There are over a billion Catholics worldwide (literally). Who has the authority to speak for the church? This question was central to my inquiry, especially since the divisions between Catholics and Protestants are complex matters of higher theology. I did some research and was glad to find two Latin phrases and a Latin word. The superior’s stamp is the Imprimi Potest; which means, “It can be printed”. The censor’s stamp is the Nihil Obstat; which means, “Nothing stands in the way”. The bishop’s stamp is the Imprimatur; which means, “Let it be printed.” Many books have the following phrase by the words, “The “Nihil Obstat” and “Imprimatur” are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur agree with the content, opinions or statements expressed.” Although these can be retracted, and sometimes have had to be, they are a good indicator that the contents of a book probably do not contradict official dogma.
Did you know that the Catholic Church has an official Catechism? It is entitled The Catechism of the Catholic Church and it is available in its entirety online (in English) at official sites like the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. There are many local catechisms too, like the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults and the Baltimore Catechism. I decided to start my inquiries by reading the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Code of Canon Law and as many papal encyclicals as I could find (I cross referenced these against the ones at the official Vatican site and found them reliable).
Before I started reading the official Catechism of the Catholic Church I decided on the following two things: first that I would read cover-to-cover, and second that I would follow and substantiate all footnotes so I would understand the true context. Although I was determined to make the reading as objective as I was able to, I made a short, heirarchical list of the concepts I found problematic.
As when evaluating any readings that claim to be Christian, two core categories were my primary concern – contradictions with the Bible and theological speculation. The primary concern was to be on the alert for contradictions. Sometimes contradictions are reconciled as paradoxes; it is often important to read the entirety of a work to evaluate if that is the case, and intellectual integrity compelled me to read each part in the context of the whole. Although theological speculation had long been a pet peeve, being all too common in evangelical circles, it was not in the same category as outright contradiction. Every tradition has some element of theological speculation, but the speculations had to at least be consistent internally with the theological system, concepts and hermeneutic employed to be palatable. I read with paper and pen in hand to take notes related to either core concern.
At the top of the paper was my hierarchical list of theological concepts I was concerned about:
1. Christology (Christ’s person and work)
2. Soteriology (how we attain eternal life)
3. Petrine Primacy (authority and the dogmas about the Pope)
4. Marian Theology (the dogmas about Mary)
Unwritten categories mostly included things I was less concerned with – transubstantiation, regenerative baptism, anthropology and hamartiology. These were important, but I wasn’t sure I really knew what the Catholic church taught about them.
As I mentioned in the last post, I had begun to find out that many of my preconceived ideas about what was Catholic were wrong. It made sense. I had learned most of what I knew about the RCC from those who had “converted” from a culturally-based faith or at a young age (sometimes both), and had many basic misconceptions mixed with anti-Catholic innacuracies.