True Authority

Why am I a Catholic? It’s all about authority. The Pope. The Chair of Peter.

If you are looking for an authority to help decide the crucial questions what criteria would you set for that authority? There are fourteen things you would look for, which come in seven pairs.
  1. The authority would be historical – rooted in history and looking to history to advise on present day decisions. We’re talking 2,000 year old history, then back some through the Jews.
  2. The authority would also be current – it is not ossified. It is able to be flexible and responsive to current needs. Here comes Papa on his own airplane talking about in vitro fertilization
  3. Universal – the authority transcends fashions in time and place. Catholic Truth is well…Catholic.
  4. Local - while it is universal, it can be found in real time applied at the local level. The Church is not just the Vatican–it’s St Hilda’s around the corner with Fr. Magee.
  5. Objective - it is rooted in history, facts and discoverable truth, not opinion or subjective sentiment. Bye bye rubbery relativism.
  6. Applicable -While objective it can be applied to subjective, personal needs. We can be flexible. There are some loopholes.
  7. Intellectually Fit - It has to sit at the top table with all the best minds in all the intellectual disciplines. Thomas Aquinas to the witness stand.
  8. Humble – It has to be understood by peasants and children. Joseph of Cupertino to the stand.
  9. Culturally Fit – It has to exhibit (or at least try to) the highest of all the art forms for expression: Michaelangelo, Murillo, Chartres, Tolkien, Mozart etc etc etc.
  10. Common – Though high brow, it can’t alienate peasants and common folk: infant of prague, tacky statues, holy water bottles of the Blessed Mother with the crown that unscrews…
  11. Visible – It can’t be just a theory. You have to be able to identify this authority
  12. Invisible – the authority has to be totally theoretical and transcendent in it’s essence
  13. Human – It has to be believably human and ordinary. No golden tablets from angels please
  14. Divine – While human, this authority’s origins and essence must be from the Lord above.
Here’s the full article I wrote for This Rock magazine last year 

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13355873382429818768 Charlie

    Hello Father- Thanks again for another good article. Just a couple of comments.In reviewing the twelve key points you mention adapability, but from a historical point of view that seems to be one of the weaker arguments. Historically the church has not seemed to adapt to changing times – instead has held fast to policy and canon laws that are cumbersome and inflexible. While I am not suggesting that church policy or law be based upon popular whims of the day, but a conservative review of changes might be a positive step?Regards,

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    By adaptability I did not mean that the core doctrines change, but that their mode of expression, emphasis and media of communication may adapt to the changing demands of different cultures.Each of the pairs balance one another. Adaptability without the anchor of history is a shallow and empty. A tradition that cannot adapt in form is ossification.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13355873382429818768 Charlie

    Interesting point, however isn’t the real mark of adapability the ability to change not only the way the information is presented but also the information? How we “spin” the information does not seem as important as what the content is saying to us. If we want to reach out and grow we must not only tell the good news but avoid the cumbersome internal issues that clog the message. As with VII the church took a very large step in changing content and message and I think we are just now seeing the ramifications – I would like to hear your thoughts as well..Regards,

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08110491371985845560 kentuckyliz

    Adaptability has really struck me lately in two ways. Seeing a video of Africans DANCING the rosary!!! How cool is that!!! And my orthodox friend telling me how everything in her faith is from just the earliest centuries of the church. I was thinking, a fossil set in amber! Why arbitrarily set the number of councils and centuries? And perhaps that is why they are silent in the face of grave evils in the modern age that the earliest centuries couldn’t anticipate?!


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