Complexity of the Roman Catholic Church

I’m trying to tread lightly here because I have the utmost respect for the Roman Catholic church and the catholics I’ve met here in this forum. Please realize that I’m not trying to be offensive in any way. I just left this thread: “Primacy or Supremacy of the Bishop of Rome” in the Non-Catholic Religions" forum.

I read through pages and pages of doctrines, decrees, rules and such and by the time I was finished my head was spinning. The first thing I thought of was how glad I am that I’m not a catholic. All these pages and pages of complex documents–and this was just concerning the power and authority of the papacy. My thought is: Did God really mean it to be this way? How far we’ve come from the clear and simple statements made to christians in the new testament such as the following:

John 3:16-20 New International Version (NIV) “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”

to the countless pages of complex doctrines of the catholic church. When I put my image of the church in the earliest days beside my image of the catholic church today, I have trouble reconciling the two as being the same church. Again, no offense intended; just my honest thoughts. God bless.

Well what you have to understand is we “netodox” and “webcaths” are a different breed. This is an area of interest for us that most people don’t share. So even though sometimes we get irritated with each other we enjoy the discussion and the back and forth. Your average Catholic and Orthodox “in the pews” so to speak wouldn’t know the Council of Chalcedon or Trullo from the city council. And that is perfectly ok. The fundamentals of the faith are really simple. Go to church, receive the sacraments, pray everyday, love your neighbor and always remember God. :thumbsup:

As Seraphim says, on forums such as these, you will find many with an above and beyond normal interest for theology, ecclesial history, liturgy, and the details therein. Many of these things are very interesting, and discussion of them can often lead to deepening of faith, often unexpected - many details one wouldn’t normally think of considering, can carry meaning.

However, yes, for the outsider (and sometimes even for the insider), this can give kind of a skewed impression of the Church. It is important to remember that parishes aren’t like the Internet, and that the life of the Church does not consist of debating details, but of celebrating the Sacraments, caring for souls and preaching the Gospel.

Additionally, it should be remembered that Scripture isn’t as “simple” as you may think - many of the Epistles make use of heavy philosophical language, and allude to common themes in Greek philosophy. Scripture also values exact language and thinking, as the Church has continued to do. The reason why most people who “just read the bible” don’t recognize this, is simply that we’re so far removed from the Hellenic cultural sphere, that we no longer recognize those traits of the New Testament on our own.

Lastly, it is also important to remember that canon law, doctrine (dogma as well as speculation), and so on is there because it was needed to handle real problems; these doctrines and laws were generally declared in response to problems, everything from heresy to marriage disputes, that have arised over the two millenia since the Lord walked the earth. They’re not there because we like splitting hairs.

I would also like to say that Catholic doctrine isn’t really that complex - the language may sometimes be unfamiliar, but the central parts of Catholic teaching are, generally, easy to understand. I would especially recommend the books of pope emeritus Benedict, as they are generally easy to read (ironically perhaps except for his book called Introduction to Christianity), and not least communicate the Catholic faith exceptionally well.

Dennis M. Ritchie once said, “UNIX is very simple, it just needs a genius to understand its simplicity.”

The same can be said about the Catholic Church. Her doctrines are elegant, logical, and simple. She is based on love. She preaches love, and she lives love. Look upon the Cross, and what do you see? I see love - the love Christ has for His children, the love He offered for us in His Passion. How can anyone look at the Blessed Virgin Mary and not see love? Everything she ever did was an act of love, acts which all pointed not inward to herself, but outward to her Son. Likewise, the Church brings that love to us through the ages, in the “absence” of Christ until His Second Coming.

Have you ever read a love letter or listened to a love song? Sometimes the language can become flowery, many words used to express a simple concept. The same concept applies to Church documents. The Fathers of the Church like to state and restate the meaning of Christ’s love in many ways, to “be all things to all people”.

So on the surface it may appear that the Church is complex, and this is only if you don’t understand her language and her basis in love. Once you understand the love of God, you will understand the Church.

Try reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a well written and organized description of the Church’s teachings:

Lek the Catholic church is over 2000 years old and they have done a pretty good job of documenting it’s history. With the internet and amazon we have access to all this history. In reality the Holy Bible and the Catechism pretty much covers what we need to know to be a good Catholic. All the other stuff is frosting on the cake.

This thought is always in the back of my head as well.

I love Christ with all my heart, soul and strength. I don’t know if a Pope approved a council or not.

The simplicity of the early Church as found in the Franciscan Order?

Hi Lek. I’ve had the same thoughts myself. You only have to remember that in the days of the first Christians, the church was tiny. They met in homes. Everyone knew each other. Everything was simple. Congregants could, and would, police each other.

Fast forward 2000 years. Christianity has become global. Our Church alone comprises 1/5 of humanity, not including hundreds of millions of Orthodox and Protestants. Rules, laws, dogmas, ordinances etc are a necessary outcome of the expansion of Christianity. In fact, orthodox Christianity would cease to exist without all these complex laws and rules. They are intended to guide the faithful against falling into heresy.

Look at the early history of the United States. There were a handful of people at Jamestown. No laws like today, just a few people working together in a community. Simple. Just like early Christianity. But look what happened to Jamestown. They were weak and defenseless against Indian attack, and they got wiped out. What they needed was a defense system with fortresses, an army, a supply line and military discipline and an adequate number of fighting men. If you are going to have all that, it would have to be accompanied by a system of laws, rules, and culture. They would also have to have a leader and assistants to the leader.

See where I’m going? See how different Jamestown is from the modern United States? Can you imagine going back to the simplicity of Jamestown now with 350 million people? It would never work, it would be anarchy. Our Church is the same thing. All these laws, doctrines and dogmas, rules, cultural practices, etc are an inevitable result of the passage of time, defending our beliefs from heretics, and the gathering of 1.2 billion people into a single institution. I realize it just looks unnecessarily complex, but it has to be that way or it would not work in today’s world.

I will agree that when we spend time on forums such as this, we get an image of the participants as being totally what we see here; kind of one-dimensional. I myself like to dig into scripture and study the finer points, but I’ve always been aware of the simplicity of the message of salvation. I have an image in my mind of catholics being more concerned with defining doctrine and following rules than with simply following Christ and looking to do his work. I can understand where you’re coming from with your interest and enjoyment of delving into those types of doctrine, but still devoting you life to following the simple doctrines pertaining to salvation. I tend to think that because I don’t accept these doctrines, such as the authority of the papacy etc, that you’re wondering off on a tangent and allowing that to take the place of your walk with Christ. In other words, I see your focus as being on the wrong things.

Maybe to a different extreme, it also does strike me that many catholics in this forum seem to “major on the minors”, so to speak. I see it in questions such as: “I committed what I think is a mortal sin, but confessions aren’t until Saturday. Should I call a priest and go to confession immediately?” Or: “I forgot to fast before communion. Did I commit a mortal sin?” I perceive the laws(?) of the catholic church as leading to people becoming hung up on following the rules and not being aware of the love and understanding of God, who looks at the condition of one’s heart. Again, I respect your views , even though I disagree with them.

Your simplicity though benefits directly from the complexities of the Church from its infancy to today …

After all - the Scriptures that you love to study in detail exist due to the hard work of those who came before - first our Hebrew ancestors who preserved and maintained the Hebrew texts and then the early Christians who recognized, argued over and debated lively the need to compile, preserve and translate the “New Testament” you have today …

Along with the debates and arguments over ‘doctrines’ you take for granted [or not depending on your faith tradition] like Christ being both fully human and Divine, Christ being God etc. … even the date upon which you celebrate Easter [if you are a tradition that celebrates Easter - not all do] comes with a ‘history’ of debate …

And the mere fact that not all who call themselves Christian believe the same about the Person of Christ, the books that constitute the “Bible”, whether the celebration of Communion is a partaking in the Body & Blood of Christ or merely symbolic denies your ideal of simplicity of belief … just to name a few

But of course - it never was that simple - not when Jesus walked this Earth - not in the days, weeks and months that immediately followed - certainly not in the centuries since …

If it had been that simple - the Jews would have recognized their Messiah and the Gentiles would have followed Christ in droves… :wink:

The Church is not documents. The Church is not Canon Law or the Catechism. The Church is the Body of Christ, built of living stones. If you want to understand what the Church is, then meet her members. The Church is all about people.

I get where you are coming from, and will add that it didn’t take months and months for a convert to be baptized into the early church, it took less than a day, hence at most several hours, as we read in scripture. Humans tend to want to complicate things over time (hence we aren’t to forget the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus), but I will say not all Catholics (or Orthodox or Protestants) think everything is to picked apart, and scrutinized, etc… but rather a strong simple faith working in love. That’s why I believe all of us that see the faith in such a way tend to gravitate together, sometimes even across denominations.

If our leadership, culture, times confuse you…

With PaulfromIowa…and all…the universal Catholic Church Catechism explains our faith and each statement of faith’s source…Sacred Scripture.

What is difficult is interpreting the signs and putting faith into practice and extending Christ in our times that coincides with the catechism…this explains what we believe if things get confusing.

Liturgy: GIRM, General Instructions for the Roman Missal which is the main roadmap to implement liturgy in particular regions.

Hello Lek,

I believe that the Catholic Church is the church of Christ. As such it has touched and transformed the lives of countless people and cultures and has a rich history of tradition, charity, theology, science, medicine, politics, art, innovation, education, morality, etc etc.

It also has been attacked on numerous fronts, especially in the last 100 years. Many people like myself were atheists and aware of the many criticisms of the church. The fact that many millions of the church’s sons and daughters have worked hard to examine and present the church’s thinking and history to people like myself is a strength not a weakness.

I agree with you that all the scholarship in the world is nothing compared to an honest and loving relationship with God and you are completely correct in warning of the dangers of being obsessed in theoretical doctrine. It is not a substitute for a relationship with God.

But the church is huge and a sum of all its parts with people hopefully working in the spirit of God adding, challenging and re-inforcing the complexity of the church given their own talents in different areas for all to benefit. We don’t have to all be experts in all facets to be Catholics.

Perhaps an analogy would be the field of science. I do not have to be an expert in the particulars of blue whale reproduction, of atomic energy fusion and of open heart surgery to be scientific. I can still be scientifically minded and benefit from the work of others and yet live my life oblivious to many of the particulars of different scientific fields. They are there if I need them at a particular part of my life, or if I am intrigued by them or if I am blessed enough to add to the knowledge of them. I live my life in the knowledge that they are there.

Similarly I live my life with much Catholic tradition as the background. It is there if I choose to delve into it. It is re-assuring to know others have laboured for my benefit. That benefit should ideally be used to deepen my relationship with God.

You are correct to say that it shouldn’t be the priority. On the other hand many of us have come to the church somewhat arrogantly demanding answers to a whole range of questions designed to find fault with the church.

I can’t blame the Church for systematically providing answers to questions from people like me. I would like to think Jesus would also patiently and lovingly provide such answers if personally challenged.

(I’m sure reading about the in depth particulars of the medical processes of open heart surgery would also do my head in. :confused: Perhaps I may one day be in a position to investigate it. Until then, there is no real need. But it is good to know it it there. :slight_smile: )

Why does it bother you that Catholics would worry about sin, to the extent that they would ask advice here on the forum about whether to go to confession, or not? Do you not believe that there is such thing as sin, or mortal sin?

Why do you think that we worry about committing sin? Do you really think it’s just because of the “rules?” I’d like to know your thoughts on this before commenting further. Thanks.

I don’t want to speak for another poster, but I think it may surround the idea of scrupulosity. Other denominations/churches can have scrupulous individuals, as well as other religions entirely (such as higher rates in Islam too), but those rates are statistically higher in those faiths that have a lot of “religiosity” or where religiosity is most stringent. Where people fear that they are constantly at risk of Hell or punishment if something is not done in a religious manner, it can set off someone tending toward OCD into scrupulosity.

So, it’s not just about sin, but about obsessing over sin without the joy of the gospel, and being taught and truly believe that perfect love casts out fear. Gratefully a lot of the studies in Christendom that talk about scrupulosity come from the RCC, as priests see it a lot, and speak out against it.

Then you need to consider two things:

  1. Most of the New Testament was written to respond to challenges and problems that the Early Church was facing. Now, multiply that times 20 since 20 more centuries have passed.

  2. Look at Acts 15 and see how much effort it took that early, simple Church to overcome one doctrinal dispute. Now multiply that time 1 billion because that’s how many Catholics there are now.

Catholicism is a big church with lots of history and lots of answers to lots of questions. It takes some effort to make sure that everything is handled properly.

Finally, let me leave you with this thought…

Imagine that you go to church one Sunday and hear a really good sermon by the pastor of your church. You are so impressed with his talk that you call the church office on Monday to get a copy of his notes. You’re in luck…it turns out that the tape ministry department has just completed duplicating the sermon, and you can stop by to get a copy to listen to while you’re driving. Delighted, you drive over and buy a copy…er, make a free-will love offering…and pick up the notes…

The following Sunday, the same thing happens. And the next. And the next. After awhile you have a notebook full of your pastor’s talks and a tape library of all your favorites to match. Yes, sir…you’ve learned a lot from this gifted man of God…you’re really being fed in this church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is sorta like that except that it represents the Catholic Church’s “Greatest Hits” of the past 2,000 years.

No, it has nothing to do with scrupulosity, though scrupulosity can become a problem for a minority of Catholics, and from your response, I can see that you don’t have an understanding of the Catholic Faith. However, since Lek is a former Catholic, I would like to know his answer to my questions, which I think is an important question for him specifically, IMO.

I am very concerned abut committing sin. I think that Kliska’s comments are also very true. My concern is this. Take the individual that thinks he committed a mortal sin and is concerned about having to wait until Saturday to go to confession. What God wants to know is that he recognizes his sin and repents, not that he has to wait until Saturday to go to confession. This person’s concern isn’t whether he’s sorry for his sin, which I’m sure he is, but whether he’s filled the proper square. The person who forgot to fast before communion knows he simply forgot and should not be culpable, but is afraid that God is going to get him on a technicality. I see this as maybe more of a concern for following rules than for lovingly following Jesus.

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