Thank you Father, for taking the time to help me. First, I do find the rules of the Church a little strict. More concerning to me, though, is the fact that they've changed. Something like slavery was interpreted as something okay because of interpretation of the Bible. It worries me that something apparently so solid can change. If those ideas were wrong, what about the other things the Church teaches? Not basic foundations of the faith, but matters concerning real world, controversial issues?
Thank you for giving me more specifics on what concerns you about following the Catholic Church.
Ok, so that makes sense. As I am reading this, the big question is, “The Church is supposed to be my Teacher, the voice of God. But can I trust the Church to be a reliable Teacher so that I can assent in faith to her beliefs?”
First, anon, the Catholic Church, through the Twelve Apostles, received from Jesus Christ the Deposit of Faith, the Gospel, to be handed on for our salvation. But in the limited time He was on earth, Jesus could only give so many answers to so many questions. Then, He returned to heaven, leaving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to dwell in the Church’s bishops, preserving them in the truth as they studied new questions and tried to arrive at the correct answers.
The Catholic Church is a reliable Teacher, but that is different from being a perfect Teacher with instant and clear answers. What I tell people is that the Church is a reliable Teacher because we can depend upon her to investigate and study questions with prayer and sincere faith. The Holy Spirit will assist her to find the truth, sometimes in doses and not all at once. However, she has not falsified and corrupted the Truth of Jesus, even though she has at times been slow to see the full picture of the Truth.
Slavery is an example of where the answers were not so clear, or “so solid” as you may think. No one could text God in the 1st century, “God, what do you think about slavery? Answer back right away, k?”
No one could Google “Is slavery moral or immoral? Under what conditions?” Slavery had always been practiced, and Jesus, knowing about it as a political and economic tool, had never condemned it. Most church members and the bishops were from working class, uneducated families and had not deeply studied the issues.
The best the Church could come up with was that sometimes it seemed justified to force certain people into servitude and at other times it seemed unjustified and immoral. In all cases, “love thy neighbor as thyself” was still in force, as was the precept “preach the Good News to all nations, baptize them, make disciples of them, and teach them everything I have commanded you.”
The Gospel ethic that we have to love, give fair treatment, and evangelize was always in force. But applying that ethic into practical application was not always clear. People did not always recognize the contradiction between their lives and actions and the Gospel ethic, but the Gospel ethic was always preached and taught in the Church.
And, by the way, before we begin to judge the slowness of Christians in the 1st century, let’s remind each other right now that Christians are aborting, they are contracepting, they are divorcing and remarrying, they are using sexual liberation as an excuse for degrading and impure use of the human body, they are mistreating the immigrant who harvests their food, the poor, and the elderly who do not wish to be euthanized. But I digress. Just wanted to point out that even with the Church being a reliable Teacher, that will never guarantee that her disciples are going to be reliable listeners and doers of the Word of God.
So there have always been Christian efforts to curtail slavery and remove its more cruel practices. Along with teaching that certain forms of servitude were “justified” and others were “unjustified,” there was the practical effort of the Church to bring humanity and Christianity to bear where slavery had gained a foothold.
The result of these efforts has been a constant stream of holy and righteous witness from the lives of the saints. If the Church had not been a reliable Teacher, from her bosom she could not have raised up saints for God.
So the proof of the pudding of the Church being reliable is not that her voice has instantly and clearly come up with a black and white answer to every question. The proof of the Church being a reliable Teacher is that in every age, she has improved and developed on the practical application of the doctrines handed on by her Redeemer and Founder.
She has been faithful to the general principles of the Gospel and when the right answer to a new question has come into focus, and become clear, she has transmitted that answer to her faithful sons and daughters, whether the answer was popular or unpopular in that age and culture.
This is why I can rely on the Church for matters concerning the real world. Because in the bigger picture of Catholic life, saints are raised from the bosom of the Church when they are committed to her teaching voice. In the bigger picture, she has never intentionally corrupted the Gospel, just failed to see clearly its practical application. But when she has seen clearly, she has roared like a lion. On controversial issues, more often than not, the Church has taken the unpopular side of the issue and been hated because she has challenged the culture and mores of the people, not given in to everything they want to hear. God bless and take care! Fr. Angel
p.s. I will address your second question later on.