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Believing Because the Pope Tells Us To

via Patheos.com

by Fr. Dwight Longenecker

fr longeneckerWhen I was an Anglican I struggled with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

I understood it and accepted that it might be a pious opinion and didn’t mind if Catholics believed it, but why did they have to go and make it a dogma for all Christians to believe?

I picked a fight with a Franciscan priest once named Father Paul. We quarreled about this issue back and forth and finally he said, “We believe in the Immaculate Conception because the Pope tells us to.”

I was flummoxed.

I reckoned then it was okay to simply accept the dogma because the pope tells usimmaculate conception to, and I have known very good, practically minded converts who have said, “Well, once I accepted the papal claims the rest followed. If the Pope, speaking for the whole church, said we are to hold to these dogmas, then I accept them.”

Nevertheless, we are charged by non-Catholics with the idea that the Marian dogmas are mere supposition without historical or scriptural support, and that the church should not have turned into dogma what was mere supposition.

However, this is exactly what the church has done from the beginning on various theological issues. The church has pondered the Scriptures, argued the interpretations, debated the questions and finally decided on the dogma.

The creeds, for example, are the product of the church engaging in exactly this process. So for example, from the evidence of the New Testament alone we have ambiguous understandings of the divinity of Our Lord. The Arians found evidence that Christ was not co equal with the Father, while the Adoptionists saw in the Baptism of Our Lord, evidence for their false understandings of Christ’s nature. As the Church developed a clear understanding of the Divinity of the Lord she clarified and codified it in dogma. The same is even more true of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Evidence in the Scriptures is scarce and opinion in the church was divided. It would have been much easier to say, “Well, you know, this Holy Trinity business is really rather complex. It is not much more than supposition based on a few scraps of Biblical evidence. Let it remain a pious opinon.” However the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, decided that it was dogma and was necessary for the fullest understanding of God’s revelation.

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