Humanae Vitae: Day 4

This kind of question requires from the teaching authority of the Church a new and deeper reflection on the principles of the moral teaching on marriage—a teaching which is based on the natural law as illuminated and enriched by divine Revelation.

No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law. It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, (Popes Pius IX, Pius X, Pius XI, Pius XII, and John XXIII) that Jesus Christ, when He communicated His divine power to Peter and the other Apostles and sent them to teach all nations His commandments (cf. Mt 28:18-19), constituted them as the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel but also of the natural law. For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men’s eternal salvation (cf. Mt 7:21).

In carrying out this mandate, the Church has always issued appropriate documents on the nature of marriage, the correct use of conjugal rights, and the duties of spouses. These documents have been more copious in recent times.

First, let’s define some necessary terms:

  • Natural Law: the basic principles of right and wrong that exists in every human person by nature. God created us with these principles in our hearts, and so every human person is capable of knowing these principles.  Pope Leo XIII said, “The natural law is engraved in the soul of every man, because human reason tells him to do good and avoid evil. It has force because it is the voice of a higher reason to which our spirit must submit.”
  • Moral law:  The law given to us by God that says “to do what is good and avoid what is evil” (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n. 16).  It is our conscience that urges us to follow this law for it will lead us to Heaven.

Some points to notice:

  • The “moral teaching on marriage” is based on natural law.  God teaches us through divine Revelation in the words of Scripture and the teachings of His Church, but the basic principles are known to man naturally.  This includes things such as marriage being between one man and one woman and procreation as the fruit of marriage.  These are common sense things.
  • The Church is competent to speak on matters of marriage and family because Jesus Christ Himself gave the Church His authority to teach.  And because the moral law relates to our salvation, the Church is “the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law”.

Here we get to one of the problems of the day.  There are many, even among Catholics, who don’t see the Church as the authority when it comes to the moral law but only see that Church as one voice among many.  Not to mention that there is also an anti-authoritarian mindset that resides in the modern culture.  We’ve been taught to question and even distrust authority.  People want to trust Jesus but not necessarily the Church that He founded even though it was Jesus who gave the Church His authority.

And so one thing that we have to do help others to see the Church’s role in salvation. What sets the Church apart from “other voices” is that the Church alone has been given her authority by Jesus Christ.  The Church didn’t take it upon herself to teach and interpret moral law.  She was ordained and sent out by God to do so.

So why can the Church answer the questions that the world poses regarding the transmission of life?  Why can the Church declare and teach what is morally good and morally evil?  Because Jesus founded the Church to do just that.

 (Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at http://fatheracervo.wordpress.com)
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4 Comments

  1. Peter

     /  March 29, 2012

    Hi there Mr. Salmon,

    I’m a protestant and I find your blog encouraging to my faith and interesting. Many of the things you post are thought-provoking and insightful, giving me a peek at the catholic mindset, which I would otherwise not be privy to.

    I like this post, but my protestant background tends to be a little mistrustful of the Catholic use of the term the Church here.

    My problem is that I don’t like the way that the term seems to become an institutional concept. To my ears,when you talk about the Church the way you do (with a capital C mind you), it seems to become an entity appointed by Christ but distinct from him. it seems to be saying to me that decisions made by the Church can be made independent of the leading of Christ, whereas Jesus said that he only did what he saw his Father in heaven doing.

    Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. John 5:19

    I agree that he church has been given authority from Christ, and that its role is to be his hands, feet and mouth in our world, but I simply cannot envisage the church being an entity unto itself without the full inclusion of Christ in everything we do and say. For me as a protestant, the church is permanently joined (as in marriage) to Christ, and we can’t be effective for him unless we are in constant relationship with him and constantly seeking to follow him where he leads, but to be faithful in this we also need to only do what we see our Father doing. We can’t take decisions and make judgements independent of Jesus Christ or the Father and proclaim them to be from him.

    For me the church is the people of Christ and our authority rests on the fact that we are speaking and acting because we are obediently following what we see and hear him doing, in Scripture and in our personal relationship with him in accordance with Scripture.

    From what I’ve read here, the protestant mindset does not emphasize the independent authority of the church to the extent that the Catholic does.

    I know my distinction is a subtle one, but I just thought I’d like to share my view on the matter.

    Reply
    • Hi there Peter,
      Thank you for asking this question. Until quite recently, was I unaware of a differing analysis of ‘church’ from a Protestant point of view, only because I’d heard this from someone in conversation. I always just took for granted that all Christians (be they Protestant or Catholic) understood CHURCH to mean the Body of Christ (all Christians) upon this earth, worshipping God, following and sharing His teachings, living the Faith. Jesus lives in us, and reaches to others through us, through the Holy Spirit, sustaining us with His Love and Grace.I capitalize anything to do with CHURCH as it’s important and of God. It’s a pretty old-fashioned way of writing, but I think it fits my purpose perfectly – relating my feelings about God and Godly things without leaving any room for doubt as to how I feel about Him.
      You discuss further, ‘For me the church is the people of Christ and our authority rests on the fact that we are speaking and acting because we are obediently following what we see and hear him doing, in Scripture and in our personal relationship with him in accordance with Scripture,’ As Catholics we rely on Scripture as well as Sacred Tradition as handed down to us from the Fathers of the Church,dating right back to the Apostles, as handed to Saint Peter, our first Pope. The Church is an institution, as established by Christ Himself in our Forefathers and so, handed down to us.
      Before the Scriptures (about 350 years), the Apostles handed on Faith via oral Tradition, as was the custom of the day, and Scripture was later understood and interpreted though this Tradition, as it still is today. Sacred Tradition was/is guarded by the Pope, Bishops Priests and Deacons of the Church, to be handed on to the next generations of Popes, Bishops, Priests and Deacons. And so it continues. The Pope together with Cardinals form what is known as the Magistarium, and they then will deliberate matters pertaining to the Truth of the Faith- though the intercession of the Holy Spirit regarding matters of the Faith.The Tradition (Christian Doctrine) is written in down in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and is exactly what Catholic Christians believe, and what we profess every Sunday at Mass.

      Herewith is the definition of CHURCH from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P27.HTM

      Paragraph 1. THE CHURCH IN GOD’S PLAN

      I. NAMES AND IMAGES OF THE CHURCH

      751 The word “Church” (Latin ecclesia, from the Greek ek-ka-lein, to “call out of”) means a convocation or an assembly. It designates the assemblies of the people, usually for a religious purpose.139 Ekklesia is used frequently in the Greek Old Testament for the assembly of the Chosen People before God, above all for their assembly on Mount Sinai where Israel received the Law and was established by God as his holy people.140 By calling itself “Church,” the first community of Christian believers recognized itself as heir to that assembly. In the Church, God is “calling together” his people from all the ends of the earth. the equivalent Greek term Kyriake, from which the English word Church and the German Kirche are derived, means “what belongs to the Lord.”

      752 In Christian usage, the word “church” designates the liturgical assembly,141 but also the local community142 or the whole universal community of believers.143 These three meanings are inseparable. “The Church” is the People that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly. She draws her life from the word and the Body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ’s Body.

      Symbols of the Church

      753 In Scripture, we find a host of interrelated images and figures through which Revelation speaks of the inexhaustible mystery of the Church. the images taken from the Old Testament are variations on a profound theme: the People of God. In the New Testament, all these images find a new center because Christ has become the head of this people, which henceforth is his Body.144 Around this center are grouped images taken “from the life of the shepherd or from cultivation of the land, from the art of building or from family life and marriage.”145

      754 “The Church is, accordingly, a sheepfold, the sole and necessary gateway to which is Christ. It is also the flock of which God himself foretold that he would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, even though governed by human shepherds, are unfailingly nourished and led by Christ himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of Shepherds, who gave his life for his sheep.146

      755 “The Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God. On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about again. That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly cultivator. Yet the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ, without whom we can do nothing.147

      756 “Often, too, the Church is called the building of God. the Lord compared himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the comer-stone. On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles and from it the Church receives solidity and unity. This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God in which his family dwells; the household of God in the Spirit; the dwelling-place of God among men; and, especially, the holy temple. This temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are built into it. It is this holy city that is seen by John as it comes down out of heaven from God when the world is made anew, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.148

      757 “The Church, further, which is called ‘that Jerusalem which is above’ and ‘our mother’, is described as the spotless spouse of the spotless lamb. It is she whom Christ ‘loved and for whom he delivered himself up that he might sanctify her.’ It is she whom he unites to himself by an unbreakable alliance, and whom he constantly ‘nourishes and cherishes.'”149

      II. THE CHURCH’S ORIGIN, FOUNDATION AND MISSION

      758 We begin our investigation of the Church’s mystery by meditating on her origin in the Holy Trinity’s plan and her progressive realization in history.

      A plan born in the Father’s heart

      759 “The eternal Father, in accordance with the utterly gratuitous and mysterious design of his wisdom and goodness, created the whole universe and chose to raise up men to share in his own divine life,”150 to which he calls all men in his Son. “The Father . . . determined to call together in a holy Church those who should believe in Christ.”151 This “family of God” is gradually formed and takes shape during the stages of human history, in keeping with the Father’s plan. In fact, “already present in figure at the beginning of the world, this Church was prepared in marvellous fashion in the history of the people of Israel and the old Advance. Established in this last age of the world and made manifest in the outpouring of the Spirit, it will be brought to glorious completion at the end of time.”152

      The Church – foreshadowed from the world’s beginning

      760 Christians of the first centuries said, “The world was created for the sake of the Church.”153 God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the “convocation” of men in Christ, and this “convocation” is the Church. the Church is the goal of all things,154 and God permitted such painful upheavals as the angels’ fall and man’s sin only as occasions and means for displaying all the power of his arm and the whole measure of the love he wanted to give the world:

      Just as God’s will is creation and is called “the world,” so his intention is the salvation of men, and it is called “the Church.”155

      The Church – prepared for in the Old Covenant

      761 The gathering together of the People of God began at the moment when sin destroyed the communion of men with God, and that of men among themselves. the gathering together of the Church is, as it were, God’s reaction to the chaos provoked by sin. This reunification is achieved secretly in the heart of all peoples: “In every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable” to God.156

      762 The remote preparation for this gathering together of the People of God begins when he calls Abraham and promises that he will become the father of a great people.157 Its immediate preparation begins with Israel’s election as the People of God. By this election, Israel is to be the sign of the future gathering of All nations.158 But the prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant and behaving like a prostitute. They announce a new and eternal covenant. “Christ instituted this New Covenant.”159

      The Church – instituted by Christ Jesus

      763 It was the Son’s task to accomplish the Father’s plan of salvation in the fullness of time. Its accomplishment was the reason for his being sent.160 “The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures.”161 To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. the Church “is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery.”162

      764 “This Kingdom shines out before men in the word, in the works and in the presence of Christ.”163 To welcome Jesus’ word is to welcome “the Kingdom itself.”164 The seed and beginning of the Kingdom are the “little flock” of those whom Jesus came to gather around him, the flock whose shepherd he is.165 They form Jesus’ true family.166 To those whom he thus gathered around him, he taught a new “way of acting” and a prayer of their own.167

      765 The Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved. Before all else there is the choice of the Twelve with Peter as their head.168 Representing the twelve tribes of Israel, they are the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem.169 The Twelve and the other disciples share in Christ’s mission and his power, but also in his lot.170 By all his actions, Christ prepares and builds his Church.

      766 The Church is born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross. “The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus.”171 “For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the ‘wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.'”172 As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross.173

      The Church – revealed by the Holy Spirit

      767 “When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might continually sanctify the Church.”174 Then “the Church was openly displayed to the crowds and the spread of the Gospel among the nations, through preaching, was begun.”175 As the “convocation” of all men for salvation, the Church in her very nature is missionary, sent by Christ to all the nations to make disciples of them.176

      768 So that she can fulfill her mission, the Holy Spirit “bestows upon [the Church] varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her.”177 “Henceforward the Church, endowed with the gifts of her founder and faithfully observing his precepts of charity, humility and self-denial, receives the mission of proclaiming and establishing among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is on earth the seed and the beginning of that kingdom.”178

      The Church – perfected in glory

      769 “The Church . . . will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven,”179 at the time of Christ’s glorious return. Until that day, “the Church progresses on her pilgrimage amidst this world’s persecutions and God’s consolations.”180 Here below she knows that she is in exile far from the Lord, and longs for the full coming of the Kingdom, when she will “be united in glory with her king.”181 The Church, and through her the world, will not be perfected in glory without great trials. Only then will “all the just from the time of Adam, ‘from Abel, the just one, to the last of the elect,’ . . . be gathered together in the universal Church in the Father’s presence.”182

      III. THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH

      770 The Church is in history, but at the same time she transcends it. It is only “with the eyes of faith”183 that one can see her in her visible reality and at the same time in her spiritual reality as bearer of divine life.

      The Church – both visible and spiritual

      771 “The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men.”184 The Church is at the same time:
      – a “society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ;
      – the visible society and the spiritual community;
      – the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches.”185
      These dimensions together constitute “one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element”:186

      The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest.187

      O humility! O sublimity! Both tabernacle of cedar and sanctuary of God; earthly dwelling and celestial palace; house of clay and royal hall; body of death and temple of light; and at last both object of scorn to the proud and bride of Christ! She is black but beautiful, O daughters of Jerusalem, for even if the labor and pain of her long exile may have discolored her, yet heaven’s beauty has adorned her.188

      The Church – mystery of men’s union with God

      772 It is in the Church that Christ fulfills and reveals his own mystery as the purpose of God’s plan: “to unite all things in him.”189 St. Paul calls the nuptial union of Christ and the Church “a great mystery.” Because she is united to Christ as to her bridegroom, she becomes a mystery in her turn.190 Contemplating this mystery in her, Paul exclaims: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”191

      773 In the Church this communion of men with God, in the “love [that] never ends,” is the purpose which governs everything in her that is a sacramental means, tied to this passing world.192
      “[The Church’s] structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members. and holiness is measured according to the ‘great mystery’ in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom.”193 Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church’s mystery as “the bride without spot or wrinkle.”194 This is why the “Marian” dimension of the Church precedes the “Petrine.”195

      The universal Sacrament of Salvation

      774 The Greek word mysterion was translated into Latin by two terms: mystenum and sacramentum. In later usage the term sacramentum emphasizes the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation which was indicated by the term mystenum. In this sense, Christ himself is the mystery of salvation: “For there is no other mystery of God, except Christ.”196 The saving work of his holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s sacraments (which the Eastern Churches also call “the holy mysteries”). the seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. the Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a “sacrament.”

      775 “The Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men.”197 The Church’s first purpose is to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God. Because men’s communion with one another is rooted in that union with God, the Church is also the sacrament of the unity of the human race. In her, this unity is already begun, since she gathers men “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues”;198 at the same time, the Church is the “sign and instrument” of the full realization of the unity yet to come.

      776 As sacrament, the Church is Christ’s instrument. “She is taken up by him also as the instrument for the salvation of all,” “the universal sacrament of salvation,” by which Christ is “at once manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God’s love for men.”199 The Church “is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity,” because God desires “that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit.”200

      IN BRIEF

      777 The word “Church” means “convocation.” It designates the assembly of those whom God’s Word “convokes,” i.e., gathers together to form the People of God, and who themselves, nourished with the Body of Christ, become the Body of Christ.

      778 The Church is both the means and the goal of God’s plan: prefigured in creation, prepared for in the Old Covenant, founded by the words and actions of Jesus Christ, fulfilled by his redeeming cross and his Resurrection, the Church has been manifested as the mystery of salvation by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. She will be perfected in the glory of heaven as the assembly of all the redeemed of the earth (cf ⇒ Rev 14:4).

      779 The Church is both visible and spiritual, a hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one, yet formed of two components, human and divine. That is her mystery, which only faith can accept.

      780 The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation, the sign and the instrument of the communion of God and men.

      Reply
  2. Peter

     /  March 31, 2012

    Wow, long reply!

    Yes, what you say is good and for the most part I agree with it. As I said my distinction was a very subtle one.

    I mistrust tradition as you define it.

    I’m not sure if all protestants agree with me, but for me I need to redefine my faith traditions every day by reliance on Scripture.

    If I set tradition alongside Scripture, then I rely on Scripture less.

    For me Scripture is everything and tradition can be discarded because Scripture can remake my tradition everyday.

    Reply
  3. Yes, I know…L O O O NG reply. :-) I just felt it was important to answer fully. Scripture informs me on a daily basis too. Sacred Tradition never changes, just as Truth never changes. For me, every time I hear, or re-read Scripture I learn something new, the Lord speaks to me at the place I am on my journey, and as I mature so does my understanding of the Word, thus informing me one step at a time in Christ through the Holy Spirit. As Catholics, we would never would be without Tradition as this informs our understanding of Scripture.

    Reply

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