The Stumbling Block of Authority
Thanks for the invitation to bounce questions about RCism. It's funny, really: I have no problem with real presence, Marian devotion, praying to saints, apostolic succession, all of the things that usually hold protestants up. For me it's all about AUTHORITY, viz., why does the Roman Church think it has so much of it? And I know my doubts about the authority of the magisterium and the Holy Father put me squarely in the Protestant tradition...for now.
Here's my reply.
0. Let’s get your concept of authority and how much of it you think the Church claims, and what portion thereof you think excessive. This might clear up some necessary difficulties.
1. I don’t have the time to put this sensitively, but perhaps the best argument for the necessity of authority is the results of the lack of it ravaging the Anglican communion right now. I can’t remember if I mentioned how much I loved and still love Anglo-Catholicism. It was absolutely perfect. Too good in fact. It suited *me* too perfectly, just as it was designed to.
2. The Church is an organism of sorts, the Body of Christ. An organism must have a principle of unity sufficiently strong to make the organism a true organism and to maintain its organic integrity. Furthermore, the Church is the *visible* body of Christ, so it needs a *visible* head. I think a central authority is just a consequence of the very concept of the Church as the Body of Christ.
3. The bottom line, perhaps, is that Jesus has simply *established* the authority of the Church and so the Church’s authority is His authority.
Consider Matthew 16:
17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed[d] in heaven.”
That’s pretty strong stuff. We all know that verse is there, but it’s one of those scandals from which we divert our eyes, for when we attend to them we are offended. The giving of the keys in the OT and surrounding culture symbolized the transference of power to the Viceroy. Matthew’s language is clearly meant to bring to mind the prophecies of the Messiah Himself in Isaiah 22:
22And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open and none shall shut, and he shall shut and none shall open.
Consider also Matthew 18:
15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’[b] 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
The context here clearly portrays the Church as a kind of Supreme Court.
Finally, consider the commissioning of the Apostles in John 20:
“Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
That is mega-authority.
4. Apostolic Succession is huge as is the Transubstantiaionism inherent in early accounts of the Real Presence. All I can do for now is attach some documents which have some source material on this. Gotta go.
PS - There is a *great* article in this months First Things (perhaps providentially so) by Avery Cardinal Dulles called “The Orthodox Imperative” which I think would address some of your concerns (again, though, we need to get those concerns on the table so we know what the problem is: “What’s the deal with authority?” is not a very easy question to address!). I highly recommend going to B&N and checking it out.