The Magisterium of the Catholic Church – 3

Papal Infallibility

According to the declaration of Vatican Council II, the issue of infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And, therefore, his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith. The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith.

But when either the Roman Pontiff or the Body of Bishops together with him defines a judgment, they pronounce it in accordance with Revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with, that is, the Revelation which as written or orally handed down is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of bishops and especially in care of the Roman Pontiff himself, and which under the guiding light of the Spirit of truth is religiously preserved and faithfully expounded in the Church. The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, in view of their office and the importance of the matter, by fitting means diligently strive to inquire properly into that revelation and to give apt expression to its contents; but a new public revelation they do not accept as pertaining to the divine deposit of faith (Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, §25).

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church – 2

The Magisterium of the Reigning Pope and Papal Indefectibility

The Pope has what is known as his own ordinary magisterium (#4 above), his own teaching authority, and this by divine appointment (Mt 16:18–19). This is separate from, and in addition to, any pronouncements he might make ex cathedra (#1 above).

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church is neither external to the Pope nor separate from him (#1 through #6 above). In fact, for the teaching authority of the bishops throughout the world to be valid and authentic, it necessarily has to be in communion with the Pope.

The Magisterium is neither external to the Pope nor optional with regard to its acceptance and the subjection to it by all the Catholic faithful, because it is the Pope who

  1. by divine appointment, has supreme and full authority over the universal Church, including, but not limited, to the Catholic Church itself; and
  2. is the Supreme Guarantor, the Supreme Witness, of the Faith by virtue of (a) the charism of truth and (b) the charism of a faith that never fails (Lk 22:32) granted to him, and to him alone, by God as an intrinsic part of the privileges of his office as the Vicar of Christ.

Assistance is given by God to the Pope when the latter exercises his ordinary magisterium: Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful are to adhere to it with religious assent which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article IX, paragraph §4:892).

Public statements by the Pope that do not qualify as ordinary and universal magisterium also have an authority that Catholics are not free to dismiss. They are required to give such teachings religious submission in accordance with the declaration of Vatican Council II as follows: Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking (Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, §25).

As evidenced in Sacred Scripture, Christ said, I say to you, “You are Peter and on this  Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. Whatsoever you shall bind upon the earth, it shall be bound also in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose upon the earth, it shall be loosed also in Heaven” (Mt 16:18-19). Thus, Saint Ambrose said, Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia, ibi Deus [Where there is Peter, there is the Church and there is God], because it is Peter – the Pope – who is the Rock, the Guarantor of the Faith, and this by divine appointment. Christ Himself prays to the Almighty Father for the Pope.

Christ, Who is God, declared the true Church to be indefectible. The Pope is, thus, himself indefectible in terms of the Faith and what is needed to be saved precisely because the Church is indefectible. This is true not just when the Pope teaches ex cathedra under the charism of infallibility, but also when he teaches non-infallibly as part of his ordinary magisterium. The Guarantor of the Faith can never fall into the grave sins of apostasy, heresy or schism, because he is safeguarded from doing so by the prevenient grace of God – operating grace (not cooperating grace). Throughout the entire history of the Catholic Church, in which resides the fullness of the Church that was established by Christ while still on earth, no canonically-elected Pope has ever fallen into any one of these three sins or combination thereof while reigning as Pope, despite repeated and apparent claims to the contrary, precisely because of this ongoing gift of prevenient grace. The above-referenced gift of grace, which has been granted to Peter and each one of his successors until the end of all time, is not provided by God for the personal benefit of the Pope. It is provided for the benefit of humanity so that the ark of salvation which is the Church never fails and the gates of Hell do not prevail.

The true Church, therefore, can easily be discerned as being where the Pope is, in accordance with Saint Ambrose’s declaration, because it is the Pope and no one else who has been granted the divine gifts of the charism of truth and the charism of a faith that never fails.

The Magisterium of the Catholic Church – 1

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:

  1. Pronouncements of the Pope that are made ex cathedra (extraordinary magisterium);
  2. The Bishops in communion with the Pope, defining doctrine at a General Council (extraordinary magisterium);
  3. The Bishops in communion with the Pope and together with him, proposing definitely, dispersed, but in agreement (ordinary and universal magisterium);
  4. The Pope himself (ordinary magisterium);
  5. The Bishops in communion with the Pope (ordinary magisterium); and
  6. 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.