In a, previous article we have stated that authority in the Church is a positive, divine institution. The Church is the Society established by Christ to teach us His doctrine and guide our lives. Nor did Christ confine Himself to determining the broad, general lines of this organisation; He designed the chiefs and designated them by name—Peter, and the eleven.
It was to Peter He said, "Feed my sheep." It was to the apostles that He said, "Go and teach," and "do this in remembrance of me." The divine constitution of the Church implies therefore the duty of obedience. The Church remains the supreme power on earth in the moral order. The Church is commissioned to speak in the name of God and no one, therefore has any right or any mission to sit in judgment on the Church itself. The Church by its magisterial authority in faith and morals is above every temporal power and above the Church there is only God.
Within the Church there is recourse from the lower authority to the higher; one can appeal from the parish priest to the Bishop, and from the bishop to the sovereign Pontiff. But when the ultimate authority has given judgment, no other redress is possible. The voice of the church is the voice of God and the faithful must submit to it.
Everything comes from Christ, authority, doctrine and rule of life. The faithful are recipients only and have no right to direct or control in any way whatsoever.
Obedience and Faith.
To those outside the faith this doctrine of obedience may seem a monstrous one. Even to the tepid Christian it seems like an exaggeration. That is because the tepid Christian regards Christianity less as divine truth and more as a kind of human society. The doctrine of obedience to the Church can be understood only in the light of faith.
A lively faith is the divine impress. It sees in Christianity a reality of another kind, something on a different plane from the state or any other society. Christianity transcends because it is divine and the divine is transcendent. By transcendence we mean superiority to all other things in a degree that admits no comparison.
Christian life, therefore, dwells on a plane that has so equivalent and the authority of the Church shows in this transcendence.
Now the authority of the Church can be seen in a very different light according as we consider it as an institution divine or human. It is not always easy to consider the Church in its divine character, because the Church is also human. It is to man that Christ has confided His work and man retains his liberty.
Whatever rank a man may hold the hierarchy and however important his function, each one remains free to commit sin; a priest, a bishop even a pope can be corrupt. can have weakness of character or intelligence which lead him into imperfections and faults. All this is visible. What we see in the Church is not God, but man. Our faith assures us that Christ lives in His Church and acts through it, but we do not see Him, we see man.
Hence the law of obedience to the Church is acceptable only if our faith is living and intense. This faith reveals to us the other aspects of the Church, the divine aspect.
Through faith we behold in the Church the mystical body of Christ a society of souls in which Christ lives by His grace and which He animates with His spirit.
The action of the spirit is revealed in the first place by the grace which the sacrament of Holy Orders confers on priests and more particularly on bishops.
In the case of the pope this assistance is manifested, amongst other ways, by the gift of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. Infallibility is indeed the supreme guarantee but in the ordinary course of affairs, as who hold authority in the church, receive from Christ in eminent degree the help which they need to guide the Church in the way that the Master wishes it to go.
Obedience and Charity.
If obedience to the Church is inconceivable without faith, it is no less so without charity. A Christian who sees the Church with the eyes of faith cannot but love it and this love takes a central place in his life. This love of the Church extends to those Church institutions which Christ has willed, and in particular to the priesthood, the Episcopate, and the Papacy, to whom Christ has confided the Government of the Church.
A Christian, therefore, must have an attachment, a veneration for the authority through whom the will of Christ is expressed. He should strive to develop a catholic spirit, a catholic outlook and seek in every way to be infused with the spirit of the Church, to give the Church a joyous obedience, a disinterested co-operation.
Correction of Abuses.
The correction of abuses in the Church is not brought about by resistance but by collaboration; it is not effected by struggle against the authority established by Christ, but by sanctity.
We see reforms in the Church resulting from the influence of sanctity. St, Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius Loyola were great reformers, not by revolting or by resisting the authorities, but by creating within the Church centres of sanctity which exercised great influence upon it. Every problem of reform in the Church is a problem of sanctity. To the extent that those directing the Church are united with Christ, in the degree that they live His life, the spirit of Christ reigns over their souls and the direction which they give to the Church is His direction.
Co-operation of the Faithful.
Now, sanctity is not that act of the members of the hierarchy alone; it is the common good of all. All Christians can be saints and all are called to become so. The influence of the faithful on the church rules lies not in mean, suspicious criticism, but in collaboration in the sanctity of the Church.
In whatever degree sanctity is developed in the universal body of the Church, the Christian sense is purified, and the men who are vested with directive functions will be influenced by this growth of sanctity.
Everything depends or rather everything stands on sanctity. If one has an impression that the Church is taking a wrong course, the remedy lies not in revolt but in self-sanctification and co-operation with the Church.
Here is the positive action by which one is united to the Church, instead of separated from it. Opposition within the Church can shake the belief of numbers of the faithful, can check the conquering advance of the Church, and cause disorders worse than the abuse it is sought to remedy. The government of the Church belong to the apostles and their successors, under the direction of Peter and his successors.
Outside their control no one has authority in the Church. Now Christ knew that the apostles could make mistakes and their successors also and being aware of this fact, he gave them authority in the Church but He promised to be with them and to guide them till the end of time.
If we have faith in the promise of Christ let us place our trust in Him and reject the foolish illusions that His work can be corrected.
- Malaya Catholic Leader, February 23th, 1935 (1935.pdf pp73)