The Back Cover of the Bible
As in all religions, Catholicism also has its source material and its source authority structure. In Catholicism there is Holy Scripture and there is Holy Tradition. Both are authoritative.
Holy Scripture is the bible. That one is pretty straight forward.
Holy Tradition – for all intent and purposes – includes any rulings of the various Church Councils (believing to have also been divinely revealed, guided, inspired, and protected), and Papal Infallibility (also divinely revealed, guided, and inspired). In short, after Jesus Christ, divine revelation began and continues to this day.
(It is obvious to me that the Church (capital “C”) has come off the rails at some point.
Although I am sure we will all share this particular opinion, I think I have a perspective no other within our group does, and thus can bring a very different 'angle'. Although not Catholic, I come from a Roman Catholic background, was essentially brought up through a Catholic education system, and was left with little options (at least in my earlier years) at viewing all things theological or spiritual through a Catholic lense.)
The next question becomes when did the Church come off the rails? It's really a rhetorical question. I'm not interested in pursuing this line of thought. But the point itself is important.
Maybe a better question should be, where is the dividing line between Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition? Well, that one isn't a rhetoric question and it's easy to answer. That dividing line is clearly the back cover of the bible.
...Going off on a slight tangent; Martin Luther never wanted to do away with the Catholic Church or make it defunct; only correct certain problems. He created a Frankenstein's monster, didn't he? He, more or less, gave birth to the Protestant Reformation.
The Reformation realized that the Church had come off the rails and rather than become bogged down with attempting to determine when, dropped the “cutting edge” down at that clean decisive point between Holy Tradition and Holy Script; the bible's back cover. Done away with was Holy Tradition and Papal Infallibility in an attempt to return to the original, the first century church.
1) The bible is not a book. It is a library of books wrapped in a man-made cover. (Couldn't it be said that this “man-made” cover was divinely revealed through a church council (Holy Tradition)?)
2) Holy Tradition (and church history) did not begin after the back cover of the bible, but began within the confines of the bible.
3) The Protestant Reformation had in effect removed the validity of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility from all Popes (including the first Pope, Peter) yet allows “Papal Infallibility” under the disguise of Biblical Inerrency to apply to Paul's writings.
I personally am of the opinion that the Rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth preached the Kingdom of God but got the Church instead... or maybe it was that Yeshua preached the Kingdom of God but the Church preached Jesus...?
So we go back past the Pauline Epistles and directly to the Gospels themselves.
...and here lies the problem. The Gospels were all written significantly after the Epistles by members of the first century church.
I find myself in a dilemma. I find myself at a dead end with no obvious way forward.
The way forward would seem to me to be to listen to where God's voice leads?
God is so exalted beyond the capacities of mortal men that it is impossible to describe God or even hint at the nature of God's essence. Consequently it is impossible for humans – even scholars and theologians – to capture God's glory in words. All descriptions then are limited by the viewpoint of the making them. No matter how hard a person strives for knowledge of the divine the only achievement will be better knowledge of one's own self.
Using the metaphor of a compass: No matter how far the compass travels, it is only going around the point at its center and, similiarily, however much men may strive and achieve within the realms of spiritual knowledge, ultimately they are only achieving a better and greater knowledge of themselves (or of the Absolute manifested within themselves), not of any exterior Absolute.
[I know this sounds like monism, which would seem to contradict a dualistic belief. (Dualism says, “there are fundamental differences between the human and the divine”. Monism says, “there are no fundamental difference between the human and the divine”.)
We must give up the rational laws of non-contradiction and the excluded middle.
The apparent contradiction arises only because of our limited capacity which prevents us from seeing them both as correct. This can be intuited but not known conceptually or logically.]
Understood this way, all theology is partial and relative (hence the theory of relativism which effectively deals with conflicting truth claims between the religions).
All religions are equally valid in that they embody equally valid human responses to the divine (although we shouldn't rule out that some small religions and cults may be false).
The different religions reflect different stages in a single process, namely, the progressive unfolding of religious truth. Differences between the various religions are regarded as a functions of the different social conditions and receptive capacity of individuals that prevailed at the time and place that these religions first appeared.
Religions truth is not absolute but relative.
Divine revelations is progressive, not final.
"The true spiritually achieved one respects the natural spiritual world without having to personify it with a white or purple robe or a gold crown. That is junk. It is really childish. It is not true. Religions fight each other over the conceptual level of life. Once you formalize God with a certain shape and color and robe, you fight over what is in your mind as opposed to what is in someone else's mind. At the true spiritual level, conceptual vision is both all right and all wrong, until you reach the subtle essence...
...There is no separate "God" in the realm of integral truth."
Ultimately, when we attempt to force God into a pre-defined box, we are completely in error. Our perceptions of who or what God is is extremely cultural in nature.
Rather then attempting to force God into a preconceived box of definitions we attempt to force others into following these preconceptions is when human suffering, misery, and pain begins.
To me, this is the process of religious conversion.