What Catholics Believe – Introduction

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Pope Francis

Pope Francis

I have been planning to write a series of posts over the next year or so that will cover some of the major points on which Catholics get hassled by non-Catholics, and in particular by Adventists and other Sabbath-keeping groups.  Finally I have managed to get round to it.

My intention is to present or explain what the Catholic Church believes, what the biblical evidence is, and why the commonly heard objections are faulty.  I will not be writing a complete thesis on each topic, but hope to present the basics of what we believe and why we believe it.  I will also not be producing a complete encyclopedia of Catholic teaching, and I will not necessarily be writing on the various topics in any specific order.

I think it’s important to address the different ways in which disagreements with Catholic teaching arise.

Types of disagreements with Catholicism

Deliberate misinformation about the Catholic Church

This is not uncommon.  A preacher gets up and says “The Catholic Church teaches X and Y“, and his congregation sits up and says, “Wow, let’s share that!“, and don’t think to check the facts themselves.  Or an anti-Catholic website has lists of supposed dates Catholic teachings were first invented or supposed quotes they portray as being authentic Catholic teaching – often they are not official documents at all, often just newspaper clippings, and those that come from quasi-official sources are often tampered with or selectively quoted to provide the appearance of something else.  Those who spread this sort of message often have agendas that they are unwilling to compromise on, and so they are usually unwilling to give the Catholic Church a fair hearing.  They’ll call any defence of the actual Catholic position a cover-up or an excuse.  Beware of these people, and recognise them early, and leave them to their ranting – but know what they do so that you and others don’t fall into their traps.

Example: A Catholic newspaper says that the Catholic Church began Sunday observance and that it is not supported by the Bible.  Later the article is retracted, but Adventists have seen it and use it to claim that this is the position of the Catholic Church.  They ignore the actual statements of the Catholic Church, and use arrogant claims in one newspaper article that was not well informed.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

Misunderstandings about what Catholicism actually teaches

Protestants think the Catholic Church teaches or practises X, when the Catholic Church really teaches or practises Y, where Y is, for various reasons, definitely not X.  Sometimes this is a legitimate misunderstanding; sometimes it’s a deliberate perpetuation of a myth.  If the latter, then it’s unlikely they will be easily open to accepting that the Church teaches what she claims to teach.  What I ask here is that non-Catholic readers try to put aside their prejudices and consider the possibility that when the Church says she teaches or practises Y, she really means it.

Example: Catholics worship Mary.  Truth: Catholics do not worship Mary.  But it takes a lot of slow, tedious explaining to get that through to those who don’t initially want to listen.

Different interpretations

The Bible says X, and Catholics interpret X to mean one thing, while Protestants interpret X to mean another thing.  While in both cases Catholics and Protestants are interpreting the same passage differently, Protestants often argue that they are teaching what the Bible says, and we are not.  These Protestants forget that they are actually teaching an interpretation of the Bible, and different interpretations exist.  Some interpretations are right, and some interpretations are wrong.

In cases like this, all I am asking of the non-Catholic reader is to acknowledge that we are both trying to interpret the Bible, but we arrive at different conclusions.  If we can understand that the other party has interpreted the Bible in their own way, even if different from ours, and even if we disagree, at least we have developed some respect for each other’s views as potential interpretations of the Bible.

Protestants insisting that their interpretation is actually what the Bible says, and not merely their interpretation, is not going to convince Catholics, because we can read the Bible and see that the Protestants have actually interpreted it.  That will just lead to a breakdown in dialogue.

His Holiness, Pope John Paul II

His Holiness, Pope John Paul II

Be careful of those who claim that they have assurance that their interpretation is correct based on the fact that they have prayed and read the Bible and they know that the Holy Spirit is guiding them.  This is just a way for them to distance themselves from having to acknowledge that their views are only interpretations like ours, and often results in them judging those who disagree with them as being lesser Christians.  I’ve come across quite a number who will actually say that they are individually and personally inspired by the Holy Spirit to reach the true understanding of the Bible.  Quite something to hear – they condemn the Catholic Church for teaching that the Pope is infallible, and yet they are claiming for themselves something far beyond what we believe about the pope.

Example: “The Bible teaches that babies should not be baptised.”  “That’s your interpretation, but many have interpreted the Bible differently.”  “No, they’re all wrong, I know because I’ve studied the Bible and prayed about it.”  “But so did the other Christians who interpret it differently.”  “I know I am guided by the Holy Spirit, so those Christians must be wrong.  Perhaps they didn’t pray sincerely enough or study hard enough.

You think that example is extreme?  Yes it is.  But I’ve heard it many times.  Ideally the discussion should go like this:

Example: “The Bible teaches that babies should not be baptised.”  “That’s your interpretation, but many have interpreted the Bible differently.”  “Okay – I accept that it’s my interpretation, but it makes sense to me.  Other people can read the same passages and interpret them differently and reach a different conclusion.  So how can we tell who is right?

So let me begin.

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