Are the Church’s Teachings Inspired?

inspI got a great question recently:

I am a non-Catholic Christian trying to better understand Catholicism, and I wanted to see if you can help me with a question. On the Catholic view, how is the Bible different from church teaching? I’m wondering, if they are both infallible, why is church teaching not continually added to the Bible?

By now the Bible would need to be multiple volumes, but it would be the up to date record of special revelation from God. One answer may be that the canonical books are the “Word of God in the words of men” (as Vatican II says) and church teaching is not the Word of God. I wonder why church teaching would not be the Word of God though.

From reading Lee Mcdonald’s The Biblical Canon, it seems to be an uncontested fact that the early church did not limit inspiration to the canonical Scriptures. On document referred to the Council of Ephesus’s “God-breathed” decision. Another distinction might be “written vs. oral.” But I don’t find this helpful because all of church tradition is written.

I’m starting to think that the canon of Scripture is like the canon of western literature or philosophy. They are a group of books that are special and revered for perhaps various reasons (including maybe having unique divine influence). So I’m willing to allow for varying degrees of inspiration, but I don’t know if Catholic teaching allows for it.

I responded:

Thanks for messaging me about this!

First, I would recommend reading Dei Verbum, the Church’s dogmatic constitution on divine revelation: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html

That document will help you to understand how the Church understands Scripture and Tradition.

The sacred Scriptures are part of the deposit of faith, public revelation, which ended with the death of the last Apostle. Nothing can be added to public revelation. But the Church can and does clarify and deepen in understanding of that deposit, which is what Church teachings do.

The Scriptures were inspired by God. Men wrote what God wanted to be written. This is different from infallibility, which is a negative protection, a protection against teaching error. Imagine a pope–and this happened–who was expected by all accounts to formally teach heresy as truth, say Arianism or Monophysitism. Yet he didn’t. The Holy Spirit stopped him. He was protected against teaching error, and that is a good thing, but he didn’t necessarily then expound upon the truth of the Church’s teachings as perhaps God wanted him to. Maybe he just remained silent. So infallibility is a much more limited charism than the acts of inspiration that God did through the human writers of the books of the Bible.

Another clarification: not all of Church Tradition is written. In fact we can clarify that Tradition has a written form (the Scriptures) and an unwritten form (confusingly also called Tradition). Unwritten Tradition is a river within the Church originating from Christ its source and vivified by the Holy Spirit. It is safe-guarded and transmitted by the bishops in union with the pope, who are successors of the Apostles, and experienced in the liturgy, sacraments, and worship of the people.

The Catholic Church doesn’t see varying degrees of inspiration. God inspired the human authors to write his God-breathed word. Then He has guided His Church into all truth, protecting her from error as she has clarified and deepened the understanding of the deposit of faith.

Hope that helps! God bless,
Devin

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Are You Convinced?

convincedWhen Don Johnson called me up to ask if I wanted to be in a movie, my first thought was: “A Miami Vice reboot?”

I dug a little deeper and realized it was a different Don Johnson, and that the movie would be about becoming Catholic against all odds. I was intrigued, but also wondered whether this was legit or not. Maybe it was a setup and James White was going to show up at my door, bowtie and all.

But it was legit, and Don told me that Frank Beckwith was going to be in the movie, among other people I greatly respect. So I said yes, and Don drove out from California and interviewed me about becoming Catholic.

If it were just me blabbing, I would say pass on this documentary. But I’m the least of the people on this endeavor. Scott Hahn is in it! And Dr. Taylor Marshall. And David Currie and Abby Johnson and Jeff Cavins and that guy Jason Stellman and a host of other awesome people, some of whom I’ve met in person, others not.

Don has already taped a large chunk of the documentary, but he needs our help to be able to interview even more people, including more amazing female converts, so please head over to his Indiegogo page, watch a trailer for the movie, and lend your support!

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I’ll Take “Debilitating Back Pain” for $2000 Alex

2014-08-08 16.29.04For the past 14 years I have suffered from chronic neck pain. For the past year I have suffered from debilitating lower back (and mid-back) pain.

Put those together and you have a very bad problem. I recall going to the chiropractor about twelve years ago, and he said: “you’re only 24 years old and already you have chronic neck pain. That doesn’t bode well for your future.”

Thanks for cheering me up, Doc.

I’ve seen chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, spine surgeons, had multiple MRIs (and another scheduled for early November) and in general tried every thing imaginable, yet I continue to suffer from this.

For the past four months I’ve been unable to pick up my children. I just have to kneel down and give them hugs, or offer to hold their hands. A week ago I had to put in notice at my job because my back hurt too much to work there anymore.

This is real stuff, and for a husband and father who is the sole breadwinner, scary stuff. I’m only in my mid-thirties. My body is starting to reach that point where it doesn’t bounce back from injuries very well.

As a Catholic, I believe we can offer our sufferings to Christ for ourselves and others. A regular prayer of mine goes like this: “Jesus, please unite my sufferings to yours on the Cross as penance for the remission of my many sins, and also as a prayer for my wife and children and the salvation of the world.”

We Catholics haven’t just made this up. Consider Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church.”

Jesus wants us to offer these sufferings to Him, and united with His, they become redemptive.

My friends are probably sick of my emails to them asking for their prayers for my back’s healing. I’m sick of sending them out. But I do believe that we should do all in our power to alleviate sufferings and that God can and will heal us of sufferings in response to prayer.

My main point with this post is to tell you that if you are in chronic pain: physical or emotional, I am there with you. And so is Christ. You are not alone. God will give you a way out, one way or the other. In the meantime, offer those sufferings to Him.

I’ll pray for you, and please pray for me, that I am able to provide for my family and be able to do the basic fatherly duties like pick up and carry my children.

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Posted in Family Life | Tagged | 8 Comments