|Devotion to Our Lady||
THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL
1. The truths revealed by God to men were, by God’s command, proclaimed to all nations of the earth by the Catholic Church, and especially by means of the living word, that is, by preaching.
The command to proclaim to all nations of the earth the truths revealed by God, was given to the Apostles by Our Lord at the time of His ascension.
Our Lord, before ascending into Heaven, spoke to His Apostles as follows: “All power is given to Me in Heaven and in earth; going, therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ... and behold I am with you all days, even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20).
For this reason the Apostles and their successors have never allowed themselves to be prohibited by any earthly authority from preaching the Gospel (Cf. Acts 5:29). Nor has the Church ever been turned aside from fulfilling her mission of preaching the Gospel, by the opposition of the world. Even now in many countries the State seeks to make the Church dependent on her.
It is in consequence of the command given by Our Lord to the Apostles, that the Popes send missionaries to the heathens, and issue Papal briefs and rescripts to Christendom; that bishops send priests throughout their dioceses, and publish pastoral letters; that parish priests instruct their people by sermons and Catechism.
While the Catholic Church spreads the Word of God by means of preaching, Mahometans spread their beliefs with fire and sword, and Protestants by means of the Bible. It is an error to suppose that Holy Scripture is the only means intended by almighty God to communicate to the nations of the earth the truths of revelation.
It was the will of God to make use of preaching for the conversion of the world. Our Lord said to His Apostles: “Go and teach all nations,” not “Go and write to all nations.” Out of the Apostles only two wrote; all the rest preached. The Apostles themselves were the books of the faithful (St. Augustine).
St. Paul tells us that “Faith cometh by hearing” (Romans 10:17), not from mere books. Teaching by word of mouth corresponds to human needs; every one prefers to be taught, rather than to have to hunt out the truth from books by study. If writings were the only means by which men could arrive at a knowledge of revealed truth the Christians of the first two centuries would have been at a terrible disadvantage; so too would those who cannot read, as well as the great mass of mankind in the present day, who have neither the knowledge nor the capacity to penetrate the meaning of the written Word.
Holy Scripture depends upon Tradition for its authority
Though it is the will of God that “All men should come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), nowhere in the Bible does it give a list of what books belong the Bible and what books do not. We must not forget that there were many apocryphal books floating around claiming to be of divine origin, such as the Gospel of St. Thomas; the Gospel of St. Peter; the Gospel of Nicodemus; the Gospel of Bartholomew and more besides—all claiming the right to be a part of the New Testament.
Holy Scripture soon loses its value in the eyes of those who have not the assurance of the living Word that it is truly of divine origin. It is the verbal Tradition of the Church which decides which book is acceptable and which is not. The “Sola Scriptura” (The Bible Only) people do not have a leg to stand on without the approval and approbation of Tradition. St. Augustine says: “I should not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Church moved me to do so.”
A truth which the Church puts before us as revealed by God is called a truth of Faith, or a dogma.
Either a universal council (i.e., one consisting of the bishops of the whole world) acting under the authority of the Pope, or the Pope himself, has power to declare a truth to be revealed by God. Thus the Council of Nicaea declared the divinity of Our Lord to be an article of Faith; and Pope Pius IX, the Immaculate Conception of the holy Mother of God (1854). Thereby no new doctrines were taught, but these truths were declared to have been truly revealed by God, and thenceforth they became dogmas of the Faith. When a child advances in its knowledge of religious truth, it does not really change its belief; so the Church, the collected body of all the faithful, receives dogmas new to it, when, on the appearance of some new form of error, it sets forth, after careful examination, certain truths of religion in explicit form and imposes their acceptance on all the faithful.
Before the definition of it by the Church it was only a “pious opinion,” or one proximate to Faith. Such is at the present time the belief in the assumption of the body of Our Lady into Heaven.
The Catholic Church derives from Holy Scripture and from Tradition the truths that God has revealed.
Holy Scripture and Tradition are of equal authority, and claim from us equal respect. Holy Scripture is the written, Tradition the unwritten Word of God. St. Paul exhorts the faithful to hold fast the traditions they have received, whether it be by word of mouth or by writing (2 Thessalonians 2:14).
1. Holy Scripture or the Bible consists of seventy-two books, which were written by men inspired by God, and under the guidance and influence of the Holy Ghost. These seventy-two books are recognized by the Church as “the Word of God.”
The Holy Ghost inspired in a very special way the writers of Holy Scripture; He moved them to write, and guided and enlightened them while they were writing (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:16; Matthew 15:3; Mark 12:36). The Council of Trent and the Vatican Council have expressly declared that God is the Author (auctor) of Holy Scripture. St. Augustine says: “It is as if the Gospels were written down with Christ’s own hand.”
St. Laurence Justinian says: “The writers of Holy Scripture were like a musical instrument on which the Holy Spirit played.” Yet they were not mere passive instruments; each writer brings his own personal character with him into what he writes. They are like a number of painters, who all paint a building which they see in the clear daylight, quite correctly, but yet with a great many points of difference, according to their respective talent and skill.
Hence it follows that there are no errors in Scripture. We must not look to the individual words, but to the general sense. We must not take offence at popular expressions which are not scientifically correct, as when the motion of the sun, sunrise, and sunset, are alluded to. Moreover, since the Bible contains the Word of God, we must treat it with great reverence.
Thus the people always stand up when the Gospel is being read at Mass; oaths are taken on the book of the Gospels; in Mass the deacon approaches the book of the Gospels with incense and lights.
The Council of Trent imposes special penalties on those who mock at Holy Scripture. The Jews had the greatest reverence for the Scriptures and the precepts therein contained.
The seventy-two books of Holy Scripture are divided into forty-five books of the Old Testament and twenty-seven of the New. They are moreover divided into doctrinal, historical, and prophetical books.
OLD TESTAMENT BOOKS
The historical books consist of:
(1) The five books of Moses, which contain the early history of man, the lives of the patriarchs, and the history of the Jewish people up to the time of their entrance into the Holy Land.
(2) The books of Josue and Judges, which relate their conquest of Palestine and their struggles with surrounding nations.
(3) The four books of Kings, which recount their history under their kings.
(4) The book of Tobias, which gives an account of the life of Tobias and his son during the captivity.
(5) The books of the Machabees, which relate the oppression of the Jews under Antiochus, etc.
The doctrinal books comprise the story of Job, the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, and the books of Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus.
The prophetical books comprise the four greater prophets: Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, and Daniel, and the twelve lesser prophets: Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias, Malachias.
NEW TESTAMENT BOOKS
The historical books are the four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles.
The doctrinal books are the twenty-one Epistles, including fourteen of St. Paul’s epistles.
The prophetical book is the Apocalypse of St. John, which tells in obscure language the future destinies of the Church.
Most of the books of the Old Testament were originally written in Hebrew, while most of the New Testament books were written in Greek. The Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate is an amended version of the translation made by St. Jerome about A.D. 400. The Vulgate is declared by the Council of Trent to be an authentic rendering of the original.
The most important books of Holy Scripture are the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. The four Evangelists relate the life and teaching of Our Lord; the Acts of the Apostles recount the labors of St. Peter and St Paul.
The writers of the Four Gospels are called the four Evangelists. Two of them, St. Matthew and St. John, were Apostles, St. Mark was a companion of St. Peter, and St. Luke of St. Paul on his apostolic journeys.
St. Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Hebrew, for the benefit of the Jews of Palestine. He shows how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament, and proved Himself to be the true Messias.
St. Mark wrote for the Christians of Rome and shows Christ to be the Son of God.
St. Luke wrote for a distinguished citizen of Rome, named Theophilus, in order to instruct him in the life and doctrine of Christ. We owe to St. Luke many details about Our Lady, and many parables not given by the other Evangelists.
St. John wrote his Gospel in his old age, to prove against the heretics of the time that Jesus Christ is truly God. He quotes chiefly those sayings of Christ from which His divinity is most clearly proved.
The Gospels were probably written in the order in which they stand; St. Matthew wrote about A.D. 40, St. Mark and St. Luke some twenty-five years later, St. John about A.D. 90. The four Gospels were collected into one volume in the second century. It can be proved from internal evidence that the Gospels were written by disciples of Christ, and narrate what is true.
We can also prove from the oldest copies, from translations, and from quotations, that no change has been made in them since they were first written. The Gospels are therefore genuine, worthy of belief, and incorrupt.
On reading the Gospels we recognize at once that they were the work of Jews.
● The writers introduce Hebrew expressions (Luke 8:14; John 17:12).
● They wrote before the destruction of Jerusalem, as we gather from their intimate acquaintance with the city. If they had written in the second century, they could not have possessed this knowledge.
● Their style shows that they were unlettered men.
● The vividness of their descriptions proves them to have witnessed the scenes and events they describe.
● The testimony of the most ancient Christian writers, and the consent of the churches also prove the genuineness of the Gospels.
● The truthfulness of the Evangelists appears in their quiet and passionless manner of writing; they do not conceal their own faults, and narrate what they knew would expose them to persecution and danger of death; they all draw the self-same picture of Christ, though writing in different places and to various readers; the apparent discrepancies disprove any sort of conspiracy among them or any copying from one another.
● Lastly, it would be impossible to invent such a lofty type of character as that of Jesus Christ.
The Gospels have not been in any way altered in the course of time. The earliest copies and translations agree with our present Bibles, e.g., the Syrian translation (called the Peshito), which dates from the second century, and the Latin (called the Halo), which dates from A.D. 370, besides numerous copies of the original text dating from the fourth century onwards.
During the first two centuries the Scriptures were read every Sunday in the various Christian churches and were most carefully guarded. We also find a mass of quotations in the early Christian writers, which prove their text to have been identical with our own.
The Old Testament has always been most jealously guarded by the Jews, who in their reverence for it counted the very letters. There is, moreover, no doubt that God watched over the integrity of Holy Scripture, and would no more have allowed the early centuries alone to profit by it, than He would have created the sun for the first generations of men only.
The reading of Holy Scripture is permitted to Catholics, and is very profitable to them; but the text used by them must have been authorized by the Pope, and must be provided with explanatory notes.
In Holy Scripture we learn to know God correctly; we see His omnipotence (in creation and all the wonders narrated in the Bible); His wisdom (in guidance of individuals and of the whole human race); His goodness (in the Incarnation and the sufferings of Our Lord). We have in the saints, and above all in Jesus Christ, glorious examples of virtue to incite us to the like.
St. Ephrem says: “The Bible is like a trumpet that inspires courage into soldiers. It is like a lighthouse, which guides us to a safe haven, as we sail over the perilous sea of life.” It also warns us against sin, shows its awful consequences, as in the story of the Fall, of the Flood, of the cities of the plain, of Saul, Absalom, Judas, Herod, etc. It contains all that is profitable to man, and a great deal more than can be found elsewhere.
It is like an overflowing well that can never be exhausted. There is always something new to be found in it. But he who desires to understand and profit by it, must have something of the spirit with which the minds of its writers were full; else he will never penetrate beneath the surface, or arrive at its true meaning.
The reason why we are not permitted to read any version of the Bible that we choose is: (1) because the unaltered text and true explanation of it are only to be found in the Catholic Church; (2) because the greater part of it is very difficult to understand.
It is only to the Catholic Church, i.e., to the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, that Our Lord has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Hence the Holy Scripture, out of which the Catholic Church draws her teaching, cannot possibly be altered or corrupted.
Heretics have on the other hand sometimes changed the meaning of particular passages in their own favor, or have omitted whole portions if they did not please them. Thus Luther rejected the epistle of St. James, because the Apostle says that Faith without works is dead.
The difficulty of understanding Holy Scripture is a further reason for the Church’s restrictions. How few there are who can honestly say that they thoroughly understand the epistles that are read at Mass and these are chosen for their simple and practical character.
St. Peter himself says that in the epistles of St. Paul there are some things hard to be understood, and that the unstable would pervert these to their own destruction: “Our most dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, hath written to you, as in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, brethren, knowing these things before, take heed, lest being led aside by the error of the unwise, you fall” (2 Peter 3:15-17). St. Augustine says: “There are more things in the Bible which I cannot understand, than those I can understand”—and those are the words of a Doctor of the Church! Who are we compared to him?! The prophetical books are especially obscure. Hence the necessity of an authentic exposition of the Bible.
Heretics often give half a dozen different meanings to the same passage. The Catholic Church is the authority that God has appointed to explain Holy Scripture; for to her the Holy Spirit has been given. The child brings the nut that has been given him, to his mother, in order for it to be cracked; so too does the Catholic come to Holy Mother Church for the explanation of the Bible. This is why only Bibles with explanatory notes used to be allowed to Catholics. Today, all caution has been thrown to the wind and Catholics have started to adapt the Liberal and Protestant mentality of private and personal interpretation.
The truths of Divine Revelation, which have not been written down in the pages of Holy Scripture, but have been transmitted by word of mouth, are called Tradition.
The Apostles received from Our Lord the command to preach, not to write. Their writings are concerned more with the doings than with the teaching of Christ, hence their instructions on points of doctrine are very incomplete. They themselves say that there is much that they have delivered to the faithful by word of mouth (2 John 1:12; 1 Corinthians 11:2; John 21:25). Accordingly we are referred to Tradition. It is by Tradition that we know that Our Lord instituted seven Sacraments. It is by Tradition that we are taught that there is a Purgatory, that Sunday is to be kept holy, and that infants are to be baptized. It is Tradition which teaches us what books belong to Holy Scripture, etc.
Tradition comes down to us from the time of the Apostles. Just as those who follow up the course of a stream gradually draw near to the fountain-head, and thus discover how far the water flows, so we can search out the historical sources of the teaching of the earlier centuries of the Church, and arrive at her true doctrine. Every doctrine that has always been believed in by the universal Church, comes down to us from the Apostles. If therefore there is any doctrine of the Church that we do not find in Holy Scripture, we shall find it in the stream of Tradition, and shall be able to trace it up to the first ages of Christianity.
The chief sources of Tradition are the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the decrees of Councils of the Church, and the Creeds and prayers of the Church.
THE FATHERS OF THE CHURCH
In the first six hundred or so years, after the death of the Apostles, some holy teachers, rich in both learning and wisdom about the Faith, came to be known as the “Fathers of the Church.” They are not Apostles, but followers of the Apostles. They continued the teaching of the Apostles. Some of them had even known and worked with the Apostles before they died. These “Fathers of the Church” are therefore called “Apostolic Fathers of the Church” because they were alive at the time of the Apostles and some of them even worked under them. A few of the “Fathers of the Church” have also been given the special title of “Doctor of the Church.”
Unfortunately, the numbers and names of the “Fathers of the Church” are not as clear as the numbers and names of the “Doctors of the Church.” There were many different opinions on who deserved to be called a “Father of the Church” and so opinions on the total number of Church Fathers vary.
“Church Father” is a title that was gradually to certain Christian leaders who showed four characteristics or signs: (1) they belonged to ancient times—living no later than the 750’s; (2) they showed a holiness of life—not all Fathers are canonized saints, but most of them are; (3) their teaching was in agreement with what the Church had always taught, and (4) they had been approved by the Church.
The chief teacher of any Christian community is its bishop, the title “Father” was first given to him. But because many of the most important early Christian teachers were also laymen (e.g., St. Justin), deacons (e.g., St. Ephrem), and priests (e.g., St. Jerome), it became customary from the fourth century to reckon these too among “the Fathers.”
The Fathers may be divided (1) according to language, into Greek and Latin, (2) according to authority, into Greater or Lesser, (3) according to age, into (a) Apostolic Fathers, such as St. Clement of Rome, St. Polycarp, St. Ignatius of Antioch (b) the Ancient or Early Fathers, such as St. Justin, St. Irenaeus, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus … till the end of the third century, (c) the Later Fathers, such as St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Epiphanius, St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Paulinus of Nola … and all others from the fourth to the eighth century—with the year 750 being commonly taken as the “cut-off” date.
Unlike the “Doctors of the Church,” there are no women “Fathers”! I guess they would have to be called “Mothers”! All the “Fathers of the Church” are men.
THE DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH
What is a Doctor of the Church? This is a very special title accorded by the Church to certain saints. Some of those saints were Fathers of the Church (they lived before the 750’s), others were born after 750 and so could not be called Fathers of the Church.
Pope Boniface VIII was the one to first give the title “Doctor of the Church.” In the Western (or Latin) church, four great Fathers of the Church were given this honor by Pope Boniface in the early Middle Ages (in 1298): they were St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome. In the Eastern Church, three Doctors stood out from the rest: St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, and St. Gregory Nazianzen.
For a person to be made a Doctor of the Church, the following conditions are necessary: (1) the person had a high level of learning, (2) that he is a saint in the eyes of the Church, (3) that he have the approval by the Pope or by a General Council of the Church which has lawfully met, (4) that his teaching was important and useful to all Catholics of all times (5) that the teaching agrees with what the Church has always taught.
The title “Doctor of the Church” means that the writings and preaching of such a person are useful to Christians “in any age of the Church.”
When someone is made a “Doctor of the Church” the Divine Office and Mass of a Doctor is applied to him (see your missal). This is done from Rome by the Congregation of Sacred Rites and approved by the pope, after a careful examination, if necessary, of the saint’s writings. It is not in any way an ex cathedra decision, nor does it mean that no error is to be found in the teaching of the Doctor. It is well known that the even very greatest of the Doctors are not totally free from error.
No martyr has ever been included in the list of Doctors, because they are Martyrs (who die for the Faith) and not Confessors (who teach the Faith). That is why, as Pope Benedict XIV points out, St. Ignatius, St. Irenæus, and St. Cyprian are not called Doctors of the Church, but Martyrs of the Church.
We said that there were no women among the “Fathers of the Church” in that all of them were men. However, there are THREE WOMEN among the “Doctors of the Church” — St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Thérèse of Liseux, the Little Flower. You can’t have female “Fathers” but you can have female “Doctors”!
The full list of Doctors of the Church to date, in alphabetical order, is as follows:
(1) St. Albert the Great (1200-80). Dominican. Patron of natural scientists; called Doctor Universalis, Doctor Expertus.
(2) St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787). Patron of confessors and moralists. Founder of the Redemptorists.
(3) St. Ambrose (340-97). One of the four traditional doctors of the Latin Church. Opponent of the Arian heresy in the West. Bishop of Milan.
(4) St. Anselm (1033-1109). Archbishop of Canterbury. Father of scholasticism.
(5) St. Anthony of Padua (1194-1231). Franciscan friar. Evangelical Doctor.
(6) St. Athanasius (297-373). Bishop of Alexandria. Dominant opponent of Arianism. Father of Orthodoxy.
(7) St. Augustine (354-430). Bishop of Hippo. First doctor of the Church and one of the four traditional doctors of the Latin Church. Doctor of Grace.
(8) St. Basil the Great (329-79). One of the three Cappadocian Fathers. Father of monasticism in the East.
(9) St. Bede the Venerable (673-735). Benedictine priest. Father of English history.
(10) St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). Cistercian. Called Mellifluous Doctor because of his eloquence.
(11) St. Bonaventure (1217-74). Franciscan theologian. Seraphic Doctor.
(12) St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80). Dominican stigmatist and mystic. Reconciled the Pope with the Roman Republic.
(13) St. Cyril of Alexandria (376-444). Patriarch. Opponent of Nestorian heresy. Made key contributions to Christology.
(14) St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-87). Bishop and opponent of Arianism in the East.
(15) St. Ephrem of Syria (306-73). Biblical exegete and ecclesiastical writer. Called the Lyre of the Holy Spirit.
(16) St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622). Bishop, leader in Counter-Reformation. Patron of Catholic writers and the Catholic press.
(17) St. Gregory I the Great (540-604). Pope. Fourth and last of the traditional doctors of the Latin Church. Defended papal supremacy and worked for clerical and monastic reform.
(18) St. Gregory of Nazianzus (330-90). Called the Christian Demosthenes because of his eloquence and, in the Eastern Church, the Theologian. One of the three Cappadocian Fathers.
(19) St. Hilary of Poitiers (315-68). Bishop. Called “The Athanasius of the West.”
(20) St. Isidore of Seville (560-636). Archbishop, theologian, historian. Regarded as the most learned man of his time.
(21) St. Jerome (343-420). One of the four traditional doctors of the Latin Church. Father of biblical studies.
(22) St. John Chrysostom (347-407). Bishop of Constantinople. Patron of preachers and called Golden-Mouthed because of his eloquence.
(23) St. John Damascene (675-749). Greek theologian. Called Golden Speaker because of his eloquence.
(24) St. John of the Cross (1542-91). Founder of the Discalced Carmelites for men, following St. Teresa of Avila. Doctor of mystical theology.
(25) St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619). Vigorous preacher of strong influence in the post-Reformation period.
(26) St. Leo I the Great (400-61). Pope. Wrote against Nestorian and Monophysite heresies, and also against the errors of Manichaeism and Pelagianism.
(27) St. Peter Canisius (1521-97). Jesuit theologian. Leader in the Counter-Reformation.
(28) St. Peter Chrysologus (400-50). Bishop of Ravenna. Called Golden-Worded.
(29) St. Peter Damian (1007-72). Benedictine. Ecclesiastical and clerical reformer.
(30) St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). Jesuit. Defended doctrine under attack during and after the Reformation. Wrote two catechisms.
(31) St. Teresa of Avila (1515-82). Founder of Discalced Carmelite order and great mystical author.
(32) St. Theresa of the Child Jesus (1873-97). Patroness of the missions. Carmelite nun who offered her life for the salvation of souls and the growth of the Church.
(33) St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). Dominican philosopher and theologian. Called Angelic Doctor. Patron of Catholic schools and education.
We shall speak hereafter of the decrees of Councils and of Creeds as the sources of Tradition. The prayers of the Church are to be found primarily in the Missal, but also in other books used in the administration of the sacraments and other rites of the Church. Thus we find in the Missal prayers for the dead, whence it follows that the Church teaches their efficacy.