The church's authority -- an illusion?

perhaps some apologist-in-training here can help me with this question. lately i’ve been running across a charge against the church which i’ve never heard before, in my ignorance: namely, that the authority of the church isn’t real, it’s just in our heads, it’s only real on paper or in theory, etc.

what would you say if you met someone who said that to you?

this assertion seems so contrary to my understanding of the catholic faith it is almost as nonsensical as saying “there’s no pope in rome” or “the church was founded in 2005 in the back of a radio shack in san diego”. yet people obviously believe this, because i keep coming across it. the evidence for the statement is apparently, the lack of discipline the church exerts on nominal and wayward laity and clergy.

once i recover from my stupefaction (cue the geico caveman saying during a cable news interview “yes, i have a response … what?”) my initial response is to say, if as you say there’s no real authority then what about the sacraments? if the church has no real authority then the rules they lay down for being properly disposed to receive the blessed sacrament, are meaningless and without power? that’s certainly not what the church teaches, and it’s not what i believe. in fact if that were true the church wouldn’t function sacramentally at all.

i suppose this isn’t a problem if you believe the church is a man-made institution with no more special relationship to god than any other christian religious group. but why would they want to impose this view on practicing catholics as well? don’t they see it does a terrible violence to our whole understanding of the spiritual efficacy of the church and her sacraments? or, at the risk of sounding conspiratorial, is that the whole point?

If the Church can deny you access to sacraments, the authority is real.

thanks. brevity truly is the soul of wit.

This line of reasoning – that Church authority is only on paper or in our heads – is new to me also. If the person is just trying to argue against the Catholic Church ask them how far they’re willing to take this idea. Is police authority only in our head or is municipal or federal authority only in our head? If so that’s a recipe for anarchy.


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