Around a year ago, I was learning all that I could about dinosaurs in preparation for my YouTube video “Dinosaurs in the Bible”. I learned that the classification of dinosaur was ONLY given to terrestrial creatures, not ones that lived in the water. THIS SHOCKED ME! I had to triple and quadruple check it because I just could not believe it. I was flabbergasted because as a kid I distinctly remember learning about the Mosasaurus and Elasmosaurus, and they were definitely lumped in with dinosaurs.
Of course, I was like 5 when I was learning all of this and I’m sure my teacher didn’t think I would care to know the difference, if she even knew there WAS a difference. To the paleontologists who study these creatures, though, there is a big difference.
For the past year I’ve thought about it multiple times, but I accepted it because I am not a paleontologist. They know much more than I do on the topic. THEN earlier this year there was a big and controversial discovery that turned this classification on its head.
Paleontologists have found remains of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus for years, but the entire time, its lifestyle had always been a bit of a mystery to them. They argued for decades about how this giant predator lived and hunted. Now a new skeleton is adding even more information to this debate. It has always been thought that these creatures lived near rivers and may have hunted in the water, but the new skeleton shows that its tail was more like a giant fin that would be used for swimming. This information plus finding all of these remains IN the riverbed and not just BESIDE the riverbed has led scientists to believe that this creature actually did live mostly in the water. It was a river-dwelling dinosaur. This is unheard of!
One paleontologist Dr Nizar Ibrahim, of the University of Detroit Mercy and a National Geographic Explorer, said: “This discovery is the nail in the coffin for the idea that non-avian dinosaurs never invaded the aquatic realm.”
This is a HUGE change in what we know about dinosaurs, but this is not a huge change in dinosaurs themselves. They swam or didn’t swim MILLIONS of years ago. Us discovering this doesn’t change what they did, it just changes what we know about them.
Similarly, the Catholic faith doesn’t change over time, but our understanding of it can become more complete. Since the beginning of the religion over 2,000 years ago, this has been true. The Catholic Church holds ecumenical councils where the pope gathers all of the bishops together to discuss doctrine, administration, discipline, and other matters. The first council was held in 325 after Constantine ended the persecution of Christians. This was the Council of Nicaea. Since then, there have been 20 other official ecumenical councils. These councils did not change the underlying truth of the faith, they simply added more wisdom and clarity for us humans.
The tradition of the Church is that the formal acts of a general council of the Church ratified by a pope enjoy the guarantee of the Holy Spirit. These are official teachings that all of us must follow. This concept has been hard for many. Over the years individual people have disagreed with the teachings that come from these councils, this often led to sects breaking off to form other religions. At this very first council in Nicaea, the bishops defined Jesus as equal to God the Father and of the same substance. This went against the heresy of Arianism which many people of the time believed. Another controversial doctrine to come from a council was the teaching that Mary was the “Mother of God”. This directly contradicted a group of heretics who believed in Nestorianism.
When we look back at history, it is easy to give a name to a group of people who dissent from the Catholic Church. It is easy to brush them off as ignorant, and say “How dare they think they can question the authority of the Catholic Church?” Unfortunately, when it’s more modern, we often lose that outrage and start to empathize with these people.
The most recent council was Vatican II. It was in the 1960s, so plenty of people alive today lived before and after the council and have seen the changes in real time. Pope St. John XXIII who called this council had three goals: to promote Catholic truth, seek Christian unity, and update Catholic practice.
Unfortunately, a not insignificant number of people wish to get rid of those teachings and go back to how the Church was before. This simply can’t happen. It would be like saying let’s go back to the time when dinosaurs weren’t allowed to be aquatic. They always were aquatic; we just didn’t have all of the information. The truth is still there whether you choose to believe it or not. Just because we have a new more complete understanding of the Catholic Church and how we should live in it, doesn’t mean the Church itself has changed.
There may be individual instances where certain churches have implemented the newer teachings poorly. People can be upset about that. In fact, this kind of outrage is calling for people to better follow Vatican II’s teachings. That’s a good thing. We should all work to follow all of the Church’s teachings better.
Maybe you are like me and weren’t born until a LONG time after Vatican II, and never knew the old ways. It would be good for us to look at what teachings came out of this council. It would be good for those who lived through it to get a refresher too. It is important for us to promote the entirety of truth of the Catholic faith, and it is difficult to do that if we don’t know her teachings. We must be able to stand up for our faith when we are confronted by people of other religions or even misinformed people of our own faith. We must be able to explain that even as our understanding of the Catholic Church may change, her truth never will.
For more information on Vatican II and those who disagree with it, here are some relatively short articles: