Magisterium alone

There is a disturbing trend among some Catholics today, to attempt to base the Catholic faith solely on the written teachings of the Magisterium. If a teaching is not in a magisterial document, they do not believe it. They do not strive to learn the Faith directly from Tradition and directly from Scripture, but only from the Magisterium. And they do not see theology and theologians as having any role except that of explaining what the Magisterium has plainly stated in various documents, or of offering opinions that are entirely superfluous. They do not think that magisterial documents require interpretation in the light of theology in order to be properly understood. They do not realize that all magisterial documents are written by persons who have first studied theology for many years, and who have written those documents in the light of a theological understanding of Tradition and Scripture.

This error is similar to the fundamentalist Protestant error of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). In the Protestant error, the truths of the Faith are said to be found only in Scripture, not also in Tradition and Magisterium. But this error quickly leads to other errors. The Protestant fundamentalist thinks that the meaning of Scripture is only the plain meaning as he perceives it; he does not allow for implicit meanings, nor does he consider that the meaning might be complex, and not easily or readily understood. And since Scripture is infallible, he assumes that his own shallow understanding of Scripture is the same as the teaching of Scripture, and is therefore infallible, and so as a result, he does not accept correction. No theological explanation seems to carry enough weight to cause him to change his mind, because theology is not infallible. He not only abandons Tradition and Magisterium, but also theology, and the use of reason to understand what faith teaches.

There is a similar error among many Catholics; it is also a type of fundamentalism, except that instead of being based solely on the writings of Scripture, it is based solely on the writings of the Magisterium. In the Catholic version of this error, the truths of the Faith are said to be learned only from the Magisterium – although these teachings are also admitted to be in Tradition and Scripture, the Catholic fundamentalist does not think that he should learn directly from Tradition or Scripture, lest he err in his understanding of those sources. Of course, he does not realize that he might also misunderstand magisterial documents.

And this error quickly leads to other errors. The Catholic fundamentalist thinks that the meaning of magisterial documents is only the plain meaning as he perceives it; he does not allow for implicit meanings, nor for an interpretation other than what is literal and narrow. He does not consider that the meaning might be complex, and not easily or readily understood. He sees no use for theological distinctions and terminology in explaining and understanding what the Magisterium teaches.

He has no use for philosophy or speculative theology or reason itself, nor does he find it useful to consider theological arguments based on Tradition and Scripture only. He considers such theological arguments to be useless opinions. Unless a theological argument is quoting a magisterial document that states a particular idea very plainly, in exactly the same language as used by the theologian, he does not accept the theological interpretation or argument.

The Catholic fundamentalist mistakenly thinks that the Magisterium always teaches infallibly. And next, he assumes that his own shallow understanding of a magisterial document is the same as the teaching of the Magisterium, and is therefore infallible. And so, as a result, he does not accept correction. No theological explanation seems to carry enough weight to cause him to change his mind, because theology is not infallible. He not only abandons theology, but also the use of reason to understand what the Magisterium teaches.

Could anything make this set of errors even worse? Some of these persons have decided to teach their fellow Catholics this same set of errors, leading them astray by a false claim of faithfulness to the Magisterium.

What I’ve found is that it is those who seek to evade the teachings of the Church who argue that it takes an Magisterial decree to make something binding. Of course, doctrines, historically, have been explicitly defined when they have been called into question.

Make no mistake. The Magisterium, the Bishops in communion with the Holy Father, DO teach infallibly - without error - in matters of faith and morals. Their documents guard the faith every bit as much, sometimes more, than they define parts of it explicitly.

We should also be careful of reducing all understanding to a matter of individual perception. Revisionists have used that argument to set aside things they don’t like, wish to change, or cannot fully comprehend. The word proclaimed and taught is a living word, not a dead letter, and the faithful can at least apprehend its meaning.



It sounds generally like the spirit of modern man which is essentially practical and devoid of any philosophical thinking. Man no longer can consider the nature of man but simply thinks of what is practicle to his current situation, what will get him further in the present. All that matters is what is on tv and how he can entertain himself. To sit in silence and think is boring. Their political leanings are not because they have actually thought through the various positions but simply because that is what they are told to believe. They don’t consider that they may be just acting according to the spirit of the time. Philosophy is superfluous because it does directly pertain to what I am doing now.

Political leaders are part of the problem as well because they don’t have any philosophical thinking either. They simply tow the party line so that they can get reelected. Their political views are based on special interests which have nothing in common with eachother.

Can you provide an example?

One quick response. Yes many Protestants abuse sola scriptura which is not consistent with the Protestant Reformers understanding of sola scriptura. And yes Sola Scriptura includes systematic theology, biblical theology, creeds and confession, and church history for proper interpretation.

It seems Catholic Magesterium alone is very similar to Sola Scirpture which is quite different than Sola Scriptura.

The reverse side of this is that the purpose of the Magisterium is to explain the faith in clearer fashion than might be possible if one were to rely on Scripture and/or Tradition alone. A resource such as the CCC, while still requiring a certain amount of explanation, is inherently less ambiguous for us-because that is its purpose. And for a Catholic, the authority behind this commission should be a welcome and refreshing one-even as we may continue to seek and study to confirm this teaching or that.

I think you are saying that some Protestants, the fundamentalists, have the ‘Scripture alone’ attitude I describe – devoid of theology, the use of reason, seeking a deeper meaning to the text, but other Protestants, while still not admitting Tradition or Magisterium, do admit these other goods. Yes, I agree. I was only referring to the fundamentalist Protestants.

As I said in the other thread ALL the teachings (infallible and non-infallible) of the Catholic Church are summarised in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These teachings are based on Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. References to the source of these teachings are in the footnotes.
In these sources there will likely be an expanded explanation of the teachings.
There are no Church teachings which are not summarised in the CCC.
The Deposit of Faith is closed so there can be no new teachings, rather only clearer explanations of existing teachings.
If you know of a Church teaching which all Catholics must accept and are bound by but is not found in the CCC then please let us know what it is.

2nd request.

Sure, I have had a spiritual journey through several Protestant communities including the no creeds but Christ thinking. I think the non-denominational churches and independent Baptist churches tend to have a “no creeds but Christ” mentality which is a creed in itself… which is quite a deficient creed to properly interpret the Scriptures. I personally have landed in Reformed Theology as a correct balance. Here is where I am at, but I am an ecumenical Reformed Christian in regards to the Catholic Faith.

Anyone who thinks that the CCC is self-explanatory is deluding themselves. One example might be paragraph 460. One has ton dig a lot deeper than that paragraph to grasp its meaning. Like the man says, who came up with the concept of the 3-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium, pull off one leg and the stool becomes quite un-stable.

What is your positive solution to this “set of errors”?

Gaudium de veritate,


Do you begin to sense a straw man?


I have noticed this too. To me it seems that the role of Tradition has largely been usurped by the role of the Magisterium.

Now, this is a non-Catholic perspective, but to me it seems that this has been a mistake long in the making in the Catholic Church. Too much power is settled in one place where it doesn’t belong, and so another leg of the stool that the pp mentioned starts to break.

Now, as an Anglican I tend to say “Scripture, Tradition, Reason”. As we all know, there have been serious problems in the Anglican Church in recent times, and I find myself wondering if this isn’t related to an undervaluing of Tradition also. Perhaps this tends to be the Achilles heel of the Western Church and its way of thinking theologically?

Please explain how one goes about learning the faith “directly from Tradition.” Thank you.

Gaudium de veritate,


The CCs sources for authority are Scripture and Tradition. The role of the Magisterium is to correctly explain or teach the faith based on these. The ultimate authority is God, through the Church.

Yes, but that, it seems to me, is not what happens. I think the OPs point is that it is misunderstood.

Hrm, I don’t know if I’ve ever noticed this trend, but certainly if this is what is happening then they need to be corrected. We most certainly have a 3 legged stool, Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium. If any leg of the stool is removed, then well… you can’t sit on the stool can you?

Paragraph 460 just refers to theosis, a teaching of the Church but a spiritual truth we’ll never fully understand this side of eternity.

All of the teachings of the Magisterium are found, at least implicitly, in Tradition and Scripture. In one sense, the Magisterium cannot teach anything new, but only what is already in the Deposit of Faith (Tradition and Scripture). In another sense, the Magisterium can teach doctrines that previously were only implicit in the Deposit of Faith; these are new definitions, not previously taught explicitly.

The claim that the Catechism contains all teachings (at least implicitly, I think you meant to say) is the same as claiming that the Catechism is equal to, or in fact replaces, the Deposit of Faith. For if the Catechism contains all teachings, and if the Deposit of Faith contains all teachings, then one does not need both. But how can the Catechism contain all that Scripture contains when only a small portion of Scripture verses are quoted, or even referenced in the Catechism? And the Living Tradition includes the lives of all the faithful, their actual deeds, in so far as they imitate Christ, and the worship life of the Church. The Catechism does not contain the lives of the faithful, nor the Sacraments, nor the Mass, even though it refers to all these things. The mere fact that the Catechsim points us toward Tradition and Scripture, which contain all teachings, is not sufficient to conclude that the Catechism summarizes, or mentions, or references all teachings. If it were, then I could ‘summarize’ all teachings in three words: Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium.

Examples of explicit teachings of the Magisterium not stated, summarized, or mentioned in the Catechism:

Several magisterial documents were published subsequent to the publication of the Catechism. It would be a serious doctrinal error to speak as if the Catechism is all that one needs to know the teachings of the Magisterium, for then any new documents of the Magisterium would be treated as superfluous.

The teaching that submission to the Roman Pontiff is necessary to Salvation, is not found in the Catechism. This was taught by Unam Sanctam, and by the Fifth Lateran Council.

The second and third Lateran Councils are not mentioned, or even referenced in the Catechism.

A list of Ecumenical Councils (21) is not found in the Catechism.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church contains many teachings not found in the Catechism.

The teaching that the Church has two swords, the spiritual authority and the temporal authority, is not found in the Catechism; it is in Unam Sanctam.

The teaching of the ordinary non-infallible Magisterium, that Mary died and was raised from the death (prior to her Assumption) is not mentioned in the Catechism.

The above list of examples is sufficient to prove that the Catechism, while a useful resource, does not contain or summarize or mention every teaching. The Catechism is not the Deposit of Faith. Anyone whose faith is based solely on the Catechism, and not also on the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium (i.e. other teachings and documents of the Magisterium) is not believing and practicing the whole Catholic faith.

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