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The Magisterium and Authority

I started to write a response in the comments of my previous post, and the response grew to such an extent I decided to just make it another post.

This is in response to Pat, who comments about the authority of the Magisterium:

Re faithfulness to the magisterium - personally I am faithful to God, my Saviour. The magisterium guides me in that faith but they do not own the truth. Thanks to the gifts of the Holy Spirit all baptized Catholics have the ability and responsibility to grow in the understanding of our faith and share that with the rest of the Body of Christ, which is the Church. We each do it a little differently - but that makes being a member of the Church interesting and life-giving.

Actually, Pat, I cannot agree with your characterization of the Magisterium. A little over a year ago I wrote a post "To Be Catholic means to Accept Church Authority." I am afraid the link to Alvin Kimel's piece in this post no longer works because he has changed his Pontifications blog address, but I still think my post provides some important points. (The Pontifications post was entitled Letter from an Enquirer so if anyone knows if that post is still accessible, I would love to have the link. It was truly a masterpiece in apologetics) The Magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church, given to the Church by Christ when he placed Peter as the head of the Church. We trust that the Holy Spirit keeps this teaching authority free from error in all matters of faith and morals.

Pope Benedict XVI affirmed this in a Wednesday audience:

In the person of the Apostles, charged with the celebration of the Eucharist and the forgiveness of sins, the Church has been made the sign and instrument of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Christ can never be separated from the Church; through the Church he remains ever present in his people, and in a special way in the successors of the Apostles.

Therefore we cannot take the teachings of the Magisterium lightly. Christ gave us the Church to preserve His Truth. Otherwise the truth becomes like the children's game of telephone where a phrase is whispered from one child to another and ends up entirely different from the starting words. As faithful Catholics we must seek the grace and the humility to defer to the wisdom of the Church and its teaching authority, the Magisterium. Otherwise we just set ourselves up as our own little individual magisteriums.

Of course this is where someone will always bring up the issue of conscience. I suggest every Catholic read Article 6 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its entirety. Paragraphs 1776 through 1802 deal specifically and thoroughly with the issue of conscience. It is important to note, that while we are exhorted to follow our conscience the Catechism clearly states that our conscience is not just “how we feel” about an issue. We have a responsibility to form our conscience. Paragraphs 1790 -1792 state:

1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to be personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin. In such cases the person is culpable for the evil he commits.

1792 Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

Therefore, each of us must answer the questions: Do we believe the Catholic Church is who she proclaims to be? Do we believe she is the one true Church, founded by Christ, and given the teaching authority to preserve His Truth? To be Catholic is to assent to this. To give this assent is hard and requires grace. With this grace and through prayer and study, our assent grows more fervent. Yet our assent is never complete. We spend our entire lives trying to formulate the perfect “Fiat!” as was uttered by the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. Humble obedience to the Magisterium is but a first step.


Rosemary Bogdan said…
How very well said, Denise. I' so glad you are posting on this and I hope a discussion will result. It is this precise issue that separates "liberal" Catholics from "conservative" Catholics, when in reality we are all just Catholics-- same church, same teaching...
Anonymous said…
Hi Catholic Mom
Here are a few passages from the Catechism that explain my reasoning - I am taking my terminology from these -

67 Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern…

88 The Church's Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes in a definitive way truths having a necessary connection with them.
This passage indicates to me that the authority of the Church's Magisterium is strongest at some times more than at others - depending on what they are offering guidance about. The truths the magisterium teaches about the incarnation and the resurrection are not the same as their teachings about artifical birth control. The first two have to do with dogma, the last does not.

89 There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.

90 The mutual connections between dogmas, and their coherence, can be found in the whole of the Revelation of the mystery of Christ. "In Catholic doctrine there exists an order or hierarchy of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith."52

There is a hierarchy of truths - that is some truths demand adherence if you are to say you are a Christian and a Catholic. On others there may be some disagreement - but this does not mean then that one is not a good Catholic. Perhaps an example of this would be fasting on Fridays - it is a teaching but not to fast on Fridays does not mean you deny your Catholic faith.

91 All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them53 and guides them into all truth.54
92 "The whole body of the faithful. . . cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals."55

I think that this clearly shows that we as faith filled people, as part of the sensus fidei, have a certain authority of our own given us by the Holy Spirit at our baptism and reinforced as we participate in the other sacraments. Because of this we have a right and a responsibility to grow in our faith, and to dialogue with our Church leaders about our experience of living the faith, and how we see our faith at work in the world. We have a right and a responsibility to speak up when we disagree - in charity of course and in humilty recognizing that we may be wrong - but we may also be right and our truth needs to be heard.

93 "By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (Magisterium),. . . receives. . . the faith, once for all delivered to the saints. . . the People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life."
Sorry to go on so long! But I felt these sections of the Catechism explain why I said what I did.
Anonymous said…
So anonymous is saying that catholics are free to not listen to the teaching authority of the church unless it is made into a dogma??
Anonymous said…
Actually that is not what I am saying - we need to listen to the magisterium but we are not to obey mindlessly. God gave us minds to use them, God gave us the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the gift of the magisterium to guide us to do God's will. The role of the magisterium is not to issue commands but to guide us as we try to live as faithful followers of Christ.

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