On the Authority of the Church

A reader asks:

What authority do you have to rely on to know that you should rely on the authority of the Catholic Church?

The short answer is that the authority of the Church rests in the Holy Spirit which animates the body of the Church in the same way a human spirit animates a man. The authority comes from Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity which is God; and the Church is at once His bride and His mystical body.

The long answer is a little more complex, so please indulge me:

The Church is either what she claims to be, or not. If she is what she claims, then her authority comes from the Holy Spirit, that is, from God, who is the source of all authority and truth. If she is not what she claims, she is either a human institution making a claim that is somewhere between self delusion and insanity, or she is a satanic institution run by the spirit of Antichrist to deceive were it possible the very Elect.

I do not see any other option: it is either heavenly truth, earthly self-deception, or infernal deception.

The main logical difficulty with the argument that she is infernal deception, let us call this the Mohammedan argument, is that those who claim to be undeceived themselves have no logical basis for their beliefs aside from beliefs taken in part or whole from the very Church alleged by them to be the source of all untruth. Mohammad would not know that Christ existed at all if he were unaware of what the Church, and no one else, preserved and taught. The claim that Mohammedans and other heretics arose from the independent witness of the historians Jospehus and Tacitus, that they only heard about Christ from this and no other source, is too absurd to refute.

Again, the Lutheran idea that the writings of the Church, some of which were gathered into the New Testament, preserved and used as teaching material, and declared by the Church and only by the Church to be authentic and authoritative, have a character which is self-authenticating or self-authorizing involves a logical contradiction. The writings of St. John cannot have more authority than St. John himself, and if Saint John is not a saint, then his writings are merely a human invention.

Whether or not Saint John drank poison without ill effect is a matter not attested to by any scripture, it is Church tradition, and the Protestant might scoff — but then again, whether or not the man who wrote the Book of the Apocalypse was the man who wrote the letters of John, and was the beloved disciple who wrote the gospel of John, is likewise a matter not attested by any scripture but is Church tradition.

I will hasten to add that Jewish rejection of the claims of Jesus and His followers does not involve this logical contradiction. The Jew can reject the writings of St. John by rejecting the sanctity of St. John the Beloved Disciple and rejecting that John the Baptist was a prophet and Jesus was the messiah. The Jew can say that John is a schismatic who departed from the authentic teachings of Moses, and who was deceived by a false prophet and a false messiah.

But the Protestant cannot accept the authority of the Book of the Apocalypse without accepting the authority of St. John; and if he accepts the authority of St. John he cannot logically reject the authority of St. Polycarp, who was a disciple of St John, and learned of Christ at his feet, and was also the Bishop of Smyrna. The Protestant has the Book of Revelations in his hands because and only because St. Polycarp took it from the hands of St. John and handed the book to Saint Pothinus of Gaul who handed it to St Irenaeus of Lyons, and so onward through each of the generations willing to suffer and die to preserve the Christian teaching, including the teaching embodied in that book, eventually to reach the hands of the Protestant who calls the book authoritative. There is no second and independent witness. St. John did not inscribe another copy on plates of gold written in reformed Egyptian for Martin Luther or John Calvin or Mary Baker Eddy or Joseph Smith to find. These four took the Book of the Apocalypse as possessing a divine authority, and addressed an audience which also took it as possessing that authority.

But if John and Polycarp and Pothinus and Irenaeus cannot be trusted not to have altered or invented the book, or invented John as a fictional character, or attributed someone else’s writings to John, then the book itself cannot be trusted. And on whose authority do we trust them?

The same argument could be made for every gospel and every epistle in the New Testament: you cannot trust the authority of the writing without trusting the authority of he who calls it authoritative. And likewise, if we do not trust the authority of the Jewish prophets and priests and lawmakers, if Moses was a fiction person or a madman, then we cannot trust the authority of the Old Testament.

A stronger argument can be made for any Protestant who recognizes doctrines supported by orthodoxy not reflected in scripture, such as the number and nature of the Persons of the Trinity, or the mystery of the Incarnation, or the nature of the human and divine will in the Person of Christ, or the doctrine of Original Sin. Whether he admit it or no, the Protestant who accepts these ideas as dogma has no independent authority for any of them, save only the witness and authority of the ecumenical and apostolic, orthodox, universal and catholic Church.

The Scriptures, just by themselves in all their ambiguity and mystery, provide just as much support for Arianism as for Trinitarianism, or for Nestorianism or Eutychianism as for orthodox Dyophysitism. Or, to take the argument from the other side, the Antenicene Fathers condemned the practice of abortion in a First Century document  called the Didache. In other words, a mainstream Protestant who holds that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, and who hold abortion to be against Christian teaching, is both interpreting scripture as the Church interprets it, and following Church extrascritpural teaching as the Church teaches.

Now, again, one might argue that the sainthood of John issues from God Almighty, and that the Church merely recognizes and spread abroad the news of that sanctity of authority of the saint, but she does not herself bestow that sanctity and authority. And that would be argued correctly. The question then becomes how does Martin Luther or Joseph Smith or Mohammad know that John is true? Mohammad can at least claim that Archangel Gabriel came to him separately from the scriptures, and that he knows of the virgin birth of Jesus and that Jesus was never crucified because the angel said so, not because John or Luke or anyone else said so. Other Christian schismatics or heretics do not have this conveniently independent second witness.

Now, again, the Protestant can argue, and the argument is a sober one, that the Church at one time had the authority to collect, define, preserve, and rule on the authenticity of the New Testament, but she through the abuse of her powers or the weakness of her leaders fell into error and lost and mandate of heaven. The only problem with this argument is establishing the date at which the Church authority was compromised beyond the power of restoration, and establishing to whom the authority next devolves once the Church betrays her trust.

But this question cannot be answered at all if the Church never had any authority to begin with.

At this point, without I hope seeming facile, we can answer that the authority of the Church is based on that selfsame authority that the Protestant recognizes when he recognizes the authority of the doctrine of the Trinity, or of the authenticity of the writings of St John, or the authority of the Early Church and the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

But even the Mohammedans and Unitarians who reject Trinitarian doctrine acknowledge the trustworthiness and truthfulness of the Church to at least this degree: they believe the reports, spoken or written, which says that Jesus or Isa existed, and was a prophet of God, born of a Virgin, and both taught the word of God and did many signs and wonders to affirm a supernatural origin to his ministry.

Of the three alternatives, then, while the Jew can claim either that the Church is diabolical, a deception of Satan, or self-deception of men, the Protestant or Unitarian or Muslim is in the awkward position of saying that the Church tells the truth about the birth and ministry of Jesus, but then added or commingled inventions or fictions of either mundane or infernal origins: the Muslim says Jesus was a prophet and not divine and never suffered crucifixion nor resurrection; the Unitarian says He was crucified and resurrected but was not a Person of the Godhead; the mainstream Protestant says He was crucified and resurrected and is the Second Person of the Trinity, but that He did not establish the Church on a hierarchic basis, did not initiate an apostolic succession, did not literally establish the Eucharist as a type of incarnation, and had brothers and sisters of His mother Mary in the flesh, and so on. The Protestant says the Church is corrupt but not the Scripture, which is protected from error by divine intervention; the Muslim says the Church and the Scripture are corrupt, and that the writings of their prophet Mohammad are incorrupt and correct the errors introduced by Moses and David and the Apostles of Christ into the record.

The position is awkward because each much argue that there was an original uncorrupted writing known to one man alone, Mohammad or Martin Luther or Joseph Smith, which teaches the original and uncorrupted doctrine of the original and uncorrupted communion, AND that this original communion was made known to this one prophet or theologian but was hidden from the later generations of the Church.

A prophet can claim that he was carried away in a vision or received a divine visitation to show him the original claim, but a theologian can only claim that he used his natural reason, no doubt sustained and affirmed by prayer, to deduce from clues and fragments what the outline of the original and uncorrupt teaching of the original and uncorrupt communion was.

No prophet of the Old Testament, nor John the Baptist, nor Jesus Christ, claims to be doing this. Moses never says Abraham was wrong; Isaiah nowhere says that the teachings of Moses became corrupted and had to be restored according to a plan known to Isaiah alone.They all claim, as does Christ, to be preserving or expanding the covenant which God made to Abraham, not revising errors of the current teaching. Even Christ with His astounding rebukes to the Pharisees, claims not to remove one jot or tittle of the law.

The merit of each individual argument on each point of doctrine has been debated to exhaustion through the centuries and by men more learned and qualified than I, and at such a length that I could not even review them, much less argue their pros and cons.

But, leaving the claim of the reformers to one side, the logical point is that each heresiarch from Mohammad to Arius to Nestor to Luther, whether admitting it or not, relies on the authority of the Church at least insofar as he acknowledges Jesus to have been a real historical person and a prophet of God.

Whatever the basis for the assertion, it tacitly acknowledge Church authority. It then claims an additional authority over and above the authority of the Church, namely, a divine version of “Judicial Review” where, like a Supreme Court striking down a law made by Congress in the name of the Constitution, the heresiarch says that something — a golden tablet, a visitation by Gabriel, the insight of his personal conscience, the success of his attempts at healing the sick by prayer — gives him the authority to override as unconstitutional, or, rather, as unchristian, the findings of general Church councils from Constantine onward, and to return the Church to her theoretical pre-corrupt origins.

So, logically, the Roman Catholic Church, and the various orthodox Eastern Churches, Armenians and Syriacs and Copts and Nestorians, who are descended from the various schisms between the Fourth and Tenth Centuries, can make the claim to be the original Church on the grounds of Apostolic succession. Everyone else, Mohammad, Luther, Smith, has to claim some independent ground on authority on which basis he and he alone can reject scripture as corrupted and reject Church teaching as wayward and misleading.

And he must claim a Constitutional legislative authority allowing him to (in the case of Mohammad) overturn all Biblical Scriptures as Corrupt; (in the case of Luther) overturn some books of the Bible and not others; (in the case of Smith) to add another book to the canon.

And he must claim a Constitutional judicial authority allowing him and him alone to overthrow the findings of the general Church councils from Nicene to Ephesus to Trent, and to substitute findings of his own.

And he must claim an executive authority to be his own private Pope, a self elected or self appointed leader of the Church, not appointed by St Peter who was given the keys of the kingdom, or any of his successors.

So the answer is that one should hold to Church authority for the same reason that one holds to the authority of the heretic or schismatic, namely, that one does indeed believe the heresiarch’s authority comes from God faithfully and correctly to preach and to interpret the teachings of the Church established by Christ reaching back to the covenant with Abraham.

The additional question for the Mohammedan or Protestant or Mormon is on what grounds your leaders and founders claim the authority to rule on and overturn previous Church Councils, or all of them?

Because the Roman Catholic Church, even while making the outrageous claim to be the one, true, universal and apostolic Church of Christ administrated by the Vicar of Christ and the Roman Emperor protected by the Holy Spirit from erring in matters of doctrine — yes, even while making this jaw-droppingly titanic claims of divine authority — the Church makes no claim to be able to overturn previous rulings, renounce the teachings of her predecessors, or to revoke, alter or amend.

This point is often overlooked, and perhaps is incomprehensible to those who believe the Church is merely a human institution like a congress or a private club: the Church does not have the legal authority to write Amendments to the doctrines of the Church, or delete or alter or amend the Scriptures as Luther did. We cannot get ride of the doctrine saying homosexuality is disordered or that contraception is a grave moral evil because the writ and mandate of the Church does not grant the Church that power.

Only Protestants and Mohammedans think that they can make up new Churches or revise the life of Christ to make Him not have forbidden divorce, or change the genealogical tree of Christ to give him earthly brothers, or demote him from the status of God to the status of human prophet. The Protestant founders see their roles as legislators, or, rather, as reformers attempting to recreate a pure Church that once was. But Catholic and Orthodox Churches do not have founders in that sense of the word, and their leaders see their roles as messengers, not legislators.

So we can answer the question with a question. On what authority rests the authority of the orthodox? It is the same authority on which the heterodox rest, except that it also has the legal sanction of the Church Councils and the divine sanction of the Holy Spirit. It is the humble authority that does not claim the authority to revoke or rewrite or annul the teachings of Christ or His Church.

This leads to a second question: assuming such authority does exist between the clashing and contradictory claims of Churches of the East and West, Anglican and Coptic and Greek and Russian and Syriac and Malabar and so on, how is the true authority to be found among all the false claimants and pretenders?

Here I can only speak for myself. I came to the conclusion that divorce was illogical and morally evil and that homosexuality or incest was objectively disordered appetites and that contraception inevitably corrupted any society which permitted and encouraged its use back when I was an atheist, merely by the unaided but strict and rigorous use of natural reason. It is a conclusion I hold any honest thinker must eventually be brought by remorseless logic, albeit it may take decades or longer to be brought there.

The non-Catholic Church before 1930’s all and each of them condemned contraception since before the Reformation in the 1500’s or the Great Schism in the 1000’s.  They all forbade divorce save in cases of adultery or abandonment before King Henry VIII.

All these Churches claim to be teaching the authentic doctrine of Christ. And yet the only utterly unambiguous passage in the sayings of Christ is His condemnation of divorce. Everything else He says is a riddle or a parable. Not that. It is absolutely clear.

All Churches at one time forbade the use of contraception, the abortion of infants or the exposure of infants to the elements. This is not a new doctrine, but dates back to the Roman days. Abortion and Contraception is not the product of the march of science; it is a hold over from the dark days of the Iron Age when Gladiators fought in the Circus, or Eunuchs served in the Court.

I say again, I speak only for myself, but when I look between the various claimants who claim to have inherited the mantle of St Peter, I look to see what claim the claimant makes.

First, there are those who claim Christ did not establish a Church, does not crave unity in the Church, and did not mean the Church to have a hierarchy. The claim is pure fiction, and a prima face case cannot be made for it. It need not be examined on the merits: a group of men gathering to pray and study the Bible or even to live with their property in common and do almsdeeds or other good works, is not a Church.  Moses did not appoint the sons of Aaron to be a Bible study group, but to be a priesthood. Christ, who was the new Moses, did not appoint St Peter as the organizer of a prayer meeting or a political party.

Second, there are those that claim that their Church is the one and true and apostolic Church founded by Christ, and that the Roman Church went astray. This is a more respectable position and must be taken seriously: for if the Council of Chalcedon (AD 541) was indeed corrupt or illegitimate, then the Coptic Church of Egypt is and has been and has always been the one true Church. This question is legal and historical: if one accepts the findings of the council of Nicene, as, for example, when repeating the Nicene Creed, one must find a logical reason to reject other ecumenical councils which met with the same authority, such as the Council of Trent.

I do not say it cannot be done: the orthodox faith rejects the “Robber Synod of Ephesus”  (AD 449)  as it was formally repudiated for procedural irregularities (legates not admitted, letters not read, both sides of the argument not heard, etc.) and Second Ephesus was formally repudiated by the next Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon AD 451). If you hold that Chalcedon was not authoritative but that Second Ephesus was, you are not in bad company: such ancient and established communions as Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Tewahedo, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Orthodox agree with you.

Speaking only for myself, I do not see the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit resting on these Churches, nor on the Greek or Russian Orthodox, only because to me they look like national and established churches, as the Anglican is in England, dominated by Czars and Emperors and Sultans, and lacking the independent and international character which the Roman Church has (albeit less clearly in some eras) always exhibited. This is a matter where I think reasonable men can differ: but I do not think it logical to argue that the Catholic Church has less of a claim to apostolic succession or tenacity of duration in the one true faith as the Eritrean Orthodox.

Third are those who claim that there was no Catholic Church before Constantine, and that the original universal community of Jesus followers before the schisms of the African Churches, was an utterly different creature, composed democratically or voluntarily, uncorrupted by wealth or imperial patronage, and the Fathers lived as simply as monks. Some of this is merely Dan Brown style ahistorical nonsense; some of this is Protestant propaganda with a healthy dose of reading history or study of the Patristic Writings will dispel.

Some, however, of this is legitimate: during this period is when were developed the characteristic doctrines of the Christian faith: the New Testament canon was written and defined, the role of tradition and the ecumenical creeds were fixed,  the doctrine of theTrinity, of Christology, of Soteriology, and the doctrine of Divine grace. Before this, we were an offshoot or heresy of Judaism. After, we were Christians properly so called.

More significantly to me, none of the characteristic doctrines of Protestantism are present in these writings. They are not debated and rejected; they are not addressed at all. There is no argument in favor of divorce or in favor of contraception. There is no mention, before the canon of Scripture is established, of Sola Scriptura. There single dominant characteristic of Protestantism, the radical individualism, is not seen. Nowhere does any Church Father argue that each man by his own conscience and without the intervention of priest or presbyter or Church or curia, can perform all sacraments, bind and loose on Earth what is bound and loosed in heaven; no one argues that each man alone can absolve himself after confessing to himself in isolation, is saved by Grace alone without the need for penance or good works, and is a member of a voluntarily organized body of men baptized as adults without any priests or bishops or metropolitans — there is nothing like this at all referred to, directly or indirectly, in any early writing. The closest is the heresy of the Montanists or Cataphrygians, who relied on private prophecy.

Any Protestant who reject as heresy the claims of the Monophysites or Nestorians or Monothelites or Monergites in effect accepts the authority of the Church which ruled these doctrines heretical — or at least acknowledges that Church just so happened not to get these questions wrong.

How do we recognize this authority?

First, it is consistent.The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself nor change His mind, so it is impossible that contraception be forbidden to Christians in 1931 and not forbidden in 1939. If a community is teaching a doctrine that all Christians everywhere at one time believed, or nearly all, this adds weight to its claim to be authentic. A doctrine that neither Christ nor the Early Father taught has to be established by some clear and convincing proof of its authenticity.

Second, it is legal. If a doctrine has been established by local synod and ecumenical council, and there is no counterclaim or corruption or procedural irregularity or illegal interference with the outcome, then this lends weight to a claim of authenticity. If you scoff that mortal men by casting votes can arrive at a knowledge of the will of God, then you reject the election of Matthias to take the place as one of the Twelve abdicated by the treason of Judas, which was by casting lots.

Third, it is Holy. There is a particular character and, as it were, a flavor to the decisions and authority of God and those who rightly speak for Him and do His will. It is a matter of tone, and, I admit, some men, including myself, may be prone to tone-deafness, especially where their own interest is concerned. In my own opinion, Jesus is clear and piercing as a two edged sword in some matters, and is subtle and profound as a parable or riddle in others. So, to me, it is not possible to believe that the Church would ponder and debate and for 1500 years come to decisions on very subtle theological matters, the fruit of many minds, some of them rightly called saints, and be overturned in a single hour by the theologian or prophet or worldly prince, and replaced with something so simple and stupid it could fit on a bumper sticker.

Mohammadanism took the subtlety of the Trinity, the Veneration of Saints, the mystery of the Incarnation, and replaced it with a slogan: “There is no God but God and Mohammad is His prophet!” which is no more deep and subtle than saying, “All you need do is accept Christ as your personal savior!” or “All you need is love!” — whereupon institutions tried and true and trustworthy are replaced with stricter and simpler and cleaner rules, such as outlawing wine and stained glass windows, but at the cost of the loss of some part of the humanity and divinity of the doctrine.

If Christ had meant something simple from the beginning, He could have said so from the beginning. The doctrine of Double Predestination is not any more hard to explain than the Buddhist Doctrine of Karmic return, and Christ surely said things more subtle and insightful than this, and at the same time simpler and clearer.

In other words, since Christ is so simple and clear where He needs to be (“If ye love me, keep my commandments“) thus I assume He is being subtle where the subject matter or the limits of the human audience will not allow a clearer explanation. The doctrine of the Trinity is remarkably obscure, maddeningly so, and yet without it, one cannot read correct passages where Christ claims or seems to claim divinity  (“He who has seen Me has seen the Father“) with ones where he denies or seems to deny it (“Why call me good? there is none good but one, that is, God“).

If visionary takes a subtle saying of Christ or the prophets or psalms, and, because of impatience with the hairsplitting of theologians or a distaste for Greekish philosophy, flattens the statement into some simple formula, (“Sola fides” or “There is no God but God”)  and thereby loses communion with an entire millennium of Church history or an entire hemisphere of Christian, I say the Holy Spirit is not guiding that visionary into all truth.

Christ tended to be simple and clear about the hard things, and subtle and riddling about the joyful things. I trust the Catholic Church because she talks exactly the same way.

The Church is only crystal clear and simple on those points where you wish there were wiggle room, like the question of contraception, or moving in with your girlfriend-with-benefits if you really, really like her and are sure it will someday soon but not too soon turn into love and then you can get married and not have kids for a few years because of her career. Or like the question of torturing prisoners of war, particular if it is not technically a war and not technically torture. The Church says No.

On questions where the enemies of the Church wishes she were simple and clear, the Church is cautious and wise, and balances competing principles in this fallen world with the delicacy of a jurist. I am sick to puking of people telling me the Church should be pacifists, and teach non-resistance to any use of force. Instead, the Church teaches the Just War doctrine, which identifies the times and circumstances where a prince or parliament can rightly take up the sword even in foreign lands. People who say the Church should support whatever war the common opinion or the charismatic leaders of the day are trumpeting without regard to its justice is the flipside of the same error.

When the selfsame Church offends the simplistic dove for supporting the Crusades of the Eleventh Century and offends the simplistic hawks for not supporting every aspect of the Global War on Terror in the Twenty-First, that is when my respect for the good judgment of the Church increases, and the argument that her authority is sound and trustworthy becomes weightier.

I do see the working of the Holy Spirit in the Penance of Emperor Theodosius. The events were so unusual, so unexpected yet uplifting, that one sees something outside the normal forces of mundane history and human passion at work. When Henry the VIII declared himself Pope of England, and convoked a court as unlawfully frivolous as the court of Pontius Pilate to condemn Saint Thomas More (my fellow science fiction writer) indeed I see the Holy Spirit in More, and in Henry nothing but cheats, deceits, greed, wrath, human shortsightedness.

I have far more respect for Mary Baker Eddy, even though her doctrines are far less mainstream than anything proposed by the Anglicans, because she can point to signs and wonders, resurrection of the dead and healing of the sick, to lend weight to her claim to have discovered, or rediscovered, the art of the early apostles to do the “mighty works” like those wrought by Christ. King Henry VIII, nor Luther, nor Calvin, nor Mohammad, nor Reverend Sun Myung Moon makes such claims or provide testimonies of miracles. Whether one believes the claim true or false, the Christian Scientists are making an apostolic claim, and these others are not.

Again, I have respect for Evangelicals who make claims of visions and faith healings, first because I suspect far more claims are true than fraudulent, and second because this was the same means Christ Himself used when questioned by the followers of John the Baptist to quell their disbelief.

In my own opinion, a Christian who is embarrassed by tales of wonderworking is too parochial to the modern scientific world view, or, rather, to the popularized science-worshiping world view that has nothing to do with real science, and is more akin to the Deism of some lifeless Watchmaker God. Where our Church is spreading most rapidly is precisely in those areas of the world where reports of miracles are most numerous, however doubtful or otherwise their authenticity may prove.

Read Luther or Calvin and read Thomas Aquinas, Justin Martyr, Augustine of Hippo.  I suggest that any nonpartisan observer will see the difference in the scope of their understanding, the clarity of their reasoning. You can see the difference between a man obsessed by one fixed idea, and a man taking a broad, and, dare I use the word, catholic view of all the rich complexities of human life and not trying to pigeonhole all things into one simple scheme.

That is where I see the Authority of the Catholic Church: it comes from the same place as the competing claims of authority, which is to say, from God, but, unlike them, neither contradicts herself nor claims and authority to rewrite and revise what other prophets of God have taught, nor to reject doctrines when the world suddenly finds Christianity unfashionable, nor to add new doctrines or dangerous simplifications in order to sate the appetite of solitary theologians for schematic elegance.

If the orthodox doctrines of the Church were merely the inventions of men, or the self-delusion of enthusiasts, or the imposition of the Imperial Court, then they would have fallen into the same disrepute and obscurity as other inventions of men, such as Deism, or other enthusiastic novelties, such as Montanism, or other attempt by the powerful worldly authority to impose onto ecclesiastical matters, such as Arianism.

If the orthodox doctrines of the Church were the product of the supernatural deceptions of darkness, and all her miracles and good works were the works of Beelzebub, then Judaism is the only place to flee. Because if you think the Antichrist of the Church lied about the matter of the Assumption of Mary or the matter of Saint John drinking venom without taking harm from it, you have no independent basis on which to think the Antichrist of the Church told the truth about the matter of the Ascension of Christ or the Resurrection.

The only other possibility is that the claim of the Church to be one, and true and holy, and catholic and apostolic is true, and that this is a divine claim, which she claims not of herself, but because the Spirit provides witness. When, upon examination, one sees both the clarity and the consistency of Catholic teaching throughout the ages, the belief the she speaks with a heavenly authority is the simplest and best explanation.