. It is in consequence of the command given by Our Lord to the apostles, that the Popes send missionaries to the heathens, and issue Papal briefs and rescripts to Christendom; that bishops send priests throughout their dioceses, and publish pastoral letters; that parish priests instruct their people by sermons and Catechism.

The Transmission of Divine Revelation

The Council of Trent teaches us: “The Gospel, before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament–seeing that one God is the author of both –as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ’s own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.

And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one’s mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are as set down here below: of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second.

Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle. But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.” (sess. IV, 1)

The Second Vatican Council teaches on the Handing over of the Divine Revelation: “9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence. (Conc. Trident. De Canonicis Scripturis)

  1. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” (Dei Verbum, 9 – 10).

It is an error to suppose that Holy Scripture is the only means intended by almighty God to communicate to the nations of the earth the truths of revelation.

It was the will of God to make use of preaching for the conversion of the world. Our Lord said to His apostles, “Go and teach all nations,” not “Go and write to all nations.” Out of the apostles only two wrote; all the rest preached. The apostles themselves were the books of the faithful (St. Augustine). St. Paul tells us that “Faith cometh by hearing” (Rom. x. 17), not from mere books. Teaching by word of mouth corresponds to human needs; every one prefers to be taught, rather than to have to hunt out the truth from books by study. If writings were the only means by which men could arrive at a knowledge of revealed truth the Christians of the first two centuries would have been at a terrible disadvantage; so too would those who cannot read, as well as the great mass of mankind in the present day, who have neither the knowledge nor the capacity to penetrate the meaning of the written Word. Yet it is the will of God that “All men should come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. ii. 4). Holy Scripture soon loses its value in the eyes of those who have not the assurance of the living Word that it is truly of divine origin. St. Augustine says: “I should not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Church moved me to do so.”

The Catholic Church derives from Holy Scripture and from Tradition the truths that God has revealed.

Holy Scripture and Tradition are of equal authority, and claim from us equal respect. Holy Scripture is the written, Tradition the unwritten Word of God. St. Paul exhorts the faithful to hold fast the traditions they have received, whether it be by word of mouth or by writing (2 Thess. ii. 14).

The First Vatican Council established the following dogmatic canons about Divine Revelation: “2. If anyone shall say that it is impossible or inexpedient that man should be taught, by Divine Revelation, concerning God and the worship to be paid to Him; let him be anathema. 3. If anyone shall say that man cannot be raised by Divine power to a higher than natural knowledge and perfection, but can and ought, by a continuous progress, to arrive at length, of himself, to the possession of all that is true and good; let him be anathema. 4. If anyone shall not receive as sacred and canonical the Books of Holy Scripture, entire with all their parts, as the Holy Synod of Trent has enumerated them, or shall deny that they have been Divinely-inspired; let him be anathema.” (Constitution Dei Filius, canons

The First Vatican Council warned against the dangers of errors regarding Divine Revelation: “There arose and spread, exceedingly widely throughout the world, that doctrine of rationalism, or naturalism, which opposes itself in every way to the Christian religion as a supernatural institution, and works with the utmost zeal in order that, after Christ, our sole Lord and Savior, has been excluded from the minds of men, and from the life and moral acts of nations, the reign of what they call pure reason or nature may be established. And after forsaking and rejecting the Christian religion, and denying the true God and His Christ, the minds of many have sunk into the abyss of Pantheism, Materialism, and Atheism, until, denying rational nature itself, and every sound rule of right, they labor to destroy the deepest foundations of human society. Unhappily, it has yet further come to pass that, while this impiety prevailed on every side, many even of the children of the Catholic Church have strayed from the path of true piety, and by the gradual diminution of the truths they held, the Catholic understanding became weakened in them. For, led away by various and strange doctrines, utterly confusing nature and grace, human science and Divine faith, they are found to deprave the true sense of the doctrines which our Holy Mother Church holds and teaches, and to endanger the integrity and the soundness of the faith.” (Constitution Dei Filius, Introduction)

A truth which the Church puts before us as revealed by God is called a truth of faith, or a dogma.

Either a universal council (i.e., one consisting of the bishops of the whole world) acting under the authority of the Pope, or the Pope himself, has power to declare a truth to be revealed by God. Thus the Council of Nicea declared the divinity of Our Lord to be an article of faith; and Pope Pius IX. the Immaculate Conception of the holy Mother of God (1854). Thereby no new doctrines were taught, but these truths were declared to have been truly revealed by God, and thenceforth they became dogmas of the faith. When a child advances in its knowledge of religious truth, it does not really change its belief; so the Church, the collected body of all the faithful, receives dogmas new to it, when, on the appearance of some new form of error, it sets forth, after careful examination, certain truths of religion in explicit form and imposes their acceptance on all the faithful. Before the definition of it by the Church it was only a “pious opinion,” or one proximate to faith. Such is at the present time the belief in the assumption of the body of Our Lady into heaven.

Was is truly Catholic doctrine, explained profoundly and masterly Saint Vincent of Lerins, a saint theologian from the fifth century, in his book Commonitorium. There is know this his short formula: “We hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all (quod ubique, quod semper et quod ab omnibus).”

The theological rule of Saint Vincent of Lerins (Commonitorium, Chapters 2, 4, 27 and 29) assigns universality, antiquity and consensus of faith as characteristics of Catholic doctrine. In other words, a doctrine bearing these marks is certainly a dogma of the Catholic faith. It is not however true in the exclusive sense, i.e. if it be understood to mean that nothing can belong to the Catholic faith which has not been explicitly believed always, everywhere and by all.

We have to note first that there is the reference not to any points whatsoever that are held and observed in the Church, but to those which are believed, i.e. held by faith. Now a thing can be believed in either of two ways: explicitly, or only implicitly. Whatever is contained in the deposit of Divine revelation has certainly been believed at least implicitly everywhere, always and by all Catholics. One would at once cease to be a Catholic if one were not ready to believe everything which has been sufficiently proposed by the Church as divinely revealed.

Certain points of doctrine can be contained in the deposit of objective revelation which were not always contained in the manifest and explicit preaching of the Church, and that for as long as they were not sufficiently proposed it was possible for them to be the object of controversy within the limits of the Church without loss of faith and communion (for instance the truth of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin mary). So a given point of doctrine can be contained in objective revelation and can also, with the passage of time—when it has been sufficiently explained and proposed—come to belong to those truths which must necessarily be believed with Catholic faith, while yet this truth, though always contained in the deposit of revelation, has not been explicitly believed always, everywhere and by all. The absence of a defined dogma of faith in a certain time by no means necessarily proves that a given doctrine was not contained in the deposit of faith; neither does it prove that a doctrine, which, for want of sufficient proposition at a given time, did not need to be explicitly believed, may not at some other time be the object of obligatory belief.

As marks by which the apostolicity of a doctrine can be known, two characteristics are nevessary:
1) universality, i.e. the present consensus of the Church, and,
2) the consensus of antiquity, to be understood in a relative sense, i.e. a consensus shown to have existed before a doctrinal controversy arose.

In virtue either of a solemn judgment of the Magisterium (whether of an ecumenical council or of the pope) or by the unanimous preaching of the Church (the ordinary universal Magisterium), a universal present consensus is clear and manifest, this alone suffices of itself. But if, through the arising of a controversy, this consensus were to become less apparent, or were not acknowledged by the adversaries to be confuted, then—says Vincent—appeal must be made to the manifest consensus of antiquity, or to past solemn judgements of the Magisterium, or to the consentient convictions of the Fathers.

Saint Vincent says that one must hold “what has been believed everywhere, always and by all,” without distinguishing whether it was so believed implicitly or explicitly (Chapter 2). But then he indicates marks by which we can come to know whether something was thus believed everywhere, always and by all, and these marks are: universality, antiquity and consensus.

What saint Vincent means by universality he explains straight away: “We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses.” Hence universality is the agreement of the entire Church, and, insofar as it is distinct from the mark of antiquity, it is the consent of the Church at this present time when a concrete controversy has arisen. Since, the present consensus can be troubled by newly invented errors, with contradict antiquity, i.e. the agreement of the previous age.

The mark of antiquity is understood by Vincent in the sense of relative antiquity. For he invariably situates antiquity in the judgement of preceding Fathers or Councils—a judgement existing before the appearance of the heresy to be refuted or the controversy to be decided. “97 And in Chapter 28 he says that to ancient heresies one should oppose councils which took place before those heresies arose, while, if even these councils are condemned by the heretics, there remains only the common source of Scripture to use in argument against them.

Saint Vincent of Lerins everywhere clearly teaches that either one of these two marks—i.e. universal consent and the agreement of antiquity—suffices to demonstrate the apostolicity of a doctrine. Thus he writes: 1) “What then will a Catholic Christian do if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith of all times? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body of the Church in all times to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member in his novel contagion?” Here universal consent is opposed to local and new error. 2) “What, if some novel contagion seeks to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole Church? Then one has the care to cleave to antiquity.” (Chapter 3) Here antiquity is appealed to in the event that contemporary controversies should have muddied the waters and made it hard to establish for the time being the belief of the universal Church.

Any doctrine which is repugnant to either mark (antiquity and universality) must be considered to be a profane novelty. Saint Vincent recounts the innovation of the re-baptisers in the third century in North Africa: “When then all men protested against this novelty of re-baptizing, and the bishops almost everywhere opposed it, Pope Stephen laid down this rule: Let there be no innovation—nothing but what has been handed down… What then was the issue of the whole matter? What but the usual and customary one? Antiquity was retained, novelty was rejected.” (cf. Cardinal Johann Baptist Franzelin S.J., Thesis XXIV in his work De Divina Traditione et Scriptura, Rome, 1875)

Saint Vincent speaks quite clear that the Roman Pontiffs by the virtue of their task have been always against doctrinal novelties or ambiguities. Ge says: “It has always been the case in the Church, that the more a man is under the influence of religion, so much the more prompt is he to oppose innovations. It may be clearer than day to everyone with how great energy, with how great zeal, with how great earnestness, the Roman Pontiffs have constantly defended the integrity of the religion which they have once received.” (Chapter 6)

On the true meaning of a development od the doctrine the First Vatican Council teaches the following: “The doctrine of the faith which God has revealed is put forward not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly promulgated. Hence, too,that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by holy mother church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding. May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding.” (Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, chap. 4)

Let us hear the following words of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, who was a disciple of Saint Polycarp, who in turn was a discipline of Saint John the Apostle: “As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.” (Adversus haereses, I, 10, 2)

The Catholic and Apostolic Faith can never change, under no pretext, not even under the pretext of erudite and seductive expressions such as: “hermeneutic of continuity”, “living tradition”, “paradigm swift”, “development of doctrine” and so on. Our true paradigm is Christ, and He is the truth. Christ-Truth “is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb. 13: 8)

Necessity of Instruction in the Catholic Faith: Part 4


THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD.

The knowledge of God consists in the knowledge of His perfections, His works, His will, and the means of grace instituted by Him. St. Paul bids us “increase in the knowledge of God” (Col. i. 10). Now we only know God through a glass in a dark manner; only in heaven shall we see Him face to face, and have a clear knowledge of His perfections (1 Cor. xiii. 12).

  1. The happiness of the angels and the saints consists in the knowledge of God.

Our Lord tells us that “this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent” (John xvii. 3). This is the food of which the archangel Raphael spoke, when he said to Tobias: “I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men” (Tob. xii. 19). In heaven the saints and angels have an immediate knowledge of God in the beatific vision. We on earth only know God through the medium of His works and of what He has revealed to us. Our knowledge, compared with that of the saints and angels, is like the knowledge of a country that one gets from maps and pictures as compared with the knowledge of one who has himself visited it.

  1. The knowledge of God is all-important, for without it there cannot be any happiness on earth, or a well-ordered life.

The knowledge of God is the food of our soul. Without it the soul feels hungry; we become discontented. He who does not possess interior peace, cannot enjoy riches, health, or any of the goods of this life; they all become distasteful to him. Yet few think about this food of the soul; they busy themselves, as Our Lord says, with the “meat that perishes” (John vi. 27). Without the knowledge of God a man is like one who walks in the dark, and stumbles at every step; he has no end or aim in life, no consolation in misfortune, and no hope in death. He cannot have any solid or lasting happiness, or any true contentment. Without a knowledge of God a well-ordered life is impossible. Just as an untilled field produces no good fruit, so a man who has not the knowledge of God can produce no good works. Ignorance and forgetfulness of God are the causes of most of the sins that men commit. Rash and false oaths, neglect of the service of God and of the sacraments, the love of gold, the sinful indulgence of the passions, are all due to willful ignorance and forgetfulness of God. Thus the prophet Osee exclaims “There is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and adultery have overflowed” (Osee iv. 2, 3). And St. Ignatius of Loyola cries out, “O God, Thou joy of my soul, if only men knew Thee, they never would offend Thee,” and experience shows that in the jails the greater part of the prisoners are those who knew nothing of God. When Frederick of Prussia at length recognized that the want of the knowledge of God was the cause of the increase in crime, he exclaimed, “Then I will have religion introduced into the country.” This is why the learning and the understanding of the Catechism, which is nothing else than an abridgment of the Christian religion, is all-important. But a mere knowledge of the truths of religion is not sufficient; they must also be practiced.

  1. We arrive at a right knowledge of God through faith in the truths which God has revealed.

It is true that by means of reason and from the contemplation of the creatures that God has made man can arrive at a knowledge of God (Rom. i. 20). “The heavens show forth the glory of God” (Ps. xviii. 2). But our reason is so weak and prone to err, that without revelation it is very difficult for man to attain to a clear and correct knowledge of God. What strange and perverted views of the Deity we find among heathen nations (cf. Wisd. ix. 16, 17). God therefore in His mercy comes to our aid with revelation. Through believing the truths that God has revealed, man attains to a clear and correct knowledge of God. Hence St. Anselm says, “The more I am nourished with the food of faith, the more my understanding is satisfied.” Faith is a divine light that shines in our souls (2 Cor. iv. 6). It is like a watch tower, from which we can see that which cannot be seen from the plain below; we learn respecting God that which cannot be learned by mere reason from the world around. It is a glass through which we perceive all the divine perfections. It is a staff which supports our feeble reason, and enables it to know God better. There are two books from which we gain a knowledge of God; the book of Nature, and Holy Scripture, which is the book of revelation.

Divine revelation

The natural Revelation of God

Strictly speaking, it does not require faith to recognize the existence of God. For those who reason properly, God’s existence is a matter of knowledge. One can know that God exists by deduction from evidence and principles observable in nature. Many thinkers from classical to modern times have affirmed the existence of God as a matter of reason (for instance Plato, Aristotle etc.)

The First Vatican Council teaches: “The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, may be certainly known by the natural light of human reason, by means of created things; “for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20), but that it pleased His wisdom and bounty to reveal Himself, and the eternal decrees of His will, to mankind by another and a supernatural way: as the Apostle says, “God, having spoken on diverse occasions, and in many ways, in times past, to the fathers by the prophets; last of all, in these days, has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is to be ascribed to this Divine Revelation, that such truths among things Divine as of themselves are not beyond human reason, can, even in the present condition of mankind, be known by everyone with facility, with firm assurance, and with no admixture of error.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, Chap. 3)

“The Catholic Church, with one consent, has also ever held and does hold that there is a two-fold order of knowledge, distinct both in principle and also in object; in principle, because our knowledge, in the one, is by natural reason, and, in the other, is by Divine faith; in object, because, besides those things to which natural reason can attain, there are proposed, for our belief, mysteries hidden in God, which, unless Divinely-revealed, cannot be known.

Therefore, the Apostle, who testifies that God is known by the Gentiles through created things, still, when discoursing of the grace and truth which came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17), says: “We speak of the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world unto our glory; which none of the leaders of this world knew … but to us God has revealed them by His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.” (1 Cor. 2:7-9). And the only-begotten Son himself gives thanks to the Father, because He has hidden these things from the wise and the prudent, and has revealed them to little ones (Matt. 11:25).

And reason, indeed, enlightened by faith — when it seeks earnestly, piously, and somberly — attains by a gift from God some understanding of mysteries, even a very fruitful one; partly from the analogy of those things which it naturally knows, partly from the relations which the mysteries bear to one another and to the last end of man. But reason never becomes capable of apprehending mysteries as it does those truths which constitute its proper object. For the Divine mysteries by their own nature so far transcend the created intelligence that, even when delivered by revelation and received by faith, they remain covered with the veil of faith itself, and shrouded in a certain degree of darkness, so long as we are pilgrims in this mortal life, not yet with God; “For we walk by means of faith, and not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7).

But although faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind. And God cannot deny Himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. The false appearance of such a contradiction is mainly due, either to the dogmas of faith not having been understood and expounded according to the mind of the Church, or to the inventions of opinion having been mistaken for the verdicts of reason.» (Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, Chap. 4)

“And not only can faith and reason never be opposed to one another, but they are of mutual aid one to the other. For right reason demonstrates the foundations of faith, and enlightened by its light, cultivates the science of Divine things; while faith frees and guards reason from errors, and furnishes it with manifold knowledge. Therefore, so far is the Church from opposing the cultivation of human arts and sciences, that it in many ways helps and promotes them. For the Church neither ignores nor despises the benefits of human life which result from the arts and sciences, but confesses that, as they came from God, the Lord of all science, so, if they be used rightly, they lead to God by the help of His grace. Nor does the Church forbid that each of these sciences, in its sphere, should make use of its own principles and its own methods. But, while recognizing this just liberty, it stands watchfully on guard, lest sciences, setting themselves against Divine teaching or transgressing their own limits, should invade and disturb the domain of faith.” (ibid.)

The same First Vatican Council teaches: “If anyone shall say that the One True God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be certainly known by the natural light of human reason through created things; let him be anathema.” “If anyone shall say that Divine faith is not distinguished from natural knowledge of God and of moral truths, and therefore that it is not requisite for Divine faith that revealed truth be believed because of the authority of God Who reveals it; let him be anathema.”

God has in His mercy in the course of ages often revealed Himself to men (Heb. i. 1-2).

God has often communicated to men a knowledge of His perfections, His decrees, and His holy will. Such revelation is called supernatural, as opposed to the natural revelation of Himself that He makes through His creation in the external world.

God’s revelation to man is generally made in the following way: He speaks to individuals and orders them to communicate to their fellow-men the revelation made to them.

Thus God spoke to Abraham, Noah, and Moses. He sent Noah to preach to sinful men before the Flood, He sent Moses to the Israelites when they were oppressed by Pharao. Sometimes God spoke to a number of men who were assembled together, as when He gave the law to the people on Mount Sinai, or when Our Lord was baptized by St. John and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, a voice being heard from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” Sometimes God revealed Himself through angels, as for in stance to Tobias through the archangel Raphael. When God spoke to men, He took the visible form of a man or of an angel, or He spoke from a cloud (as on Sinai), or from a burning bush, as He did to Moses, or amid a bright light from heaven, as to St. Paul, or in the whispering of the wind, as He did to Elias, or by some interior illumination (Deut. ii. 6-8). Those to whom God revealed Himself, and who had to bear witness before others to the divine message, were called messengers from God, and often received from Him the power of working miracles and of prophecy, in proof of their divine mission. (Cf. the miracles of Moses before Pharao, of Elias, the apostles, etc.)

Those who were specially entrusted with the communication to men of the divine revelation were the following: the patriarchs, the prophets, Jesus Christ the Son of God (Heb. i. 1), and His apostles.

Revelation is to mankind in general what education is to individual men. Revelation corresponds to the needs of the successive stages of human development, to the infancy, childhood, and youth of mankind. The patriarchs, who had more of the nature of children, needed less in the way of precepts, and God dealt with them in more familiar fashion; the people of Israel, in whom, as in the season of youth, self-will and sensuality were strong, had to be trained by strict laws and constant correction; but when mankind had arrived at the period of manhood, then God sent His Son and introduced the law of love (1 Cor. xiii. 11; Gal. iii. 24). Of all those who declared to men the divine revelation, the Son of God was pre-eminently the true witness. He says of Himself, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, that I should bear testimony to the truth” (John xviii. 37). He was of all witnesses the best, because He alone had seen God (John i. 18). The apostles also had to declare to men the divine revelation. They had to bear witness of what they had seen, and above all of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts x. 39). With the revelation given through Christ and His apostles, the revelation that was given for the instruction of all mankind was concluded.

Revelation was necessary because, in consequence of original sin, man without revelation has never had a correct knowledge of God and of His will; and also because it was necessary that man should be prepared for the coming of the Redeemer.

The three Wise Men would never have found Christ if He had not revealed Himself to them by means of a star; so mankind would have lived far off from God, and would never have attained to a true knowledge of Him, if He had not revealed Himself to them. As the eye needs light to see things of sense, so human reason, which is the eye of the soul, needs revelation to perceive things divine (St. Augustine). Original sin and the indulgence of the senses had so dimmed human reason that it could no longer recognize God in His works (Wisd. ix. 16). This is proved by the history of paganism. The heathen worshipped countless deities, idols, beasts, and wicked men, and his worship was often immoral and horrible, as in the human sacrifices offered by him. The gods were often the patrons of vice. The greatest men among the heathens approved practices forbidden by the natural law. Thus Cicero approved of suicide, Plato of the exposing to death those children who were weak or deformed. Their theories when good were at variance with their practice. Socrates denounced polytheism, but before his death told his disciples to sacrifice a cock to Esculapius. Many of the best of the heathens recognized and lamented their ignorance of God. Besides, without a previous revelation the Saviour would have been neither known nor honored as He ought to have been known and honored; it was fitting that He should be announced beforehand, like a king coming to take possession of his kingdom. We ought indeed to be grateful to God that He has given us the light of revelation, just as a blind man is grateful to the physician who has restored his sight. Yet how many there are who willfully shut their eyes to the light of revelation even now!

The Second Vatican Council gives this summary of the notion of Divine Revelation: “2. In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God (see Col. 1;15, 1 Tim. 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends (see Ex. 33:11; John 15:14-15) and lives among them (see Bar. 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself. This plan of revelation is realized by deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them. By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines out for our sake in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation.

  1. God, who through the Word creates all things (see John 1:3) and keeps them in existence, gives men an enduring witness to Himself in created realities (see Rom. 1:19-20). Planning to make known the way of heavenly salvation, He went further and from the start manifested Himself to our first parents. Then after their fall His promise of redemption aroused in them the hope of being saved (see Gen. 3:15) and from that time on He ceaselessly kept the human race in His care, to give eternal life to those who perseveringly do good in search of salvation (see Rom. 2:6-7). Then, at the time He had appointed He called Abraham in order to make of him a great nation (see Gen. 12:2). Through the patriarchs, and after them through Moses and the prophets, He taught this people to acknowledge Himself the one living and true God, provident father and just judge, and to wait for the Savior promised by Him, and in this manner prepared the way for the Gospel down through the centuries.
  2. Then, after speaking in many and varied ways through the prophets, “now at last in these days God has spoken to us in His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). For He sent His Son, the eternal Word, who enlightens all men, so that He might dwell among men and tell them of the innermost being of God (see John 1:1-18). Jesus Christ, therefore, the Word made flesh, was sent as “a man to men.” (3) He “speaks the words of God” (John 3;34), and completes the work of salvation which His Father gave Him to do (see John 5:36; John 17:4). To see Jesus is to see His Father (John 14:9). For this reason Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth. Moreover He confirmed with divine testimony what revelation proclaimed, that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal. The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13). Through divine revelation, God chose to show forth and communicate Himself and the eternal decisions of His will regarding the salvation of men. That is to say, He chose to share with them those divine treasures which totally transcend the understanding of the human mind” (Dei Verbum, 2 – 6)

Even since the death of Our Lord and His apostles, God has often revealed Himself to men by means of the so called private revelations. Instances of these subsequent private revelations are the appearances of Our Lord to Blessed Margaret Mary, and of Our Lady at Lourdes, Fatima etc. Many of the saints have had such revelations, i.e., St. Francis of Assisi, to whom Our Lord appeared upon the cross, and St. Anthony of Padua, in whose arms the Child Jesus deigned to rest. These private revelations were more especially given to those who were striving after perfection, in order to encourage them to greater perfection still. Yet God sometimes revealed Himself to wicked men, i.e., to Baltassar in the handwriting on the wall (Dan. v. 5, seq.). Hence a private revelation given to any one is not necessarily a mark of holiness. These revelations, moreover, were no further continuation of the Public Divine revelation intended for the instruction of the whole of mankind, which ended with the death of the last of the apostles; they are rather a confirmation of truths already revealed. Thus Our Lady, when she appeared at Lourdes, proclaimed herself the “Immaculate Conception,” so confirming the dogma which Pius IX had defined four years previously, and the countless miracles and cures that have taken place there have established the truth of the apparition. Yet it is always possible that the malice of the devil may introduce deceptions into private revelations. No one is therefore bound to give to private revelations (even though they have been approved by the Church) the same belief as to Divinely revealed truth. Approved private revelations are trustworthy because of the guarantee which gives the Church, however the Church cannot give the same guarantee of authenticity of a private revelation, as she gives it to the truths of the Public Divine Revelation.

“Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such ‘revelations’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 67).

The Doctor of the Church, Saint John of the Cross, says: “In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word-and he has no more to say… because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty” (No. 65; Saint John of the Cross,The Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 22).

We can summarize the theme of private revelations as follows:

  1. The authority of private revelations is essentially different from that of the definitive public Revelation. The latter demands faith; in it in fact God himself speaks to us through human words and the mediation of the living community of the Church. Faith in God and in his word is different from any other human faith, trust or opinion. The certainty that it is God who is speaking gives me the assurance that I am in touch with truth itself. It gives me a certitude which is beyond verification by any human way of knowing. It is the certitude upon which I build my life and to which I entrust myself in dying.
  2. Private revelation is a help to this faith, and shows its credibility precisely by leading me back to the definitive public Revelation. In this regard, Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, the future Pope Benedict XIV, says in his classic treatise, which later became normative for beatifications and canonizations: “An assent of Catholic faith is not due to revelations approved in this way; it is not even possible. These revelations seek rather an assent of human faith in keeping with the requirements of prudence, which puts them before us as probable and credible to piety”.

Hence, ecclesiastical approval of a private revelation has three elements: the message contains nothing contrary to faith or morals; it is lawful to make it public; and the faithful are authorized to accept it with prudence.

God grants private revelations so that they may have an edifying effect for the life of the Church. The give rise to new devotional forms, or deepen and spread older forms. There must be a nurturing of faith, hope and love, which are the unchanging path to salvation for everyone. We might add that private revelations often spring from popular piety and leave their stamp on it, giving it a new impulse and opening the way for new forms of it. Private revelations have an effect even on the liturgy, as we see for instance in the feasts of Corpus Christi and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Cardinal Ratzinger said about private revelations the following: “In every age the Church has received the charism of prophecy, which must be scrutinized but not scorned. On this point, it should be kept in mind that prophecy in the biblical sense does not mean to predict the future but to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future. A person who foretells what is going to happen responds to the curiosity of the mind, which wants to draw back the veil on the future. The prophet speaks to the blindness of will and of reason, and declares the will of God as an indication and demand for the present time. In this case, prediction of the future is of secondary importance. What is essential is the actualization of the definitive Divine Revelation, which concerns me at the deepest level. The prophetic word (of a private revelation) is a warning or a consolation, or both together. In this sense there is a link between the charism of prophecy and the category of “the signs of the times” (Public Revelation and private revelations, “The message of Fatima”, 2000).