I am a huge fan of fantasy literature and among my favorite authors is J.R.R. Tolkien, better known as the creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien, when asked about how he dreamed up the world of LOTR stated that it was not so much like creating, but rather discovering a world already in existence. This has always stuck in my mind as a profound idea. It was not until I started creating my own board game [I hope to publish it for my son’s 7th birthday as a present!] that I realized the truth in Tolkien’s words. My journey in making my board game was more of a discovery of a game already existent—I just happened to be the one to uncover it.
There is a connection of Tolkien’s and my own personal experience to the truths of the Catholic Church. Truth is not something to be manufactured or fabricated. The objective truth of the Gospel–preached and housed in the Catholic Church– have always existed! Jesus gave the honor and responsibility to his Apostles and Original members of the Catholic Church to safeguard, teach, and articulate the Truth for future generations until His Second Coming. Let us examine some examples as evidence for this claim.
- Matthew 16:18-19: Listen to Jesus’ words to the soon-to-be first pope in Matthew 16:18-19, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Knowing fully well that humanity thrives on clarity of thought and have stability in a leadership position, Jesus planted the seeds to the papal office here. In fact, the Greek name for Peter [πέτρος] is translated as “stone” or “rock”. God gifted Christianity [and the entire world] with the office of the papacy to be the authority in the matter of faith and morals. The Holy Spirit works in a special way through the pope to guide him whenever a moral truth comes into debate or question.
- Didache: According to many scholars, this document was written around 65-110 A.D and is known as the teaching of the Twelve Apostles. When I read this document I was surprised to hear many Catholic truths proclaimed from such an early 1st century document. The Didache makes specific mention of the Eucharist in Chapter 9 and the sacrament of Holy Orders in Chapter 15. Mere decades after the Resurrection of Christ, the Catholic Church as we know it today was safeguarding the truths handed to it by Jesus.
- Pope Pius IX: The solemn declaration of papal infallibility occurred on July 18th, 1870. Pope Pius IX’s statement on papal infallibility related only to matters of faith and morality and only in his office as pope could the leader of the Church speak with such authority. As I stated before, the seeds to this doctrine were planted back in Matthew 16:18-19 when Jesus gave authority to Peter through the power of the Holy Spirit.
While the doctrine of papal infallibility may be a hot-buttoned issue, especially among non-Catholics, it does not have to be. Seeing the role of the Catholic Church as the guardian and teacher of truth and not the creator of truth was a notion that transformed my approach to this subject. Let us apply Tolkien’s discovery of Middle Earth as a place already present to Catholic Church teaching as a truth existent for eternity and our role is to discover anew how the truth of the Gospel may shape our daily lives!