Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.
– Romans 13:1
When Jason did the IOS session on Obedience, it struck me that Obedience has got to be one of the suckiest teachings of the Church. It’s the ‘suck-thumb’ doctrine after all. Gahmen say, we do. Can argue la. But if gahmen don agree, den suck thumb n do lor.
Obedience comes in two strands – (1) obedience to authority; and (2) obedience to God and the Church. They have vastly different justifications and implications. But inherent within the two distinct ideas is a common virtue of humility. It’s the recognition that as individuals, we might be wrong, and that someone is higher and has more authority than us.
The philosophers, though, will ask – is truth ascertainable? It’s easy to argue a strawman analogy that our theologians are merely like scientists. They may be the best in their field, but even with their exact methods and precise ways (though arguably they were neither exact nor precise back then), scientists once believed that the sun orbited around the earth.
But there are two important differences. The first is that when the bishops/theologians/pope declare a Truth, they do not do so in their individual capacities. They represent the Church. The second is that the Church is infused with the Holy Spirit i.e. the Advocate of Truth. Hence, the Infallibility doctrines – of the Pope, the Magisterium, and the ecumenical councils. (Infallibility is very misunderstood though. But clearing the misconceptions is for another post.)
I guess the justification for Infallibility isn’t philosophical. It’s theological. It stems from the idea that God’s church is holy. So while leaders in the church, acting in their individual capacity, may have flawed judgments, the Church, acting in the capacity as God’s church, cannot err in her teachings regarding faith and morals.
Fr David once said that the thing about being Catholic is that we have an objective standard to measure ourselves against. We don’t have to doubt whether our insights are simply subjective manifestations. We have teachings to guide us. We have dogmas to keep us from straying. We have the Creed. Sometimes, these things are more of a liberation than an imposition.