Sacred Heart

Catholic Church

Imlay City, Michigan  Tel: (810) 724-1135

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Fr. Paul Ward


Sat. & Sun., Feb. 18 & 19, 2017
7th Sun. in Ord. Time, Cycle A


Authoritative Interpretation of Scripture



   This being, among other things, the 500th anniversary year of the rebellion of Martin Luther against Catholicism, from time to time I wish to explore some of the more salient aspects of Protestantism. Doing so will help all live and understand the one true faith better, resist temptations to abandon the Church for some man-made religious group, and help supply each parishioner with some answers when Protestant family or friends might challenge them. I would like to use today’s Gospel passage, and even that of last week, to demonstrate some important truths about the authoritative interpretation of the Scripture.

   First some points of parish life. Please remember that we have the Adult Catechism session on Tuesday. Last week’s Trailblazers’ meeting was unexpectedly cancelled, so we hope to make it up this Wednesday, the 22nd, at 7pm. Also, remember that Ash Wednesday starts Lent only about ten days from now, a point worth considering in your private prayer.

   We Catholics recognize that our Lord established the Papacy, making Peter the first Pope. We also admit by faith that the Lord endowed the Papacy with two kinds of authority, one governing the discipline, conduct and right order of the Church, and the other governing the teachings of the Church. But we do not say that a Pope is impeccable, or unable to sin; nor do we think that every word that comes from his mouth is infallible, free from all doctrinal error. When the Pope speaks publicly to the whole world in matters of faith or morals in such a way as to oblige the faithful in a definitive way, these teachings we regard as infallible, not by the Pope’s personal qualities as a man, but as the Holy Spirit protecting doctrine in the Pope and in the Church.

   Now, Martin Luther denied all of that. For example, in 1521, he was convoked to something like a debate or examination called the Diet of Worms. No, no eating night crawlers here; “diet” is a word indicating a “legislative assembly,” and Worms is a city on the Rhine in Germany. The Catholic Church there gave him a chance to explain himself, confronting him with his own publications, full of countless heresies. The chief counselor at the Diet was a priest named Johann Eck, who asked Luther whether he would reject his books and the errors they contained? Luther replied: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Obviously, no Pope or Council has ever contradicted another in any matter of faith or morals in two thousand years, even if there have been changes in discipline here, liturgy there, and language in other places.

   This is just one example of many where he and countless other Protestant dissenters cast aside the authority of the Church to interpret sacred scripture. They would take scripture without the Church, scripture alone, which in Latin is said sola scriptura. And from day one, they all disagreed with one another on what the scriptures actually meant. What is the Eucharistic bread? Should infants be baptized? What is interior illumination? Or the sin that is deadly, or judgment, or the eternity of hell? On and on, they had all different answers. This alone should be evidence enough that the revealed word of God needs an authoritative interpretation.

   Today’s and last week’s Gospels provide further examples of this need. If your eye scandalizes you, tear it out! So should the gouging begin? If your hand troubles you, cut it off! So should we start sawing? And for how grave a fault? Do not resist evil; but St. James tells us, Resist the devil (4:7). Show your other cheek; but should one submit to abuse, even grave, permanent or lethal abuse? What do the scriptures mean?

   The problem posed here is a very important one. For if there is no Magisterium, no authoritative interpreter of God’s Word, that means no one is ever really sure of God’s Word. Indeed, no one can even be sure of what is God’s word, or even which texts do or do not belong in the bible. If all of that were true, then we as human beings would never even really know whether God had even spoken to us, and if he did, what he said. Or, from God’s point of view, he might say, My children have never heard me, nor will I show them the way to salvation. The conclusion we can draw from this is simple: if there is a revelation, if there is God’s Word, then there is an authority to interpret it; and without an authority, there is no God’s word, or at least it is invincibly incomprehensible.

   In other words, without a Magisterium, Revelation would continue to remain completely unknown to man. An authority in interpreting God’s word is simply necessary.

   So when Luther’s doctrine attempts to make everyone infallible in reading the Scripture, he actually made no one infallible. Indeed, there are even Christian Churches, the Quakers among them, that have decided that, since no one knows what the Bible means, the bible is not the Word of God, but it is the interior illumination of each one – which in turn developed into Pentecostalism and even the Charismatic movement.

   Of course, the Word is alive and speaks individually to each person, and each can read and discover specific inspirations and illuminations from the Word of God, that is not denied. But with a Magisterium, one always has a point of reference with which to compare whether their interpretations are valid or not. For example, the Church condemns self-mutilation; therefore, to no one is it permitted to rip his eye out or cut his hand off even because of a sin – the sense of Christ’s words are other than self-mutilation, and the Magisterium helps the humble soul attain the higher wisdom.

   Let us therefore be careful to learn and discern what the Catholic Church infallibly teaches on matters of faith and morals, so that, in our personal relationship with God, we may have clarity of mind as to what is from God and what is from the evil one, always with the assistance of Mary, Joseph and the Angels. Amen.









Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church, from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Librevia Editrice Vaticana


Vatican Website






Archives of Homilies on Elijah during Lent 2016

Online FlipBook






Archives of Homilies on the New English Translation