Church Authority Over Interpreting Applying And Teaching The Faith
The Church Has Authority To Interpret And Teach The Deposit Of The Faith And To Implement Church Laws To Help Live Out The Deposit Of The Faith.
As a review, let us look at what is meant by “The Deposit of the Faith” and “Church Law”.
Deposit Of Faith
"Deposit of Faith" is the teachings of the Catholic Church that are handed down since the time of the Apostles through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. These two are known as the "Deposit of Faith." (depositum fidei).
The Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (deposit of faith) are in turn interpreted by the Magisterium (Latin for "teacher"), the Church's teaching authority, which is exercised by the Pope and the College of Bishops.
The Catholic belief regarding the deposit of faith is that Christ left behind all the knowledge that was needed (Public Revelation), in both textual (Scripture) and verbal instructions (Tradition). The verbal instructions were teachings but the correct interpretation of Scriptures and the Words of Christ, being instilled in the Apostles who then instilled these teachings regarding Scriptures, etc... through Apostolic Succession to those they ordained to take their places. While this Tradition is not recorded in Scripture itself, it is recorded in the teachings of the Fathers of the Church in the early years. For example, it is recorded in the writings of Polycarp and his disciple Ignatius, it is echoed through the teachings of the Church down through the ages.
In summary, the "Deposit of Faith" is the body of revealed truth in the Scriptures and Tradition taught by the Roman Catholic Church for the belief of the faithful.
It is the mission of the Church, which the Lord has entrusted to the Catholic Church, to guard the "Deposit of Faith." Since the "Deposit of Faith" cannot change, it is the responsibility of the Church to preserve, protect, and interpret it. As Catholics, we believe that Christ established an authoritative Church, through the Magisterium or teaching authority, that has the ability to define the truth of Christ’s teachings.
That is why, we as Catholics, are required, without exception, to believe in all of the teachings of the Catholic Church. We cannot say, "I believe this, but I do not believe that."
The Law Of The Church/Canon Law
The law of the Church is called Canon Law. It governs how the Church operates and the obligations and duties of its members. The Church’s law provides the rules and norms that help the faithful to live a moral life and guide them toward holiness. The laws of the Church are distinct from both the moral law and matters of faith that the magisterium proclaims. For this reason, they have a different kind of authority. When the pope and bishops teach on matters of faith and morals, they transmit the Deposit of Faith, given to us by God. but the Church can’t change the teaching because it doesn’t come from the pope or the bishops or their own authority. It comes from God himself. The job of the pope and the bishops is simply to faithfully transmit and interpret the Deposit of the Faith.
The laws of the Church are different. They reflect the moral law and the Church’s self-understanding, which are part of the unchanging Deposit of Faith, but they also apply that teaching to particular circumstances with rules and disciplines that can be changed. The pope and bishops may command a particular practice because they believe it will be helpful to the pursuit of holiness, but then, in a later era, change or adjust the rule because new circumstances make it no longer helpful.
Just like the speed limit can be different on different roads or in different states, but all speed limits have the same goal of safety on the road, so the Church’s rules about things like fasting can be different in different times and places but have the same goal: the holiness of the faithful.
This difference between disciplines, which can be changed, and the moral law, which does not change, sometimes causes confusion. For instance, some people think that if the Church can change its rules about abstaining from meat on Fridays, then it can also change its teaching about abortion. But this is based on a fundamental mistake. The Church’s rules about fasting aren’t unchanging moral laws that come from God. They are rules that the Church makes in particular times and places to guide the faithful. In contrast, the wrongness of abortion isn’t a “rule” that comes from the Church, but is a part of the moral law, which comes from God. The Church does not make up this moral law but discovers it by reflection on creation and divine Revelation and faithfully transmits it through her teaching. As a consequence, while popes and bishops can change rules about things like fasting, they have no authority to change the moral law.
How Do We Know The Church Has Authority Over Interpreting Applying And Teaching The Faith?
The Catholic Church makes an amazing claim: it teaches, governs, and sanctifies with the authority of Christ himself.
Catholics believe that this gift of Church authority is one of the jewels that Christ has given to us as an aid to our salvation.
We understand that, Christ himself is the source of the Church’s authority. The New Testament shows that Christ deliberately created his Church to be the vehicle of his continuing mission in the world. He promised to remain present in his Church for all time, and he lovingly guides it through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
To ensure the success of this mission, Christ gave his Church the ability to teach, govern and sanctify with Christ’s own authority. The Apostles appointed successors to ensure that the Gospel would continue to be handed on faithfully through all ages world without end.
The source and guarantee of this Church authority is Christ’s continuing presence in his Church — “behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation (or end) of the world. ” (Matthew 28:20).
The purpose of this authority is to give the Church the ability to teach without error about the essentials of salvation: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. ” (Matthew 16:18). The scope of this authority concerns the official teachings of the Church on matters of faith, and morals, and cannon law. In our next lesson let us look at the importance of authority in the christian life.