Serving Truth

"No one can change Truth. What we can do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. "
— St. Maximilian Kolbe

Following the recent 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I thought of an interesting analogy regarding sola scriptura, which remains one of the greatest dividing doctrines between Catholics and the rest of Christendom.

Maybe it's just because I'm married to a board game connoisseur, but the idea came to mind that one could compare the Bible to the rulebook of a board game. Without its rulebook, a game does not make any sense. It explains the tiles on the board, the purpose of the pawns, what the pictures on the cards symbolize. You will learn that when you put your pawn here and roll the dice, you can purchase so much of a particular resource, and with the resources build structures which give you points and win you the game. The rulebook is essential to the game; you cannot take away any of the rules, nor add any, without corrupting it.

In the same way, the Bible explains to us everything we need to know about salvation: that God so loved the world that he sent us his only son, so that any who believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. We cannot take away any of those truths, and they need nothing added.

But there is something that the rulebook does not explain, and that is strategy.

Strategy is more than the basic mechanics of the game. Going in, you might understand that if you do this, then you can do that, and repeat. But as you begin to actually play, you will encounter something the rulebook could not have prepared you for, and that is the reality of playing with other people. Each person will have a different playing style; they will do things that you don't expect, or that prevent you from making a move you had planned on. You find yourself thinking ahead, weighing the consequences of your own actions against the probability of another's. You will encounter the spirit of the game, which is the moment you take everything that you learned from the rulebook and actually experience the purpose intended by the game maker—which was probably to have fun.

And that, I think, has been the enduring struggle of Christians everywhere—to take the basics of what we know, which is that Jesus loves us, and died that we might live, and that we are called to love others as he has loved us—and to actually live it out. It seems so simple, but the reality is that humanity is messy, messy business.

If you're anything like me, you rarely read the rulebook of a board game. The technical language flies right over my head, the pictures begin to swim before my eyes, and before I know it I'm curled up under my bed weeping. Fortunately, as I mentioned before, I'm married to a man who basically lives and breathes board games. He will study a rulebook for a time, then explain it to me using words and examples that I can easily grasp. We might even run through a few sample scenarios where he can show me the cards in his hand and go through the various options available to him.

This, I would argue, is the beautiful role of the Magisterium.

The last two thousand years have borne many of history's most brilliant philosophers, theologians, and saints, who have provided invaluable insight and wisdom regarding the public ministry of Christ. We have developed terms like "trinity" to help us understand exactly who God is, and who he isn't. The Church continues to look at the Christian life from every possible angle, taking into account that not every person is a straight, intelligent, and virtuously-inclined person with an aptitude for understanding Scripture. Indeed, the Church is made up of every imaginable sinner, each walking their own unique path. Thus she expounds on the basic rules—love God and love thy neighbour—formulating clear and concise guides on what that looks like exactly. After all, Jesus doesn't talk at all about condoms or what to do if you think you're transgendered, but these things have an impact on our spiritual journey.

Of course, the Church is more than just a glorified literary expert. As Catholics, we believe that the Church has been given a unique authority, granted by God, in upholding, preserving, and proclaiming the Gospel truth. By his grace, no dogma is established in error. To push my analogy a little further, it would be like if the game maker said, "Hey Mike, I want you to teach people my game. If you have any questions, shoot me a text and I'll make sure you get it right."

God’s Word, given to the Church both orally and written, are the “rules". The company that compiled all the rules into the rulebook is symbolic of the “Church”, that is the Apostles and their successors who received all the rules from Gamemaker himself.

But then non-Catholics might point to some of our teachings and say, "Hey, but you added this {insert Marian teaching or other misunderstood tradition here}."

Well, to that I would say, okay, look at any board game, preferably one with art. Then look in the rule book and tell me if it goes into explicit detail about one tiny attribute of the art—maybe that little painted farmer standing in a field. No? Let's say that little farmer is the Catholic teaching on the Assumption of Mary. Does this teaching in any way affect our salvation? No. Are we required to believe it? Yes—not because it will get us into heaven, but because it is true. It is but one of the many details that add depth and beauty to the story, without obscuring the truth.

"But why do I need the Magisterium if I can just read the Bible for myself?"

My brother, bless his heart, loves to read the rulebook of a new game and then take it upon himself to explain it to everyone else—and continue to direct everyone throughout the game—but he often gets it wrong. When that happens, my dear husband just sits there, shaking his head.

If we can screw up the rules to a silly game, how much more likely are we to misunderstand the Bible, in all its incredible depth and nuance? If you think we are all capable of interpreting the Bible ourselves without a central authority to confirm the accuracy of any teaching, I invite you to do two things: one, check out the last count of the different denominations. It's in the thousands, each with their own take on Scripture. Two, pay attention to the terrible harm that is being done by certain denominations, who have twisted passages of Scripture to fit their own destructive ideologies. I'm not talking about the weakness of an individual (we all stumble as we walk the narrow path), but actual faith teachings that are driving people away from Love. A church without the grace of authority becomes little more than a loosely connected group of people swayed by the whims of their own fallible interpretation. It is by the grace of God alone that Truth can be passed down for over two thousand years, unchanged.

This is not a perfect analogy, of course. I mean, can you really compare the living Word of God with a rulebook, or the complexity of the Church with wooden pieces and a square of cardboard?

Every day I become increasingly thankful for the massive well of knowledge available to us as Christians in the deposit of faith. Indeed, truth permeates all of creation, beckoning us, pointing towards the source of all Truth.

Are we listening?

“No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict... There are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”
— Maximilian Kolbe

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Posted in Authority of the Church, Quotes, Understanding Scripture.


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