Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Magisterium: Guardians of Truth

Here is a second question from "Lady Mo" on the role of the Magisterium in the interpretation of Scripture, and the role of the Bible in the lives of lay Catholics. Paul's command to Timothy goes out to the entire teaching office of the Church. Praise God that in Her, God's inspired Word finds safekeeping.

Pax Christi,
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I understand you need time to answer my first question. Lately, I have not been on the board as much, so, I thought while I am here, I can get in all the questions and comments I have now. So, take your time...I will be back periodically to check in on your responses.
I thank God for your questions. Please feel free to ask me as many as you want. I would much rather answer questions then get into long, drawn-out debates with people, but it seems that nowadays people are more interested in refuting me than with trying to understand me.
Ok, to my understanding it was once held, or still is, that bishops are the only individuals who are able to properly understand the Bible in isolation only by all of them working together cooperatively. So then, it is impossible for them to be wrong because the Spirit leads them to all truth. Therefore, it is uneccesary and harmful and forbidden for the church to have a Bible. They believe that the Bible is unclear and needs special gifted interpreters to undersand.
You have said a few incorrect, or at least imprecise things here. The bishops are only infallible in the legitimate exercise of the "ordinary Magisterium." This article explains what I mean:
  • [The ordinary Magisterium] is exercised when the Pope and bishops agree that a particular doctrine is to be held definitively, and is typically carried out when the bishops are dispersed throughout the world in their respective dioceses. The ordinary and universal Magisterium also teaches infallibly when, without issuing a solemn definition, it definitively confirms or reaffirms the Church's teachings at an ecumenical council, e.g., through a dogmatic constitution.
    If a teaching is taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, it is necessarily definitive and therefore infallible.
Note that even when the bishops speak as a collective, as they do at Ecumenical Councils, they must be in union with the Pope before the document they release can be considered infallible.

Now, just b/c the pope and the bishops with him are the only ones with the charism of infallibility, that does not mean that they are the only ones who are able to properly understand the Bible. They are the only ones who can speak authoritatively as to it's meaning, but anyone can understand it, even a non-Christian. All it takes is the ability to read and to reason. Of course, this does not mean that Scripture is entirely perspicuous. After all, Peter tells us, "There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures" (2 Pet 3:16). It is then that we turn to the teachings of the Magisterium throughout the ages.

As for it being "uneccesary and harmful and forbidden for the church to have a Bible" this is patently false. It is true that during certain periods in the history of the Church, the reading of the Bible by the laity was forbidden. But, this only applied to certain translations, those that were inferior or not approved by the Church --not the Bible in general. It is the responsibility of the Magisterium to protect the faith of the Church, and that's all She was doing then. You can't expect Her to allow corrupt and polemical translations to enjoy free reign amongst a laity who was often very poorly educated, if they could read at all.

Btw, approved Bibles were chained to podiums and pedestals not b/c the laity were forbidden to own them but b/c, before the printing press, bibles were extremely expensive to produce and people kept stealing them, to the detriment of the public.

At any rate, Scripture has always held a high place in the Church as the inspired word of God, and now more than ever (even though this was also the case in ancient times) the laity are incouraged to soak themselves in it.
If that is true of the Catholic church, then they are they not implying that God moved the writers of the Bible by the Spirit, but failed to communicate clear enough for people to understand it? And now bishops are able to discern what God and the apostles failed to do? Is the authority now found in the infallibility of the bishops rather than the Word and God? Yet, the bishops themselves have not always agreed on what they interpreted, and therefore needed another interpretation, and the cycle continues.
For the most part, I think Scripture is clear. But, there are obviously elements in it that are difficult to understand, or Peter wouldn't have said what he said and Christians wouldn't disagree on so many points. All the Church is saying is that sometimes it's difficult to determine, even after utilizing context and every other exegetical method, what a particular passage truly means. Two men, both convinced that they were led by the Spirit to their respective conclusions, can contradict each other on it's meaning.

Thankfully, God has not left us in such a horrible predicament. He has given his Church, specifically those who exercise the teaching office within Her, the task of safeguarding Scripture and ensuring that it is never "twisted to our own destruction." He has equipped the Church for this task by sending Her the Holy Spirit to protect Her from error by the charism of infallibility. It is a gift we should be thankful for, not a burden we should shake our fist at.

I hope that helps.

Pax Christi,

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