Catholic Word Games
One of the things that can make discussing RCC doctrine with a member of that cult exceedingly frustrating has to do with word meanings. We use the same words but not infrequently understand key words and phrases in quite different ways. This linguistic confusion is not limited to the jargon of theology. Even common constructions in plain English, when used in the Roman church to express doctrine, lose their clear meaning and are assigned arcane interpretations.
Take, for example, the word unanimous. My dictionary tells me that the word indicates complete harmony or agreement:
1. Sharing the same opinions or views; being in complete harmony or accord.
2. Based on or characterized by complete assent or agreement.
(The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1992 Houghton Mifflin Co. Electronic version lic'd from and portions © 1994 InfoSoft Int'l, Inc.)
That seems clear enough to me. I imagine it seems clear to most native English speakers. Unanimous simply means that everyone is in full agreement with whatever it is we are declaring. The good old boys who gathered at Trent in the middle of the 16th Century certainly seem to have understood the word that way.
Furthermore, to check unbridled spirits, it decrees that no one relying on his own judgment shall, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, distorting the Holy Scriptures in accordance with his own conceptions, presume to interpret them contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge of their true sense and interpretation, has held and holds, or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers, even though such interpretations should never at any time be published." (The Council of Trent, 4th Session, The Canonical Scriptures, Rockford:Tan (1978), pp. 18-19)
Do you reckon that someone made a slight error in transcribing the words of the bishops convened at Trent? Could it be that their intention was to declare that the almost unanimous consent of the fathers is to be the standard against which interpretations of Scripture are to be measured? Perhaps that is the thought that prompted the bishops of the First Vatican Council, meeting in 1869-70, to reaffirm Trent's position:
"And as the things which the holy Synod of Trent decreed for the good of souls concerning the interpretation of Divine Scripture, in order to curb rebellious spirits, have been wrongly explained by some, we, renewing the said decree, declare this to be their sense, that, in matters of faith and morals, appertaining to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be held as the true senseof Holy Scripture which our holy Mother Church hath hel and holds, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scripture; and therefore that it is permitted to no one to interpret the Sacred Scripture contrary to this sense, nor, likewise, contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers." (Philip Schaff, Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, as found in The Creeds of Christendom, Vol II, New York:Harper (1877), p. 242)
What are the doctrines declared in the above decrees, infallibly delivered by two RCC councils: There are but two:
1) Only the Roman Catholic church has the authority to accurately interpret Scripture.
2) No one, not even the RCC herself, is to hold an interpretation contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.
This is of major importance, for the RCC officially has committed and bound itself, through two ecumenical counsels, to the principle of unanimous consent relative to its teachings and its interpretation of Scripture. In other words, Rome has given us a standard, an authoritative Roman Catholic standard, which we may use in judging the RCC.
This is where Rome stumbles, for by the very test she established infallibly, much of the RCC's 'particular' doctrine fails to measure up. Oh, sure. The Fathers did unanimously consent on the major doctrines of the Christian creed, but there can be found no unanimous consent for Roman Catholic tradition. As one Christian theologian wrote:
...this 'unanimous consent of the Fathers' on which the Roman Catholic Church's authority rests is a complete illusion, because such a consent is historically non-existent. (William Webster, The Church of Rome at the Bar of History, Banner of Truth Trust:Carlisle (1995), p. 31)
One Catholic apologist, after explaining that the Fathers, successors to the Apostles, are considered by the RCC as "the closest source to the apostolic teaching and tradition, and therefore authoritative," goes on to explain why the words of the Bishops of Trent and Vatican I didn't really mean what they said.
One must understand what the Church means when she is bound by the unanimous consent of the Fathers. The Church cannot, has not, and does not contradict Herself. She can develop doctrine, but she cannot deny what is organically Her heritage and the foundation of her existence in the Scriptures, the Tradition and the Magisterium. The Church does not claim that all her "authority rests" on the consent of the Fathers. It rests on several things including Scripture; the Fathers are one element of this foundation.
Second, the Church has never understood or taught that unanimous consent means that the Fathers are individually infallible or that various Fathers have never held an alternative opinion. Any given passage of scripture may have several valid applications and they were all appropriated by the Fathers depending on the matter at hand. Thus, a Father may refer to Jesus as the Rock, Peter as the Rock, or Peter's confession as the Rock. This in not unusual or unexpected. It certainly does not negate the literal intent of Matthew, nor does it invalidate the unanimous consent of the Fathers. (Steve Ray, "Unanimous Consent" of the Church Fathers, )
In other words, unanimous does not mean unanimous. What unanimous really means is situational -- the meaning being controlled not by any rule of lexicology but, rather, by the immediate need of the moment.
Why do you think Rome and her apologists have come up with this sliding scale of meaning for a simple word? That is a no-brainer. As the RCC drew farther and farther away from the teachings and practices of the early church, she no longer could sustain her teachings in the face of opposing declarations by the venerated Early Church Fathers.
One area of separation between RCC doctrine and the early church, one that not all the Fathers agreed on, has to do with the relationship between the Scriptures and Tradition. Rome teaches:
95. "'It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.'[DV 10 # 3.]" --(Catechism of the Catholic Church, (c) 1994/1007, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.)
And why should anyone believe that? Why because it is defined by the Magisterium, which gets its authority from Tradition, which is defined by the Magisterium, etc. The Catechism teaches us that the writings of the Fathers are authoritative:
81. "'Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.'[DV 9.] 'And (Holy) Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.'[DV 9.]" Ibid.
And what do the Fathers have to say about the authority of Scripture? Did they unanimously consent to the silliness that Scripture is not authoritative on its own, but only when bound together with Tradition and the Teaching Authority of the Catholic Church? Following are what a few of those Fathers had to say on the issue:
Rule Twenty-six: That every word and deed should be ratified by the testimony of the Holy Scripture to confirm the good and cause shame to the wicked. (Basil of Caesarea (Ad 329-379): Fathers of the Church, Vol. 9, Ascetical Works, The Morals, Rule 26 (New York: 1950) p. 106.)
This, however, must be held, that whatever is contained in Holy Scripture is true. Whoever should think otherwise against this would be a heretic. Now in other matters that are not of the faith, expositors have said many things from their own understanding and thus they were able to err in these; the words of expositors do not carry a necessity, that it would be necessary to believe in them, but only the canonical Scripture, which is in the old and New Testament. (Thomas Aquinas: Quodlibeta Disputata 12, q. 17, a. 1.)
The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject that which is foreign. (Basil, Moralia, 72:1)
If anyone preaches either concerning Christ or concerning His church or concerning any other matter which pertains to our faith and life; I will not say, if we, but what Paul adds, if an angel from heaven should preach to you anything besides what you have received in the Scriptures of the Law and of the Gospels, let him be anathema (Augustine, Contra litteras Petiliani, Bk 3, ch. 6)
I need not prove by arguments what God Himself proves by His own words. When we read that God says He perpetually sees the entire earth, we prove thereby that He does see it because He Himself says He sees it. When we read that He rules all things He has created, we prove thereby that He rules, since He testifies that He rules. When we read that He ordains all things by His immediate judgment, it becomes evident by this very fact, since He confirms that He passes judgment. All other statements, said by men, require proofs and witnesses. God's word is His own witness, because whatever uncorrupted Truth says must be the undefiled testimony to truth. (Salvian the Presbyter; Fathers of the Church, Vol. 3, The Writings of Salvian, The Presbyter, The Goverance of God, Book 5, section 2 (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., Inc., 1947), pp. 68-69.)
For you must know, and not be in doubt, that while before your election you lived to yourself, after it, you live for your flock. And before you had received the grace of the episcopate, no one knew you; but after you became one, the laity expect you to bring them food, namely instruction from the Scriptures. (Athanasius: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series: Volume IV, Letters of Athanasius, The Festal Letters, II. Personal Letters, Letter 49, Letter to Dracontius)
For the Lord spoke in simple words for our instruction in the faith, and His words cannot need support or comment from foreign and irrelevant sayings. (Hilary of Poiters: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series: Volume IX, On the Trinity, Book XI, Section 7.)
That should be enough to demonstrate my point, but there are plenty more where they came from. Unanimous consent as declared by two church councils cannot be understood literally, for to do so would force the Roman cult to abandon the great multitude of self-serving and completely unbiblical dogma and doctrines that she has created over the reays from the fancies and embellishments of her Magisteium. Better to invent new meanings for common words, than to confront the accusing words of those whose writings the Roman cult claims to stand on.
The truth, God's truth, is found in the pages of the Sacred Scriptures, not the lying pronouncements of the apostate Roman Catholic Church.
Ye Must Be Born Again