St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Palayur, India, Asia
According to tradition, it was established in 52 AD by St Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. It is the oldest church in India and is called an Apostolic Church credited to the Apostolate of St. Thomas who preached and also started conversion of people to Christianity here. It was part of the seven churches that he established in India; the other six churches were established at Cranganore, Kokkamangalam, Kottakkavu, Kollam, Niranam, and Chayal (Nilackal). The original small Church structure has been retained at the oldest site. But substantial improvements around it were carried out during the 17th century by Reverend Fenichi, as necessary, without sacrificing the main sanctity of the place.
Thank you, Father, for your response. I think what I’m really wondering is this: why / how is the Catholic Church doctrinally superior to non-denominational churches (or even non-Catholic Christian churches)?
A non-denominational Christian church is, for all intensive purposes, a Protestant church, whether or not it is comfortable using the term “Protestant.” The term “non-denominational” in the 17th century and afterward was meant to signify “independent” or “congregationalist” as opposed to maintaining formal structures and formal ties to national churches.
The advantage of being independent was in not having to submit to a national body or convention, such as those set up by the Presbyterians and Episcopalians. But if you ask any non-denominational pastor if they consider themselves more in line with the Reformation or the Church of Rome, they will answer in a split second, “The Reformation!”
The Church of Rome considers any and all assemblies, congregations, and church bodies not in union with, and obedient to the Pope, to be basically some form of Protestantism, Anglicanism, or Eastern Orthodoxy. Anglicanism acts somewhat like a bridge, professing both the tenets of the Reformation and at the same time maintaining many Catholic elements in hierarchy, liturgy, and doctrine.
To answer your question, both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy consider the Reformation tradition of Protestantism to be an insufficient transmission of the evangelical preaching of the 12 Apostles. I won’t use the phrase “doctrinally inferior” because that phrase could be easily misunderstood.
What is more authentic about Catholicism and Orthodoxy, in the view of both faiths, is that Christianity is not just doctrines, but an entire way for a church to live, breathe, serve, and form people in their vision of life. So instead of saying Catholicism and Orthodoxy are “doctrinally superior” it would be more accurate to state that they see themselves as a fuller transmission of all of the life of the New Testament Church founded by Jesus when He was on earth.
What about Protestantism makes its transmission of the Christian life and message less full, or lacking? The answer would be an outlook of God’s Word which is utilizing just the Bible alone (Protestantism), instead of turning to both the Bible and Apostolic Tradition (Catholic and Orthodoxy’s view).
Reformation Protestantism accepts the Bible as the sole rule of faith, and excludes as Divine Revelation (in theory), or Apostolic preaching, whatever is not found in the written texts of the Bible. Catholicism and Orthodoxy see the canonical and written texts of the Bible as containing only one part of the Word of God and therefore not sufficient to be the sole rule of faith in transmitting the Christian religion/Apostolic preaching of the 12.
Catholicism and Orthodoxy point out the obvious–the 12 Apostles received a Great Commission from Jesus and then followed this, not by writing the books of the Bible, but first by preaching in various communities and founding churches with communal life, charitable service, and worship. The churches, forming one single, and original, Church of Christ, had a developing life, customs, leadership, and primitive doctrinal creed before the books of the New Testament were ever penned.
In worship, or liturgy, in teaching and catechesis, in preaching and church order or discipline, the New Testament churches transmitted the evangelical preaching of that Apostolic College of 12 men. According to Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief, part of the transmission is written and codified in the Bible, and part of the transmission is passed on in what we call “Apostolic Tradition.”
The job of the Church is to utilize both the Bible and the sources of Apostolic Tradition in formulating Church creeds, Church worship, and Church laws of order. As Catholics and Eastern Orthodox see it, the Protestant Reformation threw out the baby with the bath water. What did they do? In order to reform corruption within Church life, Protestants decided to nullify anything from Tradition in favor of making the written texts of the Bible as the sole rule of faith.
The problem is that history and archaeology can prove that various elements of Apostolic Tradition date back to the primitive era of the Church. Whether it is the writings of ancient fathers of the Church, whether it is the rituals of ancient Christian liturgy, whether it is the rule of order being followed by ancient Christians, it is foolish to nullify all these elements of Christian life and preaching and say that only the Bible contains God’s Word.
It is true that Apostolic Tradition is a looser body of Christian teaching. It is easier to point to Scripture and say this alone is the Word of God, whereas with Apostolic Tradition the Church has to debate what parts of ancient Church life truly originated with the Apostles and their preaching.
But with the promised assistance of the Holy Spirit, working through ancient synods and church Councils, the Church was able to confirm what teachings taken from Tradition are part of the preaching of the Apostles as well. So throughout the centuries, both the Bible and Apostolic Tradition worked fine, together, in transmitting Christianity.
Both the Bible and Apostolic Tradition together were seen as providing us with the rule of faith, not just the Bible alone. That is, they were fine, until 16th century Reformation leaders said the Church had been wrong for 15 centuries and now we had to nullify Apostolic Tradition and say, if it is not found in the Bible, we won’t believe it is part of the Apostles’ preaching.
Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy say that what makes our teaching and Church life a fuller transmission (aka “doctrinally superior”) of God’s Word is that we possess and live out a Christianity which is nourished from two fonts of God’s Word.
One source is written (Bible) and one source is more of an oral handing on (Tradition) of the Apostolic preaching of the 12 men who were with Jesus and who were, alone, authorized to establish churches and reveal the Word of God to us. God bless and take care, Fr. Angel
Excuse me, but why can't women be catholic priests? I myself am a catholic woman.
The Catholic Church sees men and women as equally creations of God–”male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).
After baptism, men and women equally participate in the life of Christ, the life of baptism, for there is “neither male nor female” but all are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
So why does the Church say that certain roles in life are more fitting or more proper to women, or that certain roles are more proper to men?
That is because of the Christian outlook of anthropology–this says that, although men and women are equally the image of God, it does not mean that they are equally called to participate in the same tasks of creation.
This difference is biological–men and women have very different bodies, and their hormonal secretions cause different moods and visceral impulses. This difference is psychological and emotional–men and women approach problems and crisis with different kinds of solutions and outlooks. This difference is sociological–men and women approach how they socialize and treat other people in the community with different ways of relating, loving, or hating.
Anthropology does not affect intelligence or multi-tasking. Both men and women are intelligent, both are capable organizers, and both carry out the same jobs that are functional.
Now, the question about the priesthood is, “Is this a job?” Does the priesthood involve more than 9am to 5pm office duties and community organizing? “Is the priesthood a functional task for the Church?” Do priests just coordinate ministry and keep the lights on, the doors locked or open, and make sure litter is dumped?
In some Christian denominations, the way they interpret the New Testament and ancient Christian history, is to say that the priesthood in the Church developed as a normal job or function of multi-tasking. When the Apostles died, so the belief goes, people were needed to “run” the Church, lead prayer, teach, and perform the works of administration. This ministry involved laying hands on people and “blessing” or ordaining them for these functions.
These Christian denominations also concede that men usually held the functions of ministry, although this, supposedly, was conditioned by culture and societal pressures. Accordingly, they say, as women’s gifts became better understood and appreciated, the Christian community drew women into priestly functions, and that today, women should carry out these tasks and functions alongside men.
The Catholic anthropology, however, has developed along different lines of thought and sacramentality. The priesthood is not just a function or task, but is a certain mode of making Christ present and being His icon in the Christian community.
The belief of the Catholic faith is that Jesus called only men to be Apostles for a reason that had to do with masculinity and fatherhood, and when I say “had to do” I mean in an essential and vital way.
Jesus, in the Catholic view, wished priests to be fathers in the mystical sense of how a father sees with a male outlook, and loves with a male heart, the family that is entrusted to him by God.
Now, it is true, that the priesthood in the ancient Church exercised functions of leadership and administration that, theoretically at least, could be carried out by women as well as men.
However, Catholic theology sees a development of doctrine around the priesthood that took on a strong sense of fatherhood, and not just fatherhood as understood in a patriarchal, power-controlling sense, but fatherhood in the sense as it is connected to the male mystique of relating to families.
This is part of the reason why St. John Paul II decreed that in all the centuries of her existence, the Catholic community has never felt that it had the right or the authority to alter the Apostolic calling from the model that Jesus first imposed for the Church.
Unlike other Christian denominations, where the people are seen as having a democratic function to vote on and alter their Church beliefs and practices, the Catholic view is that of “Tradition” which means “handing over.” The Christian faith was “handed over” by Jesus to the Apostles, who “handed over” this deposit of faith to the Church, who has “handed over” this deposit to the future generations of believers.
This deposit is received by us as a spiritual inheritance, and on its essential points of teaching, we have no right to make changes or to depart from the norms set down by Jesus Christ, who is Head of His Body the Church. Part of this deposit of faith is the uniquely Catholic anthropology of viewing the differences between men and women, motherhood and fatherhood.
Basically, the reason that the priesthood is essentially a male vocation, is because fatherhood is essentially a male vocation. This, I realize, is not a full answer, which would require many more pages of writing, but it is something I hope gives a little insight into the Catholic Tradition of priesthood. God bless and take care, Fr. Angel