Mirus’ understanding of the Magisterium is overly simplistic and incomplete. In another commentary Mirus states: “We may be certain that every Magisterial teaching is true.”
What does Mirus mean by this? I’m going to make some assumptions, granted, but his statement is so vague and unspecific, one is forced to make assumptions. I have to admit that my assumptions are based on past, and personal, correspondences with Dr. Mirus.
By Magisterial teaching, I’m assuming that Mirus is referring a public pronounce of the Church’s teaching organ concerning faith and morals. I must also assume that by “true”, Mr. Mirus means to say “free from error”. Mirus apparently believes that all Magisterial pronouncements are endowed with infallibility. He fails to make the necessary distinction between the ordinary Magisterium and the extraordinary Magisterium of the Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I’m sure, occupies a prominent place of Dr. Mirus’ desks reads:
“The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful – who confirms his brethren in the faith – he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals… The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, the exercise the supreme Magisterium,” above all in an Ecumenical Council [a near direct quote from the First Vatican Council, Denzinger, 3074]. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine “for belief as being divinely revealed” [from Dei Verbum (VCII), the CCC loves quotes Dei Verbum, which simply regurgitates already established doctrines], and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions “must be adhered to with the obedience of faith” [from Lumen Gentium (VCII), another favorite recycling source in the CCC]. (para. 890).
A fairly decent summation of the Church’s extraordinary Magisterium, but following is the part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that Dr. Mirus ignores:
Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter [AND the VICAR OF CHRIST!!… this is why I don’t use the CCC], and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. [Emphasis added by me.] (para. 890).
Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a very clear distinction between an extraordinary exercise of the Church’s Magisterium, and an ordinary one. We will return to this last quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church later. For now, we need to file away that there are at least two kinds of Magisterial pronouncements: ones that are the product of the extraordinary and ones that are the product of the ordinary exercise of the Magisterium. In none of Mirus’ commentaries or articles does he demonstrate in the least a knowledge of this important distinction.
In the new Code of Canon Law we read: 749 §3. "No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident."
Why? The faithful have the right to know if the Church is teaching infallibly. The faithful are required to make an assent of faith to all the dogmas of our religion. It would be supremely uncharitable and unjust if the Church did not make absolutely clear those teachings to which the faithful are required to make an assent of faith. We will return to this concept as well.
What is the nature of those pronouncements that come from the ordinary Magisterium? We turn to our present Holy Father. Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1998 commentary on Ad Tuendam Fidem, which states:
The third proposition of the professio fidei states: "Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the college of bishops enunciates when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act".
To this paragraph belong all those teachings on faith and morals presented as true or at least as sure, even if they have not been defined with a solemn judgment or proposed as definitive by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Such teachings ...require religious submission of will and intellect....
A proposition contrary to these doctrines can be qualified as erroneous or, in the case of teachings of the prudential order, as rash or dangerous and therefore "tuto doceri non potest." [Cf. Canons 752, 1371; Eastern Churches Canons 599, 436 §2]
Note that Ratzinger states clearly that there are Magisterial teachings on faith and morals that are presented as true or at least as sure. That’s a little different than Dr. Mirus’ contention that all Magisterial teachings are true. He also states that contrary propositions can be qualified as erroneous, not that they must be qualified as erroneous. Clearly, the Holy Father recognizes that while pronouncements of the ordinary Magisterium are endowed with divine assistance and require of the faithful “religious assent” [from CCC para 892, once again quoting from Lumen Gentium], there is room for sincere discussion. It would be perfectly legitimate for the faithful to make requests for the teaching organ of the Church to clarify its own teachings if necessary. There is nothing disobedient about maintaining reservations regarding a Magisterial teaching until such a time that the Church clarifies the teaching. This, I would imagine, would be especially true in matters concerning things that are changeable disciplines, such as liturgy, and even more changeable disciplines such as pastoral strategies regarding contemporaneous circumstances.
Perhaps a couple examples will help to clarify. If a pope were to publicly state that those who die in a state of grace do not enjoy the beatific vision until the consummation of time, he is making a public pronouncement, regarding faith and morals, and therefore, by Mirus’ standards, he would stating the truth. Obviously, this can’t be correct, especially since this actually did happen, and the Church’s Magisterium repudiated that proposition. Or take for example the recent papal criticisms of the death penalty. Is not the killing of a human being a moral act? Would then the public criticisms of the death penalty be endowed by infallibility according to Mirus’ standards? Would Dr. Mirus be willing to concede that the Church’s Magisterium has infallibly condemned capital punishment?
The most striking example that shreds Dr. Mirus’ contention, however, is the present situation of the Institute of the Good Shepherd. The Institute of the Good Shepherd, a society of priests, was recently given canonical recognition by the Holy See, and all of its priests entered into full communion with the Church, possessing all of their ministerial faculties. At the same time most of the priests of that society have confided with the Holy See that they maintain reservations and question what Vatican II teaches about ecumenism and religious liberty. Even though they maintain reservations and seek clarification regarding Magisterial teachings, they are still in full communion with the Church and enjoy canonical recognition. Obviously the Holy See understands the distinction between the extraordinary and ordinary exercise of the Magisterium.
Now to return to that second quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (I beg forgiveness from many of my traditional Catholic friends who are certainly annoyed by now). Note these words: “…they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals…” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that it is the Church’s job (via the Magisterium) to provide a better understanding of Revelation. Is Dr. Mirus in agreement with that Catechism when he states the following?
When any Catholic notices an appearance of conflict [between one or more Magisterial teachings]… the Catholic’s understanding of the “plain meaning” of tradition [does he mean to capitalize that “T”? I don’t know.] is, in fact, incorrect. To correct it, he [the Catholic that is] must adjust his understanding in such a way that all statements of the Magisterium which bear on the question at hand are acknowledged to be true.
The Catechism states that providing a better understanding is the responsibility of the Church. Dr. Mirus states that it’s the individual Catholic’s responsibility. According to the Catechism sitting on Dr. Mirus’ desk, the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or the form of Tradition, is entrusted to the teaching office of the Church (para. 85). However, Mirus claims it must be exercised by individual Catholics. Isn’t it ironic that Mirus suggests that individual Catholics ought to be engaged in interpreting everything, engaging in personal interpretation, and at the same time accuses traditional Catholics of being Protestants?
No doubt, all Catholics must exercise prudential judgment when it comes to the application of the truths of our faith in our daily lives, but no Catholic need fashion an understanding of those truths for himself. That is the responsibility of the teaching office of the Church. It should be obvious to Dr. Mirus that a teaching office exists for the very purpose of teaching. However, what is obvious to traditional Catholics, apparently is not to Mirus. He libelously writes that Traditionalists reject the Magisterium simply because Traditionalists point out apparent contradictions and insist that individuals in the Church’s Magisterium do their jobs and teach the faithful, instead of confusing and going beyond the obedience of faith. Traditional Catholics realize that they can not prefer one Magisterial teaching over another, because they know all authentic Magisterial teachings are endowed with divine assistance and require religious assent. For this reason traditional Catholics look to the teaching office of the Church to provide clarification and understanding. It isn’t our fault if individuals, who ought to be teaching, aren’t.
When individuals that ought to be speaking for the teaching office of the Church (the pope and the bishops) fail to teach, or use conflicting or contradictory language, or go beyond the deposit of faith, those individuals no longer can be said to serve interests of the Church. The Arian heresy is evidence enough that the Church has gone through periods wherein the bishops forsook their responsibility to teach the faith. Would Dr. Mirus contend that the Arian bishops were exercising the legitimate teaching office of the Church? Would he contend that the Arian bishops were making true pronouncements concerning Our Blessed Lord’s human and divine natures?
The metaphysical basis for infallibility is the fact that what the Church teaches, either by Pope, ex cathedra, or an Ecumenical Council that chooses to do so with absolute authority, is that what is pronounced corresponds to reality. In other words, it is true, a priori to the solemn pronouncement. A pope or Ecumenical Council does not create truth. They are intended to lead the faithful to the Truth. The deposit of faith isn’t created by fiat by some body of bishops. Rather, the teaching office of the Church is the guardian and dispenser of the faith. In the preface to Alcuin Reid’s book, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
The pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law; rather, he is the guardian of the authentic Tradition and, thereby, the premier guarantor of obedience. He cannot do as he likes, and he is thereby able to oppose those people who, for their part, want to do whatever comes into their head. His rule is not that of arbitrary power, but that of obedience in faith.
[Hopefully I will have one more brief post that broaches the issue of Dr. Mirus’ hermeneutic before the end of the weekend.]