Msgr. Charles Pope" />

Do Catholics believe in the Church more than the Bible?

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Question: My spouse, who is an Evangelical, says that Catholics believe the Church rather than the Bible. She thinks the only source of authority is the Bible and that it is wrong to believe in a human institution. What is a proper response to this? 

Name, location withheld 

Answer: It is wholly proper to say that the Church is an object of faith. We confess this every Sunday in the Creed: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” This presupposes, however, that the Church is no merely human institution established by human beings. The Church is the Body of Christ, established by Christ himself. Jesus is the head of the body (cf. Col 1:18), and we are his members (1 Cor 12:27). As such, the Church is the living, active presence of Jesus Christ in the world today. 

Many today think only of the Church in institutional terms, and, culturally, institutions are out of favor and often criticized for being large and impersonal. Nevertheless, the Church is not an institution, it is Christ, head and members together. 

The Holy Spirit also indwells the Church and her members (cf. 1 Cor 6:19). Jesus promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would lead them to the fullness of truth (Jn 16:13) and remind them of all he taught them (Jn 14:26). Hence, we are called to have confidence and faith in whatever the Church solemnly teaches us to be revealed by God. 

As for Scripture, the Church is actually older than Scripture, at least insofar as the New Testament is concerned. The earliest years of the Church saw the Gospels and epistles written and shared. However, it was not until the mid-fourth century that the exact list of the New Testament books was formally agreed upon. Bishops of the Catholic Church gathered in Hippo, Carthage and Rome and, with the affirmation of Pope Innocent I in A.D. 405, the canon (or list) of New Testament books as we know them today was in place. In this way, the authority of the Scriptures rests on the authority of the Church, for it is only by the authoritative teaching of the Church that we know what books are properly called Holy Scripture. Protestants and Evangelicals may claim that Scripture alone is authoritative, but they must still accept that they are depending on the Catholic Church and its authority to delineate the Scriptures. It was through the magisterium (or teaching authority) of the Catholic Church that God gave them these Scriptures. 

There is simply no way around it: Jesus founded the Church on Peter, the apostles and their successors and commissioned them to faithfully hand on what he had taught (cf. Mt 16:18; Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15-16; Jn 13:20). It is due to the presence of Christ as head of the Church and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we must regard the Church as an object of faith and not doubt what it formally proposes for our belief. 

Alcoholism

Question: Catholics are generally known as drinkers. I wonder why the Church does not more formally condemn drinking since alcohol has ruined so many lives. 

Martin Shalcross, Charleston, West Virginia

Answer: It is a sad truth that many have ruined their life by the excessive consumption of alcohol. However, the demonization of alcohol, especially wine, is unbiblical and likely a holdover from severe Puritan notions. Scriptures praise wine as a gift from God: “[God gives] wine to gladden their hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread to sustain the human heart (Ps 104:14-15). Deuteronomy commends the practice of buying wine and strong drink for the feasts of the Lord (cf. 14:26). Jesus himself enjoyed drinking wine; some of his enemies falsely accused him of being a drunkard (Lk 7:33-34). He made a large amount of wine as his first miracle by turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana where the people “drank freely” (Jn 2:10-11). Wine was a basic staple of the ancient diet since drinking water was seldom pure. Hence St. Paul advises Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim 5:23).

Clearly drunkenness is condemned in the Scriptures. But moderate use of wine and other drinks cannot be regarded as sinful since the Scriptures and the practice of the Lord himself discredit severe attitudes and the wholesale rejection of such drinks. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com

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