Reviewing Wright’s Universal Apologia: Part 3


This is the third in a series reviewing John C. Wright’s A Universal Apologia for the Catholic Church. See the index.

In this, we pause our review to muse on the nature of authority.

The Parable of the Servants

Wright tells of The Parable of the Messengers to show how we must rely on the church’s authority—through its messengers—to determine and validate the message of the King that has been passed from messenger to messenger over a great distance of time. Here is a different kind of parable. A warning.

There was once a divine master whose people did not see him, who ruled by proxy through spiritual guides that he personally appointed and answered directly to him.


But the people were not happy. The current spiritual guide was leaving soon. They looked around at the other nations, religions, and state-religions and saw that each one had a visible leader, each leader succeeding the previous one. They wanted to be the same. They wanted a leader who would lead them in a state-religion of their own.


The guide asked the master what to do. The master replied “They have rejected me to serve others. Now, I will tell you what will happen to them, and you will repeat my words…”


So the guide went to the people and said: “This is what will happen if you demand a leader.”


“He will rule over you as a father rules his children. Your sons will serve in his crusades. They will be his enforcers, torturing and punishing men, woman, and children for their heresy.


Some will be made priests over many men, and others bishops over many more. Your daughters will be made nuns.”


“He will take a tenth of all you earn, the best of your crops, your goods, and your art. He will use it to adorn his houses and clothe his attendants in the finest array.”


“You will become his servants. His word will be law. You will suffer and some will die brutal deaths. When you cry out for help, I will not listen.”


“The people responded “Yes, that is what we want!””


The strong human desire to be ruled is not a new one. Adam and Eve rebelled against God, tasting the fruit that would give them the knowledge of good and evil, allowing Satan the freedom to corrupt the earth. God gave sentence for their crimes: to the woman he said Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.[1]

Samuel, having served Israel well, was coming to the end of his life. The Israelites looked at the nations around them, saw that each one had a kingdom with a king who ruled over them. They wanted the same thing. They were tired of being ruled by prophets and judges who acted more like guides than kings. But in making this demand, they rejected God’s direct rule to add the unnecessary intermediate authority of a human head.[2] The guides demanded that each man follow God, but a king takes responsibility away from the people.

Authority makes people comfortable, alleviating them from the responsibility of choices. The exercise of human power by a leader generates the mere illusion of truth. Yet people cling to it, defend it, ask for more, even as—or especially when—it lets them down.

God, who knows all, knew that King David would soon come, the greatest king of Israel. And he still warned the people away from wanting a King. He would rather that King David had never become King David than that the people had a king. Which head of the church was greater than King David, a man after God’s own heart? Not a one. Has there ever been a man who was greater than King David? There was one: Jesus. There is no greater authority than Jesus, who sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven.

All authority in heaven and on earth was given to Jesus. It is Him who we serve, therefore, we are all to be His messengers, tasked with making disciples of all nations, as He is still with us.[3] As with Israel, there can be no valid authority beyond God and the servants that he has sent—each an every Christian—who answer directly to him.[5] To the Hebrews, there was none higher than the high priest. Our high priest is Jesus.[4] Under the high priest, there was no greater spiritual authority than the priests themselves, who offered the sacrifices on behalf of the people. All Christians are priests, commanded to offer spiritual sacrifices.[5]

The parable above is a retelling of Israel’s demand for a King. It is not an historical retelling of how the Roman Catholic Church came to be, but rather an analogy (e.g. the Catholic church obligates giving to the church if able, but not a tithe). The church is the body and Jesus is its head.[6] Just as Israel had no need of a King, for its authority rested in God himself alone, the church can have no head but Jesus.

The judges, prophets, messengers, guides, and war-leaders over Israel were not—as a rule—hereditary or successive. (Priests didn’t rule, they served.[7][8]) Most were called or appointed as needed, sometimes with gaps in between. Each new leader needed no specific connection to the previous one.[9] A fixed succession of rulers—from a position of authority—is a secular concept. It is obsolete.[10]

In part 4, I will show how the desire for—and exercise of—undue authority with regards to canonization is itself a corruption.


Although a topic for another day, the concept of “headship” in the New Testament almost always carries the meaning of status, not authority. Jesus is explicitly assigned all authority, while certain of his followers have more prominent status, or preeminence. While status may imply greater honor, it does not imply authority. Falsely equivocating status—the prominence of church leaders—with authority—the right to determine doctrine—is a serious error.



[1] Genesis 2

[2] 1 Samuel 8

[3] Matthew 28:16-20

[4] 1 Peter 2:4-10

[5] Hebrews 4:14

[6] See: Romans 12:5,1 Corinthians 12:12–27, Ephesians 3:6, 4:15–16 and 5:23, Colossians 1:18 and 1:24

[7] Priests were all from the clan of Levi in the line of Aaron, not specific families. The high priests were usually determined by familial succession, but this was not always followed and ended with the Hasmonean dynasty in Judas Maccabeus and later with Jesus (the final High Priest), who was of the line of Judah. The Levitical priesthood was replaced by Jesus, of the non-ancestral order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7-10). In any case, the high priest didn’t rule, though they were not without some authority (Numbers 27:21).

[8] The role of priest was to act as mediator between the people and God. Rome claims that its priests act as mediators between God and mankind but the message that the King has handed down states “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” in 1 Timothy 2:5. This is further confirmed in Hebrews 8:6: “the ministry [as High Priest] Jesus has received is as superior to [the Jews’] as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.” Jesus is mediator by right of his sacrifice, an offering no one else can make. But more importantly, we are all priests authorized to “enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19).

[9] Samuel’s sons were not diligent followers of God, so they could not succeed him.

[10] Hebrews 1:1-2: “God, having spoken from old time to the fathers through the prophets in many parts and in many ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he has given form to the ages


  1. Pingback: Reviewing Wright’s Universal Apologia: Part 4

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