worries Catholics most in the current crisis in the Church
is precisely the "problem of the Pope." We need
very clear ideas on this question. We must avoid shipwreck
to the right and to the left, either by the spirit of rebellion
or, on the other hand, by an inappropriate and servile obedience.
The serious error which is behind many current disasters
is the belief that the "Authentic Magisterium"
is nothing other than the "Ordinary Magisterium,"
"Authentic Magisterium" cannot be so simply identified
with the Ordinary Magisterium. In fact, the Ordinary Magisterium
can be infallible and non-infallible,
and it is only in this second case that it is called the
"Authentic Magisterium." The Dictionnaire de
Théologie Catholique [hereafter referred to as DTC
- Ed.] under the heading of "papal infallibility"
(vol. VII, col.1699ff) makes the following distinctions:
1) there is the "infallible or ex
cathedra papal definition in the sense defined by Vatican
I" (col.1699); 2) there is the "infallible
papal teaching which flows from the pope's Ordinary Magisterium"
(col.1705); 3) there is "non-infallible
papal teaching" (col.1709).
Salaverri, in his Sacrae Theologiae Summa (vol. I,
5th ed., Madrid, B.A.C.) distinguishes the following: 1)
Extraordinary Infallible Papal Magisterium (no. 592ff);
2) Ordinary Infallible Papal Magisterium (no.
645ff); 3) Papal Magisterium that is mere
authenticum, that is, only "authentic"
or "authorized" as regards the person himself,
not as regards his infallibility (no.659ff).
he always has full and supreme doctrinal authority, the
pope does not always exercise it at its highest level, that
is at the level of infallibility. As the theologians say,
he is like a giant who does not always use his full strength.
What follows is this:
"It would be incorrect to say that the pope is infallible
simply by possessing papal authority," as we read in
the Acts of Vatican I (Coll.L ac. 399b). This would be equivalent
to saying that the pope's authority and his infallibility
are the same thing.
It is necessary to know "what
degree of assent is due to the decrees of the sovereign
pontiff when he is teaching at a level which is not that
of infallibility, i.e., when he is not exercising
the supreme degree of his doctrinal authority" (Salaverri,
by Excess and/or By Defect
this three-fold distinction between the Extraordinary Magisterium,
the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium, and the authentic non-infallible
Magisterium, has fallen into oblivion. This has resulted
in two opposite errors in the crisis situation of the Church
at the present time: the error by excess of
those who extend papal infallibility to all acts of the
pope, without distinction; and the error by defect
of those who restrict infallibility to definitions
that have been uttered ex cathedra.
error by excess actually eliminates the Ordinary Non-Infallible
or "Authentic" Magisterium and inevitably leads
either to Sedevacantism or to servile obedience. The attitude
of the people of this second category is, "The pope
is always infallible and so we always owe him blind obedience."
error by defect eliminates the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium.
This is precisely the error of the neo-Modernists, who devalue
the ordinary papal Magisterium and the "Roman tradition"
which they find so inconvenient. They say, "The pope
is infallible only in his Extraordinary Magisterium, so
we can sweep away 2000 years of ordinary papal Magisterium."
of these errors obscure the precise notion of the Ordinary
Magisterium, which includes the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium
and the ordinary, "authentic," non-infallible
two opposing errors are not new. They were denounced even
before Vatican II. In 1954, Fr. Labourdette, O.P., wrote:
persons have retained very naive ideas about what they
learned concerning the personal infallibility of the sovereign
pontiff in the solemn and abnormal exercise of his power
of teaching. For some, every word of the supreme pontiff
will in some way partake of the value of an infallible
teaching, requiring the absolute assent of theological
faith; for others, acts which are not presented with the
manifest conditions of a definition ex cathedra will
seem to have no greater authority than that of any private
teacher (Revue Thomiste LIV, 1954, p.196)!
Paul Nau has also written about the confusion that has arisen
between the pope's authority and his infallibility:
a strange reversal, while the personal infallibility of
the pope in a solemn judgment, so long disputed, was definitely
placed beyond all controversy, it is the Ordinary Magisterium
of the Roman Church which seems to have been lost sight
all happened - as is not unheard of elsewhere in the history
of doctrine - as if the very brilliance of the Vatican I
definition had cast into shadow the truth hitherto universally
recognized; we might almost say, as if the definition of
the infallibility of the solemn judgments made these henceforth
the unique method by which the sovereign pontiff would put
forward the rule of faith [Pope or Church? Angelus
Press, 1998, p.13].
the temporary fading of a doctrine from Catholic consciousness,
see the entry "dogme" in DTC (vol.IV).
Nau also mentioned the disastrous consequences which flow
from this identification of the pope's authority and his
place would be left, intermediate between such private acts
and the solemn papal judgments, for a teaching which, while
authentic, is not equally guaranteed throughout all its
various expressions. If things are looked at from this angle,
the very notion of the Ordinary Magisterium becomes, properly
speaking, unthinkable [Pope or Church? p.4].
Nau considered from where this phenomenon had developed:
1870 [the year of Vatican I - Ed.], manuals of
theology have taken the formulae in which their statements
of doctrine have been framed from the actual wording of
the Council text. None of these treated in its own right
of the ordinary teaching of the pope, which has accordingly,
little by little, slipped out of sight and all pontifical
teaching has seemed to be reduced solely to solemn definitions
ex cathedra. Once attention was entirely directed
to these, it became customary to consider the doctrinal
interventions of the Holy See solely from the standpoint
of the solemn judgment, that of a judgment which ought
in itself to bring to the doctrine all the necessary guarantees
of certainty (ibid., p.13).
is partly true, but we should not forget that liberal theology
had already been advertising its reductive agenda. That
is why Pius IX, even before Vatican I (1870) felt obliged
to warn German theologians that divine faith's submission
"must not be restricted only to those points which
have been defined" (Letter to Archbishop of Munich,
Dec. 21, 1863).
naive ideas entertained by many on the question of papal
infallibility after Vatican I played into the hands of the
liberal theology. In fact, while the two errors are diametrically
opposed, they are at one in equating papal authority and
papal infallibility. What is the difference between them?
The error by excess, regarding as infallible everything
that comes from papal authority, stretches the pope's infallibility
to the extent of his authority. The error by defect, considering
only those things authorized that emanate from the ex
cathedra infallibility, restricts papal authority to
the scope of the infallibility of the pope's Extraordinary
Magisterium. Thus both errors have the same effect, namely,
to obscure the very notion of the Ordinary Magisterium and,
consequently, the particular nature of the Ordinary Infallible
Magisterium. It is essential for us to rediscover this notion
and its nature because they are of the greatest importance
in helping us to get our bearings in the time of crisis.
Ordinary Magisterium in Shadow:
Humanae Vitae and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis
lack of clear ideas on the pope's Ordinary Magisterium appeared
in full with Pope Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae,
and more recently with Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in
which Pope John Paul II repeated the Church's refusal to
Humanae Vitae came out, various theologians indicated
that the notion of ordinary papal Magisterium was obscured.
Generally speaking, those who supported the infallibility
of Humanae Vitae deduced "the proof [of this
infallibility - Ed.] on the basis of the Church's
constant and universal Authentic Magisterium, which has
never been abandoned and therefore was already definitive
in earlier centuries." In other words, on the basis
of the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium (E. Lio, Humanae
Vitae ed infallibilità, Libreria Ed. Vaticana, p.38).
They should have noticed that even the notion of the Ordinary
Infallible Magisterium and its particularity [its constancy
and universality - Ed.] had been effaced from the
minds not only of the ordinary faithful but also of the
theologians. Cardinal Siri commented:
presenting only two possible hypotheses for the case in
question [the encyclical Humanae Vitae - Ed.],
namely, an ex cathedra definition [which was avoided
- Ed.] that is, proceeding from the solemn Magisterium,
and that of the Authentic Magisterium [which does not
of itself imply infallibility - Ed.], a grave sophism
in enumeration has been committed. It is in fact a serious
error, because there is another possible hypothesis, i.e.,
that of the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium. It is very
strange how certain people are at pains to avoid speaking
about this….It is necessary to realize that there is not
only a solemn Magisterium and a simply Authentic Magisterium;
between these two there is also the Ordinary Magisterium
which is endowed with the charism of infallibility (Renovatio,
same "sophism of enumeration" was pointed out
30 years later by Msgr. Bertone, speaking against the opposition
to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. On this occasion he explicitly
denounced the tendency "to substitute de facto the
concept of authority for that of infallibility" (L'Osservatore
Romano, Dec. 20, 1996).
fact, it is not only the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium
which has fallen into oblivion, but, since authority and
infallibility have been equated, the distinction between
Ordinary Infallible Magisterium and the ordinary Authentic
Magisterium has also been consigned to oblivion. After Vatican
I, as Dom Nau wrote,
have no longer any reason for hesitating about the authority
to be recognized in the dogmatic judgments pronounced
by the sovereign pontiff: their infallibility has been
solemnly defined in the Constitution Pastor Aeternus
....But definitions of this sort are relatively rare.
The pontifical documents which come most frequently before
the Christian today are encyclicals, allocutions, radio
messages which usually derive from the Ordinary Magisterium
or ordinary teaching of the Church. Unfortunately, this
is where confusions remain still possible and do occur,
alas! all too often (op.cit. p.3).
we will devote ourselves, not to the Extraordinary Magisterium
(whose infallibility is generally acknowledged), but to
the Ordinary Magisterium. Once we have illustrated the conditions
under which it is infallible, it will be clear that outside
these conditions we are in the presence of the "authentic"
Magisterium to which, in normal times, we should accord
due consideration. In abnormal times, however, it would
be a fatal error to equate this "authentic" Magisterium
with the infallible Magisterium (whether "extraordinary"
Point of the Question
infallible guarantee of divine assistance is not limited
solely to the acts of the Solemn Magisterium; it also extends
to the Ordinary Magisterium, although it does not cover
and assure all the latter's acts in the same way" (Fr.Labourdette,
O.P., Revue Thomiste 1950, p.38).
the assent due to the Ordinary Magisterium "can range
from simple respect right up to a true act of faith."
(Msgr. Guerry, La Doctrine Sociale de l'Église, Paris,
Bonne Presse 1957, p.172). It is most important, therefore,
to know precisely when the Roman pope's Ordinary Magisterium
is endowed with the charism of infallibility.
the pope alone possesses the same infallibility conferred
by Jesus Christ upon his Church [i.e., the pope plus
the bishops in communion with him, cf. Dz.1839),
we must conclude that only the pope, in his Ordinary Magisterium,
is infallible in the same degree and under the same conditions
as the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church is.
the truth that is taught must be proposed as already defined,
or as what has always been believed or accepted in the Church,
or attested by the unanimous and constant agreement of theologians
as being a Catholic truth [which is therefore strictly obligatory
for all the faithful ("Infaillibilité du Pape,"
DTC vol.VII, col.1705).
condition was recalled by Cardinal Felici in the context
of Humanae Vitae:
this problem we must remember that a truth may be sure
and certain, and hence it may be obligatory, even without
the sanction of an ex cathedra definition. So it
is with the encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which
the pope, the supreme pontiff of the Church, utters a
truth which has been constantly taught by the Church's
Magisterium and which accords with the precepts of Revelation
(L'Osservatore Romano, Oct. 19, 1968, p.3).
one, in fact, can refuse to believe what has certainly been
revealed by God. And it is not only those things that have
been defined as such that have certainly been revealed by
God; the latter also include whatever has been always and
everywhere taught by the Church's Ordinary Magisterium as
having been revealed by God. More recently, Msgr. Bertone
reminded us that the Ordinary Pontifical Magisterium can
teach a doctrine as definitive [bold emphasis in
original] in virtue of the fact that it has been constantly
preserved and held by Tradition.
is the case with Ordinatio Sacerdotalis when it repeats
the invalidity of the priestly ordination of women, which
has always been held by the Church with "unanimity
and stability" (L'Osservatore Romano, Dec. 20,
Siri, still speaking of Humanae Vitae in the issue
of the review Renovatio to which we have referred,
explains as follows:
question, therefore, must be put objectively thus: given
that [Humanae Vitae] is not an act of the Infallible
Magisterium and that it therefore does not of itself provide
the guarantee of "irreformability" and certitude,
would not its substance be nonetheless guaranteed by the
Ordinary Magisterium under the conditions under which
the Ordinary Magisterium is itself known to be infallible?
giving a summary of the Church's continuous tradition on
contraception, from the Didache to the encyclical
Casti Connubii of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Siri concludes:
Encyclical recapitulated the ancient teaching and the
habitual teaching of today. This means that we can say
that the conditions for the Ordinary irreformable [i.e.,
infallible - Ed.] Magisterium were met. The period
of widespread turbulence is a very recent fact and has
nothing to do with the serene possession [of the Magisterium
- Ed.] over many centuries (Renovatio, op.cit.).
is an error, therefore, to extend infallibility unconditionally
to the whole of the Ordinary Magisterium of the pope, whether
he is speaking urbi et orbi or just addressing pilgrims.
It is true that the infallibility of the Extraordinary Magisterium
is not enough for the Church; the Extraordinary Magisterium
is a rare event, whereas "faith needs infallibility
and it needs it every day," as Cardinal Siri himself
said (Renovatio, op.cit.). But Cardinal Siri is too
good a theologian to forget that even the pope's infallibility
has conditions attached to it. If the Ordinary Magisterium
is to be infallible, it must be traditional (cf. Salaverri,
loc.cit.). If it breaks with Tradition, the Ordinary
Magisterium cannot claim any infallibility. Here we see
very clearly the very special nature of the Ordinary Infallible
Magisterium, to which we must devote some attention.
Special Nature of the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium
we have seen, Cardinal Siri observes that the Humanae
Vitae, even if it is not an act of the ex cathedra
Magisterium, would still furnish the guarantee of infallibility,
not "of itself," but insofar as it recapitulates
"the ancient teaching and the habitual teaching of
today" (Renovatio, ob.cit.). In fact, in contrast
to the Extraordinary Magisterium or the Solemn Judgment,
the Ordinary Magisterium
not consist in an isolated proposition, pronouncing irrevocably
on the Faith and containing its own guarantees of truth,
but in a collection of acts which can concur in communicating
is the normal procedure by which Tradition, in the fullest
sense of that term, is handed down; ...(Pope or Church?
op. cit. p.10).
is precisely why the DTC speaks of "infallible
papal teaching which flows from the pope's Ordinary Magisterium"
(loc.cit.). So, while a
simple doctrinal presentation [by the pope] can never claim
the infallibility of a definition, [this infallibility]
nonetheless is rigorously implied when there is a convergence
on the same subject in a series of documents whose continuity,
in itself, excludes all possibility of doubt on the authentic
content of the Roman teaching (Dom Nau, Une source doctrinale:
Les encycliques, p.75).
we fail to take account of this difference, we are obliterating
all distinction between the Extraordinary Magisterium and
the Ordinary Magisterium:
act of the Ordinary Magisterium as such, taken in isolation,
could claim the prerogative which belongs to the supreme
judgment. If it did so, it would cease to be the Ordinary
Magisterium. An isolated act is infallible only if the
supreme Judge engages his whole authority in it so that
he cannot go back on it. Such an act cannot be "reversible"
without being plainly subject to error. But it is precisely
this kind of act, against which there can be no appeal,
which constitutes the Solemn [or Extraordinary] Judgment,
and which thus differs from the Ordinary Magisterium"
(ibid., note 1).
infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium, whether of
the Universal Church or that of the See of Rome, is not
that of a judgment, not that of an act to be considered
in isolation, as if it could itself provide all the light
necessary for it to be clearly seen. It is that of the
guarantee bestowed on a doctrine by the simultaneous or
continuous convergence of a plurality of affirmations
or explanations, none of which could bring positive certitude
if it were taken by itself alone. Certitude can be expected
only from the whole complex, but all the parts concur
in making up that whole (Pope or Church? op. cit.,
Paul Nau explains further:
the case of the [Ordinary] universal Magisterium, this
whole complex is that of the concordant teaching of the
bishops in communion with Rome; in the case of the Ordinary
pontifical Magisterium [i.e., the pope alone -
Ed.], it is the continuity of teaching of the successors
of Peter: in other words, it is the "tradition of
the Church of Rome," to which Msgr. Gasser appealed
at Vatican I (Collana Lacensis, col.404).
this subject, A.C. Martimort wrote:
error consisted in rejecting the infallibility of the
pope's Extraordinary Magisterium; but he performed the
signal service of affirming most clearly the infallibility
of the Ordinary Magisterium [of the pope] and its specific
nature, which means that every particular act bears the
risk of error ....To sum up: according to the Bishop of
Meaux, what applies to the series of Roman popes over
time is the same as what applies to the episcopal college
dispersed across the world (Le Gallicanisme de Bossuet,
Paris, 1953, p.558).
fact, we know that the bishops, individually, are not infallible.
Yet the totality of bishops, throughout time and space,
in their moral unanimity, do enjoy infallibility. So if
one wishes to ascertain the Church's infallible teaching
one must not take the teaching of one particular bishop:
it is necessary to look at the "common and continuous
teaching" of the episcopate united to the pope, which
"cannot deviate from the teaching of Jesus Christ"
(E. Piacentini, O.F.M. Conv., Infaillible même dans les
causes de canonisation? ENMI, Rome 1994, p.37).
same thing applies to the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium
of the Roman pope on his own: this Ordinary Magisterium
is infallible not because each act is uttered by the pope,
but because the particular teaching of which the pope's
act consists "is inserted into a totality and a continuity"
(Dom P.Nau, Le encycliques, op.cit.), which
is that of the "series of Roman popes over time"
can understand why, in their Ordinary Magisterium, the Roman
popes have always been careful to associate themselves with
their "venerable predecessors," often quoting
them at length. "The Church speaks by Our mouth,"
said Pope Pius XI in the Casti Connubii. Pope Pius
XII in Humani Generis, emphasized that "most
of the time what is set forth and taught in the encyclicals
is already, for other reasons, part of the patrimony of
very particular nature of the pope's Ordinary Infallible
Magisterium was quite clear until Vatican I. While this
Council was in session, La Civiltà Cattolica, which
published (and still publishes) under the direct control
of the Holy See, replied in these words to Fr. Gratry, who
had criticized Pope Paul IV's Bull Cum ex Apostolus:
ask Fr. Gratry, in all serenity, whether he believes that
the Bull of Paul IV is an isolated act, so to speak, or
an act that is comparable to others of the same kind in
the series of Roman popes. If he replies that it is an
isolated act, his argument proves nothing, for he himself
affirms that the Bull of Paul IV contains no dogmatic
definition. If he replies, as he must, that this Bull
is, in substance, conformable to countless other similar
acts of the Holy See, his argument says far more than
he would wish. In other words, he is saying that a long
succession of Roman popes have made public and solemn
acts of immorality and injustice against the principles
of human reason, of impiety towards God, and of apostasy
against the Gospel (vol.X, series VII, 1870, p.54).
means, in effect, that an "isolated act" of the
pope is infallible only in the context of a "dogmatic
definition"; outside dogmatic definitions, i.e.,
in the Ordinary Magisterium, infallibility is guaranteed
by the complex of "countless other similar acts of
the Holy See," or of a "long succession"
of the successors of Peter.
it declared itself to be non-dogmatic, the charism of infallibility
cannot be claimed for the last Council, except insofar as
it was re-iterating traditional teaching. Moreover, what
is offered as the Ordinary Pontifical Magisterium of the
recent popes - apart from certain acts - cannot claim the
qualification of the "Ordinary Infallible Magisterium."
The pontifical documents on the novelties which have troubled
and confused the consciences of the faithful manifest no
concern whatsoever to adhere to the teaching of "venerable
predecessors." They cannot adhere to them because they
have broken with them. Look at the footnotes of Dominus
Jesus; it's as if the Magisterium of the preceding popes
did not exist. It is clear that when today's popes contradict
the traditional Magisterium of yesterday's popes, our obedience
is due to yesterday's popes: this is a manifest sign of
a period of grave ecclesial crisis, of abnormal times in
the life of the Church.
it is evident that the New Theology, which is so unscrupulous
in contradicting the traditional teaching of the Roman Pontiffs,
contradicts the Infallible Pontifical Magisterium; accordingly,
a Catholic must in all conscience reject and actively attack
Almost Total Eclipse of the "Authentic" Magisterium
Church's current crisis is not at the level of the Extraordinary
or Ordinary Infallible Magisterium. This would be simply
impossible. Furthermore, it is not at the level of the Extraordinary
Infallible Magisterium because the Council did not wish
to be a dogmatic one, and because Pope Paul VI himself indicated
what theological "note" it carried: "Ordinary
Magisterium; that is, it is clearly authentic" (General
Audience of Dec. 1, 1966: Encycliques et discours de
Paul VI , Ed.Paoline,1966, pp.51,52). Lastly, it is
not at the level of the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium.
The turmoil and division in the Catholic world have been
provoked by a break with this doctrinal continuity. Such
a break is the very opposite of the Ordinary Infallible
Magisterium. Thus Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, or John
Paul II's intervention against women's ordination in Ordinatio
Sacerdotalis caused no dismay to the Church's obedient
present crisis is at the level of what is presented as the
simply "authentic" Magisterium, which, as Cardinal
Siri reminds us, "does not of itself imply infallibility"
(Renovatio, op.cit.). But are we really dealing with
the "authentic" Magisterium?
author of Iota Unum [available from Angelus Press.
Price: $24.95] wrote:
it is no longer the case that every word of the pope constitutes
Magisterium. Now, very frequently, it is no more than
the expression of views, ideas and considerations that
are to be found disseminated throughout the Church,...and
of doctrines that have spread and become dominant in much
theology ("Église et Contre-Église au Concile Vatican
II," Second Theological Congress of SISINONO,
Magisterium, however, even in its non-infallible form, should
always be the teaching of the divine Word, even if uttered
with a lesser degree of certitude. Nowadays, it is very
often the case that "the Pope does not manifest the
divine word entrusted to him," but rather "expresses
his personal views" which are those of the New Theology.
Here we are faced with a "manifestation of the decadence
of the Church's Ordinary [`authentic'] Magisterium,"
a decadence which "is creating a very grave crisis
for the Church, because it is the Church's central point
which is suffering from it" (ibid.).
one really speak of the "authentic" Pontifical
Magisterium, or would it be more accurate to speak of an
almost total eclipse of the Authentic Pontifical Magisterium
in the face of an analogous crisis at the level of the episcopal
Danger of Being Drawn into Error
are least prepared to meet the crisis of the Authentic Pontifical
Magisterium because of the confusion in their minds regarding
the distinction between the pope's Ordinary Infallible Magisterium
and his simply "authentic" Ordinary Magisterium.
This problem was pointed out before Vatican II; it has caused
and continues to cause Catholics to be drawn into error
who wrongly believe that they should give equal assent to
the pope's every word, neglecting the distinctions and precise
conditions which we now review.
command to believe firmly and without examination of the
matter in hand....can be truly binding only if the authority
concerned is infallible" (Billot, De Ecclesia,
thesis XVII). That is why a firm and unconditional assent
is demanded in the case of the Infallible Magisterium (whether
Extraordinary or Ordinary).
regards those non-infallible doctrinal decisions given by
the pope or by the Roman congregations, there is a strict
duty of obedience which obliges us to give an internal assent
...that is prudent and habitually excludes all reasonable
doubt, but this assent is legitimized [not by infallibility,
but rather] by the high degree of prudence with which the
ecclesiastical authority habitually acts in such circumstances"
(entry "Église" in DTC, vol.IV, co1.2209).
is why we owe the "authentic" Magisterium not
a blind and unconditional assent but a prudent and conditional
not everything taught by the Ordinary Magisterium is infallible,
we must ask what kind of assent we should give to its
various decisions. The Christian is required to give the
assent of faith to all the doctrinal and moral truths
defined by the Church's Magisterium. He is not required
to give the same assent to teaching imparted by the sovereign
pontiff that is not imposed on the whole Christian body
as a dogma of faith. In this case it suffices to give
that inner and religious assent which we give to legitimate
ecclesiastical authority. This is not an absolute assent,
because such decrees are not infallible, but only a prudential
and conditional assent, since in questions of faith and
morals there is a presumption in favor of one's superior....Such
prudential assent does not eliminate the possibility of
submitting the doctrine to a further examination, if that
seems required by the gravity of the question (Nicolas
Jung, Le Magistère de L’Èglise, 1935, pp.153,154).
all these truths have disappeared from Catholic consciousness,
just as the notion of the "authentic" Magisterium
has. The Catholic world is all the more in danger of being
drawn into error, since it nourishes the naive and erroneous
conviction that God has never permitted the popes to be
mistaken, even in the Ordinary Magisterium (and here no
distinctions are drawn), and so imagine that the same assent
should always be given to the papal Magisterium - which
in no way corresponds to the Church's teaching.
and the "Grace of State"
discussion of the "grace of state" of the sovereign
pontiff proceeds in the context of the Authentic Magisterium.
When the pope engages his infallibility, he enjoys a divine
assistance that is entirely special, over and above the
grace of state. Nonetheless, even infallibility does not
reduce him to the level of an automaton. In fact:
Divine assistance does not relieve the bearer of the infallible
doctrinal power of the obligation of taking pains to know
the truth, especially by means of the study of the sources
of Revelation (Dz 1836).
is why, in his Infallible Magisterium, the pope enjoys:
1) the positive assistance of
the Holy Spirit so that he can attain the truth, and 2)
the negative assistance which preserves
him from error. Ultimately, in a case where a pope, by negligence
or ill will, were to fail in his duty of seeking out the
truth by the appropriate means, infallibility guarantees
that God, through a purely negative assistance, would prevent
the proclamation ex cathedra of an error.
guarantee does not exist in the case of the Authentic Magisterium
because it does not enjoy the charism of infallibility.
That is why everything is entrusted to the grace of state
alone, which impels the pope to act with that "high
degree of prudence" which, normally, shines forth from
the Authentic Magisterium of the successors of Peter. If,
however, a pope were to fail to attain this, no divine promise
guarantees God will intervene and stop him.
such a case, indeed, the Catholic world would run the risk
of being drawn into error. But it would not be because the
pope lacked infallibility; under the due conditions, he
would enjoy infallibility just like his predecessors. Nor
would it be because he was deprived of the grace of state,
but rather that he had not laid hold of that grace. The
risk of this is all the greater since the principles we
are here setting forth have fallen into oblivion.
the Catholic world had a clear grasp of these principles
the danger of being drawn into error was far less. In the
history of the Church, we find it was the justified resistance
of cardinals, Catholic universities, Catholic princes, religious,
and simple faithful which blocked the faux pas of
a number of popes, such as Popes John XXII and Sixtus V,
concerning whom St. Robert Bellarmine wrote to Clement VIII:
Holiness knows the danger to which Sixtus V exposed himself
and all the Church, when he undertook to correct Holy Scripture
according to the lights of his own personal knowledge. Truly,
I do not know whether the Church has ever been subject to
a more grave danger (entry "Jésuites: travaux sur les
Saintes Écritures" in F. Vigouroux, Dictionnaire
de la Bible, vol.III, cols.1407-1408).
danger was identified and rejected by the Catholic world.
In reality, those who attribute infallibility always to
the pope are doing a service neither to themselves, nor
to the Church, nor to the pope himself, as the present times
are plainly showing us. A pope's faux pas are a severe
trial for the entire Catholic world.
Times and Abnormal Times
normal times the faithful can rely on the "authentic"
Pontifical Magisterium with the same confidence with which
they rely on the Infallible Magisterium. In normal times,
it would be a very grave error to fail to take due account
of even the simply "authentic" Magisterium of
the Roman pope. This is because if
everyone were permitted, in the presence of an act of the
teaching authority, to suspend his assent or even to doubt
or positively reject it on the grounds that it did not imply
an infallible definition, it would result in the ecclesiastical
Magisterium becoming practically illusory in concrete terms,
because the ecclesiastical Magisterium is only relatively
rarely expressed in definitions of this kind (DTC,
must not be forgotten (as it has been forgotten nowadays)
that the security of the Authentic Magisterium is not linked
to infallibility, but to the "high degree of prudence"
with which the successors of Peter "habitually"
proceed, and to the "habitual" care they take
never to swerve from the explicit and tacit teaching of
their predecessors. Once this prudence and care are missing,
we are no longer in normal times. In such a situation it
would be a fatal error to equate the Authentic Magisterium
of the Roman pontiff with his Infallible Magisterium (Ordinary
or Extraordinary). These abnormal times are rare, thanks
be to God, but they are not impossible. If we are not to
be drawn into error, we urgently need to remember that the
assent due to the non-infallible Magisterium is
of inward assent, not as of faith, but as of prudence,
the refusal of which could not escape the mark of temerity,
unless the doctrine rejected was an actual novelty or
involved a manifest discordance
between the pontifical affirmation and the doctrine which
had hitherto been taught (Dom P.Nau, Pope or Church?
Nau makes it clear that this prudential assent does not
apply in the case of a teaching that is "already
traditional," which would belong to the sphere of the
Ordinary Infallible Magisterium. However, in the case of
a teaching which is not "already traditional,"
the reservation which interests us does apply: "unless
the doctrine rejected...involved a manifest discordance
between the pontifical affirmation and the doctrine which
had hitherto been taught." Such a situation would legitimize
the doctrine's rejection and would imply no "mark of
temerity." Is this kind of "discordance"
an impossible hypothesis? Dom Nau, whose attachment to the
papacy was without doubt, wrote:
is not a case which can be excluded a priori since
it does not concern a formal definition. But, as Bossuet
himself says, "It is so extraordinary that it does
not happen more than twice or thrice in a thousand years"
(Pope or Church? p.29).
such a case, refusing one's assent does not only not manifest
temerity: it is a positive duty. The
"discordance" with "doctrine which had hitherto
been taught" dispenses the Catholic from all obligation
to obedience on this point:
general principle is that one owes obedience to the orders
of a superior unless, in a particular case, the order
appears manifestly unjust. Similarly, a Catholic is bound
to adhere interiorly to the teachings of legitimate authority
until it becomes evident to him that a particular assertion
is erroneous (DTC, vol.III, col.1110).
the case we are examining, evidence of error is provided
where an act of the Authentic Magisterium is discordant
with the Extraordinary or Ordinary Infallible Magisterium,
i.e., discordant with the traditional doctrine, to
which the Catholic conscience is bound for eternity.
Does Not Require the Abdication of Logic
conclusion we shall excerpt the text of a theologian, whose
passing is much to be regretted, who had a very clear grasp
of the doctrine we are recalling here, and who knew well
that it had been brought into confusion by the New Theologians.
In arguing against Joseph KIeiner on the manifest contradiction
between Pope Pius VI's Auctorem Fidei, which condemns
concelebration, and Pope Paul VI's Instructio, which
encourages it, Fr. Joseph de SainteMarie, O.C.D., wrote:
it ever been known for the Magisterium to intervene against
a declaration of the Magisterium? In his mind [i.e.,
ofJoseph Kleiner - Ed.] the reply must be in the negative:
No, for the sake of the infallibility of the Magisterium.
This infallibility does imply, of course, that the Church
cannot contradict herself, but only under a condition
which our author has forgotten, namely, that she engages
the fullness of her infallibility in such an act; or,
in the case of the Ordinary Magisterium (and we must take
great care not to minimize the latter's authority), provided
that it conforms to what the Infallible Magisterium teaches,
either in its solemn acts or in its constant teaching.
If these conditions are not respected, there is nothing
impossible about one "intervention" of the Magisterium
being in contradiction with another. There is nothing
to trouble one's faith here, for infallibility is not
involved; but people's Catholic sensibilities are right
to be scandalized at it, for such facts reveal a profound
disorder in the exercise of the Magisterium. To deny the
existence of these facts in the name of an erroneous understanding
of the Church's infallibility, and to deny it a priori,
is to fly in the face of the demands of theology, of history,
and of the most elementary common sense.
facts are there. They cannot be denied. We have given an
example of them, and others could be given. It will suffice
to recall...the Institutio Generalis which introduces
the Novus Ordo Missae, particularly its celebrated
Article 7. There the dogmas of the Eucharist and the priesthood
were presented in such ambiguous terms, and so obviously
orientated towards Protestantism - to say no more - that
they had to be rectified. This Institutio, however,
constituted an "intervention by the Magisterium."
Should it be accepted on that account, when it was going
in a direction manifestly contrary to that of the Council
of Trent, in which the Church had engaged her infallibility?
If we were to follow the approach urged by Joseph Kleiner
and so many others, the answer would be: "Yes."
But to do this we would have to swallow the contradiction
by denying that there is a contradiction - which is in itself
contradictory. This would be a real abdication of the intellect,
and it would leave us defenseless in the face of a principle
of authority that would be totally outside the control of
truth. Such an attitude is not in conformity with what the
Magisterium itself requires of the faithful....Faith demands
the submission of the intellect in the face of the Mystery
that transcends it, not its abdication when confronted with
the demands of intellectual coherence which pertain to its
sphere of competence; judgment is a virtue of the intellect.
That is why, when a contradiction is evident, as in the
two cases we have just cited, the believer's duty (and,
even more, the duty of the theologian) is to address the
Magisterium and ask for the said contradiction to be removed
(L’Eucharistie, salut du monde, Paris , ed.du Cèdre,
this, nothing need be added, except perhaps to invite readers
to pray the Divine Pity, through the intercession of the
Immaculate Heart of Mary, to remove, as soon as possible,
this exceedingly severe trial from the Catholic world. -
article was translated by Graham Harrison for Angelus
Press, edited and abridged by Fr. Kenneth Novak. For a
more all-encompassing study, see Pope or Church?
Essays on the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium
(65pp.), available from Angelus Press. Price:
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Kansas City, MO 64109
translated from the Italian
Fr. Du Chalard
Via Madonna degli Angeli, 14
Italia 00049 Velletri (Roma)