Long before The Birds sang it, Qoheleth wrote it. A time for every purpose under the heavens (Ecc. 3:1*). If I reject what the Catholic Church gives with the right hand, by what authority do I accept anything from the left? By God’s grace, that quandary led this Protestant home to Rome.
The same Catholic Church that defined the Trinity and the Canon of Scripture gives us more: the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Papacy, Marian devotion and Purgatory
How many seasons turned from In the beginning until A.D. 325? How many seasons turned, turned from “Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness” until the Church infallibly defined the Trinity? (Gen. 1:26; emphasis added). The revelation would have to wait. Habakkuk’s prophecy is one of those books of the Bible that captivated my imagination long ago, and I’ve read it many times:
For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. (Hab. 2:3)
Faith takes the long view
The seemingly slow, definitely mysterious pace of revelation and its fulfillment will not be late. Revelation’s development helped me turn the corner from Protestantism to the Catholic Church. I needed misconceptions dispelled; baked-in errors corrected. Enter Cardinal Newman. He helped me focus on God’s slowly unfolding revelation through the centuries.
Take for example the Trinity, a central doctrine of the Christian faith. So important is this doctrine that to get it wrong immediately puts you outside the Christian world into a cult or some other religion. Think Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses. How can something so important not be finally defined until the late-fourth century of the common era?
One day is to the Lord like a thousand years
It began as a slight hint about the nature of God; a mustard seed tucked into the opening chapter of the first book of the Bible. It slowly developed as doctrine over countless centuries. In between, Old Testament corrections preceded Church-age dogmas: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” (Deut. 6:4; other possible translations, “the Lord our God is one Lord” and “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” and “the Lord is our God, the Lord is one”. No doubt, clues were clearer and more dramatic when, in the fullness of time, the only begotten Son appeared and promised the Holy Spirit. Heretics, however, invariably use the words of Scripture to deny the truth.
After the age of persecutions, the early church emerged and began a different kind of battle. Doctrines, taken for granted today, were fought for in those early centuries. The church took shape, in large part, by having to respond to heresies. For example,
heretics compelled the church to address the nature of God in dogmatic fashion.
The First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, responding to the Arian heresy (which affirmed the Son of God as supernatural but denied the Son is God), “defined the divinity of the Son and wrote the part of the Creed that deals with the Son.” Jimmy Akin, 12 things to know and share about the Holy Trinity. The First Council of Constantinope in A.D. 381, dealing with another heresy called Macedonianism or Pneumatomachianism, denied that the Holy Spirit is God. Id.
Sacred Scripture, not a self-interpreting encyclopedia
With just a few words in Scripture, or at least a few verses, God could have settled the whole question. It would not have taken until almost the fifth century. Let’s be honest, the pace and development of divine revelation seem more in line with God’s timing (and a thousand years like a day…) than our’s. Even when the pace picked up a bit with the advent of Christ and His teachings, and with elucidation by the Apostles, still we are deep into the fourth century before the doctrine is infallibly defined.
What’s the point? Doctrines of the Catholic Church did not fall from the sky in a moment; but developed over time. That includes the doctrines Protestants took from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. And it includes the doctrines denied in the sixteenth-century (such as the Papacy, Marian devotion and Purgatory). Just as a Divine Index of Sacred Scripture never fell from Heaven, similarly the clear, dogmatic teaching about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God in Three Divine Persons, appeared in no holy encyclopedia on Day One.
We have every reason to beware of sudden, novel doctrines that burst on the sixteenth-century scene, such as sola Scriptura. We have every reason to receive the universal Church’s doctrines that slowly percolated over the centuries out of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, for He is faithful who promised:
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.h He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. (Jn. 16:13)
. . . the things that are coming. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman’s writings helped me see that the doctrines of the Catholic Church developed over time:
And, in like manner, Christians were not likely to entertain the question of the abstract allowableness of images in the Catholic ritual, with the actual superstitions and immoralities of paganism before their eyes. Nor were they likely to determine the place of the Blessed Mary in our reverence, before they had duly secured, in the affections of the faithful, the supreme glory and worship of God Incarnate, her Eternal Lord and Son. Nor would they recognize Purgatory as a part of the Dispensation, till the world had flowed into the Church, and a habit of corruption had been largely superinduced. Nor could ecclesiastical liberty be asserted, till it had been assailed. Nor would a Pope arise, but in proportion as the Church was consolidated. Nor would monachism be needed, while martyrdoms were in progress. Nor could St. Clement give judgment on the doctrine of Berengarius, nor St. Dionysius refute the Ubiquists, nor St. Irenæus denounce the Protestant view of Justification, nor St. Cyprian draw up a theory of toleration. There is ‘a time for every purpose under the heaven;’ ‘a time to keep silence and a time to speak.’ John Henry Cardinal Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame Series in the Great Books)(1994) [Kindle iOS version], Retrieved from Amazon.com at 118/1932 (emphasis added).
Rooted in the Scriptures, the divine seed awaits the perfect confluence of season and soil and sun before flowering into what nourishes and gives life. Ultimately, the mustard seed of Genesis chapter 1 broke through the soil and flowered into the great mystery of the Triune God; the great God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; and who, as Saint Augustine says, . . .
. . . wert close on the steps of Thy fugitives, at once God of vengeance, and Fountain of mercies, turning us to Thyself by wonderful means . . . The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book IV
The unfolding of salvation history under the Old Covenant, from our perspective and certainly from their’s, was slow and far from clear. If we mistake our Bible as if an encyclopedia, we overlook the truth of the matter. Even we the people of the New Covenant see through a glass dimly. If I reject the 2,000-year-old pillar and foundation of the truth, I take matters into my own subjective hands. That is perilous.
Notice that the prophet Habakkuk, within the very Scripture at the root of Martin Luther’s private-interpretation-revolution, warns against rashness:
See, the rash have no integrity; but the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live. (Hab. 2:4)
Recall in Habakkuk 2:3, the word to the prophet was Wait. Impatience and rashness are not the way. Both “by grace you have been saved” and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” are true. Faith and patience; obedience and waiting; all are part of the call to follow Jesus; to daily carry our cross. Today we know Habakuk’s God as the Triune God. Now we see Habakuk’s beautiful, faith-filled prophecy from the vantage of the triumphant Son of David, amid Hosanas sung by Jewish children, with religious leaders sadly missing that the itinerant teacher, humble and riding the foal of a donkey, was their saving God:
For though the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God. Hab. 3:17-18
Now we’re into the third millennia since our Lord’s Passion. Ever since, the Triune God, through His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, has guarded the deposit of faith. As the centuries unfolded and seasons required, the Magisterium of the Church was like “the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” (Mt. 13:52). Come and see. There is no good reason to stay away for yet another season.
ONE LORD. ONE FAITH. ONE BAPTISM.
AS FOR ME, I KNOW THAT MY VINDICATOR LIVES, AND THAT HE WILL AT LAST STAND FORTH UPON THE DUST. THIS WILL HAPPEN WHEN MY SKIN HAS BEEN STRIPPED OFF, AND FROM MY FLESH I WILL SEE GOD: I WILL SEE FOR MYSELF, MY OWN EYES, NOT ANOTHER’S, WILL BEHOLD HIM: MY INMOST BEING IS CONSUMED WITH LONGING. JOB 19:25-27
*New American Bible Revised Edition