Some Timely Reminders About the Magisterium
“Politics and Society” is the title of the latest reflections – in a very personal tone – that Pope Francis published in France on September 6, 2017, in a book-length interview with Dominique Wolton. Jean-Marie Guénois, in a review published in Le Figaro Magazine on September 1, 2017, presented it as a “work that is by no means Catholic and even less clerical”. At a time when the pope's word risks being diluted by coming into contact with the media, FSSPX.News offers a brief synthesis on the magisterium of the Church.
In the Catholic Church, the “magisterium” means the power that Christ communicated to St. Peter and the apostles in order to teach the nations everything He Himself had taught during His earthly life: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations... teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Mt. 28:18-20). He is speaking of the deposit of the Faith, which closed with the death of the last Apostle.
If this power of teaching includes the prerogative of what we call “active” infallibility, it is only insofar as it is exercised within the strict limits of this teaching that Christ gave them the mission of spreading, “like fire on the earth”.
This power of the magisterium, which is in other words the faculty of fully transmitting the teaching of Jesus Christ in an integral way, has therefore a well-defined object. According to Fr. Edmond Dublanchy, in his article “Church” in the Dictionary of Catholic Theology, this power to teach with authority applies not only to that which is explicitly or implicitly revealed, but also to what we call “the indirect object of the deposit of the Faith”, that is to say, all that is necessary for this deposit to be effectively defended or proposed with sufficient authority.
Having clearly defined the object of the magisterium, we must now consider the manner in which this power is applied:
When the Roman Pontiff exercises alone his mission of teaching, we speak of the “papal magisterium”. This can be either “ordinary”, when the pope faithfully and habitually transmits the doctrine of Christ, or “extraordinary”, when the pope uses a definitive act, solemnly engaging his authority with the intention of obliging all members of the Church to hold a truth in a matter of faith or morals. This papal infallibility was exercised in 1950 by Pope Pius XII when he defined the dogma of the Assumption of the Mother of God into Heaven.
When the bishops united with the pope exercise this power of teaching the doctrine of Christ, we speak of either the “ordinary and universal magisterium” when the bishops, although dispersed throughout the world, provide a constant, unanimous teaching on a truth of the Faith, or an “extraordinary and universal magisterium” when this teaching is given during an ecumenical council convoked by the pope.
On the contrary, as soon as the pope or bishops approach a matter beyond the limits of this teaching and transmission of the doctrine of Christ that they must faithfully dispense in virtue of the mandate they have received from Our Lord Himself, there is no proper exercise of the power of the magisterium.
For example, this is true of certain speeches or allocutions from the end of Pope Pius XII's pontificate dealing with very diverse subjects, such as European transports or hunting.
All the more, when the Roman Pontiff presents orientations or exhortations of a practical or pastoral nature such as Amoris Laetitia, or delivers personal and private reflections to any media outlet whatsoever, we do not observe the exercise of the power of the magisterium.
In the end, as the facts confirm, the less the magisterium tends to exercise authority, giving way to dialogue with the world, and touching on every possible subject, the more the papal function loses its savor in the eyes of the world, which cannot but recall to our minds the Savior’s warning: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” (Mt. 5:13).
In the trial permitted by Divine Providence, certainly for a greater good, let us never cease to pray that the Holy Ghost may grant the Successor of Peter the strength to be a source of clarity, by exercising the authentic power to teach the doctrine faithfully, a power he received, like the Prince of the Apostles, with the power of the keys.