“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim. 6:20).
This sort of language is a recurring theme of St. Paul as he instructs his successor Timothy. In fact, St. Paul tells Timothy that “what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2; see also 2 Tim. 1:14).
But what exactly was entrusted to Timothy?
The Church has always understood these passages as referring to the “deposit of faith” (cf. Catechism, no. 84). This sacred deposit is the entirety of the body of teaching Christ entrusted to His Apostles and, through them, to the Church. It is the full revelation of Jesus Christ–the Word of God–through Scripture and Tradition, ordered to uniting all mankind into the family of God: the Catholic Church.
If the Word of God is to be understood as a sacred “deposit,” I think it’s fair to understand the Church as the “bank.” Why do we entrust our money or other valuables to a bank? The answer is we want to protect our assets, and we want them to bear interest.
The fact of the matter is that Christ wants His Word to be zealously preserved in its fullness, and He also wants it to bear interest, to bear much fruit. He didn’t carelessly scatter His Word like someone throwing $100 bills into the wind, leaving it to chance where they might land.
Rather, Christ very intentionally entrusted the Word of God–His very self–to the Church as if entrusting it to a bank, so that it may be safeguarded and proclaimed from generation to generation until His glorious return. We catch a glimpse of this “intentionality” in Isaiah 55:10-11:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
One role of the Apostles and their successors is that of “security guards” for the bank, making sure that the deposit of faith is kept secure. Of course there has to be successors. If one by one all the security guards at a bank retire or die, who is left to watch the premises?
And even with armed, well-trained guards, banks do get robbed on occasion. But when it comes to the Church, the Apostles and their successors–that is, the teaching office of the Church, or “Magisterium”–have the special gift of the Holy Spirit to help them flawlessly safeguard the Word of God.
But just as Our Lord severely criticized the tenant who buried his talent rather than return it with interest, He fully expects His Word to bear interest–in the Church and in each one of us who are baptized into His Church. The Church safeguards the deposit of faith precisely so that all men and women can draw upon the vast riches Our Lord has bestowed upon us. With joy we can then echo the words of the psalmist: “a day within thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Ps. 84:10).