Not too long ago, I was driving and came upon a car going very slowly in the fast lane. I moved closer and closer to give this guy the hint that other people would like to go quite a bit faster than he was apparently accustomed to, but after a couple of minutes of me getting worked up about this self-righteous menace to society, I noticed that there was an unmarked police car to his right. Ah…I backed off. Sometimes additional information can completely change our understanding of a matter.
Whether it be with regard to everyday situations, science, math, religion, or any other discipline or practice, there is always the possibility of this game-changing information being out there, just waiting to be discovered and turn everything we think we know on its head. But if this is true, then how can we trust anything we think we know? As our knowledge of science increases, it changes our understanding, so is it the same with God?
When it comes to science, we are always making discoveries, and our understanding is continually evolving and improving, but when it comes to God, we, as Catholics, declare that what we know are eternal, unchanging truths. Is the Church mistaken to declare them such, knowing that new information could change our understanding of God at any time? In fact, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church is not mistaken in declaring absolute, eternal, unchanging truths of God, upon which we can rely on with utter certainty. Let me explain why.
Every bit of human understanding, apart from the teaching of Catholic Church, is based in human reason and is prone to error. Catholicism is unique among the religions and ideologies of the world in this respect: it is built upon a perfect system of transmitting divine truth from God to us, and God’s truth will never change. If the Church were ever to teach untruth (in a matter of faith and morals), doubt would be cast upon the entire deposit of doctrine in the Church, and none of it could be trusted any longer, for if it erred in one case, what else may it have proclaimed in error? For this reason, it is impossible. The Church cannot proclaim error as truth, lest it cease to exist as the Church.
This is not only an assurance that the Catholic Church propagates pure, infallible truth, but that it is the only institution on Earth to do so. In fact, it is the only institution on Earth that even makes that claim. This is what makes the Catholic Church the only true Church. Every other major religion is based on human understanding and interpretation of a holy book, but Catholicism is a system of perfect interpretation of God’s word through a divine institution instituted by Christ. That is unique.
To illustrate this, let’s look back at Kurt Gödel, the Austrian logician, mathematician, and friend of Albert Einstein. In 1930, Gödel threw the world of mathematics into a tizzy when he presented his incompleteness theorems at a conference in the city of Königsberg. Jim Holt writes in his book, When Einstein Walked with Gödel:
No logical system can capture all the truths of mathematics — [this] is known as the first incompleteness theorem. Gödel also proved that no logical system for mathematics could, by its own devices, be shown to be free from inconsistency, a result known as the second incompleteness theorem[.] … [I]t had been an article of faith that that armed with logic, mathematicians could in principle resolve any conundrum at all — that in mathematics, as it had famously been declared, there was no ignorabimus. Gödel’s theorems seemed to have shattered this ideal of complete knowledge.
Dennis Prager, in his excellent PragerU video on the Ten Commandments, asserts that even though people can figure out that murder is wrong on their own, they need God to tell them so in order to know that murder is wrong. Because all human reason is fallible, only divine revelation can be trusted absolutely; our human brains simply cannot distinguish truth from fallacy, apart from the very simplest and most mundane things. God is indispensable to the Ten Commandments for this reason, and the same is true for all other truths as well. Even in mathematics, that purest of disciplines, a declaration of certain truth must come from outside the system. While an equation (or belief) may be true, we can’t know that it’s true without revelation, without confirmation from outside (or above). Gödel’s theorems were certainly new, and they certainly changed everything; no longer was mathematics seen as the unshakable bedrock it had been assumed to be. Before Gödel, there was an old maxim that “there can never be surprises in logic,” but this came as a surprise, for sure. The fact that there is no system of reason, thought, or logic that can stand on its own and make absolutely true declarations is, according to Fields medalist Vladimir Voevodsky, “extremely unsettling for any rational mind.”
it ought to be. There is, in fact, only one Truth, Jesus Christ, and there is only one rational understanding of the world, and that is Catholicism, because it is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:17: “[Jesus] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Outside Him, guess what: they don’t hold together. Just as God refused to allow the builders of the Tower of Babel to reach Heaven by laying brick upon brick, we cannot lay brick upon brick of human reason and come to a full understanding of God; for reason to be rational, it requires a leap of Faith. God, the creator of reason, is ultimately rational, and He wants to be approached not through pure cognition and understanding, but through faith, in a relationship; He won’t allow it any other way. He demands — and has indeed laid in the foundations of the universe — a faith-reason balance. Reason alone is irrational and requires faith, just as faith without reason is irrational; they must exist in a balance. As can be seen with evolution and other secular dogmas, when reason and science try to take the place of faith, they cease to be rational, and rather become articles of faith. The balance will always exist. Faith is not irrational, as atheists say; reason isolated from faith is.
The Catholic Church is the only religion and the only institution on Earth that recognizes and keeps these forces in balance, and that is why it is the only rational faith and the only truth. Likewise, not only does the need for this balance make the Catholic Church the city on a hill, the secure fortress in a foaming sea of insecurity, but the Church is also the perfect environment in which to incubate saints and grow them from infancy to maturity. We are called to come to Christ as little children, and this requires a complete trust in what we are being fed. If we had to — as the Protestants do — reinvent the wheel over and over again, and discover for ourselves and understand and define every dogma, we would inevitably fall into error, and we certainly wouldn’t be able to stand on the shoulders of giants like Augustine and Aquinas and so many others and be able to accept as truth even what we cannot understand (and that with which we may not even agree).
God instituted a covenant (an exchange of persons — “I will be your God, and you will be my people”), not a contract (“I will do this for you, if you do that for me”). This covenant, perfectly formed in that faith-reason balance, is what allows us to be the sheep and allows us to trust the Good Shepherd. It paves the way for us to come to Him as Proverbs 3:5 calls for: humbly and meekly, trusting not in our own understanding, but in His love. It also makes our faith so much more sure, for when someone challenges our Faith, we need not worry if we cannot give them all the right answers, and give them a reason for every article of Faith. Catholicism is true, whether we can personally prove it or not, and the proof of this is in the necessity of this faith-reason balance, which only the Catholic Church teaches and only the Catholic Church claims.
Jim Partlow converted from Protestantism in 2003 and, ten years later — after two years at St. Mary’s Seminary — discovered his true vocation, which is to serve the faithful explaining and defending the Catholic faith. Jim lives in Jacksonville, Florida with his beautiful wife and two lovely daughters, has a Bachelor of Music degree in theory/composition, and spends his days playing jazz piano and running his website, braincoffee.net. He can be found on Facebook (Brain Coffee) and Instagram (braincoffeemedia).