Credo in Unum Deum

I Believe in One God

The Great Commission and its Concomitant Consequences

Matthew 28:18-20 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

“What is the Church?” and “what is faith?” are two key questions with which, it seems, any thoughtful Christian will be forced to reckon. Such questions are at the heart of the Christian revelation, and, also, sadly, at the heart of much division between those who name Christ as their master. In our small way we will try to begin to unfold the nature of the Church and of faith by seeking to show that the Church, in some recognizable way, is infallible, and we will also seek to show that faith, because of its nature, presupposes, in the ordo salutis, the Church’s infallibility with the result that its denial results in either the denial of faith itself or of its possibility outside of the bounds of the infallible Church. Taking for granted that those who do not ascribe infallibility to the Church do not thereby intend to deny faith or its possibility, we will refrain from dealing with the first of the consequences spoken of in the immediately prior sentence, and, instead, focus upon the latter—to wit, the impossibility of faith outside the infallible Church.

This presentation will come in two parts: the first being an inquiry into the nature of the great commission, and the next, an exposition of certain aspects and conditions for an act of faith.

This short offering will seek to draw out certain implications of the Great Commission that Jesus, shortly before his ascension to the right hand of the Father, entrusted to his disciples. It will presume certain historical data, and proceed to draw out such data’s logical implications. Our analysis will take for granted certain facts about the essentially necessary truthfulness of God, the personal identity of Jesus Christ with God, and the consequences that follow from this state of affairs—Jesus words and deeds always fully conform/ed with the will of God, are/were actions undertaken by a divine person, are/were infallibly truthful and efficacious. As one can see, Jesus’ resurrection within the course of history and all his actions and words as historically attested to by the Gospels, Paul, et al., will be presumed. (One could also appeal to the historical witness of church Fathers here.) Moreover, we will, on some level, take for granted the historical fact of the Great Commission itself. Next, granting Jesus’ unfailing truthfulness and divine power and authority, we will discuss the nature of the great commission as it is (at least) historically described in the Matthean account. Then, finally from the indubitable historically established facts of both Jesus’ divinity via the ratification of his message in the resurrection and the great commission, we will draw some of the logical consequences of such a commission.

Without citing chapter and verse, it is evident that the Gospels have Jesus claiming divinity for his own person: both in reference specifically to the established understanding of God and his rights and attributes and in reference to a more general, shall we say, natural theological sense. Since God is Truth itself, and because, by necessary consequence, he can only ratify, speak and act in a truthful manner, he would/could not ratify any message that is false. Because a miracle comes from a divine/supernatural cause, that it is a divine action, and that it pertains and participates in God’s truthfulness, such an event (if it be authentic) would not occur in the case of something which would contradict God’s own truthfulness—I.e., God would not vouch for a liar through a miracle. But a resurrection is manifestly a miraculous action that, since its efficient cause is divine/supernatural yet its effects natural (at least in terms of its object and its intelligibility), attests to God’s approval of the one resurrected. Moreover, a resurrection, as far as we know, only occurs within history. It is an historical event, then, that discloses God’s own message of approbation. In Christ’s case, he claimed for himself divinity, yet, neither his claims nor his miracles were sufficient in themselves to establish his divinity. But, in virtue of the historical fact of the resurrection, Christ’s claims and miracles were indubitably vindicated.

From the above we can come to a knowledge that Jesus Christ is divine, and, since divine, also always spoke truthfully with divine authority. Now, granting the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts (cf. Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:16ff.; Lk. 10:16, et al.), Jesus did historically commission certain teachers. This fact can also be established by reference to the patristic and/or pagan testimonies contemporaneous with the period under discussion.

Excursus (I.e., what follows is not essential to our argument as such): We do not have much patience for the opinion that historical witnesses do not provide for the acquiring of true knowledge, but, rather, at best, function as a basis for a fiduciary trust in the assumed good will, coupled with the adequate requisite intellectual capacity, of the witnesses. We contend, rather, that the historical record can provide a valid avenue to the attainment of indubitable knowledge. Such knowledge engendering information is conveyed through contemporary and traditional testimony, historical monuments, institutions, etc.

Moving now to the record of the commission we see that in it Jesus is addressing a group, delegating responsibilities/duties, ascribing ubiquity to the commission in its effects, and promising that said commission will perdure to the end of the age/world. When considering the commission in terms of its effects we can immediately see that such a commission could not have been given to the group whom Jesus was addressing—in this case the disciples—in terms of their individual persons. This fact is evident primarily on the basis of the terms and nature of the commission: the commission is to extend to terrestrial (at least) universality in both space and time. The former seems quite unlikely, though granting the multiplication of miraculous modes of multi-locational apparitions or superabundant instances of supernatural transportation, it might have been accomplished in both theory and fact; but the latter, without the repristination of the age of the primordial patriarchs and the antediluvian global conditions (if such a theory and interpretation is even tenable), is impossible.

On the basis of the terms of the commission that we find in the Gospels, esp. Mt. 28, we see that the commission cannot have been given to the disciples qua disciples because they could not fulfill such a commission. It is unlikely in the extreme that the disciples could literally preach to all nations, and it seems quite impossible that the disciples could literally preach until the end of the world. Moreover, as noted above, the said commission was not given to any particular disciple in virtue of his person. Rather, we find that the commission must have been given to the disciples as a society or body of teachers with its own structure and function. So, where does that leave us in terms of our understanding of the nature of Christ’s commission to the apostles?

One explanation and we believe the only sound one, sees that Christ’s commission could not have been predicated upon the personal qualities of the various disciples, nor upon the office of apostle as such. Rather, Christ’s commission to the apostles effects the instantiation of a teaching office that is distinct from the specific charism of the apostles although it operates through a body of teachers that stems back to the “college” of apostles and the commission that Christ initially charged them. I.e., the teaching office was included within the office of apostle but is not identifiable with it. Such a teaching office was to be maintained through the apostles’ successors, who, though not teaching “new revelations” as did the apostles, nevertheless taught what the apostles taught with the apostles’ own authority without, unlike the apostles, offering any new public revelation. This body of teachers must exist lest the words of Christ return void. He commissioned his disciples with a charge to teach that encompassed the entirety of space and time from that point forward, and such a commission, if divine, must come to fruition.

Another aspect of Christ’s commission is that it requires the infallibility of those whom Christ commissioned. Such an infallibility follows from the fact that Christ commissioned his apostles and their successors to teach everyone everything that he (Christ) commanded. Christ whose person is essentially truth charges a society of men to teach, giving them his own spirit, the spirit of truth. Christ gives this teaching body his own authority to teach, and in virtue of assigning such a body with the duty of teaching for him, Christ himself vouches for what it will teach. Christ who is truth can only vouch for or affirm what is true. Therefore, whatever the so commissioned body teaches will, by virtue of Christ’s truthfulness, teach truthfully. The reasoning is parallel to that of understanding the meaning of the miracle of Christ’s resurrection in relation to the assertions that Christ made about himself, God and the ordo salutis. Furthermore, the fact that the apostles were given the task to teach, on Christ’s own authority, or, in other words, as if Christ himself were there teaching is made explicitly clear in Luke 10:16 (Mk. 16:15ff. et al., also speak to this). If one denies the apostles and by implication their successors, that person denies Christ, and, in denying Christ, that person denies the Father.

In sum, the infallibility of the teaching body commissioned by Christ follows from the fact that this body teaches as if it were Christ teaching. Christ can only teach what is true; Christ commissioned teachers to teach in his place thereby vouching for the content of their teaching; therefore, the body of teachers is also infallible to the extent that their commission requires. Once this is understood the denial of the infallibility of the teaching body seems impossible.

But, if one persists in the denial of the infallibility of the teaching body, and by necessary consequence, the Church, an undesirable consequence follows: namely the inability for the one who denies the infallibility of the Church to make an act of faith. To be continued….

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September 7, 2007 - Posted by | Catholicism, Controversial, Protestantism, Religion

2 Comments »

  1. Forgive me: my eyes glazed over after the second paragraph (I’m tired), and I skipped to the conclusion. Maybe you covered this earlier:

    In sum, the infallibility of the teaching body commissioned by Christ follows from the fact that this body teaches as if it were Christ teaching.

    Methinks it “follows from the fact” not that this body teaches “as if it were” Christ teaching — it IS Christ teaching. Since the Church is, as St. Paul says, the body of Christ, and Christ is the head of the Church, then head and body must be one — Christ and the Church are one. Thus Jesus can say, “He who hears you, hears Me.”

    But even the Catholic Church states that there are limits to the doctrine of infallibility. See Vatican I and Vatican II. The Church does not make infallible statements on, for example, scientific matters or civil politics.

    A valuable resource in this arena is Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, particularly on the relationship between Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church.

    Comment by eitherhotorcold | September 17, 2007

  2. Either…or,

    Your third paragraph is ambigious. While I would agree that, in certain legitimate sense, “it IS Christ teaching” when the Church teaches, I would further contend that such a statement needs to be clearly defined and needs to observe the necessary distinctions. The doctrine of the Mystical Body doesn’t assert that the Church and Christ are the same substance or person. If such were the case then your last two paragraphs would necessarily be false–the Church,in virtue of its divine personhood, would be always and everywhere completely infallible. Moreover, the distinction between the teaching hierachy and the laity would be otiose–Christ’s substantial person is identical with itself, and what proceeds voluntarily from Christ is necessarily infallible. (As an aside, the meaning of your fourth paragraph is unclear [sounds patently false, presupposing the role of the Church’s teaching authority per accidens] and seems not to the point.)

    In my argument I was trying to establish the fact that teaching of the Church is identical with the teaching of Christ. I was not expounding upon the essence of the mystical body of Christ. Furthermore, in my post I was merely making an argument for the fact of ecclesial infallibility apart from the consideraion of the extent, object or specifics of this fact.

    Comment by Duns | September 18, 2007


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