Magisterium

As the non-Catholic husband of a Catholic, even though I don’t believe in Catholicism, I enjoy learning about it. One thing I’ve always heard is that the Church gets its authority from three sources: Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magesterium of the Church. I’ve always thought that the Magesterium is composed of the Pope and the Bishops. I recently read a thread on here that was referring to a bishop who was in disagreement with the Pope over some issue (can’t remember the exact circumstances) and someone posted that “bishops are not the Magesterium.” So, I guess I’ve been confused. So…who or what composes the Magesterium of the Church?

The Magesteriuim is comprised of all Bishops in the world in union with the Pope.

The Pope is also the Bishop of Rome. Bishops are free to disagree with the Bishop of Rome, but they are not free to disagree with the Pope.

The Pope usually acts in his capacity as Bishop of Rome. He rarely actually acts in his capacity as Pope, so quite a lot of disagreement is actually possible (and OK).

But on the rare occasion when the Pope acts “as the successor of Peter, in his role of confirming the brethren,” the Bishops are obliged to be on-board. Those who are not risk being deposed and replaced.

The Magisterium or Teaching Authority of the Church

by Fr. William G. Most

“By the Magisterium we mean the teaching office of the Church. It consists of the Pope and Bishops. Christ promised to protect the teaching of the Church : “He who hears you, hears me; he who rejects you rejects me, he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me” (Luke 10. 16). Now of course the promise of Christ cannot fail: hence when the Church presents some doctrine as definitive or final, it comes under this protection, it cannot be in error; in other words, it is infallible. This is true even if the Church does not use the solemn ceremony of definition. The day to day teaching of the Church throughout the world, when the Bishops are in union with each other and with the Pope, and present something as definitive, this is infallible. (Vatican II, Lumen gentium # 25). It was precisely by the use of that authority that Vatican I was able to define that the Pope alone, when speaking as such and making things definitive, is also infallible. Of course this infallibility covers also teaching on what morality requires, for that is needed for salvation.”

I hope this explanation from the EWTN website helps. :slight_smile:

The opinions of any Bishop, alone, may be wrong, especially if they disagree with the Pope on issues that have been officially declared as true by the Magisterium. Without knowing what the circumstances were, or what was actually said by the Bishop, it’s hard to judge whether or not he was in error.

Our first Pope acted in a way contrary to what was received from Christ when he changed his behavior to favor Jewish Catholics, and one of the others (Paul) disagreed with him and challenged him about withdrawing from contact with Gentiles. This Pope then repented of his falsity at the first Council at Jerusalem, and so James was then tasked with defining the solution, where a letter of the council’s correct teaching about Gentile participation in Christ was drafted and sent to the Gentile Churches. That Council was acting as “Pope and Magisterium”, while Peter, our first Pope, had been acting as a fallible disciple on his own prior to the confrontation.

If you read all Church doctrine, teachings, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you will find only goodness and truth there, even if in individuals you see mistakes and corruption. That is the miracle of the Holy Spirit protecting and teaching the Church. In the history of the Church, it is not the Church that has needed reformation, but it is corrupt people abusing what they have who have needed reformation and conversion back to being in accord and order with Church teaching.

Luther condemned the Church as going astray when he should have been addressing only Leo and Tetzel, etc., as Paul addressed Peter. Paul did not condemn the Church and start his own, but sought conversion, again, of Peter, the Pope.

I was a Lutheran, married to a Catholic, and it was not until I took a long hard literalistic look at Jesus saying to Peter, “You are Peter and on this Peter I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it… I give you the keys of my Kingdom, (which a king gives to his prime minister)…etc.” It was not until I saw this, that “Rock” (Peter) was the “Rock” (Peter) who had the keys of the King’s Kingdom, that I suddenly had to be a part of this Catholic Church. The pope and bishops are real successors of the apostles.

Bishops, all by themselves, are not the Magisterium of the Church.

Can you give me an example of when he is each of these please?

To my mind, many Catholics seem very confused about these Latin terms. The magisterium is first and foremost the teaching of the Church. The teachers are the magisters; so it’s a confusion of content and messenger.

Secondarily, the magisterium can refer to the office of bishop, but not to the bishop himself. Using a modern day example, this would be akin to confusing the presidency (as an office) with the president (the office holder). If someone is using the term “magisterium” to refer to people, particularly living people, that’s incorrect.

This is a good explanation. The pope and the bishops work in unison. As in any organization, there is a head. Yes, Jesus is the head of the Body of the Christ which is the Church. He handed His earthly power to Peter to act as His spokesman.
The pope speaks for Christ, as his vicar here on earth. As the pope remains human, he does rely on his contemporaries to help guide his decisions. They too have the Holy Spirit. Together in consensus they guide the Church, protected by the Holy Spirit so that we receive the same teachings that the Apostles received from Christ Jesus.
Of course over time, the Church has encountered various situations that were not addressed by the Apostles during the three years that they spent with our Lord. Nevertheless, the same teachings are applied. The ecumenical councils address these new situations under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, along with new insight gained through time, study, and knowledge gained through time.
The Church is not static, but ever growing in its understanding of what Christ taught.
The pope’s infallibility is limited to issues of doctrine and morality. This is what many outside the Church do not understand. It does not make him more than a man, subject to the same sinful inclinations of any other man.
I like your analogy of the king giving the keys of the kingdom to His prime minister. The pope acts on behalf of the King.

Sure. We see it alluded to in the proto-council described in the Book of Acts over the question of whether Gentile converts should be circumcised:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much debate, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Then the whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles.“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. With them they sent the following letter:

[quote]The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
Greetings.

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us

not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord. [Acts 15]
[/quote]

We see that there is a lot of debate. Then Peter speaks, and everybody shuts up. What Peter taught was sent out by the council in the name and authority of the Holy Spirit.

A more explicit example follows in the next post.

Here is a more explicit example (still from the Early Church) which works exactly the way I described.

The Arian Heresy opened theological questions besides the nature of Christ. Once the heresy had been suppressed, former Arians sought communion with the Church. This presented a theological problem for the Early Church, because some of these people had first received Baptism at the hands of Arians. Was Baptism by heretics valid? This question sparked lively debate.

The question would eventually be settled by Pope St. Stephen (that the Baptisms were, indeed, valid). But (as is the ordinary custom), before promulgating the definitive teaching as Pope, Stephen participated in the preceding debate in his capacity as Bishop. Acting as Bishop, he advocated the idea that Baptism by heretics was valid.

St. Cyprian of Carthage is my favorite Early Church Father. He controlled Northern Africa. His prestige and influence was so great that his contemporary nickname was “the African Pope.”

It is difficult to overstate Cyprian’s opposition to the idea that Baptism by heretics was valid. A large body of his writing survives, and much of it is dedicated to this topic. He would often not even use the word “baptize” in this context - he referred to “those made wet by heretics.” I think that’s funny. In other writings, he used language so harsh that it would have probably earned him an infraction on this Forum.

In his Letter to Jubaianus (AD 255), a Bishop in Mauretania, Cyprian refers to a Council of African Bishops which agreed that:

Cyprian to Jubaianus his brother, greeting. You have written to me, dearest brother, wishing that the impression of my mind should be signified to you, as to what I think concerning the baptism of heretics; who, placed without, and established outside the Church, arrogate to themselves a matter neither within their right nor their power. This baptism we cannot consider as valid or legitimate, since it is manifestly unlawful among them; and since we have already expressed in our letters what we thought on this matter, I have, as a compendious method, sent you a copy of the same letters, what we decided in council when very many of us were present, and what, moreover, I subsequently wrote back to Quintus, our colleague, when he asked about the same thing. And now also, when we had met together, bishops as well of the province of Africa as of Numidia, to the number of seventy-one, we established this same matter once more by our judgment, deciding that there is one baptism which is appointed in the Catholic Church; and that by this those are not re-baptized, but baptized by us, who at any time come from the adulterous and unhallowed water to be washed and sanctified by the truth of the saving water.[73,1]

OK, this is HERESY before the fact (a heretical opinion expressed before the Church taught otherwise).

Writing to Cyprian, Firmillian, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, agreed with Cyprian, saying,

But what is his [Pope St. Stephen] error, and how great his blindness, who says that the remission of sins can be given in the synagogues of the heretics [Firmillian, Letter to Cyprian (AD 255), 75,16]

At this point, Cyprian and Firmillian were expressing their opposition to the opinion of Pope St. Stephen, but not in his capacity as Pope, but only as Bishop.

Alas, to nobody’s surprise, Bishop Stephen eventually acted in his official capacity as Pope Stephan and promulgated the teaching that Baptism by heretics was valid, and those Baptized by Arians were to be admitted to full Communion without undergoing any further Baptismal ceremony.

After that happened, Firmillian and Cyprian shut up about the matter (not even the otherwise prolific and single-minded Cyprian had anything else to say). We have no record of either men (or anybody else, really) having any continued opposition to this teaching. granted, we have no record of either publicly affirming the teaching, but Cyprian was the type of man to quietly accept his defeat but not champion his opponent.

Had Cyprian continued his opposition after Pope Stephen’s teaching, he would be considered a heretic after the fact, and would surely not be considered a Saint and Early Father of the Church today. Because he accepted the Pope’s teaching, he is now recognized as one of the greatest Early Fathers.

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