Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Thesis

Just trying out a thesis on you chaps and chappesses following on the comments of the last post:

The infallible teaching authority of the magisterium guarantees the preservation of the full and living gospel in the Church (cf. CCC 77). It does not guarantee that the members of the Church will remain faithful to that gospel.


At Saturday, February 07, 2009 4:35:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...

Well, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit would ensure that the Gospel would be preserved in the Church, but in a way most consonant with free will - that is, to prevent those with authority to teach from falling into heresy, as in the particular case of the Papal teaching office, which in turn guarantees the preservation of the evangelical message in the rest of the Ecclesia docens, the teaching Church, in communion with him.

(Of course, the Orthodox have their own version of this, as do confessional Lutherans, etc., as no doubt others will comment. All I'm saying is that this is a reasonable way things could be ordered by the Lord, and that I believe that this is in fact the way the Lord has arranged things.)

Of course, free will, and the darkened intellect that is ours as finite beings tempted and wounded by sin, means that not all Christians will be faithful to the Gospel message - not even the teachers thereof, as abundantly proved by naughty bishops and wicked Popes down the ages, but who nevertheless did preach the truth, but not practice it to their shame.

(Indeed, this applies much more widely - the Orthodox and confessional Lutherans will agree that sinful men are often unfaithful to the Gospel, but that opinion polls or votes do not make the Faith, which was delivered once to the saints, and which it is our responsibility to accept and keep without perverting it to suit our own moral faults.)

At Sunday, February 08, 2009 12:13:00 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rem acu tetigisti, as Jeeves would say. Or as Balthasar entitles one of his books, the Chruch ahs always been somenting of a Casta Meretrix'.

At Sunday, February 08, 2009 4:30:00 pm , Blogger Chris Jones said...

Dear Mr Schütz,

I don't think your thesis can be right. It seems to me that infallibility and indefectibility is promised in the first instance to the Church (including both the bishops and the faithful) and that any degree of infallibility promised to the hierarchy is a logical consequence of the infallibility of the Church. Your thesis seems to posit that the infallibility given to the magisterium is not a consequence of the infallibility of the Church, but instead is itself a "first principle."

Of course there will always be those who, while formally being members of the Church, nevertheless dissent from her authentic teaching. (Indeed, as I understand it even Popes can fall into that category. All that Pastor Aeternus guarantees is that if the Pope should ever fall into heresy, he'll always do it "on his own time" and not "on the job.") But it seems to me that the idea of indefectibility means that the main body of the faithful will confess the orthodox faith, not just that the hierarchy will teach it.

Of course, it's probably the ex-Orthodox in me that is coming up with this, and I certainly don't claim any expertise in the fine points of Catholic ecclesiology. But that is my opinion.

At Sunday, February 08, 2009 5:30:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...

Yes, quite right Chris - indefectability and infallibility is the guarantee given to the whole Church in the first place: after all, that is the Vincentian Canon - what has always been believed everywhere by all (quod semper quod ubique quod ab omnibus) is the Catholic Faith.

The Vincentian Canon alone serves to defeat all pretensions to orthodoxy of all modern perversions of faith and/or morality (the usual list).

At Sunday, February 08, 2009 8:45:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Yes, Chris, I too think you are on the right track, but the difficulty is how to state it.

Infallibility is not only applied to the teaching of the Bishop of Rome (when he speaks "ex cathedra"). We also speak of the "infallibility of the Scriptures (on matters of faith and morals), and even of the infallibility of the Tradition (Capital T) and the infallibility of the college of bishops (when they teach in unity with one another and in communion with the Bishop of Rome).

But there is yet another authority that we could call "infallible" - namely that much-argued-over animal called the "sensus fidelium".

Only what is the "sensus fidelium"? It certainly is not a democratic idea, or some kind of "aggregate". It is more like the infallibility of the college of Bishops - it relies on the "sensus" being in conformity with the Scriptures, the Tradition, and the Pope.

God knows how one should accurately define that, because whatever way you do, you have to make allowance for bishops and fidelii who don't maintain orthodox teaching.

At Monday, February 09, 2009 2:45:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Whatever we understand by infallibility, it is unquestionably a charism of the church, the Body of Christ, and not of (say) Joseph Ratzinger, the theologian and bishop.

As I understand it, in Catholic teaching, the office of the papacy is part of the mode through which the church offers infallible teachings. It’s a mechanism, if you will, through which the church speaks. This is why the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility lays such stress on the need for the pope to offer teachings by virtue of his office as shepherd and teacher of the faithful. Similarly, the college of bishops doesn’t have any claim to infallibility in and of itself; it is simply another mechanism by which the church speaks. So also the sensus fidelium.

Non-Catholic traditions may not use the term “infallible”, but they mostly accept a very similar idea; that when it comes to the core of our Christian faith, church teaching is (a) reliable and (b) determinative. We see this in, for example, acceptance of the hard-fought conclusions of the early church on the Trinity and the nature(s) of Christ.

They express this in various ways, and they disagree with us over how and when teachings are authoritatively expressed. But this is an argument over the mechanism by which the church speaks most authoritatively, not over the fundamental concept that the church can, in an important way, speak with divine authority.

At Monday, February 09, 2009 5:52:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...

I am sure the Supreme Pontiff formerly known as Cardinal Ratzinger (symbol: BXVI) would agree with you in all humility - excellent contribution!

At Thursday, February 12, 2009 12:14:00 pm , Anonymous Adeodatus said...

Chris, I am not sure I understand you, but if I understand you, I disagree, although I suppose in a sense, it must hinge on how you define the "sensus fidelium": For a time at least, I think it is fair to say that, while the full and living gospel will be in the Church, certain truths will not necessarily be lived out in their entirety. Anscombe, I think, argues that this is the case in the 20th century with the prohibition of usury. One could multiply such instances. Think for instance, of the understanding of grace in the 18th century. Or the fact that most Bishops (by Newman's accounting in Arians of the Fourth Century) were Arians for a considerable part of the Arian Crisis.

I would say that with such cases in mind (a)one must remember something of Chesterton's idea of tradition being the Democracy of the Dead, when appealing to the sensus fidelium (b) The Ecclesia Docens continues its teaching function, and is infallible, and indefectible, so that one can if one sifts carefully and seeks the truth with the mind of the Church, find it.

At Friday, February 13, 2009 12:50:00 am , Blogger Chris Jones said...


No, I don't think you do understand me. Sensus fidelium was not my term, and I am not sure what it is supposed to mean; although if it means what it appears to mean by simple translation ("the consensus of the faithful") then it is not a term that I would use, and certainly not something to which I would attribute infallibility or indefectibility.

The key to understanding me is to realize that I am not Catholic and don't think in a Catholic frame of reference. I am not Orthodox any longer, either (long story), but the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church still governs the way I think about these things to a very large extent. In Orthodox ecclesiology, while it is the office of the bishop to teach the faith, it is the responsibility of the whole Church -- hierarchs, clergy, and laity -- to guard the faith and to ensure that the Apostolic Tradition is handed on whole and entire. From this perspective, Schütz's notion that there is no guarantee that the faithful will remain, well, faithful, cannot be right. It is not as if the Holy Spirit is promised only to part of the Church (the ecclesia docens part -- another term I would not use).

That does not mean, of course, that individual Christians cannot err. Nor does it mean that individual bishops cannot err (including, from my non-Catholic perspective, the bishop of Rome). It does mean that the Church herself will always remain (because the gates of hell cannot prevail against her). And if the Church remains, then there will be within her those who faithfully teach the Gospel, as well as those who faithfully confess the Gospel. The idea that indefectibility applies only to the hierarchy would mean that, in principle, there could be a Church in which there are hierarchs who faithfully teach, but no faithful who receive and confess the Gospel. But that would be no Church at all.

The quickest way to see what I mean is to look at the life of St Maximus Confessor. He was a layman, with no formal ecclesiastical office and no teaching authority. And he did not represent the "consensus" of his day; indeed he stood manfully against that consensus. The hierarchs of his time stood almost as one against him (even the Pope at one point was (at best) fatally weak in his defense of orthodoxy). But St Maximus, even as a layman, took seriously his responsibility to guard the Apostolic Tradition; and he saved the Catholic faith.


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