The Magisterium is the teaching authority, or the teaching office, of the Church; the way we use to express the fact that the Church has the right to teach us what is the Truth. It comes from the Latin Magister, “teacher”.
The Magisterium is divided into two:
1. Infallible Magisterium, called Sacred Magisterium and
2. Fallible Magisterium, called Ordinary Magisterium.
The Infallible Magisterium is, in turn, divided as follows:
1.1. extraordinary declarations of the Pope, speaking ex cathedra. This is the typical subject coming out when there is any discussion about “infallibility”. An example is the declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
1.2. extraordinary conciliar decrees. This is when not a Pope, but an ecumenical council declares what the entire Church holds as true. An example is the declaration of papal infallibility made by the First Vatican Council.
1.3. ordinary and universal Magisterium. This is what has always been held as true by the Church. Examples: male priesthood, ways of transmitting holy orders, doctrine of war, doctrine of capital punishment, and all the teachings that have been taught in the history of the Church as Christian truth.
2) The (fallible) Ordinary Magisterium is that part of the teaching which is not considered expression of what the Church has always held as true and can, therefore, be fallible. This is not easy to point out to and mainly pertains to all that teaching that is not directly related to 1. above; this kind of teaching is unavoidable in the work of every Pope, as no Pope can only open his mouth, not even in religious matter, to express what the Church has always held true. This is also what happens in the daily works of the bishops speaking individually or (when 1.2 does not recur of course) in groups: in all these cases, the Bishops endeavour to explain Catholic truths, but this doesn’t give to their teaching the character of infallibility.
Please do not confuse 2. with 1.3. The ordinary and universal Magisterium of point 1.3 is infallible, the ordinary Magisterium of point 2. is not. This is important as from what I read around, a lot of perfectly orthodox Catholics write “ordinary Magisterium” when what they mean to say is properly called “ordinary and universal Magisterium”.
1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 are, therefore, all expression of infallibility. Therefore, 1.3 (the ordinary and universal Magisterium) is infallible even when it does not find expression in any of 1.1 or 1.2.
Let us make a couple of examples of (infallible) ordinary and universal magisterium:
1.3.1 when the Church teaches that male priesthood is Catholic truth, she teaches this infallibly and there is no necessity to underpin this with an expression of extraordinary Magisterium, because the fact that male priesthood is a matter of ordinary and universal Magisterium makes it infallible anyway. This is very probably the only reason why Pope JP II did not state infallibly the (new) dogma of male priesthood: male priesthood is – albeit not defined verbatim, as is the case in a dogma – already an infallible teaching. For the sake of completeness, if the Pope had declared such a dogma this would have been an expression of his extraordinary magisterium and would have been an extraordinary declaration under 1.1 above.
1.3.2 when the Church teaches the nullity of Anglican so-called orders, she teaches this infallibly, because the ways of transmission of holy orders are matter or ordinary and universal Magisterium. This is the reason why Anglicanorum Coetibus requires the convert who desire to become Catholic Priests to be ordained instead of conditionally ordained (which the Church would do if there were doubts about the validity of their orders), or not ordained at all (which the Church would do if there was no doubt about their orders being valid). The nullity of Anglican so-called orders being infallibly taught, there is no space for doubts about what is to do.
Coming now to another subdivision, the teachings of the first Group (the ones that I have called 1. Sacred Magisterium, that is: the one that is infallible and that, once again for the sake of completeness, includes not only the extraordinary declarations of 1.1 and 1.2 but also the ordinary teaching of 1.3, the “ordinary and universal Magisterium”) must all be held infallible, but they are divided in two categories of teaching:
1.a.1 teachings de fide credenda
1.a.2 teachings de fide tenenda
1.a.1 is somewhat higher in the hierarchy: this is that part of the infallible teaching which is explicitly and specifically revealed in the deposit of faith: The First Vatican Council put it in this way: “Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and Tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (Dei Filius, Par. 8.)
Here, a direct link with Scripture and Tradition is given, as the teaching is directly therein “contained”.
1.a.2 is somewhat lower in the hierarchy, but still expression of infallibility: this is the sum of all those infallible truths which are (Wikipedia) “proposed not as being explicitly in the deposit of faith, but nevertheless implied by it or intrinsically connected to it logically or historically”.
Here, a strong logical or historical link to Scripture and Tradition is given, but this link cannot – often for mere factual and historical reasons – be a direct one. An example of this is – always citing Wikipedia – Pope Leo XIII’s declaration of Anglican orders as null and void with Apostolicae Curae. Wikipedia calls these “dogmatic facts”, making clear that whilst the circumstances which cause the declaration to arise were not mentioned in the Bible, the declaration is founded on universally held Truth and is therefore infallible. Another example is to be found in the canonisations, with the relevant declaration not being – for obvious, purely historical reasons – contained in the Scripture or the Tradition, but being infallible nevertheless.
1) Not everything which the Pope – or the bishops, come to that – teaches is infallible;
2) Infallible is not only what the Pope proclaims ex cathedra in matter of faith and morals, or what ecumenical councils have infallibly declared: ordinary and universal Magisterium is also infallible.
3) both teachings de fide credenda and de fide tenenda are infallible, be they expression of ordinary or of extraordinary Magisterium.
I hope that this helps to clarify the extent of the Church’s infallibility and the way it works. I have used as basis for this short exposition the relevant wikipedia entry, which I have found both better organised and more concise than the information found on the “Catholic Encyclopedia”, or browsing around.
If any Catholic should have misgivings about this, it might be reassuring to them to know that the Vatican has a troop of skilled theologians taking care that all Wikipedia entries pertaining to Catholic doctrine properly reflect what the Catholic Church teaches on the matter; it is, therefore, not likely (though always possible) that such an important entry contains imprecisions – from the Catholic point of view – that have not yet been corrected, and you can judge for yourselves the probability that it may contain theological errors. Note, though, that this means neither that Wikipedia is infallible, nor that the Vatican can ban Wikipedia entries from non-Catholic contaminations (the above mentioned entry is, actually, a good example of that). Nevertheless, you will be easily able to discern what is the Catholic statement from what is the Protestant dissent.
Therefore, if any non-Catholic – and I am thinking here particularly of those masters of self-delusion, the so-called Anglo-Catholics – should be of the opinion that Church doctrine is not what the Church says it is, I kindly invite them to submit their own “truth” to Wikipedia instead of abandoning themselves to their childish, angering, and extremely time-consuming whining and quibbling on this blog, and good luck to them.
Following a very interesting intervention of Schmenz in reply to a former post, I spent some time looking for some credible description of how a Catholic is to react to a decree of canonisation or beatification. This particularly in view of the upcoming beatification (and one day, perhaps, canonisation) of the late Pope JP II, an event which will clearly excite both an oceanic wave of enthusiasm and a smaller, but noticeable one of dismay.
I have already made clear that in my eyes the worth as a Blessed of John Paul II is to be seen in his saintly character, not in his working as a Pope. This is nothing new or wrong as a beatification or canonisation isn’t, nor could it ever be, a seal of approval of political action.
Now let us see what the Catholic Encyclopedia says on the matter of canonisation.
1) There are two types of canonisation, formal and equivalent.
Formal canonization occurs when the cultus is prescribed as an explicit and definitive decision, after due judicial process and the ceremonies usual in such cases. Equivalent canonization occurs when the pope, omitting the judicial process and the ceremonies, orders some servant of God to be venerated in the Universal Church; this happens when such a saint has been from a remote period the object of veneration, when his heroic virtues (or martyrdom) and miracles are related by reliable historians, and the fame of his miraculous intercession is uninterrupted
2) It is evident that modern canonisations are all formal ones; that they are the object of a prescription; that the decision is explicit and definitive. That they, as such, bind every Catholic. In matters of canonisation, “ours is not to reason why“. This is only logical, as the nature itself of the canonisation is to give the faithful certainty, not hope, that the canonised person is in Heaven.
3) Whether the decree of canonisation is an expression of Papal Infallibility (as, says the Catholic encyclopedia, most theologians think) or not, the result of the canonisation is evidently not less binding, and this is what interests us here. When the Church formally decrees that Titius or Caius are Saint Titius and Saint Caius, every Catholic is bound to accept this as part and parcel of his Catholic belief. Still, this mandatory belief does not stretch to the man in question having done everything right and not even to his having had heroic virtue; what every catholic is bound to believe is merely that the canonised person is in heaven.
Very different is the case of Beatification. The Catholic Encyclopedia again:
This general agreement of theologians as to papal infallibility in canonization must not be extended to beatification, not withstanding the contrary teaching of the canonical commentary known as “Glossa” […] Canonists and theologians generally deny the infallible character of decrees of beatification, whether formal or equivalent, since it is always a permission, not a command;
Clearly, here the Church is not saying “you have to believe”, but “you are allowed to believe”. You can therefore – as long as no canonisation intervenes – refuse to believe that the one or other person declared Blessed is in heaven in the same way as you can, say, not believe in the Fatima apparitions.There can be no question of infallibility, because there is no question of prescription in the first place.
In practical terms, this means that a Catholic is allowed to question the prevalent opinion that, say, John Paul II is in heaven but is not allowed to question the prescriptive decree that, say, Padre Pio is.
Look no further than the excellent Father Z’s blog to read what happens when conversions go wrong.
The chap making such a spectacle of himself is certainly representative of the many former Anglicans who converted to Catholicism in the Nineties and then apostatised. The non irrelevant frequency of the phenomenon should – now that with the Ordinariates a new attempt is being made – cause all alarm bells to go off. Similarly, the amount of errors believed by many Anglicans (a priceless pearl, given only as an example, is one comment on the apostate’s blog: “There is no contradiction between being Catholic and being evangelical; the two are synonymous”) should make all of us well aware of the forma mentis with which many Anglicans (hopefully a minority) might approach their “conversion”.
Let us see some of the elements emerging from this disastrous example of fake conversion. But before we do it, let us call to mind a couple of very important considerations:
1) Conversion to Catholicism is not the start of a journey, but its end. Conversion presupposes than one already “got it”. That the convert will grow in faith and in his knowledge of the very complex Catholic world does not mean that he is authorised not to believe in the whole corpus of Catholic doctrine, even in what he doesn’t know or can’t fully understand yet. Catholicism is acceptance of Truth, not selective acceptance of Truth after the examination of one’s own conscience.
Similarly, In Catholic parlance belief is the acceptance of Truth because of the authority this Truth comes from, (emphatically) not the declaration that Truth has, say, passed the exam of one’s own conscience and got the relevant seal of approval.
2) This is made, by the Church, most evident in the fact (witnessed by everyone who has assisted to a Mass with a ceremony of conversion) that the convert is required to stand up in front of the entire community and solemnly declare that he believes everything that the Church believes and professes everything that the Church professes. To say these words without believing them is sacrilege. A man is, as they say, only as good as his word but many Anglicans seem to be – even in matters pertaining to their eternal salvation – blissfully unaware of the fact. The sad truth is that whilst there are still many sincere seekers among the Anglicans, Anglicanism as a religious organisation is rotten to the core and this must be considered when examining the Ordinariate’s scope and the obstacles to their success.
Let us see, then, what our apostate was able to say after having solemnly declared his acceptance of the entire corpus of Catholic Truth.
1) Papal Infallibility is not believed in.
How a man can convert to Catholicism and not believe in Papal Infallibility is beyond me. Again, Anglicans seem able to produce such a feat and even say it out loud. “Doublethink, double tongue and double face” well describes the attitude of Anglicans of this type.
2) Papal Infallibility is believed to be a dogma.
This is, initially, rather a matter of ignorance and it would be excusable, if it were not for the fact that this ignorance is used to attack the Church.
3) Transubstantiation is a) fully misunderstood and b) attacked
This is worse than not knowing what is dogma and what isn’t, because Transubstantiation is at the very core of Catholicism. Once again, how on Earth could this man make the profession of Catholic faith described above is beyond me.
4) The Immaculate Conception, a dogma of the Church, is described as: “an unnecessary and unverifiable belief, if ever there was one”).
Astonishing show of homemade catholicism. Note the typical Anglican mentality that a dogma should be: a) “verifiable” and/or b) deemed “necessary”. Priceless.
5) Assumption of Mary:
Same as point 4)
6) Affirmation that Catholicism is not doctrinally sound, whilst Anglicanism is.
This is good for comic relief. If there is a shop ready to believe in everything and the contrary of everything, this is the Anglican one. I suppose, though, that this matches Mr. Hart’s definition of “soundness”.
Very rightly, Father Z points out to the fact that this is heresy leading to apostacy. The heresy has been brought within the Church as the Catholic Truth has never been believed in the first place, and the apostacy is in time its unavoidable consequence. In fact, our apostate was merely being Anglican, that is: acting like one who thinks that he can believe the way he pleases.
Dear readers, some of you probably think that concerns about the orthodoxy of Anglican converts are exaggerated. Sadly, they aren’t. The evidence of this is in the “conversion from the conversion” already put in place by many of the Anglican clergy who swam the Tiber in the Nineties; in the astonishing Anglican inability – evident at both individual and collective level – to accept any kind of belief without changing it whenever convenient; and in the extraordinary confusion reigning in the minds of many Anglicans (see example above, only one of the many. My favourite is the Doublethink masterpiece “I don’t have a problem in becoming a Catholic, as I always was one”).
Sadly, Internet discussion platforms are full of such involuntary humour. They indicate a tragic deficiency in the basic understanding of what Catholicism is as they make clear a determined will to “show it” to the Anglican hierarchy. In this lies the real problem: thinking that Catholicism is just another shade of what they already are.
The Ordinariates are a great chance, and a great risk. If properly done, they can be a source of great blessing for all those sincere seekers ready to authentically convert, to change their system of values and their point of reference of what is True. If made sloppily as it was obviously done in the Nineties, or with the “tolerant” attitude of those who think that the important thing is to “get them in” and they’ll learn in time, this will – beside being contrary to what the Church demands from a convert – cause a huge amount of discord and confusion among Catholics. Besides, it will cause the total loss of the Ordinariate’s reputation and perhaps its demise within a couple of generations.
The Church has already gone through disgraceful phases of “circiterism”, shallowness and naive belief that everything wrong will magically adjust itself by just doing nothing. I do want to think that the Ordinariates will not become another example of this mentality; but only if vigilance is exercised, and strictest orthodoxy required.