Sunday, February 5, 2017

Catholicism Explained: The Three Sacred Authorities

So, I'm back with my next CE post. This time I will be talking about a slightly less well-known doctrine. A piece of it is known by non-Catholics, and often disputed - the part concerning Sacred Tradition - but this is only a piece of the doctrine, even if a very important piece. I am talking about the three Sacred Authorities on earth - Sacred Scripture; Sacred Tradition; and The Magisterium. I was going to talk about all three separately in turn, but Miss Lucy has already covered Sacred Tradition, and a bit about the Church's Magisterium, so I will just review the doctrine as a whole, rather than in parts.  So, let's hop to it! :)

Basic Theology
So, Christ, in the deposit of faith (the giving on his teachings to the apostles before he ascended into Heaven), gave his followers three sacred authorities that would remain on earth for them. The first of these, the only one, I believe, acknowledged as true by most Protestant and Schismatic churches, is Sacred Scripture. It is the first of two parts of Tradition - the written part - and it is also the first of the three earthly sacred authorities (which we call the 'three-legged stool'. The reason for this title I will explain later). It is the written word for us to follow. The second of these authorities is Sacred Tradition , the second part of Tradition - the unwritten part - and the second earthly sacred authority. Sacred Tradition is the 'big T' stuff passed down from the apostles that has been believe since the Church's earliest days, but not written directly into Scripture. And the last authority, the Magisterium, is the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) and his bishops united to solemnly define and teach God's Word. The Magisterium is not flawless, as some misinterpret the word 'infallible', but merely able to teach God's Word in a solemn setting with error. And they only are teaching flawlessly when speaking as the Magisterium in grave truth and morals, not just any plain time one of the bishops speaks about any old thing. So these authorities are the 'three-legged stool' of Catholicism.
Sacred Scripture
  The first authority, Sacred Scripture, must be elaborated upon too, I'm afraid, as, while widely believed as valid, is often misunderstood. Many people think that it should be taken literally or completely allegorically, but neither is true. You see, the Bible is made up of many different books, with many different authors, in many different times, so we cannot read them all the same. In fact, the root word for 'Bible' is 'biblia', meaning 'the books'. Not just 'the book', but 'the books'. The same root word is in 'library', which, as we know, of course, means a whole set of various books in one place. Now, in a library, we wouldn't read a biography, say, the same way as a novel or poem, now would we? If we did, then we'd be getting pretty confused! If we read everything in a poem as being literally meant, rather than figuratively or in metaphor, then we would come to believe some obviously ridiculous things about the poem's subject thing that weren't even meant so be understood from it. But, then, if we read the biography the same as we read poetry, we would take almost everything in it figuratively, and so gain no real beliefs or knowledge, but merely a pretty allegory. Thus, the authority of Sacred Scripture is often misused in the tense of all being read the same. Its authority must be understood to be obeyed, which is why I elaborate on this point.
Sacred Tradition
The second authority, Sacred Tradition, was beautifully illustrated by Miss Lucy, so I will try to be more brief. Sacred Tradition is not, I must clarify, mere customs, such as the veil and mantilla during Mass (which I will explain the significance of later, as it's a pet subject of mine, along with other Mass 'small t' traditions). It is not akin to the un-donning of hats for men in Church, nor to what vestments a priest wears, or what days are Holy Days of Obligation (another thing I will explain later) for what country or area. It is a specific truth, divinely handed to the apostles, taught by Christians from the earliest days, defined fully by the Magisterium (some Traditions, actually, aren't defined by the Pope or Magisterium at all, but that is a complication I will leave out of this talk). Sacred Tradition's job is to complement Sacred Scripture and its interpretation. For anyone who wishes to know more, I will list some of my sources of research at the end of the post, one of which includes extensive proofs of Traditions.
The Magisterium
Ah, here we come to the big one. Many non-Catholics have a problem with the supremacy of Peter, and sometimes even more of a problem with the Pope and bishops having authority from Peter and the apostles. So, I can quite imagine why the Magisterium is odious to many. I suppose I jumped into this one too quickly, though. Let me go back a step. So, the Magisterium is the Bishop of Rome and his bishops united to define Tradition and teach doctrine. Do not confuse this with the Pope's letters concerning doctrine and such things, because they are not the same (the Magisterium is infallible, while, unless the Pope makes a statement in it ex cathedra, the Pope's letters are not). The Magisterium's duty is not to invent teachings. Its job is to define teachings. It may clarify Traditions, and interpret Scripture, but it does not create doctrines (like I said, Tradition is something Christians have believed since the beginning, and if the Magisterium teaches something is a Tradition that  wasn't called one before, they are never inventing it. They are merely now defining it as a solemn truth, now that we have believed it for so long, and they have studied its evidence). The Magisterium's authority comes from the apostles. It's the same authority, more or less, that the bishops themselves have, except that it is for only the solemnest teaching of doctrinal truths (which, even when not speaking as the Magisterium, the bishops should strive for).
The Bible is completely separate from Sacred Tradition, isn't it? How can you call them the same material?
Because one complements the other. They both fulfill each other's teachings, and are only complete Tradition when both written and oral are believed. Besides, the Bible is not completely without Tradition of its own. If it was, how would we know what books go in it, particularly in the New Testament? There is no 'divinely inspired table of contents' to tell us what books belong in the New Testament - this is a piece of Sacred Tradition! So the Bible is not completely separate.
The Bible is divinely inspired, kept pure in writing, while Sacred Tradition is merely handed down from a divinely taught thing. How do we know that Sacred Tradition hasn't been mottled or mangled throughout the centuries? How do we know the Magisterium has not used 'defining' a belief to change or alter it?
Because we Catholics now believe the exact same things that we did hundreds of years ago. Look to any of the Church fathers and old scholars (Chrystosom particularly), and you will find almost the same beliefs taught that we are teaching now. Even non-Christian ancient scholars refer to some of our doctrine, which shows again the age of our beliefs.
How does the Magisterium have any authority? Even if it is allowed that the Pope and bishops were given authority, there is nothing anywhere saying that the Magisterium does.
The Magisterium's authority comes from the people in it, particularly the Bishop of Rome. The bishops each have authority to teach their areas, and the Bishop of Rome has authority to teach the whole Christian world, so why shouldn't the Magisterium, made up of these factors, have authority?
But do the beliefs taught in Sacred Tradition by the Magisterium necessarily have to be believed?
Yes. If they are defined by the Magisterium as Sacred Tradition, infallible and true, then, as faithful Christians, we are called to believe them. I repeat, if the Magisterium specifically states them so, then they are so. If we cannot trust our leaders of the Church, then we have come to a bad state indeed. Why should we trust anyone if we cannot trust the teachings of the Vicar of Christ on earth?
Evidence For The Three Authorities
Sacred Scripture
"Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received, and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)

Sacred Tradition
"I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you." (1 Corinthians 11:2)

"For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you..." (1 Corinthians 11:23)

"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed  good to me also, having followed all things closely for some times past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilius, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed"

"It is possible, then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the Tradition of the Apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world..." (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, 189 A.D., Against Heresies 3:3:1)

"The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition. Tradition is to be distinguished from the various theological, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time. These are the particular forms, adapted to different places and times, in which the great Tradition is expressed. In the light of Tradition, these traditions can be retained, modified, or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church's Magisterium" (CCC 83)

The Magisterium
"I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18)

"When I had come to Rome, I [visited] Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And after Anicetus [died], Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In each succession and in each city there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord" (Hegisippus, 180 A.D, Memoirs 4:22:1)

"Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians" (St. Jerome, 397 A.D., Letter 14, To Heliodorus, Monk 8)
Once again, I feel that I didn't have to dig too far down to understand the significance (well, speaking for religious matters, of course. You always dig far down for them, but in comparison to other spiritual subjects, this one is simpler). The significance is that we know of three infallible authorities to turn to when we are unsure or in question of our faith and morals - Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. My favorite way to explain it is this: we Catholics call these authorities 'the three-legged stool' of faith. Each authority is a leg of the stool. If a single one is missing, down the stool must crash, for it is crippled. A two-legged stool can't stand, and neither can a one-legged stool. All three of these authorities must be heeded for a faith to stand. To accept any of them is to accept all of them, for they not only complement each other, but they defend each other. And, since they all only bring us closer to the three things we should wish for most in our knowledge - truth, clarity, and sanity - why should we not believe in them?
[Note: My other sources for this post, not yet mentioned specifically, are these:
Why Is That In Tradition?, by Patrick Madrid,
Catholic Handbook Of Apologetics, by Fr. Laux.]
I'm afraid that's all for today. I am sooooooooo sorry that this is so hastily put together. I only really was seriously working on it just yesterday, so I didn't have a whole lot of time. And I didn't include as many Bible and early Church scholar quotes as I meant to. I am SO SORRY! I will try to do better next time... And try to be more on time... And maybe try to get some modern-day scholarly points of view too, rather than just referencing older books. But, moving on from there, what did you think? Do you agree with the points I've made? Do you think I explained the three Sacred Authorities well enough? Are you, like me, also absolutely loving the term 'three-legged stool' for this? Is there anything I didn't answer well enough? Please, talk to me if so. I welcome any debate, questions, suggestions for feature - anything! - so long as it is done politely, and with regard to others.


  1. Oh, Belle! I love this! It's so impressive! Wow, girl, your CE posts are so much more in-depth than mine ever were... :) I love the analogy of the three-legged stool, too!

    If I may point out a tiny typo? A sentence under "Basic Theology" says, "The Magisterium is not flawless, as some misinterpret the word 'infallible', but merely able to teach God's Word in a solemn setting with error." I believe that should be "without error." ;) Typos...I was rereading a bunch of my blog posts the other day and some of mine were so silly...:)

    Anyway, this is gorgeous! Thank you for giving such a thorough explanation of something so crucially important!

    1. Thank you! Hehehe, this one was rather jumpld and pushed together last minute... :P
      Haha, sometimes my typos are ridiculous! Hehe, that's confusing! ;)
      You're welcome! Thanks for reading it! :)

  2. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but will I be able to send you an e-mail? There’s something I’ve been meaning to say since the last C.E post, but it’s lengthy and a bit personal, so I was hoping to send it in a more private manner.

    1. Um... Well... I'm not sure... If you really want, you can comment and I can delete the comment later. Or, if you prefer, yes, you can e-mail me. I do hope there's nothing wrong?

    2. I'm sorry, I don't mean to scare you. There's nothing wrong, but I did have something that I felt I needed to apologize for. I was hoping that it could go to Lucy too. I was hoping to e-mail because I thought you had hers and could pass it on.

    3. Alright, thanks!
      And again, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause any stress.