Given the recent events occurring in the USA regarding the upholding of the HHS mandate and the ongoing multi national push for same-sex ‘marriage’ it comes as a coincidental surprise that I found one of those ‘card’ posts on Facebook which sarcastically read ‘Oh, you know all about life, excuse me while I take notes’. While the message is clear, it does make a good point – why should anyone, individual or group, tell others how to live their lives? By what right?
In countries dominated by tepid relativism and indifferent hedonism where ‘you-can-do-what-you-want-just-let-me-do-what-I-want’ prevails how can one organization anywhere validly claim that it can tell the others what to do?
One group, the leaders of the country (politicians, governments, monarchy, etc.) may claim that as the leaders of the country they do get to dictate how lives are lived. Many of these types of leaderships have existed over the millennia to varying degrees of success. But being successful doesn’t give a ruler a right to lead a country. Sure if things are going well they might last for bit longer but again, that doesn’t naturally lead to leadership reassurance. Many nations have constitutional rights given to the leaders of the nation formally allowing them to make decisions for its citizens. But is this enough of a right to tell people what they can and cannot do? By this I mean more than laws for the common good or public order, but laws that cut deep in the core of what a person is, laws that recognize some people and not others, laws that discriminate.
Many nations have had leaderships forcibly changed, regardless of any legalities. And more often not always for the better. Does having might behind authority reinforce a right? Or is there more to it?
I suggest that rightful leadership must come from a higher authority. And ultimately that authority must be divine. What would be the marks of such divine authority? It must be visible, it must be active and have a dominion. I think that sums up every form of authority so far! Even divine authority is authoritative after all. More specifically, it must be conferred by a divinity, it must achieve a divine purpose, it must recognize aspects of other-worldliness and finally if it is truly divine, it must be continual from the time of institution.
Why these aspects are necessary is essentially because of its divine origins; what secular authority unknowingly reflects. Divine authority must be given (it cannot be taken, though it can be claimed), for a reason (if it is without intent, it either has no purpose or is accidental), and therefore it must acknowledge its origins (realizing that they are not the ultimate authority, nor that they can source its claimed divinity from this world), continually (if it is truly representing a divinity, it must be continual or run the risk of such a divinity losing representation in this world).
These seven qualities I propose are found only in the Catholic church.
The church is visible. I think this is almost a universal claim. There might be someone in the world with their head under a rock… on a remote desert island… for the last millennia or so… who doesn’t know that there’s a church on every corner and a city called ‘The Vatican’. Someone can go to the Vatican and see it, it therefore is visible.
The church is active. With delegates on every continent, the church at every level is active: active making decisions at local and national levels. It’s active in its outreach, and within its own walls. It’s activity is as diverse and as far-reaching as it’s members.
Speaking of its members, wherever they are, so is the dominion of the church. In so far as a person adheres entirely to the teachings of the church that person is in the dominion of the church. It is an important note: dominion is not found in a physical boundary or territory but more in the community of believers. Think of someone of one nationality going to another country, that person may be in the physical dominion of one country but remain a formal member of the original nationality. It is much the same of church members around the world.
The divine origins of the Catholic church has been in much dispute over the last few centuries, but this was virtually unquestioned for the first 1500 years! Modern objections regard two things; the divinity of Christ (if he was not divine he couldn’t institute a divine church) and the Catholic church being the church he founded. While this is not the place for a discussion on the divine origins of the Catholic church, for adherents of the Catholic faith neither point is questioned (at least shouldn’t be questioned); Jesus is divine and he did institute the Catholic church… “and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
This leads to the continuity of the church. If the church at some point was not collegially represented, perhaps not uniformly but at least communally, then the divine authorship of the church could rightfully be questioned. But in trying to avoid the muddy waters of church history, suffice to say that there has been apostolic succession from Peter to Benedict XVI, the pope being the head of the church and therefore also the college of bishops. Because this succession is unbroken, the divine authorship remains – it has not had to restart, so to speak, and therefore compromising its divine claim.
In its humility, from the pope to the peasant, the other wordiness of the church is recognized. In scripture it is written, “my kingdom is not if this world”. Catholics refer to those who have died in the kingdom as the communion of saints or as Chesterton brilliantly put it, the democracy of the dead. These faithful departed are in the presence of the Lord and a week doesn’t go by where we don’t recognize a member of the heavenly kingdom – there is a saints feast day every day. Indeed at every mass, which is celebrated thousands of times a day around the world, Catholics remember and partake in other-worldliness by way of the Sacred Mystery. So needless to say, holy memorium is front and center of Catholic liturgies.
But of all qualities of divine authority, its the divine purpose that I find most intriguing. That’s because purpose can also be attributed to secular authority, however that is where the similarity ends. The most noble of secular leaderships will lead the community to the glory of humanity – all for the greater good – but divinely instituted authority, with all that that entails, will lead the community to sanctity – all for the greater glory of God.
This is no small point, for this becomes the underlying purpose to which the laws and instructions are directed. While many laws may be similar, such as those maintaining order, it is the purpose behind the order that is of concern.
The divine origins of the Catholic church, it’s historicity, it’s mission of sanctity and it’s leadership succession cannot be dismissed by secular state leaders – the church has been around long enough to encounter most, if not all, of today’s problems before, to draw solutions from its many members over the years and has a well established line of authority through which the church can operate. With such depth the voice of the church must resonate beyond those who freely adhere to its tenants and reach the ears of those who oppose it. A warning heard becomes the responsibility of the hearer; the church in trying to sanctify all of humanity has effectively done all it can for those who wish to ignore it. But they have more than just a right to sound a warning to the masses, it has a duty as part if it’s mission. And I pray that the church does not relent in sounding the alarm, that the world hears the wisdom within it, and that leaders and their people everywhere join in the church’s mission of a sanctified world.