It is a common misconception that Catholics can have no opinions of their own when it comes to theology. Unlike the Protestants, we believe that the Church was bestowed with Christ’s authority. When I say this I am not referring to all believers. To some extent all believers have Christ’s authority. There is a unique for the hierarchy, however. The Church is like a body, as St. Paul tells us. Each part of the body plays a different role. So it is in the Church.
Knowing what we believe about the authority of the Catholic Church Itself, and about the infallibility of the hierarchy (under certain conditions, of course), non-Catholics often wonder how there can be any room for theological speculation. If the hierarchy is infallible doesn’t it just tell us what to believe, and the Catholic faithful are required to believe it?
I have several other posts which address the infallibility of the Magisterium, and even defines exactly what infallibility entails. So I will not go into all of that here. Let it suffice to say that infallibility merely means that the hierarchy can not teach error under certain conditions. Hence, not everything the Church says is considered infallibile. In addition, there are many topics on which the hierarchy has, thus far, remained silent.
One such topic is that of the question as to whether or not clones have souls. Precisely because the Church has never spoken infallibly on this point, the faithful are free to draw their own conclusions. Some Catholics believe that clones have souls. Others believe they do not.
Some time ago the Protestant scholar and founder of Alpha and Omega Ministries, Dr. James White, held a debate with the vice-president of Catholic Answers, James Aiken. This debate was held on the Protestant radio program called “The Bible Answer Man” hosted by Hank Hannegraaf. During the course of one of the debates (it was a series) Dr. Aiken mentioned that the Catholic Church has only infallibly defined on about 8 biblical passages. Dr. White found this peculiar.
It really isn’t peculiar. Infallibility does not mean the Magisterium of the Catholic Church will ever teach what is right. Infallibility only protects the Magisterium from teaching error. This being the case, the Church will only define on what the Holy Spirit guides it to. So, the Church has only defined on about 8 passages. Who is to say that the Holy Spirit should guide the Church to define more? Can we really believe we know better than God?
Yet another popularly debated issue in theological circles is whether St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary were actually married when She conceived of the Holy Spirit, or were just engaged. Scripture mentions that St. Joseph was so distraught when he found out Mary was pregnant that he decided to quietly divorce Her. Why would a couple who was merely engaged need to divorce? Still, one must consider the customs of the Jews at that time before coming to a decision. There are good arguments for both views.
The fact is, the Magisterium of the Holy Catholic Church has not defined on the topic. This being the case, there is room for debate here. Actually, there is a lot of room in the Catholic Church for theological speculation. After all, the Church is the Church of the living, not of the dead.
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity