The following is from a Church bulletin.
The Deposit of Faith
July 25 marks the 42nd anniversary of the encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, which condemns the use of artificial birth control and sterilization and warned of the dire consequences that would follow if this teaching was ignored. Forty-two years later, the warnings contained within this encyclical read like a prophecy. In this month’s bulletin, we shall consider the origins of the moral and doctrinal teachings of the Church, the means by which they are made known to us, and why we must accept them.
**The Deposit of Faith: ** The Deposit of Faith is the body of doctrines handed down from Jesus to the Apostles, from the Apostles to their successors, and so forth to our times. The Deposit of Faith contains the complete body of doctrines that make up the Catholic Faith. Nothing new can be added that is not at least implicitly contained within the Deposit of Faith, and nothing can be taken away, for public revelation ceased with the death of the last apostle. The means by which the Deposit of Faith has been passed down to us is through the written word of God, as contained in the New Testament, and the unwritten word of God, handed down orally by the Apostles. The written word of God – the Holy Bible - exhorts us to hold fast to both the written and unwritten Traditions we have received – “therefore, brethren, hold fast to the traditions which you have received, whether by word or by epistle” (2 Thess. 2:14). Holding fast to both the written and unwritten Traditions is necessary to preserve the integrity of the Gospel.
“Of the dogmas and messages preserved in the Church” writes Basil the Great in A.D. 375 “some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the Tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety, both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals…” (Basil the Great - The Holy Spirit 27:66).
The Magisterium: One of the primary duties of the Pope is to guard and protect the Deposit of Faith: “One of the primary obligations assigned by Christ to the office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock” said St. Pope Pius X, “ is that of guarding with the greatest vigilance the Deposit of Faith delivered to the Saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words, and the gainsaying of knowledge falsely so called” (Pascendi).
The Pope, whether acting alone or within the context of an ecumenical council, has the duty, and therefore the corresponding right, to clarify points of doctrine that are being called into question at a given time, or being undermined through heresy. When a Pope defines a point of doctrine to be held by the universal Church, such a decision is protected by God from error, and as such is both infallible and irreformable.
In order for a point of doctrine to be the subject of an infallible declaration, it must be at least implicitly contained within the Deposit. Not even the Pope can add to the Deposit of Faith by disclosing new doctrines, for his duty is to guard and protect that which he has received - “For, the Holy Ghost was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the Apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth” (First Vatican Council).
When a Pope acting alone, or within an Ecumenical Council, defines a point of doctrine contained within the Deposit of Faith, the point of doctrine is articulated in a manner that is completely free from error. At this point the doctrine becomes a dogma, articulated infallibly through the dogmatic definition.
The *ordinary and universal magisterium *of the Church, which is exercised in various ways, is also considered infallible. The ordinary and universal magisterium is the ordinary magisterium of the Church teaching a point of doctrine that has been believed *universally *– that is, always, everywhere, and by all. Such teachings possess the character of infallibility, even if they have not been solemnly defined by the Church.
Once a point of doctrine contained within the Deposit of Faith is defined by the Church, or proposed for belief by the ordinary and universal magisterium, a Catholic can be certain that it is true, and as such must give the assent of faith. “All those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the written or unwritten word of God, and which are proposed by the Church as divinely revealed, either by a solemn definition or in the exercise of its ordinary and universal Magisterium” (First Vatican Council).