How To Defend Doctrine
My posts have been scarce as of late. Mainly, that’s because I am still getting a feel for the best ways to juggle work, family, and this blog, but I’m also preparing to attend Holy Apostle’s College, which has proven to be a bit of a time sink as well. Anyway, excuses aside, as I was reading one of the books required for the Catechism class, called The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis, a truly novel concept – at least novel to me – came to light.
One of the most common arguments that non-Catholics seem to use against the faithful is an argument against authority. More specifically, they tend to attack the “organized” nature of religion itself, and thus conclude that the Catholic Church’s followers are subject to authoritarianism, devoid of freedom and “oppressed” by Church Law. What I find so interesting about this is that the same people who attack our Church certainly abide by their own laws, no matter how “free” they feel.
But the important thing I wanted to focus on is why the Church expresses the love, truth, and light of God using Dogma, Doctrine, and disciplines. Even if a given Catholic doesn’t know what all of the doctrines and dogma are – myself included, we certainly abide by them when they are made known to us. But Why?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis made a strong argument for such teachings. In this book, referring to the Catechism which quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, we read, “The believer’s act [of faith] does not terminate in the propositions, but in the realities [which they express]” (Page 43, Craft of Catechesis, my emphasis). The entire world, everything that humanity knows, says, and does, is perceptible. Knowing that fact, it follows that we need to learn from perceptible things.
It is precisely because of our lack of knowledge about God that we even have Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition in the first place! Every truth, every decree, doctrine, dogma, discipline, law, everything the Church produces for us is because we cannot come to know about God on our own. The distinction is that everyone has the capacity to know of God, but none of us, by our own power, have the capacity to know about God. In fact, Craft of Catechesis calls this “propositional knowledge,” that is, knowledge that has to be made known to us, as opposed to knowledge we can know by ourselves.
That is precisely what the Catechism, St. Thomas Aquinas, and plenty of other sources, are trying to tell us. We don’t accept these “propositions” because they are offered, but because they are true. We trust the source of these teachings because they come from authority -- the Church. But the actual faith we have in those teachings comes from the facts that those teachings express. I don’t put my faith in the Dogma of the Trinity; I put my faith in the Trinity, which the dogma expresses.
To use the example from the book, which actually borrows from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, we can liken Church doctrine to a map of a beautiful beach. The fact that the beach is intrinsically beautiful, like God, does not rely on the map – it stands totally and perfectly beautiful regardless of the map. But the map, like doctrine, enables us to explore intimately that which the beach offers; it starts us in the right direction so that we aren’t just looking at “a beach,” but truly coming to know the beach (See page 44, Craft of Catechesis). I don’t go to see a map of the beach; I go to see the beach, which the map expresses, you see?
In the intricate and beautiful ways in which the Church expresses her truths, we can find our direction. One of the most attractive aspects of our faith is that it always points to God – the center and founder of the Church – and never to herself as the source of divine revelation. So when someone tells you that the Church oppresses you with rules and doctrines, rest assured that those doctrines are expressions of the truth, not the truth themselves.