"The Church has too many rules!"
A statement I heard from someone when discussing the "problems with the Church" was "The Church has too many rules!" Granted, it has more than some, supposedly more "enlightened" groups and is definitely contrary to the trend for individualism that is so popular today.
But first, how many rules is "too many"? One (we see how well humanity followed
one in Genesis chapter 3)? Hundreds? On subsequent inquiry, one can never seem to get much farther than the blanket statement "too many".
Actually, when you consider that the Catholic Church has one billion members, the number of rules doesn't seem to be all that excessive. When I was in seminary, I will admit that my largest textbook was the
Code of Canon Law for the Latin
; it was about 500 pages long. But the United States jurisprudence, covering about 400 million people, takes up over thirty
- more than 45,000 pages!
Of course, making such a claim disregards the fact that some kind of boundaries are necessary for a society of any size. Try thinking about how it would be driving, or to be a pedestrian, on roads that had no speed limits or traffic laws.
It may surprise someone looking through the Code (a copy is available online at
) that a majority of Church laws deal with situations that few ordinary members will ever encounter (unless, for example, you've physically assaulted the Pope recently!) Ordinarily, Catholics are expected to know few Church laws, such as the
Precepts of the Church
. Of course, they should also know how to prepare for the sacraments (especially
, which should be received comparatively often in the course of one's life).
More often than not, Church laws are concrete ways that we are expected to follow moral and natural law; laws that are not created by human beings but by God. Extending the earlier example of a lawless society from earlier, how would life be if murder, theft and perjury had no legal consequences? Reflecting on this may also cause us to wonder if civil laws are really comprehensive when they omit consequences for actions such as adultery, greed and excessive self-interest, which
have repercussions for family and society!
It might be helpful to look at the historical basis of Church law by going back to the beginnings - to Jesus himself. Jesus commissioned his apostles to go into the world and teach, not to legislate. For all of the centuries since then, that is what the Church has done. The teaching of the Church, based on divine revelation in the Bible and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in Church Tradition, makes it necessary to formalize dogma and doctrine so that they are interpreted uniformly and consistently.
At the same time, as the Church and the world have progressed in time, there have been new questions, it has dealing with such matters as Church organization and discipline. This led to the development of law in the Church. We call this
law, from a Greek word meaning "measuring rod". Canon law is based on theological foundations; this can be summarized by the very final law found in canon law, Canon 1752:
The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church
Another important point to keep in mind in the Church is that very few rules carry a penalty; only actions that injure the life of the Church or seriously imperil the soul of the offender carry a penalty. For instance, a completed abortion done with knowledge of the canonical consequences carries the penalty of excommunication from the Church. A priest’s direct violation of the Seal of Confession or the sexual abuse of minors are other examples of acts requiring severe penalties. These rules exist to protect, not the reputation, but the most important values of the Church.
So why do some people believe that there are "too many rules" in the Church? Asking a few probing questions leads one to discover that it often really isn't about the
so much as it may be about a
rule. When making the accusation, it often happens that the person doesn't like or agree with one or more of the rules of a moral nature, and they usually deal with the Church's reservations on personal gratification, such as her rules regarding sex outside of marriage, abuse of intoxicating substances, obligation rules that impose on one's free time, etc. The response to these is that the Church is not seeking to eliminate all "fun" out of a person's life. Often these things may be good in themselves (for example, complete abolition of the use of alcohol or radical restrictions on food would contradict Psalm 104:15 which offers "wine to gladden their hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread to sustain the human heart", to say nothing about many verses extolling the joys of married love found in the Song of Songs!) What the Church is doing in cases where laws place restrictions on freedom is that we need to keep in mind all of the ramifications of our moral acts; the laws of the Church may make us mindful of some that we hadn't considered, and may cause us to rethink our actions and avoid temptations that could ultimately lead us into trouble.
Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.
G.K. Chesterton, Catholic apologist and author
Our FORMED Recommendation for the Week
Audio (50 minutes) -
The Logic of Being Catholic
Dr. Ray Guarendi shares his story of how logic led him home to the Catholic Church. He found out that, contrary to his Protestant misunderstandings, the Church is coherent and never contradicts herself. Dr. Ray explains how the answers to his objections to Catholicism were both Biblical and believed by the earliest Christians. Explore the logic that led him to the fullness of truth.
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on Friday, July 19 at 3:00PM