Sunday May 1, 2016
A Reflection on John 14:23-29, N.A.B.
By: Larry T
At a recent Scripture study class an older woman, a convert to Catholicism, frowned throughout the discussion of infant baptism, and finally snorted, “Man-made laws – not God’s laws!”
At yet another meeting my cradle-Catholic friends said they had never been accused of following man-made laws. But another friend in the discussion group, also a convert, said, “I went to a Lutheran college for four years and I know all about that!”
This highlights the very different way in which Catholics and Protestants view the Bible. Most Protestants believe the Bible contains all you need to know; it doesn’t need to be supplemented with doctrines. Our Catholic perspective is the Bible plus Tradition (as is expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Father Ronald D. Witherup, S.S., Ph.D., writes in Biblical Fundamentalism, What Every Catholic Should Know:
“From a Catholic perspective, as important as the Bible is, it cannot serve alone as the sole source of revelation. We should note, however, that the word ‘Tradition’, (note the capital T) does not mean ‘traditions’ we remember as we grew up. Rather it refers to the Church’s magisterial teaching through the ages as it has interpreted the Scriptures, interacted with them, and formulated doctrines that expound God’s revelation as humans can know it.”
Catholic Tradition is what some Protestants disdainfully call man-made laws.
That is all well and good, but how do we respond to a Protestant friend who asks, “Why do you follow man-made laws instead of God’s laws?” Is it enough to shrug our shoulders and reply, “Because I have faith in the Church.”? Along that same line of thinking how much confidence can Catholics have in the Church’s formulated doctrines and teaching? A good starting point is in verse 26 of this Sunday’s Gospel reading:
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.
25 “I have told you this while I am with you.
26 The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name-he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
28 You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.
29 And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.
- John 14:23-29, N.A.B.
In this Last Supper Discourse Jesus introduced the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to his disciples to assure them of God’s continued presence on earth after his return to the Father. At that time the meaning of “he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.” was probably beyond the disciple’s comprehension.
Father Roch A. Kereszty O.Cist., writes in Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology:
“God would have been a poor communicator or rather no communicator at all, had he left the interpretation of the inspired biblical witness to his Son to the ever-changing and mutually contradictory whims of human interpreters. Working in different way through the liturgy, the Magesterium, the theologians, and the Christian faithful, Christ himself has guided the Church through his spirit on the often-torturous path of understanding his own mystery.”
What evidence is there that the Holy Spirit has piloted the Catholic Church from its very beginning? Protestants and Catholics will agree that the four Gospel authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what was necessary for the salvation of the souls of their individual church communities and ultimately the Universal Church. By 375 A.D. eighty heresies, many of which dealt with the divinity of Jesus, had arisen; it took the sure hand of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church through them. Our Protestant friends would have to agree that the Holy Spirit was present at the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. when the council of bishops listed and approved the books to be included in the Bible. Nor can we forget that many of the Church’s so called man-made laws were in direct response to a dispute or crisis of some sort. For example, it was the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. that settled the question of the nature of Jesus in his relationship to the Father and gave us the Nicene Creed. The most significant event in the modern era of our Church was the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965); who will deny the influence of the Holy Spirit over it? The more we study our Church’s history the more convinced we will be that the Holy Spirit has been at the helm all along. And we can take comfort in the knowledge that He will continue to lead our Church through the challenges that are yet to come.
So then, is the Protestant way of viewing the Bible wrong? Not necessarily! After all, Protestants are Christians too, and we’re all in the same boat. There is the Protestant way and there is the Catholic way. When we’re asked why we believe in man-made laws the proper response is:
Just as we accept the Holy Spirit’s role in the inspiration of the Bible, so we believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church in its teaching and prevents it from falling into errors on matters of doctrine and morality.