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Monday, April 30, 2007

A Brief Summary of Fundamental Theology

I. The Deposit of Faith

Public revelation ended at the death of the last Apostle. The fullness of all revealed truth had thereupon been delivered into the world. Until the end of time, no living human being will ever possess the comprehensive and transparent knowledge and understanding of the deposit of faith that was possessed by the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, this knowledge and understanding was transmitted in its entirety to the whole body of the Catholic Church where it subsists in its entirety and will continue to subsist until the end of time. The Catholic Church on earth consists in the whole body of persons endowed with the supernatural faith of Christ. This faith is not a blind sentiment of religion welling up from the depths of the subconscious under the impulse of the heart and the motion of a will trained to morality; but is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source. That truth consists at least in the dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation without which the saving words “Jesus is Lord” either cannot be uttered or have no meaning.

Those persons possessing this supernatural faith are ipso facto (and whether they know it or not) united in communion with the bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter and are possessed either of the character of sacramental baptism or at least an implicit desire for it. These persons and only these persons constitute the Catholic Church upon earth and those among these persons alone whose faith is at the moment of death animated by supernatural charity will be saved. In this body subsists the deposit of faith in its entirety.

All the doctrines of the faith besides those of the Trinity and the Incarnation are connected to these two by logical or historical necessity because they establish the identity either of Christ or of His Church. However, the dogmas of the Trinity and the Incarnation alone suffice to accept Jesus as Lord and God. The constant and knowing denial of any of the other doctrines is incompatible with the supernatural virtue of faith but their but their unwitting omission is not.

For an adult to receive the theological virtue of faith it is necessary that, moved by grace, he perform an act of faith. For an infant it suffices that the theological virtue is infused into him by the sacrament of baptism. However, if he is to retain this virtue he must make an act of faith by the time he reaches the age of reason, and this he cannot do unless the faith is preached to him.

II. The Magisterium

There is however, unlike in the case of the Apostles between the day of Pentecost and the time of their deaths, conjoined with this deposit of faith a great admixture of error, ignorance and confusion. In order therefore that the deposit of faith should never perish from the earth there is bestowed upon the Bishop of Rome and the Bishops in communion with him the purely negative guarantee that their final decision as to what does and does not belong within the deposit of faith and what is and is not an acceptable expression of it cannot err. Because this guarantee is purely negative it behoves the Bishop of Rome and those Bishops in communion with him, before making such an irrevocable judgement, to have comprehensive recourse to the sources of the faith and to the belief of the entire body of the faithful. Without this recourse the supreme judgement of the Bishop of Rome and those bishops in communion with him and of the Bishop of Rome alone remains undiminished in authority and unimpaired in its content but unless the failure is involuntary he or they have sinned against the Spirit by putting the Lord to the test.

III. Sacred Scripture

Before the death of the last Apostle a portion of the deposit of faith had been set down in 27 books by five of the Apostles and three of their disciples under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit such that every statement of their human authors contained in those books is a statement of God himself and is entirely without any error whatsoever. Together with the revelation made to Moses on Mt Sinai and the recapitulation of it made by the Prophets, Scribes and Historians of the Old Testament (which enjoy the same privilege) these 27 books, making in total 73, constitute the only directly inspired writings in existence. From the moment of the completion of the last book of the New Testament, a moment preceding the death of the last Apostle, there has been and will be no further inspired writing on this earth. This inspiration attaches to the autograph texts of the Sacred Scriptures in their original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The substance of these texts is faithfully contained in the Latin text of the Clementine Vulgate which alone of all versions of Scripture is guaranteed by the supreme authority in the Church to be free of all error in faith and morals.

IV. Sacred Tradition

These 73 books however, do not and were never intended to contain the whole of the deposit of faith, and this for two reasons. First, because no text without its context and interpretation can successfully convey its content and so the Sacred Scriptures in order that they might successfully convey that portion of the deposit of faith consigned to them have need of an infallibly guaranteed context and interpreter. Second, this being the case, that context must itself form a material part of the deposit of faith. This oral tradition of belief, aspiration and practice resides infallibly along with the full content of the scriptures in the whole body of the Catholic Church and this infallible interpreting authority resides in the Bishop of Rome and the Bishops in communion with him in the manner already delineated. Before the end of the first millennium of the Church’s existence the whole of the oral tradition providing the context of the sacred writings and transmitting that portion of the deposit not contained therein had also been confined to writing. Those bishops and other members of Christ’s faithful of the first millennium who died in the odour of sanctity and who consigned to writing the content of the oral tradition, albeit without inspiration and with some admixture of error, are called the Fathers of the Church. Though each capable of error taken singly, the unanimous verdict of the fathers, because it is that of the whole body of the primitive Church, is incapable of error and is binding upon Christ’s faithful in all succeeding ages.

V. The Perennial Philosophy

It was the purpose of Almighty God in taking upon Himself human nature and revealing Himself to the world that He should deliver in principle the whole and in fact a remnant of the human race from the dominion of the fallen angels to which they have subjected themselves by their sins. It is the determination therefore of these enemies of the human race and of those men who remain either in whole or part their instruments to obscure, pervert and were it possible to obliterate the deposit of faith in order to prevent the emancipation of mankind. In this task they have no more effective device than to formulate errors contrary to the deposit of faith in the very language of the deposit itself. Because of the duty incumbent upon the Magisterium – the Church’s infallible doctrinal tribunal – not to put the Lord to the test it is not until such an assault upon the deposit has been attempted that in the general course of events it will make a final decision concerning the manner in which the teachings of the Church must be expressed. The infallible definitions of the Church’s Magisterium must therefore of their nature be expressed in a language other than that of scripture.

Because the revelation of Jesus Christ concerns the manner in which God has saved and is saving His creatures; and because of His assumption of the created nature of mankind; and because the deposit of faith must be communicated to and understood by the minds of men, the terminology in which the Magisterium irreformably defines the articles of faith is and must be common to God and creatures. It is therefore essential, if the deposit of faith is to be transmittable in its entirety and is not to succumb to obscurity and perversion, that the terminology employed by the Magisterium be in harmony with that employed to articulate the body of those necessary truths still available in principle to man in his present bondage. This work of harmonisation by its very nature, and consequent upon the negative guarantees possessed by the Magisterium and lacking to human reason, can be undertaken only by members of Christ’s faithful well versed in the truths of revelation and the definitions of the Magisterium taking these truths and definitions as its rule. Those persons whom the Magisterium has judged to have undertaken this work successfully are called the Doctors of the Church and presently number 33: three women and thirty men. Pre-eminent amongst them is St Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic and Universal Doctor, by the time of whose death this work of harmonisation was on the side of nature substantially complete. This body of natural truths is known as the Perennial Philosophy.

The capital theses in the philosophy of St. Thomas are thus not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church. Teachers of philosophy and sacred theology therefore who deviate so much as a step, in metaphysics especially, from Aquinas, expose themselves to grave risk of error. Thus, the doctrine of any writer or Saint is approved by the Church only to the extent that it agrees with the principles of Aquinas or is in no way opposed to them.

As of this moment therefore in the progress of history from Pentecost to the consummation of the world the Catholic faithful are possessed of five resources in the assimilation, comprehension and transmission of the deposit of faith. They are possessed of the writings of the Doctors of the Church who are presented to them by the Magisterium as exemplars of the transmission of the deposit of faith. They are possessed of the accumulated definitions of the Popes and Councils to whose terminology they are bound and whose form and content is guaranteed by God to be free of all error. They are possessed of the 73 books of inspired scripture in their surviving manuscripts insofar as these correspond to the autographs and of the Latin text of the Clementine Vulgate which is guaranteed to be free of all error in faith and morals. They are possessed of the monuments of the Fathers of the Church who in their unanimity cannot err. And finally, they are possessed of the Perennial Philosophy by which the unalterable meaning of that deposit is forever preserved from error and corruption.

The purpose of this, then, is not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; but rather, that through the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles, the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed differently, may never be understood in any other way and that we might hold to our dying breath the faith of the Fathers faithfully, entirely, and sincerely, and guard it inviolate, in no way deviating from it in thought, word or deed.

This then is the faith of the Church. It is not proposed to the human race that they might engage in idle speculation or yoke it to alien philosophies but it is proposed to us that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this we may have life in His name.