UNDERSTANDING YOUR FAITH: AUTHORITY


By

Vic Scaravilli



All Christians agree that we must submit to the authority of Christ, but where does that same authority exist in the world today? Christ has the ultimate authority in heaven, but since he is not presently here on earth, we must have an authority to infallibly speak for him. Have you ever wondered how you know the Catholic Church teaches the truth that Christ taught? Our faith is all based on the foundation of what authority we trust.

Jesus Submitting to the Will of The Father in Gethsemane

As Catholics, we believe the Church is our authority and is made up of three interrelated parts. All of these components work together in order for us to have the foundation of our faith. These three parts are Oral Tradition, Scriptures, and the Magisterium. These truths come from Divine Revelation in both oral and written form. They are the truths that God gave us in order to know him.

Sacred Oral Tradition is the deposit of faith left by Christ to his Apostles. It has been handed down to the present day in oral form. There are many aspects of Christian life, worship, and belief coming from the time of the apostles which are not written in the Bible. The apostles and their successors passed on these authoritative teachings as essential parts of the New Covenant that God established through Christ. Components of this revelation are Christ’s teachings, the decisions of church councils and the infallible statements of Popes throughout our 2,000 year-old history. A perfect example of this type of revelation is how the apostles and their successors taught new Christians and established churches throughout the known world before there was a complete Bible.

Many of the essential teachings of Christ were eventually written down. However, some of Jesus’ life and teachings were not recorded because the writers only wrote what they felt was important in order to fit the purpose of the particular letter they were writing. The basic written components of Christian belief is recorded in the Bible. Scriptures, or the complete 73 books of the Bible, give us the majority of God’s revelation in written form. This group of inspired writings was canonized by the Church based on conformity to the Oral Traditions that were preserved by the bishops, successors of the apostles. Since the same source gave both the Oral Tradition and the Bible, they cannot be in contradiction with each other. The Church has always regarded the Scriptures together with Sacred Tradition as the supreme rule of faith.

The Church was founded on the truth from Christ. Some of this deposit was orally passed on from bishop to bishop as Oral Tradition, some was written in Scriptures, and some was defined as Christ’s infallible truths by bishops that met in councils of the Church. The group of bishops in union with the Pope is the teaching body called the Magisterium.

The function of the Magisterium is to infallibly interpret God’s revelation given in both Oral Tradition and the Scriptures. This office has the dual responsibility of protecting the truth that has been passed on by the apostles as well as defining God’s revelation at different times in the history of the growing Church. Some examples of this infallible authority are establishing the Nicene Creed, defining the Trinity, and canonizing the Bible.

The reason why we accept the Magisterium as an authority is because it was given that responsibility by Christ. This was the way in which the Church could carry on the teachings of Christ as it grew over time. Jesus gave authority to his apostles to speak for him (Lk. 10:16), promised never to abandon his Church (Mt. 28:20), and to send the Holy Spirit to guide them to teach the truth (Jn. 16:13).

1Tim. 3:15 tells us that the Church “is the pillar and foundation of all truth.” The true rule of faith in the Catholic Church’s authority is Scripture plus the Oral Tradition that is preserved and interpreted by the Magisterium.

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