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Bishop Strickland . . . Guard The Deposit Of Faith

November 4, 2019 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By BISHOP JOSEPH STRICKLAND

On November 28, 2012, His Eminence Cardinal Daniel DiNardo ordained me as the Fourth Catholic Bishop of Tyler, Texas in a small auditorium just down the street from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and its parish elementary school, St. Gregory. The auditorium was very familiar to me because on several occasions I had joined the students in their annual musicals in the same auditorium. But, on this day, the children joined me on what is likely the most important day of my life.
It was on that stage in front of 1,800 people that His Eminence, during the Rite of Ordination, asked me several questions, two of which are vital to my mission as a bishop. First, “Are you resolved to be faithful and constant in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ?” and second, “Are you resolved to maintain the deposit of faith, entire and incorrupt, as handed down by the apostles and professed by the Church everywhere and at all times?” My response to both questions was a resounding “I am!”
It was at this point that the deeper meaning of the phrase “deposit of faith” came alive for me. I also began to understand my role in magisterial teaching and my serious call, as a successor of the Apostles, to the ongoing task of “Guarding the Deposit of Faith” given by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to the Apostles and handed down since then. These two powerful questions, and my response to them, continue to guide me in my role as the chief teacher and Shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Diocese of Tyler, Texas.
When I reflect upon my episcopal ordination and my last seven years as bishop, I often hear and read Paul’s words to Timothy as though he were speaking directly to me when he says, “Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us” (2 Tim. 1:14 NABRE). St. John Paul II’s opening sentence of his 1992 Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum (Deposit of Faith), underscores the importance of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to Timothy. It captures the wisdom and understanding of the early church.
He wrote: “Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord has entrusted to his Church and which she fulfills in every age” (Fidei Depositum, n. 1). St. John Paul II’s document offers me ongoing guidance as I continue to grow in both my understanding of what is meant by the phrase “deposit of faith” and being faithful in my role as a Catholic Bishop in guarding it “entire and incorrupt.”
Fidei Depositum summarizes the development of the 1993 Catechism of the Catholic Church, one of St. John Paul II’s most significant accomplishments in his service in the Chair of Peter. In it, he outlines the process of drafting the Catechism, its intentional four-part arrangement and its doctrinal importance. In Part One, “The Profession of Faith,” the phrase “heritage of faith” is introduced and the Acts of the Apostles is referenced, stating, “By adhering to this heritage, the entire holy people united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful” (CCC, n. 84).
Sadly, in our age, that hoped for harmony is too often being replaced with dissonance and dissent. Some of the dissonance stems from attempts to sever the “organic connection between our spiritual life and dogma” (CCC, n. 89).
The Catechism teaches that, “Dogmas are lights along the path of faith, they illuminate it and make it secure” (Ibid). As a bishop, a member of the Church’s Magisterium, I understand that my task is to guard the deposit of faith by protecting those lights which guide the path of faith. It is my hope that, as we acknowledge the critical significance of the deposit of faith and begin to highlight its key elements which have been cast into to doubt, we will move closer to both understanding and living the remarkable harmony found in Jesus Christ, and the fullness of truth which He reveals.
Since the publication of the Catechism, faithful Scripture scholars and theologians have helped us forge a deeper understanding of the deposit of faith. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a master theologian with keen insight and pastoral wisdom. During his January 28, 2009 general audience, he emphasized that Scripture and Tradition are inextricably woven together in the deposit of faith, saying, “…the Tradition of the apostolic proclamation, this “deposit,” is the key to the reading of the Scriptures, the New Testament. In this sense, Scripture and Tradition, Scripture and the apostolic proclamation as a key, are set side by side, and almost merge to form together the “firm foundation laid by God” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Rome, 2009).
Pope Benedict rightly emphasizes that the deposit of faith is the truth revealed by God and cannot be changed. It is revealed in the Word become flesh, Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus Christ is at the center of the deposit of faith. Jesus Christ IS the deposit of faith!
The Catholic Church firmly believes and teaches that Jesus Christ is the Savior sent to us by God the Father to rescue the whole human race from sin and its consequences. The mission of the Church is to proclaim and spread this truth to the ends of the earth through missionary activity. And, to continue the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, as His Body, until He returns. Regrettably, in our day, the unchangeable truth revealed by Jesus Christ is now being challenged by errant theologians who perpetrate confusion and sow doubt in the hearts of many faithful, including bishops, priests, and deacons.
In response to these errant theologians and the growing dangers of the creeping relativism and syncretism they spread, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prior to his pontificate as Pope Benedict XVI, issued a Declaration on August 6, 2000 entitled “Dominus Iesus — Jesus is Lord — On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.” Appropriately, this document was promulgated on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ when, alongside of the transfigured Jesus, Moses, and Elijah appeared to Peter, James, and John.
This glorious event showed that Jesus had fulfilled both the law and the prophets. His identity as God’s Son was confirmed by God the Father Himself. Yet, the dark specter of errant teaching about Jesus Christ — and the nature of Salvation in Him and Him alone — is again rearing its ugly head. Dominus Iesus explains,
“The Church’s constant missionary proclamation is endangered today by relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not only de facto but also de iure (or in principle). As a consequence, it is held that certain truths have been superseded; for example, the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, the nature of Christian faith as compared with that of belief in other religions, the inspired nature of the books of Sacred Scripture, the personal unity between the Eternal Word and Jesus of Nazareth, the unity of the economy of the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit, the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ, the universal salvific mediation of the Church, the inseparability — while recognizing the distinction — of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ, and the Church, and the subsistence of the one Church of Christ in the Catholic Church” (Dominus Iesus, n. 4).
There can be absolutely no question — Jesus Christ is the Lord. The clarity of this powerful document, along with the entire Papal Magisterium of Pope St. John Paul II, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, needs to be kept before us by Pope Francis as he leads the Church as the Successor of Peter. Catholic teaching always needs to be seen within a hermeneutic of continuity and not rupture.
In some circles, we are also witnessing the reemergence of the errant teaching called proportionalism in the vital area of Catholic Moral Theology. St. John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor sums up the error: “[Proportionalism], while acknowledging that moral values are indicated by reason and by Revelation, maintain[s] that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of behavior which would be in conflict, in every circumstance and in every culture, with those values” (Veritatis Splendor, 74). Finally, there is the danger of a new form of religious syncretism and indifferentism which is masquerading as inter-religious dialogue. Left unchallenged, these “isms” could convince the faithful that neither Jesus Christ — nor full incorporation into His Body, the Church — is necessary for salvation. That cannot be allowed, because they both are!
As a Catholic bishop, a successor of the Apostles, it is my responsibility to teach the full truth and to protect my flock from an inaccurate or heretical catechesis which could endanger or even impede their salvation. I have been charged to guard the deposit of faith and to be a good steward of God’s investment, the deposit of faith, Jesus Christ.
When that deposit is fully presented, defended and properly cared for, it produces the greatest dividend — salvation. As we seek to take up this mission in our own time we are strengthened by the example of the saints and martyrs who gave their lives and often died in order to guard the deposit of faith. May their witness and their prayers help us in our task.

+ + +

(“Guard the Deposit of Faith” is a series of articles contributed by Bishop Joseph E. Strickland, Bishop of Tyler, TX. In each article, he will unpack the meaning of “the deposit of faith” and what it means to guard it. In the next installment of “Guard the Deposit of Faith,” the Bishop will focus on the correct understanding of the “Development of Doctrine.”)

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