The Nature of the Magisterium
The Magisterium of the Catholic Church is its authority to establish and teach the genuine and correct tenets of the Catholic Faith. That authority is vested uniquely in the reigning Pope and the bishops in communion with him worldwide. Together with Sacred Scripture and Tradition, the Magisterium is one of the three pillars upon which the Catholic Faith rests and by which it has been and keeps on being transmitted through generations.
Six levels exist to the Magisterium, the teaching authority, of the Catholic Church. The first five of these levels require as a minimum the religious assent of the Catholic faithful. The six levels consist of:
- Pronouncements of the Pope that are made ex cathedra (extraordinary magisterium);
- The Bishops in communion with the Pope, defining doctrine at a General Council (extraordinary magisterium);
- The Bishops in communion with the Pope and together with him, proposing definitely, dispersed, but in agreement (ordinary and universal magisterium);
- The Pope himself (ordinary magisterium);
- The Bishops in communion with the Pope (ordinary magisterium); and
- Theologians (magisterium cathedrae magistralis).
According to the declaration of Vatican Council I, all those things are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by her ordinary and universal teaching magisterium, proposes for belief as having been divinely revealed (Dei Filius, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter III). Not everything contained in the statements of the ordinary magisterium is infallible. However, according to the declaration of Vatican Council II, the Catholic Church holds that infallibility is invested in the statements of its universal ordinary magisterium as follows:
Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith (Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, §25). Such teachings of the ordinary and universal magisterium are not given in a single, specific document. They are teachings upheld as authoritative, generally for a long time, by the body of bishops.