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What Catholics Believe - Chapter Three

" Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature"

During 1970, I spent a semester in Rome. Just before Christmas, 20 priests from my group were given an audience with Our Holy Father, Pope Paul VI. The pope spoke to us quite spontaneously during the audience. He said: “The Second Vatican Council is the work of the Holy Spirit. When you get back to America, we hope and pray that you will support the Council. If not, so help you God!”

Since then, and before that, I have tried to be faithful to the teachings of Vatican II.

The Bishops of the United States have recently issued a Catechism for Adults. It is a useful tool for adults in America to update their faith commitment. Chapter 3 deals with “Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature: The Transmission of Divine Revelation.” It refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (# 74-133).

Blessed John XXIII, who convened the Council, assigned five goals to it. Among them, he listed: To discover ways to teach the faith more effectively and to deepen an understanding of doctrine.

In its teaching, the Council refers to Jesus Christ as the substance of divine revelation. This revelation comes to us through sacred Scripture and tradition.

The Holy Bible is the word of God, written by authors, under divine inspiration, using human words to convey God’s message for our salvation.

Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to mankind. By His life, ministry, teachings, His death and resurrection, He brought us to the God of our salvation. Before His ascension into heaven, He instructed His disciples to carry on the work which He had inaugurated on earth. “Go and teach all nations.”

The Apostles appointed bishops who would carry on their work. With Peter as their head, the Apostles taught as Jesus had taught. The bishops, under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome, Peter’s successor, continued to teach. Those teachings we call divine tradition.

Some other Christians refer to our tradition as “mere human tradition” and dismiss it as useless. We do not think so. The official doctrine of the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that, when St. Paul brought to Jerusalem and to the Apostles gathered there the question of whether gentiles had to be circumcised and observe the dietary laws of the Jews, the Apostles prayed and issued a decision: “We and the Holy Spirit have decided….” What the pope and the bishops declare to be the teachings of the Church, the magisterium, is for us divine tradition, equal to sacred Scripture.
“Another way of understanding this truth is the principle that the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the Church, draws the whole body of the faithful to believe what truly belongs to the faith.” (Catechism for Adults, p. 25)

Sacred Scripture is interpreted by official Church teachings. The Apostles and bishops preached before any of the New Testament had been written. The word of God in the Bible existed first as spoken words.

In the Catholic Church, we find that there are two senses to Scripture: The literal meaning of the words and the spiritual meaning. Fundamentalist Protestants accept only the literal meaning. But there is a spiritual meaning also.

The spiritual meaning can be divided into the allegorical sense: For example, the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign of Christ’s victory over sin and also of Christian baptism.

Another spiritual meaning is the moral sense: What is written in the Scriptures is for our moral instruction.

Finally, another spiritual meaning is the anagorical sense: the Church on earth is a sign of our eternal home in heaven.

Historical Reductionism claims that there are no supernatural aspects in the Bible. The Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, miracles and the Resurrection of Christ (and of ourselves) mean nothing to some scholars. We Catholics believe with all our hearts that the Bible is the word of God, written by human authors, using the languages of their times, reflecting the customs of their times.

For us, the word of God is proclaimed especially in the prayers of the liturgy; at Holy Eucharist and for the other Sacraments.

Rev. Clement D. Thibodeau

What Catholics Believe is an ongoing Harvest series on the United States Catholic Catechism of Adults.