Wednesday, 17 February 2010

By way of a preliminary: what are the reference points of Catholic faith?

The question contained in the title to this post could be worded differently, to ask "What is the 'rule of faith' for Catholics?" This framing of the question, which does not change its essential content, nevertheless makes explicit something that is less clear in the post title. The reference points for the content of Catholic faith are not what one might describe as "optional" for Catholics. They provide a "rule" according to which Catholics are called to live. Framing the question in terms of the "rule of faith" also has an ecumenical implication, and Catholics should perhaps recognise the the Protestant notion of a "rule of faith" is normative in exactly this sort of way.

I posted in 2005, giving an account of one of Pope Benedict XVI's addresses during his visit to Cologne for World Youth Day. It is the address given to Christian leaders, and Pope Benedict argues towards the conclusion that:
“… when we speak of ecclesiology and of ministry we must preferably speak in this combination of Word, witness and rule of faith ….”
One can answer the question being asked in two ways. From a dogmatic point of view, it is possible to turn to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution Dei Verbum n.10, with my emphasis added:
Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort.

But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ....

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.
I added my emphasis to try and show that the picture being portrayed in this teaching of the Council is one of an ecclesial life that is lived in obedience to the "rule of faith" defined by the three fold structure of Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium. This is essentially what Pope Benedict presents in his address in Cologne, but in the language of Protestant theology, a language which recognises an authoritative character to the idea of a "rule of faith".

From a more experential point of view, one can try to answer the question by asking where it is in the life of the Church (as opposed to just in her dogma) that one can find an authentic expression of this "rule of faith" and therefore a definitive reference point for it. I would like to suggest that this reference point for the "rule of faith" lived in the life of the Church is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  As Pope John Paul II wrote in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum written on the publication of the Cattechism, with my emphasis added:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith. May it serve the renewal to which the Holy Spirit ceaselessly calls the Church of God, the Body of Christ, on her pilgrimage to the undiminished light of the kingdom!
Two examples of how the Catechism expresses the living of the "rule of faith" are the following. The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales Curriculum Directory for Religious Education, which defines what should be taught in religious education in Catholic schools in England and Wales, is written in the light of the Catechism and reflects its structure. Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus also defines the Catechism as being the norm of faith to be adhered to by those who might wish to make use of its provisions to be received into the Catholic Church.

What I want to suggest here is that the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be, and should be, a key reference point for that dialogue for unity in the Church that I have been considering of late.  This post attempts to show that this would be entirely in accord with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, and that it can also be a useful contribution to the Church's task with regard to ecumenism. Acceptance of the teaching contained in the Catechism is, so far as I can see, a necessity for a any realistic dialogue towards unity in the Church.

No comments: