A superficial reading of this summer’s riots would see them as a rejection of authority. Of course, they do reject a certain kind authority. But that doesn’t mean they reject authority per se. On the contrary, the rioters are an authority unto themselves. No one dares dissent from their dogmas. The broader “woke” culture, so dismissive of traditional authority figures, wields an authority far more severe and censorious than the institutions it rejects. It muzzles dissent and excommunicates heretics more swiftly and absolutely than any inquisition ever did.
Now, this shouldn’t surprise us and, in a certain way, we can’t blame them. The authoritarian anti-authority attitude we are witnessing is simply the distortion of a good in man. The point is, we will have to recognize some authority. We have been created to do so. We are created by and for the Author of life. As creatures, we are hard-wired to listen for and to obey the Creator’s voice, to seek Him and His authority.
Unfortunately, due to the deep wound in our human nature, this search for the Author often behaves like an errant missile, going wildly and dangerously astray. We can remove God from our lives, but we cannot remove from our souls that tendency towards authority. So, in our rebellion against the Author of life, instead of freeing ourselves (as we think we will) we submit ourselves to false authorities. We settle for counterfeits: the state, cults, race, ideologies, scientism, etc. These are idols of our own making that enslave us to error.
In His mercy, our Lord has delivered us from this slavery. He has established the Church to be the Author’s voice in the world.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
These are solemn, authoritative words: And so I say to you. And they are about authority: I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Here the Author of all things establishes the Church and confers upon her the authority to teach His truth authentically and unerringly. The Church thus becomes His voice in the world, the “Oracle of God” as Cardinal Newman called her. This authority of the Church answers our need for a clear voice. By nature we seek the Author, but we go so easily astray. Thus, He has established the Church to be for us His unfailing voice, against whom the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail.
Far from being a divine imposition, then, the authority of the Church brings us freedom. It delivers us from those counterfeit, enslaving authorities. His voice now says, in effect, Do not follow those false voices that only lead you to death. Here the Author of life speaks authentically and truthfully, to lead you to life.
This is serious authority indeed. But it is ordered toward our happiness. And it is no contradiction to see that such authority – to bind and to loose – is intrinsically connected to our happiness. As any red-blooded American knows, the game begins only when the authoritative voice says, “Play ball!” And that authority – to bind and to loose in the ballpark – ensures the fun of the game. Without him, things unravel quickly. One player cheats his way to victory; another takes his ball and goes home. The joy of the children of God is no different: we rely on the Author’s voice to defend our play.
It is a uniquely modern thing to think we can dismiss authority. The great fights of the ancient Church were not over whether there was authority but who possessed it. Today the world dismisses the Church’s authority, as it does everyone else’s. This doesn’t mean that people then become free from authority, only that they become subject to its counterfeits.
In the ancient world the Church’s authority defended the truth of our Lord against the great Christological heresies. In the 16th century, it defended the truth of the Church against the Protestant revolt.
Today, the Author’s voice must defend God’s most basic prerogative: Creation. Pope Emeritus Benedict has termed our time “the age of sin against God the Creator.” At the center of this is the transgender ideology, a rejection of human nature that simultaneously dismisses the authority of Creation and condemns anyone who questions its own authority.
“What is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’ ultimately ends up being man’s attempt at self-emancipation from creation and the Creator. Man wants to be his own master, and alone – always and exclusively – to determine everything that concerns him. Yet in this way he lives in opposition to the truth, in opposition to the Creator Spirit.” (Benedict XVI, 2008)
It’s an intoxicating freedom at first, to be our own creators, our own gods. But it soon wears thin. It’s too much to be an authority unto yourself. Things will, as they are, come unraveled.
Vatican II made the wonderful observation, “Without the Creator the creature vanishes.” (GS 36; cf. CCC 49) We now see that this works in the other direction as well: by denying ourselves as creatures, the Creator vanishes from our sight.
All the more reason to pray that the Author’s unfailing voice grow clearer and stronger, to defend the truth of Creator and creation. For “when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.” (Benedict XVI, 2012)
*Image: Tu es Petrus by Salvador Dalí, 1964 [From the Biblia Sacra series 0f more than 100 lithographs based watercolor paintings created by Dali between 1963 and 1964.]