Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Can the Laity Exercise the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church?

In response to an article I recently wrote on the infallibility of the Church and the Magisterium, I got into a bit of a discussion with a reader. Unfortunately, Disqus, the commenting feature used on this website, does not like me. I don't know what does it, but something in my posts always get marked as spam. Because of this, I wasn't able to get certain points across to my interlocutor. That section will be bolded when I repost the conversation below.

Basically, his contention was that the teaching authority of the Church does not rest solely with the ordained hierarchy, but with all the baptized. His words will be in red, with mine in blue:

Tom: Vatican II, in Lumen Gentium 12, expanded the infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium to include all of those who have the Spirit of truth: "The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, [cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27] cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples' supernatural discernment in matters of faith when "from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" [Cf. 1 Cor. 10: 17] they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth."
Second Ecumenical Council- Vasily Surikov

Nicholas: Tom, it appears you are describing the "sensus fidelium" (the sense of the faithful). Indeed, all baptized Christians, and in a special way, those that have received the sacrament of Confirmation, have the Holy Spirit with them. However, you're proposition that "the infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium [includes] all of those who have the Spirit of truth" is much too broad. LG 12 goes onto clarify, and narrows what the Magisterium of the Church actually is; precisely at the point that you stopped quoting the document. LG 12 continues:
"It [the discernment in matters of faith] is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints, penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life."
Furthermore, in 2014, the International Theological Commission released a document studying the nature of the sensus fidelium entitled, "Sensus fidei in the Life of the Church". From the document:

"The sensus fidei fidelis [the personal aptitude of the believer to make an accurate discernment in matters of faith] is infallible in itself with regard to its object: the true faith. However, in the actual mental universe of the believer, the correct intuitions of the sensus fidei can be mixed up with various purely human opinions, or even with errors linked to the narrow confines of a particular cultural context.‘Although theological faith as such cannot err, the believer can still have erroneous opinions since all his thoughts do not spring from faith. Not all the ideas which circulate among the People of God are compatible with the faith.’" (SFLC 55)

The teaching authority of the Church, a thoroughly Biblical notion, is not exercised by every single person in the Body of Christ, but by the successors of the Apostles.

Tom: Teaching is a gift, and is not exercised by every single person; but why is the teaching authority only vested in the successors of the apostles? The gift ministries in Ephesians 4:11, which include teachers, are given by Christ. I don't see anywhere in Scripture that teaching is confined only to the hierarchy. The hierarchy is also subject to human frailty. Even where LG12 continues, it does not say that only the hierarchy can have the gift of teaching. In fact it says that "He [God] distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank."

Paul and Barnabas at Lystra- Nicolaes Pietersz
Nicholas: I agree with you, teaching others about the Gospel is a gift from our Lord; and indeed, as St. Paul points out in that Scripture passage from Ephesians, we are all called to do different things. And I also agree with what you've quoted from LG 12; God gives special graces to all the faithful, whether they are sacramentally ordained or laymen. However, LG 12 does, in fact, say that the hierarchy alone has been entrusted with this teaching authority. Where does it say this? In the section I quoted in my last post; and to see that the text of LG 12 does, indeed, say this, we need to ask what does the Church itself mean when it says that "[discernment in matters of faith] is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority".

The Church, in harmony with both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, defines "the sacred teaching authority" thusly:

"Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts. This Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing. 

"But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, 'handing over' to them 'the authority to teach in their own place.'...

"[I]t is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.

"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church" (Dei Verbum: 7, 9-10)

Now of course the hierarchy is subject to human frailty, but so were the Apostles. Did this invalidate their teachings when they exercised their sacred office? Of course not, and such short comings to do not invalidate the teachings infallibly put forth by their frail successors in the present day. 

You also say you don't see this truth anywhere in Scripture. I reject your implied premise that we can only know doctrine and truth from Scripture. Bl. Pope Paul VI says just as much in DV 9 above. Did you also notice the quote at the end of the second paragraph? That citation comes from St. Irenaeus around the year 180. The notion that the Apostles and their successors possessed a unique teaching authority is, well... an apostolic notion. St. Irenaeus was a disciple of the disciple of St. John the Apostle. St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing 70-80 years earlier, also stressed the unique authority that could only be exercised by the bishop:

"It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 9)"

So if we are to reject these beliefs of both the early Christians and the Church today, then how do we know someone possesses the authority to exercise the "gift" of teaching? A Ph. D.? What visible signs would such a person have? Only the Church has that answer, and it's found in the physical signs of God's grace; that is, the Sacraments. The Sacrament in particular to consider here, for bishops, is that of Holy Orders. The physical sign is the laying on of hands at consecration. Jesus laid hands on the Apostles, the Apostles on their successors, and so on and so on until the present day.

While every single baptized person in the Church receives special graces from God, the Apostles were instituted by Christ as the New Israel. Of course, the entire Church is the new Israel, but the Apostles in a very specific sense, and in a typological sense embody the New Israel.  Just look at the words of Jesus in the Gospel:

"Then Peter said in reply, 'Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?' Jesus said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.'" (Matt. 19:27-28)

The Incredulity of St. Thomas- Rembrandt
In the old Israel, each tribe had a judge; Christ says the Apostles will judge. Peter, being the head of the Apostles, represents the tribe of Judah. Why? Jesus was descended from the royal line of Judah. And who is Christ's vicar on earth? Peter and his successors. And even in this day the bishops (as the successors of the Apostles) carry on that office.

Tom: I notice that LG12 does not set limits on "sacred teaching authority". If all levels of the Church are included in infallibility, all levels are included in the sacred teaching authority. Apostles do have a special function of widely spreading the Word. Most of us who are so inclined, do it locally or on the internet.

The letter to the Gentiles from the council of Jerusalem was sent by the "The apostles and elders and brethren" (Acts 15:23), and said that "it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us" (Acts 15:28). LG12 appears to be on solid Scriptural footing.

Saint Paul, in 2Corinthians 1:24 says: "Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand". I think that the hierarchy needs to take a closer look at the New  Testament and to Vatican II.

Apostles and apostolic men wrote the New Testament, but I don't think that Mark and Luke were apostles.

Dei Verbum 21 does say: "Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture."

I don't believe that the Church has replaced Israel. Israel still exists and it still has ongoing covenants by God towards it continued existence. The existence of the state of Israel and today's speech by Trump give ample evidence of that.

Nicholas: I apologize Peter. I addressed most of your points before, but Disqus keeps marking my posts as spam. I had two comments. The first is not showing up, so the comment you just replied to probably didn't make sense. I don't know what's setting it off. I'll try posting my original first comment next.

As to your other points in your most recent comment, I certainly agree with what Dei Verbum 21 says. I don't see how it reinforces you position that every baptized person ordained or not, can exercise the teaching authority of the Church.

As for Mark and Luke, it doesn't matter if they weren't Apostles. They are sacred writers, just as the writers of the Old Testament were. Scripture is God-breathed, and the Magisterium is the servant of the Word of God, and protects what is handed down to it (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 86). This also doesn't prove your position regarding the Church's teaching authority.

As for the Church being the New Israel, it would appear that you might need to take your own advice and also take a closer look at the documents of Vatican II. Section 5 of the decree Ad Genetes states:
"From the very beginning, the Lord Jesus "called to Himself those whom He wished; and He caused twelve of them to be with Him, and to be sent out preaching (Mark 3:13; cf. Matt. 10:1-42). Thus the Apostles were the first budding-forth of the New Israel, and at the same time the beginning of the sacred hierarchy."
St. Peter- Francesco del Cossa
CCC 877 further explains:
"Chosen together, they [the Apostles] were also sent out together, and their fraternal unity would be at the service of the fraternal communion of all the faithful: they would reflect and witness to the communion of the divine persons. For this reason every bishop exercises his ministry from within the episcopal college, in communion with the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter and head of the college. So also priests exercise their ministry from within the presbyterium of the diocese, under the direction of their bishop."
Of course God's covenant with Israel through Abraham has never been revoked, but it has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus and in His Bride, the Church.

Tom: I am saying that the teaching authority is not restricted only to the hierarchy. It involves the entire church from top to bottom; but not everyone is a teacher, not even in the hierarchy.

In Scripture, I believe we are the new Israel insofar as we are inward Jews (Romans 2:28-29). This includes both Jews and Gentiles who are circumcised in heart.

Ordinary believers also have a place in contributing to the development of tradition; and not just the hierarchy. Vatican II states in Dei Verbum 8: 
"This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth".
Nicholas: No one is saying that they don't have a place in developing tradition. But you're contention that the teaching authority (the Magisterium) of the Church can be exercised by lay people who have not be ordained to the ministerial priesthood (and are truly the successors of the Apostles) is false. 

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