When I was received into the Catholic Church on the feast day of SS Peter and Paul (there was reasons, into which I will not go, as to why then and not at Easter) I solemnly swore that:
I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.
I was not asked to say what I believed the Catholic Church was; it was taken for granted that during what has been a long journey, I had come to a determination that this church in which I stood to make that promise was within the Catholic Church. For some years I had stood where Newman had recommended in his Discourse 11 to Mixed Congregations:
“Be convinced in your reason that the Catholic Church is a teacher sent to you from God, and it is enough. I do not wish you to join her till you are. If you are half convinced pray for a full conviction, and wait until you have it”
Newman declared: ‘No one can be a Catholic without a simple faith, that what the Church declares in God’s name, is God’s word, and therefore true.’ Until I was in that position, until I came to see that for all its faults, the Catholic Church was the Church founded by Jesus, I could not profess what I professed that June evening; I waited, as Newman recommended.
As Newman put it: ‘faith implies a confidence in a man’s mind, that the thing believed is really true; but, if it is once true, it never can be false.’ I might, although I pray not, lose my faith; but I do not regard myself at liberty to redefine what the Catholic Church is in order to reconcile the daily reality of it with a construct of it in my mind, derived from my study of its history. The Church is the Church, and I either love my Mother as she is, or forsake her: I cannot redefine her or relocate her because something of her outward garb and manner sits poorly with me Who am I to judge my Mother?
Newman was cutting about those who claimed that it was reading the Bible which led them to disbelieve the claims of the Church:
No; Scripture did not make them disbelieve (impossible!); they disbelieved when they opened the Bible; they opened it in an unbelieving spirit, and for an unbelieving purpose; they would not have opened it, had they not anticipated—I might say, hoped—that they should find things there inconsistent with Catholic teaching. They begin in self-will and disobedience, and they end in apostasy.
It is not my part to determine what is and is not authentic Catholic teaching. The Church has done that. Were I to turn to the Church and say to it, and myself, that since it does not profess what I, myself, have divined to be authentic Catholic teaching (and show all the proofs I had), I owe it no obedience because it is not the Church, then I am already embarked on that road Newman tells us ends in apostasy. However much I absolve myself by telling myself that it is not the Church which I disobey, that I have found the real Church elsewhere, it is my self-will at work.
Newman did not write as an abstract theoretician. It is plain that after he converted, the English Catholic Church had not the slightest idea of how to use him and his gifts, and it was not long before he was formally delated to Rome for heresy for his pamphlet: On consulting the Faithful in matters of Doctrine. Unlike his critics, Newman knew his history. Accused of saying that there had been a failure of the teaching authority of the Church, when he had said that there had been a temporary suspension, he showed that there was:
no real failure of the Ecclesia Docens while the decree of Nicæa against Arianism remained the official expression of its ruling on the side of orthodoxy. Nay, more; he had not maintained, as it was assumed, that even after the Council the Coetus episcoporum in its corporate capacity was heretical, but the Bishops as individuals failed to vindicate the orthodox doctrine. The fact that the bulk of the Bishops were for a time individually disloyal to the official teaching of their own body was no more a denial of the infallibility of the Ecclesia Docens than the fact that a Pope might personally hold an unorthodox opinion would be a denial of the infallibility of his ex cathedrâ definitions
That last remains, for me, the crucial point. That a Pope might hold an unorthodox opinion is, no doubt, to be deplored, but that it makes him not the Pope, is an opinion to be avoided. The Magisterium remains what it is, and the Truth that it has proclaimed remains the Truth, whether every bishop perceives it or not.
As Newman observed:
The truth is, that the world, knowing nothing of the blessings of the Catholic faith, and prophesying nothing but ill concerning it, fancies that a convert, after the first fervour is over, feels nothing but disappointment, weariness, and offence in his new religion, and is secretly desirous of retracing his steps
and he was not wrong, for it is not uncommon for converts to be so full of fervour that they find the reality of the Church irksome, full, as it is, of the sort of people they have just left in their former Church. But Newman was right:
no one should enter the Church without a firm purpose of taking her word in all matters of doctrine and morals, and that, on the ground of her coming directly from the God of Truth
That is her word, not my interpretation who who is and is not the Church. That is declared to all Roman Catholics in unmistakable terms.
You must come, I say, to the Church to learn; you must come, not to bring your own notions to her, but with the intention of ever being a learner; you must come with the intention of taking her for your portion, and of never leaving her
I would maintain that among ‘our notions’ is the idea we can tell the Church that she is not whom she appeared to be, but is hidden in some corner where her publicly-recognised Ministers are seen as impostors. It is best to take this advice:
He who has begun a good work in you, will perfect it; He who has chosen you, will be faithful to you; put your cause into His hand, wait upon Him, and you will surely persevere