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What Is Our Source Of Authority? Mary Ann Collins (A Former Catholic Nun)

This is the third article that I have gotten from her website that has been re-named or unpublished and I have failed to find it again.

What Is Our Source Of Authority?
Mary Ann Collins
(A Former Catholic Nun)
October 2001
Revised October 2003
Revised September 2008 
Ever since Martin Luther's cry of "sola scriptura" (Scripture alone is our authoritative source of truth), there has been an on-going debate between Catholics and Protestants as to whether the truth is to be found in the Bible alone, or in the Bible plus "Tradition". I will discuss tradition and the doctrine of infallibility later in this paper. God gave us the Bible to teach us, to guide us, to correct us, and to enable us to lead Godly lives. Through the Bible, God reveals Himself and His ways to us. Scripture says:
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." (Psalm 119:105)
"The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes." (Psalm 19:7-8)
"For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)
"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth." (John 17:17)
"…receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21)
"The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple." (Psalm 119:131)
"…If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed: And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32)
"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." (Romans 15:4)
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." (Matthew 24:35)
"The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever." (Isaiah 40:8)
"Forever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven." (Psalm 119:89)
If Christianity really works, then it has to work under all circumstances. That includes working for new converts who are isolated in prisons and have no Bible and no fellow Christians to help them. That kind of thing is happening in some countries today.  God has provided for such situations by giving us the Holy Spirit, who helps us remember things (especially Scripture) and enables us to understand the things of God. (See John 14:26 and 1 Corinthians 2:9-16.) It is through prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we are able to understand Scripture.  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit (the Comforter) "will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13; see John 16:7-15). Jesus said, "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (John 14:26) (Scripture quotations are in the King James Version.)  The Apostle John said, "But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." (1 John 2:27) I don't really understand what "the anointing" means, but this Scripture clearly shows that in some way God has enabled us to learn what we need to know directly from Him. 2 Peter 1:3 says: "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue". In other words, God has already provided us with what we need for life and godliness. It is valuable to have Bibles and pastors and teachers. If they are available, then we should benefit from them as much as possible. But if those things are not available, then God is powerful enough to enable us to live godly lives without them. Jude 1:24 says that God is able to keep us from falling.

The Catholic Church officially states that Catholic tradition is equal in authority to the Bible.[1] There are two problems with this.  First, Catholic tradition consists of various expressions of worship and belief of the Catholic people.[2] It is nebulous. It keeps changing. You cannot find it written in one place. You can't really put your hands on exactly what it is.  Second, it has been said that a two-headed dog won't hunt. You can't have Scripture and tradition as equal sources of authority. When there is a conflict between the two, then one or the other has to take priority.
The Early Fathers used Scripture as the standard against which they tested Church tradition. The modern Catholic doctrine that Church tradition is equal in authority with the Bible is contrary to the writings of the Early Fathers.[3]
Jesus made it clear that Scripture takes priority over tradition. He rebuked the scribes and Pharisees because their traditions nullified the Word of God. He used Scripture to measure the validity of their religious traditions. He was distressed because the religious leaders of his time considered their traditions to be equal in authority to Scripture. He rebuked them saying,
"This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:8-9, emphasis added)
"Howebeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the traditions of men…" (Mark 7:7-8, emphasis added)
The Bible clearly tells us that we are not to add to Scripture or take away from it. We need to stay with what has been written. The Bible says,
"What thing soever I command you, observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." (Deuteronomy 12:32)
"Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." (Deuteronomy 4:2)
"Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." (Proverbs 30:5-6)
In other words, adding to Scripture results in disobeying God. It also puts us in the position where God may wind up calling us liars.  If we say that Tradition is equal in authority to Scripture, then we can no longer use Scripture to test Tradition, like Jesus did. Instead, we are allowing Tradition to determine how we interpret Scripture. Either this is "adding to Scripture" or else it is perilously close to it.
Revelation 22:18-19 warns that adding to God's words can cause a person to have their name be removed from the "book of life."

We often hear the expression, "According to tradition…" But how reliable are these statements? The following illustrates that people's confidence in these traditions can be disproportionate to the evidence supporting them.  According to tradition, around 40 A.D., the Apostle James (the Greater) was in Saragossa, Spain. He was discouraged because his mission had failed. Mary appeared to him. She gave him a pillar (column) of jasper wood, and a small wooden statue of herself. She also told him to build a church in her honor. This is considered to be the first apparition of Mary.[4]  There are some problems with this story. In the first place, in 40 A.D., Mary may well have been alive. (It was only a few years after Jesus was crucified.) If she was alive, then how could she "appear" to anybody?  In the second place, the early Christians didn't have churches. They met in people's homes. (See Acts 2:46; Acts 20:20; Romans 16:19; 1 Corinthian 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2, which all refer to churches meeting in people's homes.) The Book of Acts ends around 60 A.D., when Paul was in Rome. There is no record of any church buildings.
Furthermore, starting with the stoning of Stephen, Christians were killed for their faith. It is basic common sense that people who are being killed for their faith do not want to call attention to their religious gatherings. That is not a good time to build church buildings.  According to tradition, in the eighth century, a hermit "discovered" the body of the Apostle James in Saragossa.[5] This discovery is questionable in view of the fact that (as we shall see) the Catholic Church has a history of fake discoveries of relics (bodies of saints, pieces of the "true" cross, the nails which were used to crucify Jesus, bread from the Feeding of the Five Thousand, etc.).
Relics were believed to have spiritual power to protect people from demons, give them victory in war, and bless them in other ways. People wore small relics on chains around their necks, as charms for protection. Churches were built over the bodies of saints. Important relics drew pilgrims, which could have a significant financial impact on a community. Bodies of saints were stolen and portions of them were sold for money. Graveyards were robbed, and the bodies were passed off as relics of saints. Kings and bishops took great risks to steal the bodies of important saints. Towns that had relics prospered and expanded.[6]
Relics were important for raising money. Historian Paul Johnson says, "A cathedral without a well-known saint was missing an important source of revenue."[7]
A great cathedral was built in Saragossa in honor of Our Lady of the Pillar. It is in an area of Saragossa known as Campostella (which means "starry field") . It is a major pilgrimage site. The wooden statue of Mary, and the pillar (the column of jasper wood) can be seen on special occasions.[8]
An acquaintance of mine visited this cathedral. There is a fountain with a statue of Mary, holding a star in her hand, and standing on James' coffin. I have a seen a photograph of it.
The Cathedral has a statue of Our Lady of the Pillar which wears clothing. It has a crown made of 25 pounds of gold and diamonds, with so many diamonds that you can hardly see the gold. In addition, it has six other crowns of gold, diamonds, and emeralds. It has 365 mantles, embroidered with gold and covered with roses of diamonds and other precious stones. It has 365 necklaces of pearls and diamonds, and six chains of gold set with diamonds. The cathedral has another statue of Mary which is five feet high, made of pure silver set with precious stones, with a diamond-studded crown of pure gold.[9]
According to tradition, the head of the Apostle James (the Greater) is buried in Jerusalem. It is in the Cathedral of St. James.[10]

According to the official teaching of the Catholic Church, Catholic men and women are not allowed to believe what they read in the Bible without first checking it out with the Catholic Church. They are required to find out how the bishops of the Church interpret a passage and they are to accept what the bishops teach "with docility" as if it came from Jesus Christ Himself. They are not allowed to use their own judgment or follow their own conscience. They are required to believe whatever the bishops teach without questioning it.[11]
The Catholic Church teaches that when the bishops officially teach doctrine relating to faith and morals, then God super­naturally prevents them from making any errors. This is called "infallibility". It applies to official councils, such as the Second Vatican Council. It also applies to other teachings, as long as the bishops and the Pope are in agreement about them.[12]
The Pope is said to be infallible whenever he makes an official decree on matters of faith and morals. According to Catholic doctrine, it is impossible for the Pope to teach false doctrine. Catholics are expected to obey the Pope without question even when he is not making an "infallible" statement about doctrine. They are expected to submit their wills and minds to the Pope without question.[13]
The Early Fathers, and the theologians and canon lawyers of the Middle Ages, never taught that the bishops or the Pope were infallible. This is demonstrated by the fact that in 680 A.D. the Sixth Ecumenical Council condemned a pope as a heretic. It was not until the fourteenth century that the theory of infallibility began to emerge. With the development of this theory came a change in the interpretation of some biblical passages.[14]

The history of the early Church shows that the Bishop of Rome was considered to be just another bishop. For example, Pope Gregory (590-604 A.D.) explicitly stated that all of the bishops were equal. He specifically repudiated the idea that any one bishop could be the supreme ruler of the Church.
The claim for papal infallibility does not stand up to the test of history. For example, Pope Zosimus (417-418 A.D.) reversed the pronouncement of a previous pope. He also retracted a doctrinal pronouncement that he himself had previously made. Pope Honorious was condemned as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680-681 A.D.). He was also condemned as a heretic by Pope Leo II, as well as by every other pope until the eleventh century. So here we have "infallible" popes condemning another "infallible" pope as a heretic. In 1870, the First Vatican Council abolished "infallible" papal decrees and the decrees of two "infallible" councils.[15]
The doctrine of Assumption of Mary was officially declared to be a dogma of the Roman Catholic faith in 1950. This means that every Roman Catholic is required to believe this doctrine without questioning it. However, as we will see, the teaching of the Assumption originated with heretical writings which were officially condemned by the early Church.
In 495 A.D., Pope Gelasius issued a decree which rejected this teaching as heresy and its proponents as heretics. In the sixth century, Pope Hormisdas also condemned as heretics those authors who taught the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. The early Church clearly considered the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary to be a heresy worthy of condemnation. Here we have "infallible" popes declaring something to be a heresy. Then in 1950, Pope Pius XII, another "infallible" pope, declared it to be official Roman Catholic doctrine.[16]

The doctrine of papal infallibility is based upon Matthew 16:18 in which Jesus tells Peter, "And I say unto thee, That thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." A huge doctrine with immense historical consequences has been built upon one short verse. The question is, does the rock on which the church is built represent Peter or does it represent Jesus?
Peter himself answers this question when he says that Jesus is a living stone (1 Peter 2:4). (This is a Messianic prophecy which Peter quotes from Isaiah 28:16.) The Apostle Paul says that Jesus Christ is our spiritual Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4). In Romans 9:31-33, Paul says that Jesus was a rock of offense for the Israelites who were trying to be saved by works of the law instead of by faith.
In the New Testament there are three words for "stone". "Lithos" means a stone like a mill stone or a stumbling stone. The other two words are "petra" and "petros". "Vine's Expository Dictionary" says, "'Petra' [Strong's number 4073] denotes 'a mass of rock,' as distinct from 'petros,' [Strong's number 4074], 'a detached stone or boulder,' or a stone that might be thrown or easily moved."
In Matthew 16:18, the word for Peter is "petros," a detached stone that can easily be moved. The word for the rock on which the church is built is "petra," a mass of rock. Other examples of the use of "petra" show what a huge mass of rock is meant by the word. They include the man who built his house on rock, as opposed to sand (Matthew 7:24-27) and the tomb where Jesus' body was put, which was carved out of a rock (Matthew 27:60).
Debating the fine points of a language that most of us don't understand (Greek) is not the only way to approach this problem.
The Bible commends the people of Berea because they "searched the Scriptures daily" in order to "see whether these things were so". (Acts 17:10-11) God wants His people to check everything against Scripture.
In the days of the Apostle Paul, the Scriptures consisted of the Old Testament. The New Testament was in the process of being written (Paul and other apostles were writing letters and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were writing the Gospels). Paul's epistles constitute about one-fourth of the New Testament. These are Scriptures that we study, and that theologians analyze. Paul was one of the leading theologians of his time. In addition, he had been to the Third Heaven where he had seen mysteries that he was not allowed to tell us about. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) But the Bible does not criticize the Bereans for questioning what the Apostle Paul taught them. Rather, it commends them for checking it out for themselves by comparing his teaching with Scripture.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (According to "Strong's Concordance," the word "prove" means "to test".) God requires that every man and woman test all things for themselves.
However, the Catholic Church teaches that only the Magisterium of the Church (the Pope and the bishops in communion with him) has the right to interpret Scripture. People like you and I (and the Bereans) are not allowed to interpret Scripture for themselves.[17]
Where does the Catholic approach leave Christian prisoners in countries where there is persecution? All they have to go on is prayer and their memory of Scripture. They can't read a Bible. They can't consult with a priest or bishop. They are often doing well if they get to see any Christians at all. Would God set up a system that doesn't take care of His most faithful followers, those who are willing to pay the highest price for serving Him?
Catholicism teaches that Christians are supposed to "receive with docility" any directives given to them by Church authorities.[18] According to Webster's Dictionary, "docile" means "disposed to be taught; tractable; as, a docile child". The word "tractable" means "capable of being easily led, taught, or controlled; docile."
That doesn't sound like Berean men who are studying the Scriptures to see whether or not what the Apostle Paul taught them is Biblical. Rather, it sounds like a young child who accepts without question whatever his parents tell him. In fact, I believe that is precisely what Jesus warned us against when He told us to "Call no man father". (Matthew 23:9)
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The Pope said that if anybody "dares" to even think anything contrary to this dogma, then that disagreement will shipwreck their faith, cut them off from the Church, and make them become "condemned". And if anybody in any way outwardly expresses their disagreement, then they are subject to "penalties established by law."[19]
Did Jesus treat people like this for disagreeing in their hearts with something which He or the Apostles told them? With amazing patience He kept on teaching the crowds of people, healing the sick and demonstrating the love and the power of God. When His disciples didn't understand His teachings, He explained them. (Luke 8:5-15) When the rich young man turned away from Jesus, He didn't rebuke him or threaten him. He let him go. (Matthew 19:16-22) In John 6:48-68, Jesus gave a teaching that was difficult for people. Many of His disciples left him and no longer followed Him. He asked the Twelve, "Will ye also go away?" (Verse 67) He didn't threaten them or rebuke them. He didn't try to force them to believe what He taught them. He left them free to believe or not believe, to stay or to leave.
Now if Jesus didn't demand that people believe His teachings about morals and doctrine, then how can anybody else validly do it? Nobody else has the purity of doctrine, or the purity of heart, that Jesus did.
There was one occasion when James and John wanted to call down fire on some Samaritans who wouldn't listen to them. Jesus rebuked them saying, "You know not what manner of spirit ye are of." (Luke 9:55-56; see Luke 9:51-56.)
Look at how Jesus responded to "doubting Thomas". All of the Apostles except Thomas had seen Jesus after the Resurrection. Jesus had repeatedly told his Disciples that He would be crucified and then resurrected on the third day. In spite of all that, Thomas said that he wouldn't believe unless he put his finger into the holes from the nails, and put his hand into the wound in Jesus' side. When Jesus appeared again, did He rebuke Thomas? No. Did Jesus call down curses and anathemas on Thomas for not believing what the Apostles had said? No. He invited Thomas to put his finger into the nail holes and to put his hand into the wound in Jesus' side. In other words, he invited Thomas to check it out for himself. (See John 20:24-29)
Look at a theological confrontation that occurs in Galatians 2:11-16. Peter made a decision that was theologically incorrect. Paul publicly scolded Peter "to his face" for it, and then he wrote to the Galatian church about it. We have no record that Paul was rebuked for this. He certainly wasn't embarrassed by it because he used the incident as a teaching illustration in his Epistle to the Galatians.
According to the Catholic Church, Peter was the first pope. How does Peter address people? Does he demand that they believe what he says? Read the two epistles of Peter. (They are short.) In 1 Peter, he identifies himself as "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:1). In 2 Peter, he identifies himself as "Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1). He does not set himself apart as being in a higher position of authority than the other apostles.
It is Peter who tells us that all Christians are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people". (1 Peter 2:9) He tells us,"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5) Peter (supposedly the first pope) says that every Christian man and woman is a priest, and that our spiritual sacrifices can be acceptable to God.