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The splintering of Christianity is nothing short of a travesty. Jesus underscored this in Gethsemane, where He dedicated one of His final prayers to the unity of the faithful (see John 17:11–23). Nevertheless, the Church finds Herself fractured, largely due to the great schisms of 1054 and 1517. Ecumenical dialogue predicated on Scripture alone has largely proven fruitless in mending these ruptures. Reason, it seems, is the most efficacious means of engaging with our separated brothers. Indeed, the dictates of pure reason lead us to conclude that Catholicism directly corresponds to the needs of fallen human nature, that it represents the only authentic Christianity.
Although divine revelation is central to Christianity, the appeal to reason is fitting, since it's God's gift to all people in common, the very gift that distinguishes them from the beasts. It's especially fitting because the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is reason: the eternal Word ("Logos") of John 1:1. (In biblical Greek, logos can also be interpreted as "truth" or "reason.") The modern world rejects reason because it rejects the Logos. Fundamentalists, in a way, snub human reason because they believe it's corrupted by sin. We reject both these extremes of modernism and fundamentalism, as does sacred Scripture: "Come, let us reason together, says the Lord" (Isaiah 1:18).
Pope St. John Paul II wrote that "faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth" (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, Introduction).
"I am the way, the truth, and the life," said the Lord. "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). As the Way, He offers divine truth and life. Henceforth, we will focus on these two gifts that afford fallen man the light and strength necessary for salvation: divine truth and divine life.
Divine truth is communicated to man through human language. Words convey meaning, without which they are simply empty utterances — symbols pointing to nothing. The word of God, therefore, needs definitive and authoritative interpretation; and this is especially true given the darkening of the human intellect after the loss of original justice (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, II, q. 85, a. 3).
To come to the true meaning of any message, one must know the intention of the communicator. To know the true meaning of the rock anthem "American Pie," for example, one would have to learn the mind of Don McLean himself. By the same logic, only God can interpret the true meaning of His message to mankind. "No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Corinthians 2:11).
Here we must consider two problems. First, human error is certain if we're left to our own devices to interpret divine revelation. Anyone who's ever played the telephone game as a child knows how quickly a simple message becomes distorted after several people hear it and pass it on. Second, experience shows that when baptized individuals attempt to interpret God's word, the result is thousands of Protestant denominations.
Hence, we arrive at the following logical sequence. If the word of God contains what's necessary for salvation, and God is love and wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), it follows that Christ must have established a teaching authority guided by the Holy Spirit to interpret the truths of salvation. He would not leave the meaning of His salvific word vulnerable to human error.
The mandate to safeguard the deposit of faith and teach it without error is given to the pillars of the Church, Peter and the apostles, and to their legitimate successors (the pope and the bishops). This official teaching authority is known as the Magisterium, Latin for "magister" or teacher (Luke 18:18). This idea is explicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ" (¶85).
The Vatican II constitution Dei Verbum makes clear that the Magisterium is integral to knowing the true meaning of Scripture and Tradition: "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" (§10).
It is important that God offers both His word and its meaning to all those who, with the rich young man in the gospels, seek to know with clarity and without doubt "what is necessary to inherit eternal life" (Luke 18:18). The Son communicates "the words of eternal life" (John 6:68), the Spirit ensures we have access to their true meaning (Luke 24:31), and the living Magisterium formulates and authentically teaches all truths pertaining to salvation. Details on how this works can be found in Lumen Gentium §25, Mysterium Ecclesiae, and other postconciliar documents.
Consider that the Catholic Church has not essentially changed Her doctrines for over two millennia, despite attacks from without and within. Even after the most brutal barrage of attacks from the secular and sexual revolutions of the 20th century, the Catholic Church has officially stood firm. This is virtually impossible without divine assistance.
As a prime historical example, the Church of England, at its 1930 Lambeth Conference, became the first Christian denomination to allow the use of contraception. Thereafter, every ecclesial body — except for the Catholic Church — fell like dominoes to the anti-Christian demand for contraception and the fornication-on-demand culture it enables.
The Magisterium Christ established has enabled the Catholic Church to teach the doctrine of Christ — His hard sayings — in season and out of season. That's not to say you won't find Catholics in disunion with their Church. Unfortunately, that's everywhere. But again, the Spirit hasn't given the gift of divine guidance and infallibility to any individual in the Church — only to the Church as a whole through the Magisterium.
In any personal relationship, there's a sharing of words and of life. So it's fitting that besides divine truth, the gift of divine life is necessary for salvation. This is manifested especially in the Mass, where divine truth and life are imparted via word and sacrament. Since we're bodily creatures, and since our spiritual sight has been so dimmed due to original sin, man needs sensible signs to receive supernatural grace. Saint Thomas Aquinas explains:
The condition of human nature ... is such that it has to be led by things corporeal and sensible to things spiritual and intelligible. ... Divine wisdom, therefore, fittingly provides man with means of salvation, in the shape of corporeal and sensible signs that are called sacraments (S.T., III, q. 61, a.1).
So God has given us seven physical channels of divine life in order to heal and elevate us. Here we focus on two: Communion and confession. And for the Eucharist, let's consider three important effects that satisfy the heart's deepest longings — healing, nourishment and love.
First, the Eucharist is the Medicine of Immortality. By losing access to the tree of life (see Genesis 2:9; 3:24) via original sin, mankind lost access to immortality. For our sake, the New Adam took up His Cross and re-planted the new tree of life on Mount Calvary, where He, its hanging fruit, becomes the new fruit of eternal life in the Eucharist. Thus St. Ignatius of Antioch, in the second century, referred to the Eucharist as "the medicine of immortality."
Second, it is the New Passover. Christ not only becomes our medicine for sin, but also our nourishment for life. As food is to the body, the Eucharist is to the soul. As the old saying goes, "You are what you eat." We become more like Christ by receiving Holy Communion. And, in this respect, the Eucharist is the typological fulfillment of the Old Testament Passover. God, through Moses, told the Israelites to kill an unblemished lamb (Exodus 12:5) and smear its blood upon their doorways so the angel of death will pass over. The blood of the lamb saves the Israelites (12:7), as the blood of the new unblemished Lamb, killed on the Cross, saves the world. But beyond this, God commanded the Israelites to eat the lamb (12:8), for strength to begin their journey to the promised land. Likewise, to fulfill the Passover typology, Christians are commanded to eat the New Lamb (John 1:29), for spiritual nourishment on their journey to the new promised land, Heaven. We consume the New Lamb in Holy Communion (Matthew 26:26).
Third, the Eucharist consummates marital union. For spouses, love seeks union. This is just as true for Christ and His Bride, the Church. Conjugal union is two-fold: it consists of verbal communication and bodily communication. This is why the Mass is divided into liturgy of the word and liturgy of the Eucharist. The marriage of Christ to each member of His Church is ratified in Baptism and consummated in the Eucharist, when the two become one flesh. In this Holy Communion of lovers, Christ abides in us physically so that we may more deeply abide in Him spiritually. This Eucharistic intercourse is God's way of infusing His bride with His divine life, so that she may go out into the world and evangelize, to make Christians through conversion and baptism.
And lastly, since the Sacred Host is the whole Jesus, the traditional practice of Eucharistic adoration is intuitive. With the accidental form of unleavened bread remaining, we are able to be with the Lord in the silence of His presence. Pope Pius XII, echoing the teaching of Trent (session 13, canon 1), magnifies this point: "The Eucharistic Food contains, as all are aware, 'truly, really and substantially the Body and Blood together with soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.' It is no wonder, then, that the Church, even from the beginning, adored the body of Christ under the appearance of bread" (Pius XII, Mediator Dei, §129).
Further, the practice of adoration allows the faithful to fulfill Christ's words: "Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40).
Every relationship has its ebb and flow; fallen humans hurt people. If you're in a real relationship with Christ, you're going to offend Him now and then (sometimes seriously). This means alienating yourself from the source of life. Countless converts have attested to how psychologically healing and uplifting it is to hear the words of an authoritative voice forgiving them in Christ's name, pronouncing them free from all guilt. It is here, in the sacrament of penance, that Christ forgives sins committed after baptism. When we take our sins to confession, we take them to the Cross. They are, in a sense, transmitted onto the human nature of Christ crucified. After He (through the priest and on the Cross) grants His pardon (Luke 23:34), our sins die with Christ.
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned Jesus' prayer for unity, and the fact that there can't be unity without truth. But Jesus did more than pray for unity: He established a hierarchical structure for the Holy Spirit to inform for this unity to be realized.
The Church was conceived in Christ's choosing the Apostles, the original Magisterium. It was born on Pentecost, when the Spirit was sent to the world. Tradition has been the shared experience of this growing organism, which, after two millennia, is still alive and universal.
Since the Spirit links the now-risen, incorruptible Christ to His body, the Church, the Church cannot pass away — despite the presence of sinners in its ranks. Spanish prelate Jesus Cardinal Ercole Consalvi once told Napoleon Bonaparte, who threatened to annihilate the Catholic Church, "If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you'll be able to do it?"
In the body of Christ, every organ and every cell helps its fellows. It is God's will to use us as instruments and secondary causes of each other's salvation. He used certain men to write the books of the Bible, and other men to promulgate His law, prophesy His word and administer His divine life through the sacraments. He also used a man to build an ark to save and renew the world (Genesis 6:14). The Catholic Church is the Ark of the New Covenant, offering salvation through the turbulent storms. And as God had a precise blueprint for building the ark to withstand the deluge (6:15–17), so too has Christ established a structure for His Church to withstand the world, the flesh and the Devil (Matthew 16:18). That structure still persists in an unbroken line of continuity from the original twelve.
Through the sacrifice of Christ, the God of Love provides the world all it needs to overcome sin and attain salvation. This fullness of divine truth and divine life from God's infinite love still subsists in the Catholic Church (Lumen Gentium, §8), the only Church established and inerrantly guided by Christ.