One of the oft repeated jibes made by Catholics against Protestants is that the religion of the latter has no authority. That religion – Protestantism – merely devolves into what each individual church member believes as he interprets his Bible, alone. It is, in the words of the common retort, merely a religion of “each man and his bible.” The Catholic church is superior, according to adherents of this philosophy, precisely because it has a pope and bishops who can authoritatively interpret not only the Bible, but matters of faith and morals, church practice, etc. The Roman Catholic is thereby relieved of much of the uncertainty which is laid at the feet of Protestantism.
Unfortunately, any conscious person with the slightest interest in the subject knows how damaging the Catholic Magisterium actually is to its own denomination. In this earlier post, I reviewed Professor Leslie Woodcock Tentler’s research showing how the Magisterium had destroyed the Church’s sacrament of Confession.
In a still earier writing, I examined Professor Francis Oakley’s discoveries regarding the Catholic Church’s “institutional forgetfulness” regarding the issue of authority for the Roman Church. Professor Oakley showed how modern Roman Catholics are posed an unsolvable riddle when asked the question, who really is in charge?
So how wonderful it is to continue this series of the examination of what modern Catholic thinking is about what the Magisterium ought to be. Professor Gerald Mannion sets the stage here:
“the Magisterium” has become a concept that has generated as much controversy, division, and fear as it has misunderstanding.i
Think of it. The one thing that that differentiated Roman Catholicism from the dark nether world of Protestantism is now a source of “controversy, division and fear”! What is remarkable here is not only the admission itself but that it could be published by a Fellow of the Catholic University of the Louvain!
But what is even more fascinating is how the Protestant concept of the ‘priesthood of all believers” is proposed as the solution:
So it is upon the church entire and not any particular member of it that this gift of the spirit is bestowed.ii
And Mannion cites another notable Roman Catholic scholar, Fr. Francis Sullivan, S.J., in support here:
Sullivan believes that when assessing the content, worth, and binding authority of any church document that sets down an aspect of the ordinary magisterium, we should ask five particular questions. First, who is the teaching addressed to? Second, what kind of teaching is it? Third, what kind of document is the teaching contained in? Fourth, what particular level of magisterial authority is employed in the teaching? And, fifth, what sort of language is employed in the teaching? iii
No only do Catholics now publicly challenge the idea of an “infallible Magisterium” which has been the bedrock of Catholicism from time immemorial, it now reserves the right to design the criteria by which the Magisterial pronouncements can be judged. To those of who grew up in the Church it’s all fantastic, really!
Each Catholic and his own Magisterium. The new normal and how Catholicism continually changes contrary to itself.
iMannion, Gerald. “A Teaching Church that Learns? Discerning “Authentic” Teaching in Our Times”. The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity. ed. Michael J. Lacey and Francis Oakley; New York. Oxford University Press, Inc. 2011 Locations 3473. Kindle eBook.
iiIbid., Location 3508
iiiIbid., locations 3544-3553