Friday, June 29, 2012

A Comment on Comments

Gentle readers,

I have decided to join my blogging friends, like Deacon Greg Kandra, who do not have a "comments" section on their blogs.  Let me explain this decision.

I'm a teacher, and I thrive on the give-and-take of the classroom.  However, I find that here on the blog I have a tendency to want to respond and reply to each and every comment, and there's simply insufficient time and energy to do that.

So, if any of my reflections inspire comments, corrections, or uncontrollable rage, feel free to e-mail me off-line.

Thanks for understanding!

God bless,
Deacon Bill

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On "Magisterium": Who or What? UPDATED

One of the most misunderstood and misused words associated with the Church is the Latin term magisterium.  If a quick survey of certain web sites is any indication, many people seem to think that magisterium is a "who": the Pope, for example, or the Pope and the world's bishops, or the Pope and the curia in Rome.  Actually, this is not accurate.  Magisterium, linguistically, is a neuter noun; it is a "what", not a "who."  It is "the teaching authority of the Church."  And, as we all know, "the Church" is more than its episcopal leadership.  Let's consider a few basics.

Why do we claim any sort of teaching authority at all?  It seems rather presumptuous to think that we human beings can teach with authority about spiritual matters.  Remember that this was shocking to some of Jesus' own listeners, when they observed that "this man teaches with authority."  Magisterium is founded on the promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit will remain present and active in the community of disciples.  Consider John 14:26:  "The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name -- he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you."  It is the Holy Spirit who teaches, no human authority.

The Holy Spirit is given to everyone at Baptism, and indeed, through all of the sacramental life of the Church.  In the Middle Ages a distinction was introduced between the ecclesia docens (the teaching Church) and the ecclesia discens (the learning Church).  However, of course, all of us participate, in a variety of degrees, in the one and the same teaching-and-learning Church.  The role of the ordained is often highlighted.  Vatican II spoke of the teaching role of bishops and presbyters as their primary obligation (the primum officium); subsequent documents have extended this as well to the renewed (permanent) diaconate as well.  While one can sometimes read (usually in very derogatory terms) that others are claiming magisterial authority as well (consider some recent nasty blog posts about "the magisterium of the nuns" when criticizing the LCWR, for example), the medieval Church DID extend its understanding of magisterium beyond the bishops themselves.  No less a theological giant than Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century, wrote of the magisterium of university theologians; at the great Council of Trent in the 16th Century, and at Councils before that, the theological experts were often given a vote on conciliar texts!  Trent, for example, referred to the theologians as minor theologians and the bishops as major theologians.  Some votes included them all; some were restricted to the bishops alone.

UPDATE:  After my initial post, I was doing some research on Blessed John XXIII's opening address o the world's bishops at the Second Vatican Council.  I was struck by how he used the term magisterium, clearly using it the term accurately, and in the way we all used to use it until relatively recently.  Look at how he introduces the term at the beginning of his address:

In calling this vast assembly of bishops, the latest and humble successor to the Prince of the Apostles who is addressing you intended to assert once again the magisterium, which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time, in order that this magisterium, taking into account the errors, requirements and opportunities of our time, might be presented in exceptional form to all people throughout the world.

Clearly, the pope is not referring to the college of bishops, with pope at the head of that college.  Here's another wonderful example.  The pope turns his attention to the previous 20 ecumenical (general) councils of the Church:

Ecumenical Councils, whenever they are assembled, are a solemn celebration of the union of Christ and His Church, and hence lead to the universal radiation of truth, to the proper guidance of individuals in domestic and social life, to the strengthening of spiritual energies for a perennial uplift toward real and everlasting goodness.  The testimony of this extraordinary magisterium of the Church in the succeeding epochs of these twenty centuries of Christian history stands before us collected in numerous and imposing volumes, which are the sacred patrimony of our ecclesiastical archives, here in Rome and in the more noted libraries of the entire world.
Finally, consider this famous passage:

The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.
"Good Pope John" (as the Italians still refer to him) shows us the proper understanding of this very complex term.

We are all expected to "follow the magisterium of the Church."  But this means so much more than simple obedience to the institutional structure of the external Church!  After all, bishops alone are not given full knowledge of all religious Truth simply by virtue of their ordination as bishops!  Like everyone else, they too grow "in wisdom, age and grace."  "Following the magisterium" is not some kind of loyalty test; it means being attuned to the full "teaching office" found within the entire People of God, great and small.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Up and Running: Back to Blogging

It's been a month or so since I took my sabbatical from blogging.  As I indicated then, I was feeling quite overwhelmed with work responsibilities, teaching, traveling and writing.  Over the last several weeks I've been involved in all of those things, including attending the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) Convention in St. Louis during which I gave a paper, then directing the diaconate retreat for the Diocese of Pueblo at a retreat center in Colorado Springs. The highlight, however, has been the opportunity to take some much needed time for family: my wife and I have had the chance to visit our family spread out around the country.  We've seen our four children and all nine grandchildren (which included meeting our newest granddaughter for the first time!), my Mother and sisters, and many other family members.  I even got to baptize a new great-nephew!  It's been a truly blessed time.  This weekend, before heading back to the office, some of my former students -- now all involved in various ministries -- will be gathering for a small reunion.  All in all, then, this has been a very life-giving time, for which I am eternally grateful!

Now is the time to return to the blog.  You might notice that I've done a little refreshing of the design to signal my renewed effort.  More important, while I will certainly find things to blog about, it would also be helpful to know of any particular questions that you may have, so feel free to send along questions and suggestions for blog entries.

May all who pass by find this a place of peaceful yet challenging reflection.