"But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (I Tim. 3:15)
"And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." (II Tim. 3:15-17)
We all should know this by now, as articulated by Richard Hooker when explaining why we ought to heed the laws and teaching of our mother the Church in order to be obedient to God our Father. It has been given to the Church that she use her Right Reason to establish a Tradition of teaching (these two, Reason and Tradition, are one in Hooker, contrary to modern misunderstanding),1 as well as to exercise a practical and workable polity.
Was any of this new? Certainly not. To appreciate the full extent of this necessary balance, we may refer to portions of The Affirmation of St. Louis, as it expresses in simple terms a genuine guide to what we may truthfully call Universal Consensus, and does so in ways that are practical and useful.
Near its beginning, we find these words:
Further on, we find this:
In the firm conviction that "we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ," and that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved," and acknowledging our duty to proclaim Christ's saving Truth to all peoples, nations and tongues, we declare our intention to hold fast the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith of God.
We acknowledge that rule of faith laid down by St. Vincent of Lerins: "Let us hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all, for that is truly and properly Catholic."
- The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the authentic record of God's revelation of Himself, His saving activity, and moral demands -- a revelation valid for all men and all time...The received Tradition of the Church and its teachings as set forth by "the ancient catholic bishops and doctors," and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church, to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern.
Putting this together, we must conclude that an interdependence has been established between Scripture and the Church, between the word of our Father and the teaching of our Mother. To try to find absolute consensus on every question and every theoretical proposition of the human mind, would be fruitless. All that we may know for sure, and all that we need to know with certainty of faith, are a matter of Divine priority. We need to know the things God has revealed, that Christ the λόγος (Word) has spoken.
Furthermore, the record of God's revelation has been entrusted to the Church in one and only one box, or treasure chest. For, though the Church has a thousand reliable teachers, from ancient to modern Catholic bishops and doctors who have faithfully spoken the same message (excluding all teachers of error, as the Affirmation has said so well: "...to the exclusion of all errors, ancient and modern"), it is the office of all teachers in the Church to interpret one and only one source of revelation: The Holy Scripture.
Even in matters where some universal consensus of thought or belief in the Church might be established, it is nothing but mere opinion unless its firm basis in Holy Scripture may be established. Only what God has revealed may be taught with authority as doctrine, any alleged consensus notwithstanding. Theoretically, even if some idea may have been "believed everywhere, always and by all," if the Church has not received the same by so ancient and authoritative a source that it was recorded in Holy Scripture, it is without authority. For, unless God has revealed it, it is merely human opinion; and if God has revealed it, it is recorded in Holy Scripture.
Read again the words of our Affirmation, and know that they are truly "what has been believed everywhere, always and by all":
The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the authentic record of God's revelation of Himself, His saving activity, and moral demands -- a revelation valid for all men and all time.
The teaching office of the Church is simply to preserve, proclaim and teach the meaning of that revelation, and never to add or subtract so much as a word. "Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." (Prov. 30:6) "...Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." (Matt. 28: 20)
Interpretation is a matter of faithfulness, not a matter of opinion, especially not of private opinion. An analogy may come from music. When I play any fugue by J.S. Bach on a piano, or organ, I try my best to interpret what we call the composer's intention. My purpose as a musician (whenever time affords me such an opportunity these days) is to play what I believe Bach to have intended. The same holds true for Mozart, Chopin, etc. Various performers will play pieces differently, but if they are disciplined enough to play correctly, they will be striving toward one goal: The composer's intention, not their own whims. The same applies to actors, when they interpret lines according to what is called "the reading." When Sir Laurence Olivier performed Hamlet, he intended to speak the words in such a way as to communicate Shakespeare's intention, not his own whims. "Composer's intention," and "the reading" are never a matter of any private interpretation. 2
What we see in the teaching of the Church, "especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils," is not merely consensus. That, if alone, would mean nothing. Rather, what we know from Scripture, as guided in our understanding by the teaching of the Church, is the truth of revelation, "valid for all men and all time." Consensus without revelation, even universal consensus without revelation (if such an animal exists), has no authority. The Church can teach only what God has entrusted by revelation; and apart from what is recorded in Scripture, we know of no revelation whatsoever.
1. “Be it in matter of the one kind or of the other, what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after this the Church succeedeth that which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason overrule all other inferior judgments whatsoever.” (Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 5.VIII.2)
“Is it a small office to despise the Church of God? ‘My son, keep thy father’s commandment,’ saith Solomon, ‘and forget not thy mother’s instruction: Bind them both always about thine heart.’ It doth not stand with the duty we owe to our heavenly Father, that to the ordinances of our mother the Church we should show ourselves disobedient. Let us not say we keep the commandments of the one, when we break the law of the other: for unless we observe both we obey neither.” (ibid, Book 3.IX.3:)
2. See II Peter. 1:20