Monday, March 29, 2010

Answers, Finally

Recently, I've been asking this question of every Catholic I could find, online or in person: Why do Catholics believe their hierarchy when it claims to be the ultimate authority in matters of faith and morals? What leads Catholics to accept this claim?

And finally, yesterday, two of them answered me. In case you'd like to know, here's what they said. (Bear in mind, these are very liberal Catholics, not traditionalists by a long stretch.)

From George:

Look, psychology has very easy explanations for this. Here's one. Many people are very busy trying just to survive and provide necessary care for family members. It should not be surprising, then, to find people who WANT life to be simpler than it is. Accepting authority and following that authority's teaching can make life a lot easier than having to study issues and use one's brain to make one's own decisions. The rule is this: When people WANT something to be so, you should not be surprised to find them deciding that it is so. In this case, when people WANT a moral authority to exist, don't be surprised that they will find that a moral authority DOES exist - and that for some of them it will be the RCC.

The truth is: there is NO infallible authority or infallible combination of authorities. Human reason, which itself is fallible, is the best tool we have. And the conscience is our best guide to behavior. It is our duty to take steps to inform our conscience, and also to follow it.

From Joan:

It is just as in other spheres; when people have had far more knowledge and experience of some matter, be it in law, medicine or whatever, we tend to believe them as the default option unless we have good reason to believe them to be mistaken, or not in full possession of the facts.

Well, I just thought this was very interesting. Notice, too, a couple of interesting underlying assumptions. For example, there is the assumption that the [only] alternative to accepting the Catholic hierarchy as authority is to work it all out for oneself, what we might call the "Protestant alternative". Another is that the Catholic hierarchy has the requisite experience.

I can think of other answers to my question, as well, but what I wanted to know was what Catholics think the answer is.


Kacie said...

I've asked this question as well. I see many Protestants seeking answers... much like me. They go looking into history, liturgy, and their own Protestant heritage and eventually move into the Catholic Church.

I understand and agree with many of their reasons and many of the things they like about the Catholic church. However, if I am going to submit to the institution I want to know that I believe in the claim of institutional and papal authority. So... I looked back into the very early history of the church and found....
Orthodoxy. And eventually the Great Schism. And very little Catholic defense for why their Bishop of Rome should rule other Bishops and be granted singular authority.

And so... without an effective argument on THAT point, I can't submit to an institution (even if I like the institution) if their claim to authority is flawed. Thus I am much more deeply investigating the Orthodox church and I find their early history and theology very clear, and their claims very compelling.

Every time I hear of someone investigating the Catholic church now, it is usually because they're studying early church history, and I always ask them if they've ever read the Orthodox response to Catholicism, which is much more pointed than the Protestant response