First Published in The Catholic Voice – December 2014
Confusion about what the Church Teaches
I like to talk to people about these articles and to discuss what is contained within them as it gives me greater insight into the state of both the world and the Church and it also gives me fuel for future articles. Recently I met with a young woman who had just returned from Rome where she is studying about marriage and family. I put the proposal to her that in order to defend marriage we must first of all defend consecrated virginity as it is of a far higher order than the married state. She listened to me and then she said that she was not sure that she agreed with me that marriage was of a lower order than consecrated virginity.
I said to her that it is not a matter of opinion because the Church has declared it infallibly and that as Catholics we must submit to the teaching authority of the Church with humble docility. This point is very important, for if we do not understand that the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church teaches infallibly on matters of faith and morals, and if we are not able to distinguish these teachings from subjective opinions, then we are going to waste a lot of time and cause ourselves and possibly others, unnecessary hardship and grief.
Dietrich von Hildebrand and Contraception
The great twentieth century philosopher and Catholic, Dietrich von Hildebrand, was convinced to look into the claims of the Catholic Church by another German philosopher Max Scheler. Scheler told von Hildebrand that it was the Catholic Church which had the truth and when asked how he knew this he replied, ‘because the Catholic Church makes saints out of men’. Eventually von Hildebrand was also convinced. At this time he was married with two children and, during his instruction towards becoming a Catholic, the priest informed him that the Catholic church teaches that contraception is intrinsically evil and that if he did not accept this then he could not become Catholic.
Dietrich von Hildebrand did not understand why the Church believes that contraception is intrinsically evil nevertheless he reasoned that, if this is what the Church teaches then he would accept. He did not understand it but he accepted it because it is the Church that says so and the Church has the truth. In an interview given on EWTN, his second wife, Alice von Hildebrand, speaking on this topic explained that this attitude gave her husband great freedom. He no longer had to prove all things for himself or according to his own intellect in order to be sure of the truth, because Christ had given the authority to teach the truth with certainty to His Church. This set him free because he now knew the boundaries beyond which it was not safe to go and it saved him time because there was no need for useless speculation on matters on which the truth was already known with certainty.
Questioning Infallible Church Teaching
In our own day, many infallible teachings of the Church are questioned by Catholics who refuse to accept the teaching authority of the Church. For some this may be due to ignorance but for most I believe it is because the teachings do not suit how they wish to live their lives. The great lesson for us here is the lesson of humility and obedience without which virtues we will never attain Heaven. Lucifer’s rebellion consisted of his ‘non serviam’, I will not serve. Those who refuse to serve or to submit their intellects to the truth of a higher authority are in essence saying that they know better. This becomes a major problem when the higher authority is the one that has been instituted by Jesus Christ for, to reject the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, is in effect to reject God.
God created man to be free and He gave man free will so that man would be able to love. Man was created by Love and for Love and in order to love there must be free will. However, since the fall of Adam, man’s understanding has been diminished and especially his understanding of what it means to be free. For an awful lot of people their concept of freedom is being in complete control of their own destiny and it means not being subject to any authority. They strive earnestly for this freedom and watch out anyone who gets in their way for they will be trampled. This concept of freedom is delusional, for it takes no account of ‘Truth’.
Freedom and Truth
‘Freedom’ and ‘Truth’ are inextricably linked and only those who are open to the ‘Truth’ can be truly free for otherwise they become a slave to opinion, to feelings, and to popular sentiment. In the area of marriage, it is vitally important that we accept the Church’s infallible teachings, because the salvation of souls and the very future of the society in which we live depends on our acceptance of these teachings and on our striving to put them into practice. There is a maxim in the spiritual life which says ‘faith precedes understanding’. We are called to relinquish our pride and to humbly realise that we do not have all of the answers. When we practice this humility and have faith in Christ’s Church, then God can enlighten our minds so that we can come to understand the great beauty of His creation.