Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world

G. K. Chesterton once remarked that the Catholic Church is the only power on earth capable of saving a man from the degrading servitude of being a child of his time. This temporal and spatial emancipation is one of the most striking experiences for adult converts to the Catholic faith. Worldlings are used to identifying as heroic intellectual antecedents individuals who radically rejected most of their admirers’ own worldview. When faced with the fact that this or that secular hero was virulently racist, favoured some brutal tyranny or beat his wife, the non-Catholic reflects that, after all, what can we expect, “he was a child of his time”. Indeed he was, bound to this present world and doomed to perish with it. Not so the faithful. “He called them gods, to whom the word of God was spoken” (Jn 10:35). “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Mt 24:35).

As our Lady says, speaking in the person of Wisdom as the type and model of the Church, “From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him” (Sir 24:14). When a Catholic picks up the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch, St Perpetua, St Athanasius, St Augustine, St Boethius, St Thomas Aquinas, St Catherine, St Thomas More, St John Henry Newman or St Therese, he is speaking to his contemporaries, to fellow citizens of the city that is above and is to come.

From the first moment of His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lord’s human intellect was bathed in His divinity. 

“In the crib, on the Cross, in the unending glory of the Father, Christ has all the members of the Church present before Him and united to Him in a much clearer and more loving manner than that of a mother who clasps her child to her breast, or than that with which a man knows and loves himself.”

Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 75

When Our Lord speaks in the pages of Scripture, He speaks to us. 

“In composing the sacred books, God chose men and, while employed by Him, they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.”

Vatican II, Dei Verbum

When He uttered the words we read or hear proclaimed, He knew that we were reading or listening. He speaks to us. Our eyes meet across time and space.

“I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.”

Revelation 22:16

God is the principal author of scripture. He knows His creatures perfectly. The word of God cannot be inopportune. Thus “all scripture is inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice” (1 Tim 3:15). It cannot be worn out. Again and again the living word is proclaimed ever ancient, ever new.

On the morning of Pentecost, the apostles — confirmed in grace — entered into the unitive way. To every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revn 5:9) they proclaimed the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jd 1:3).

As the Catechism (CCC §65) beautifully expresses it:

“In many and various ways, God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. St John of the Cross, among others, commented strikingly on Hebrews 1:1–2: In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word — and he has no more to say … because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.”

Whether this be a morbid interest in private revelations or in theological novelty, he who indulges in this vain and sterile curiosity inherits the dust. Certainly, as the centuries roll by, the faithful can see the logical and historical consequences of the Deposit of Faith unfold, but such progress is only ever “in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding” (Vatican I, Dei Filius).

As St John Henry Newman so memorably put it:

“[T]here is nothing which the Church has defined or shall define but what an Apostle, if asked, would have been fully able to answer and would have answered, as the Church has answered, the one answering by inspiration, the other from its gift of infallibility; and that the Church never will be able to answer, or has been able to answer, what the Apostle could not answer.”

Anyone who tells you of some new doctrine — of which the Apostles, the Fathers and the Doctors knew nothing, which would have shocked and confused the faithful in former epochs — is preaching heresy. 

“What was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.”

Vatican II, Dei Verbum

“The Liturgy is the tradition” — the opus Dei. The canon of scripture and the writings of the fathers are embedded within the worship of the Church. “The books to be read at the Night Office shall be those of divine authorship, of both the Old and the New Testament, and also the explanations of them which have been made by well known and orthodox Catholic Fathers” (Rule of St Benedict).

Etymologically, orthodoxy is both “right belief” and “right worship”. The two can never be separated.

“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith. Which faith, unless every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity.”

The Athanasian Creed

As there is no further public revelation. As the apostle declares, “If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema” (Gal 1:90). 

“The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfil this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 890

These words are of tremendous importance — “the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error”. In every age of the Church’s history, everyone in possession of the Scriptures, enfolded in the liturgy, living in God’s grace and in communion with the Roman Pontiff is objectively capable of avoiding all theological error. There is nothing which we can discover in any age which can change the meaning of anything taught by the Church. 

“If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.”

Vatican I, Dei Filius

The first and most egregious of these purveyors of novelty was the heresiarch Marcion — the “first born of Satan”, as St Polycarp called him — who taught that the God of the Old Testament is not the true God but is rather the enemy of the God of the New Testament. It is no coincidence that the pioneering Lutheran Modernist Adolf von Harnack was fascinated by Marcion. Their beliefs on paper may have had little in common, but Marcion, Luther and Harnack are united across the ages by their lust for novelty. The City of this World is Babel: the place of confusion. As the Emperor Charles V pointed out to Luther, “[I]t is certain that a single monk must err if he stands against the opinion of all Christendom. Otherwise, Christendom itself would have erred for more than a thousand years.”

The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob and with Him there is no change, nor shadow of alteration. The Lord who will return like lightning flashing from the east into the west is the Lord who commanded light to shine in the darkness, who thundered forth from Mount Sinai, who sent Nathan to rebuke David, who surrendered His unfaithful people to Nebuchadnezzar, who lay in the manger of Bethlehem, who trod the roads of Galilee, who bled upon the Cross, who appeared to Mary Magdalene, who sat down at the right hand of the Father and poured out the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. No new insight, no gifted visionary, no unexpected doctrinal development, no natural discovery can change the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. “[T]here is nothing which the Church has defined or shall define but what an apostle, if asked, would have been fully able to answer and would have answered.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary, who alone has destroyed all heresies in the whole world, stands upon the moon: conqueror, through her Son, of time and space, she is clothed with the sun of God’s grace and upon her head sits a crown of twelve stars for the sons of Jacob and the apostles of the Lamb, arising like the dawn, fair as the moon, shining like the sun, terrible as an army with banners.