Skip to comments.The Hierarchical Constitution of the Church
Posted on 07/25/2002 1:53:27 PM PDT by patent
The subjects of obedience to our hierarchy, just when and how far a Catholic is expected to be loyal to a Bishop or Pope, and the extent of their authority seem to have come up quite a bit lately. I thought it might be a good idea to present a couple articles for discussion. Please feel free to add your own articles to this thread.
I dont present these as authoritative Church teachings, though a few of the quotes may be just that. Any bolded emphasis is probably mine, except in titles.
by Pedro Rodriguez
The following words of Pope Paul VI can serve as a short synthesis of the will of Christ for the constitution and makeup of his Church:
'Christ promised and sent two elements to constitute his work, to extend in time and over all the world the kingdom founded by him and to make of redeemed mankind his Church, his mystical body, in expectation of his second and triumphal return at the end of the world. These elements are the apostolic college and the Spirit. The apostolic college works externally and objectively. It forms, one might say, the material body of the Church and gives her a visible and social structure. The Spirit works internally, within each person and within the community as a whole animating, vivifying and sanctifying. These two agents, namely the apostolic college whose successor is the sacred hierarchy, and the spirit of Christ, which makes the Church Christ's ordinary instrument in the ministry of the word and the sacraments, work together. On Pentecost morning they are seen in a marvelous harmony at the beginning of Christ's great work.'
For the remainder of this article we will be concerned with the first of these two elements.
The Catholic Church teaches as a doctrine of faith that Christ gave the Church, in his apostles, a hierarchical structure of an episcopal nature and that within the hierarchy and the Church he established a primacy of authority in the successor of St. Peter.
HIERARCHICAL CONSTITUTION OF THE CHURCH
'All the faithful, from the Pope to the child who has just been baptized share in one and the same grace.' Nonetheless, when it is affirmed that the Church is a hierarchical society we are in substance saying that in spite of the 'radical or fundamental equality' which is to be found among the People of God, the Church has structures, features and differentiations by virtue of which she is a society in which there is a 'functional inequality.' That is to say: not all the faithful have the same function or mission. For this reason Pope St. Pius X could say that 'the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society composed of two types of people: shepherds and sheep.'
This hierarchical structure is not the result of socio-political influences but stems from the will of Christ. This has been stated solemnly by both the Council of Trent and Vatican I, but it is Vatican II which has given a detailed summary: 'The Lord Jesus, having prayed at length to the Father, called to himself those whom he willed and appointed twelve to be with him, whom he might send to preach the kingdom of God (cf. Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:1-42). These apostles (cf. Luke 6:13) he constituted in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from amongst them (cf. John 21:15-17). He sent them first of all to the children of Israel and then to all peoples (cf. Romans 1:16), so that, sharing in his power, they might make all peoples his disciples and sanctify and govern them (cf. Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:45-48; John 20:21-23) and thus spread the Church and, administering it under the guidance of the Lord, shepherd it all days until the end of the world (cf. Matthew 28:20).
Here we have the hierarchical principle of the Church established in the persons of the apostles. The Council goes on to say that this structure, which is of divine origin, is a constitutive part of the Church for all time, not just for the beginnings of the Church but for today as well. This is so, she says, by virtue of the principle of apostolic succession. 'That divine mission, which was committed by Christ to the apostles, is destined to last until the end of the world (cf. Matthew 28:20), since the gospel, which they are charged to hand on, is, for the Church, the principle of all its life for all time. For that very reason the apostles were careful to appoint successors in this hierarchically constituted society.' The Council then explains in great detail and attentive to historical reality, to factual history in the words of Pope Leo XIII, how this transmission of authority and ministry was made 'to the bishops and their helpers, the priests and deacons.' This whole procedure, we are told, must be related to the will of Christ: 'He willed that the successors (of the apostles), the bishops namely, should be the shepherds in his Church until the end of the world.' And finally, the Council solemnly declares: 'The sacred synod consequently teaches that the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ (Luke 10:16).
'This divinely instituted hierarchy, which is composed of bishops, priests and ministers' received the mission which Christ had entrusted to his apostles. 'With priests and deacons as helpers, the bishops received the charge of the community, presiding in God's stead over the flock of which they are the shepherds, in that they are teachers of doctrine, ministers of sacred worship and holders of office in government.'
The sacrament of order is the way established by Christ for perpetuating in his Church this essential hierarchy to which he has given the power of mission with its threefold office of teaching, sanctifying and ruling the faithful. 'The holders of office, who are invested with the sacred power, are, in fact, dedicated to promoting the interests of their brethren so that all who belong to the People of God, and are consequently endowed with true Christian dignity, may, through their free and well-ordered efforts towards a common goal, attain salvation.'
 Paul VI, "Address to Vatican Council II," Sept. 14, 1964, A.A.S. 56 (1964), p.807.
 A. del Portillo, Faithful and Laity in the Church, Shannon, 1976, p.19.
 Ibid., p.22.
 St. Pius X, Encyclical Vehementer, Feb. 11, 1906, A.A.S. 39 (1906), p.8.
 DS 1776, 3051 (DB 966,1821).
 Decree on the Church, no.19
 Ibid., no.20
 Ibid., no.18
 Ibid., no.20
 Council of Trent, Session 23, c. 6, DB 1776 (DS 966)
 Decree on the Church, no.20
 Ibid., no.21 and 28
 Ibid., no.18
From "The Primacy Of The Pope In The Church," Reprinted from Catholic Position Papers, September, 1981 -- Japan Edition.
Seido Foundation for the
Advancement of Education
12-6 Funado-Cho, Ashiya Japan
The Magisterium or Teaching Authority of the Church
by Fr. William G. Most
By the Magisterium we mean the teaching office of the Church. It consists of the Pope and Bishops. Christ promised to protect the teaching of the Church : "He who hears you, hears me; he who rejects your rejects me, he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me" (Luke 10. 16). Now of course the promise of Christ cannot fail: hence when the Church presents some doctrine as definitive or final, it comes under this protection, it cannot be in error; in other words, it is infallible. This is true even if the Church does not use the solemn ceremony of definition. The day to day teaching of the Church throughout the world, when the Bishops are in union with each other and with the Pope, and present something as definitive, this is infallible. (Vatican II, Lumen gentium # 25). It was precisely by the use of that authority that Vatican I was able to define that the Pope alone, when speaking as such and making things definitive, is also infallible. Of course this infallibility covers also teaching on what morality requires, for that is needed for salvation.
A "theologian" who would claim he needs to be able to ignore the Magisterium in order to find the truth is strangely perverse: the teaching of the Magisterium is the prime, God-given means of finding the truth. Nor could he claim academic freedom lets him contradict the Church. In any field of knowledge, academic freedom belongs only to a properly qualified professor teaching in his own field. But one is not properly qualified if he does not use the correct method of working in his field, e.g., a science professor who would want to go back to medieval methods would be laughed off campus, not protected. Now in Catholic theology , the correct method is to study the sources of revelation, but then give the final word to the Church. He who does not follow that method is not a qualified Catholic theologian. Vatican II taught (Dei Verbum # 10): "The task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on [Scripture or Tradition], has been entrusted exclusively to the living Magisterium of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."
Taken from The Basic Catholic Catechism
By William G. Most. (c) Copyright 1990 by William G. Most.
Fr. William Most
a) Solemn definition. LG 25: No special formula of words is required in order to define. Wording should be something solemn, and should make clear that the teaching is definitive. Councils in the past often used the form: "Si quis dixerit. . . anathema sit." That is: "If someone shall say. . . . let him be anathema." But sometimes they used the formula for disciplinary matters, so that form alone does not prove. Further, they also could define in the capitula, the chapters. Thus Pius XII, in Divino afflante Spiritu (EB 538) spoke of such a passage of Vatican I (DS 3006 -- saying God is the author of Scripture) as a solemn definition.
The Pope can define even without the Bishops. Of his definitions LG 25 said: "His definitions of themselves, and not from consent of the Church, are rightly called unchangeable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised him in blessed Peter. So they need no approval from others, nor is there room for an appeal to any other judgment." So collegiality even in defining is not mandatory. Yet most definitions of the Popes have been taken in collegiality, that is, with consultation of the Bishops. Even the definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption were such, for the Popes did poll the Bishops by mail.
b) Second level: LG 25: "Although the individual bishops do not have the prerogative of infallibility, they can yet teach Christ's doctrine infallibly. This is true even when they are scattered around the world, provided that, while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves, and with the successor of Peter, they concur in one teaching as the one which must be definitively held." This means: (1) The day to day teaching of the Church throughout the world, when it gives things as definitively part of the faith, (2) If this can be done when scattered, all the more can it be done when assembled in Council. Thus Trent (DS 1520) after "strictly prohibiting anyone from hereafter believing or preaching or teaching differently than what is established and explained in the present decree," went on to give infallible teaching even in the capitula, outside the canons.
To know whether the Church intends to teach infallibly on this second level, we notice both the language -- no set form required - and the intention, which may be seen at times from the nature of the case, at times from the repetition of the doctrine on this second level.
c) Third Level: Pius XII, in Humani generis: "Nor must it be thought that the things contained in Encyclical Letters do not of themselves require assent on the plea that in them the Pontiffs do not exercise the supreme power of their Magisterium. For these things are taught with the ordinary Magisterium, about which it is also true to say, 'He who hears you, hears me.' [Lk 10. 16]. . . If the Supreme Pontiffs, in their acta expressly pass judgment on a matter debated until then, it is obvious to all that the matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot be considered any longer a question open for discussion among theologians."
We notice: (1) These things are protected by the promise of Christ in Lk 10. 16, and so are infallible, for His promise cannot fail. Though that promise was first given to the 72, it is certain that the Apostles were in the group, and as the trajectory advanced, it became clear that the full teaching authority was only for them - the mission given to the 72 was preliminary, and the full meaning was made clear later when the Apostles were given the authority to bind and to loose. This was part of the broader picture: Jesus wanted only a gradual self-revelation. Had He started by saying: "Before Abraham was, I am", He would have been stoned on the spot. (2) Not everything in Encyclicals, and similar documents, is on this level - this is true only when the Popes expressly pass judgment on a previously debated matter, (3) since the Church scattered throughout the world can make a teaching infallible without defining - as we saw on level 2 -then of course the Pope alone, who can speak for and reflect the faith of the whole Church, can do the same even in an Encyclical, under the conditions enumerated by Pius XII. Really, on any level, all that is required to make a thing infallible is that it be given definitively. When a Pope takes a stand on something debated in theology and publishes it in his Acta, that suffices. The fact that as Pius XII said it is removed from debate alone shows it is meant as definitive.
In this connection, we note that LG 12 says: "The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief." This means: If the whole Church, both people and authorities, have ever believed (accepted as revealed) an item, then that cannot be in error, is infallible. Of course this applies to the more basic items, not to very technical matters of theological debate. But we note this too: If this condition has once been fulfilled in the past, then if people in a later age come to doubt or deny it -- that does not make noninfallible what was once established as infallible. Many things come under this , e. g. , the existence of angels.
This does not mean, however, that the Pope is to be only the echo of the faithful.
d) Level 4: LG 25: "Religious submission of mind and of will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff even when he is not defining, in such a way, namely, that the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to according to his manifested mind and will, which is clear either from the nature of the documents, or from the repeated presentation of the same doctrine, or from the manner of speaking."
We note all the qualifications in the underlined part The key is the intention of the Pope. He may be repeating existing definitive teaching from Ordinary Magisterium level - then it is infallible, as on level 2. He may be giving a decision on a previously debated point - as on level 3, then it falls under the promise of Christ in Lk 10. 16, and so is also infallible. Or it may be a still lesser intention - then we have a case like that envisioned in Canon 752 of the New Code of Canon Law: "Not indeed an assent of faith, but yet a religious submission of mind and will must be given to the teaching which either the Supreme Pontiff, or the College of Bishops [of course, with the Pope] pronounce on faith or on morals when they exercise the authentic Magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim it by a definitive act." If they do not mean to make it definitive, then it does not come under the virtue of faith, or the promise of Christ,"He who hears you hears me". Rather, it is a matter of what the Canon and LG 25 call "religious submission of mind and of will." What does this require? Definitely, it forbids public contradiction of the teaching. But it also requires something in the mind, as the wording indicates. This cannot be the absolute assent which faith calls for - for since this teaching is, by definition, not definitive, we gather that it is not absolutely finally certain.
How can anyone give any mental assent when there is not absolute certitude? In normal human affairs, we do it all the time. Suppose we are at table, and someone asks if a dish of food came from a can, and if so, was it sent to a lab to check for Botulism. It is true, routine opening of a can would not detect that deadly poison. Yet it is too much to check every can, and the chances are very remote, so much so that normal people do not bother about it - yet their belief takes into account a real but tiny possibility of a mistake. Similarly with a doctrine on this fourth level. And further, the chances of error on this level are much smaller than they are with a can of food. Similarly, in a criminal trial, the judge will tell the jury they must find the evidence proves guilt beyond reasonable doubt. He does not demand that every tiny doubt be ruled out, even though it may mean life in prison or death.
If one should make a mistake by following the fourth level of Church teaching, when he comes before the Divine Judge, the Judge will not blame him, rather He will praise him. But if a person errs by breaking with the Church on the plea that he knew better - that will not be easily accepted.
What It Means to Be in Full Communion with the Pope
Catholics are identified as such in varying degrees by their explicit or implicit words or deeds. Some may reveal that they are or are not in full communion with the teaching authority of the Church (the Magisterium). There are many who claim to be good Catholics because they accept all the dogmas of the Catholic faith.
A Question of Obedience
They suppose that they are required to believe or obey the Holy Father only when he speaks ex cathedra in solemnly defining a doctrine of faith or morals. They claim that unless the Church makes an infallible pronouncement in a formal way one is free to dissent. Such is contrary to the official teachings of the Church as clearly explained in section 25 of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium).
religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will Dogmatic Constitution on the ChurchEven when we distinguish between solemnly defined doctrines of faith and morals, which must be believed and are unchangeable, and Church discipline, which may be reformed, we are called at all times to be fully obedient. But is mere obedience enough to make us fully Catholic? And what does it mean to be in full communion with the Holy Father?
Possessing a Greater Wisdom
We may read or hear comments made by some of our more respected Catholic "voices" in one form of media or another that say something like "we are in full communion with the Holy Father" or "we fully support and defend the Holy Father." We shouldn't necessarily accept this, however, because no matter how eloquently they may use the English language, they may fail to prove either of these assertions in their actual observance of the faith.
I wrote the following letter to the editor of a popular Catholic Internet magazine:
I have read your arguments in support of optional celibacy in the priesthood and I have read your comments asserting that you support and defend the Holy Father. I am sure that you are fully aware of the Holy Father's position on the subject of celibacy in the priesthood, and the Second Vatican Council's as well. I do not wish to argue the pros and cons of celibacy in the priesthood nor do I wish to review what has been recorded in the history of the Church, and I do respect your right to your own opinion. I do wish, however, to point out that you are being less than forthcoming when you claim to be fully supportive of the Holy Father.I received the following (private) response:
Yes, thank you. This is an example of when my opinion is not shared by the Holy Father. It is, again, a mere opinion regarding a matter (as Cardinal Ratzinger says re-read the article) which is not a dogma of the Faith. I have no time to debate you, however. Thank you for sharing your opinion (and love for the Holy Father's teachings?).Some of the "voices" we are hearing speak as though they possess greater wisdom than - and place themselves above - the Holy Father, Holy Mother Church, the Holy Mother of the Church and the Holy Spirit while at the same time claiming to be in "full communion."
Radical Readiness to Change
Let us turn our focus to the person of Holy Father John Paul II who has made such a transformation who indeed is an alter Christus. A genuine full communion with him calls for more than mere obedience and reverence it calls upon us to accept and embrace his teachings and follow him in thought and action to the point that we become like him. What a different world would we live in if we were all transformed in the likes of Pope John Paul II!
Our proper and ultimate vocation is to be transformed in Christ that is, to become saints. For this is the will of God, your sanctification, says St. Paul (Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation In Christ).
Our surrender to Christ implies a readiness to let Him fully transform us, without setting any limit to the modification of our nature under his influence (Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation In Christ).
This radical readiness to change, the necessary condition for a transformation in Christ, is not actually possessed by all Catholic believers. It is, rather, a distinctive trait of those who have grasped the full import of the Call, and without reserve have decided upon an imitation of Christ. There are many religious Catholics whose readiness to change is merely a conditional one (Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation In Christ).
Unlike the rich young man, may we always stand ready to do what God asks and what we know in our hearts He wants - not merely what He commands. Only then will we rise above mere obedience and begin doing what it takes to become fully Catholic to become saints.
The saints do die to themselves, in the sense of being absorbed by their love of Christ, losing themselves in Christ, and only thus do they find their true selfhood their self as intended by God (Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation In Christ).
The message I hope to convey (aided by Dietrich von Hildebrand), is that we should all strive to be Catholics to the degree that the founder of our Church, Christ Jesus, desires of us. If we begin by being transformed in the likes of the Vicar of Christ, John Paul II, we will be in full communion with the Holy Father and we will have crossed the threshold of that process of being transformed in Christ.
What do you think Catholics should do now to show our displeasure with our fallen priests, but remain faithful to Scripture, the Magisterium, and Tradition?I consider this a prudential decision. In other words I dont think I can give you a complete answer, because I am not you, I am not your spiritual advisor, I dont know your exact position, situation, relationship with your priests and Bishop, and things like that.
In short, I am waffling.
We do have to show our displeasure with fallen priests, and where appropriate with how the issue has been handled. I think we have that responsibility on a number of fronts, whether it be with fallen priests or whether it be what types of theology are taught in our Catholic schools. At the same time, we have to recognize that where the Bishop is, the Church is. Frankly, I find this to be a nearly impossible task at times, and I think there is legitimate room for disagreement on how faithful you need to be to the Bishop. Add to the mix that many of our Bishops arent faithful to their Boss, the Pope, and it gets more complicated.
Ive done a couple things. My Bishop, while not being bad compared to many, seems to support some things I just dont agree with. I wont speak badly of him in public, if I can help it. (There are times where I think you have to do this, give a public rebuke, but it should be somewhat rare.) I have written to him, as charitably as my weak little skills could muster, to tell him what things bother me. I then told him that I dont feel I can financially support him given my concerns. His response was aggressive, but it stopped short of instructing me I had a duty to donate to him. Had he done so I would have sought advice from a more competent theologian than I am, but then I probably would have obeyed that, doing my best to keep my cursing and muttering to a minimum.
Anyway, as a result, I have not donated to the Bishops appeal for a couple years. If my local parish similarly had similarly seriousissues I didnt feel comfortable with, I would similarly refuse to donate to it. I mean to be clear here, I dont think trivial issues would support this type of action. I would like to see my parish add a communion rail, but Im not going to protest over it. Preferably I would find a better parish, and here in the Twin Cities I have that luxury (we drive a half hour to get to our parish, as neither parish in our home town is acceptable to us). Some people dont have that luxury.
Above all though, you should not be using a difference with your Bishop or priest to reduce your charity. If anything, you should increase the overall amount you are donating to the Church, just donate to groups you feel you can in good conscience support.
I think you also have to be careful not to give needless scandal. There are times where public attention is required in order to deal with a problem. The media spotlight shined on the Church over the abuse is just such an occurrence. Before you complain about this or that clergyman though, I think you need to ask if your action gives glory to God. In shining light on abusers, we protect the children and others they would abuse, and that is undoubtedly Gods will. Other cases are closer issues, but this is what I try to ask myself before speaking. (I clearly fail at times).
Finally, you must at all times look on your Bishop and priests with charity, and pray for them with a true heart. It is easy to simply say a prayer for them, it is harder to love those who make you miserable.
This isnt much of a comprehensive answer, but its my thoughts at the moment.
Our bishop seems to be pretty good. While not as dynamic as the one from Nebraska, he seems to be a good and holy man. I am not close to any priests except my own, and even then not very close. Our liturgy has no noticeable abuses (aside from the hand-holding during the Our Father), and we just got a newly ordained priest who sings (or chants) the consecration, which reminds me of the church in my youth. It was very, very nice.
Thank you for your input. I have a lot to think about.
Yours in Christ, gophack.
Add a Communion Rail? That would get you hung in my parish. It's coming down next month.Might be worth it. ;-)
Does anything other than tithes (sp?) constitute charity?Clearly, yes. The issue of charity, or a lack thereof, applies to every breath you take, IMHO.
Do you believe, and can it be asserted, that development of talents and maintenance of them, as taught by Christ and through the church, is part of the Faith when those talents are developed for the service of others, specifically to feed the soul (speaking mainly of the arts)? (really a personal experience question, but important, I think)Yes, I believe that.
When a Papal Encyclical is released and seems to be in contradiction to the guidelines and papers of Bishops and the Bishops Council, which do we follow?This question would need to be more specific. I wouldnt be able to address it without seeing the wording.
Otherwise, this is an issue that I struggle with in this country. The Pope has a clear preference that we receive Communion on the tongue, he has expressed that. At the same time, our Bishops allow Communion on the hand, and the Pope has given them permission for this. So I receive on the tongue, that is how I reconcile that issue. Were the Bishops to forbid on the tongue, and the Pope to give them permission to so forbid, I would receive on the hand as instructed. Were the Bishops to forbid reception on the tongue, and the Pope to instruct them they cannot do that, I would go with the Pope.
Similarly, I would demand reception on the tongue from a priest that wished otherwise.
Can we the faithful, in good conscience, do our best at what we do, knowing it will draw censure from various quarters, including perhaps clergy, in full Communion with the church?Freepmail me with specifics if that will help, but I dont know how to answer this as it stands. It is certainly possible to act contrary to certain clergys preference, and to do so in good conscience. So many priests disagree with each other about so many things, I dont see how we could do otherwise.
The specifics are the key.