There are many heresies today among those who call themselves Roman Catholic. Many of these heresies are found among liberal Catholics, who dissent from Church teaching whenever it conflicts with the teachings of modern secular culture and society. But some conservative Catholics imagine that all heresy is found among liberal Catholics; such is not the case. There are a number of heresies among conservative Catholics. One of the most severe of these heresies, and among the most difficult to eradicate, is Magisteriumism.
Now heresies in general tend to be difficult to describe precisely. For the heretics themselves, having strayed from the true faith, are not certain what they believe. They take one position, and then later, under pressure from an effective argument, they take a contradictory position. Or they seem to hold one heretical point of view very strongly, but some time later, they change to a somewhat different heretical view. Their ideas drift with the currents because they are not anchored in the Truths of the Faith. Also, among any group of heretics, there will be varying ideas and views within the more general heresy to which they all adhere, in some way or to some degree.
Now those who hold to the heresy of Magisteriumism tend to believe some or all of the following heretical ideas, at least in some form.
- The idea that the Magisterium is above Tradition and Scripture
The root of the Magisterium heresy is found in the over-emphasis and exaltation of the Magisterium of the Church, to such an extent that Tradition and Scripture, as well as the role of the ordinary faithful, are diminished and deprecated. This is expressed in a number of different ways and has a number of effects, as this article will describe.
In truth, the Catholic Christian Faith is based on Tradition first, Scripture second, and Magisterium third, so that, of these three pillars of the Faith, the Magisterium is not first or preeminent above the others. Tradition preceded Scripture and Scripture flowed from Tradition and is confirmed by Tradition. And the Magisterium, as the guardian and interpreter of the Divine Revelation of Tradition and Scripture, is its servant, not its Master. The Master and Lord over Tradition and Scripture is the Most Holy Trinity, from which all Divine Revelation proceeds. Exalting the Magisterium above Tradition and Scripture gives the Magisterium a role which only God can have, therefore, Magisteriumism is a heresy which can lead to idolatry.
- The idea that the Magisterium is above reproach or correction by the faithful
They idolize the Magisterium, so that, when anyone criticizes or disagrees with even an ordinary teaching of the Magisterium, or a non-doctrinal decision of the Pope or Bishops (which they confuse with magisterial decisions), they are convinced that such a person is disloyal to the Magisterium and therefore unfaithful to God. They see the relationship between the Magisterium and the faithful as that of Master and servant, so that the faithful are merely to obey and believe whatever the Magisterium teaches; anything else is sinful. They don't believe that the Magisterium is ever in need of correction. They think that the faithful should listen to the Magisterium, but that the Magisterium has no need to listen to the faithful.
In truth, the Magisterium is a gift which God gives to the whole Church. The Magisterium is exercised by the Pope and the Bishops, but it belongs to the whole Church, since it is a gift to us all. Also, just as the Son of man came to serve, not to be served, so also do the Pope and the Bishops exercise the Magisterium to serve the faithful, not so as to dominate or rule over them.
- The idea that the faithful can only learn the truths of the Faith from the Magisterium, not from Tradition or Scripture directly
They know that the Magisterium teaches from Tradition and Scripture, but they also think that the faithful cannot reliably learn the truths of the Faith from Tradition and Scripture themselves. They say that we should only believe what the Magisterium teaches. They compare anyone who tries to learn directly from Tradition or Scripture to the Protestants, who try to understand Scripture themselves and so fall into error. For them, the Magisterium stands between the faithful and the Deposit of Faith (Tradition and Scripture), so that the faithful only access the truths of the Faith through the Magisterium.
In truth, the faithful are obligated by the moral law to learn directly from Tradition and directly from Scripture, while being guided in their understanding by the teachings of the Magisterium. For the faithful have always learned first from Tradition, and second from Scripture, and third from Magisterium. In the early Church, there were very few, if any, magisterial documents, and very few definitive teachings of the Magisterium. They learned the faith as it was handed down to them by the words and examples of fellow Christians, not only the Apostles and Bishops, but every Christian down to the least little child. They lived the faith based on their own imperfect understanding of ineffable Divine Revelation, just as all the faithful throughout history have done. One does not attain to a perfect or complete understanding of Divine Revelation by claiming to believe and to have understood all that the Magisterium teaches.
- The idea that the teaching of the Church is nothing other than the teachings of the Magisterium
They believe that there are no teachings in the Catholic Faith, which we ought to believe, other than the teachings of the Magisterium. And they think that every teaching of the Magisterium has been written down in various magisterial documents, so that if anyone says to them that something is the teaching of the Church, they reply by asking which document contains that teaching. If there is no magisterial document, then they do not accept that it is a teaching of the Church, even if it was clearly taught by a Saint, a Doctor of the Church, a Father of the Church, or was the practice of the Church for hundreds of years, or is clearly taught in Sacred Scripture.
In truth, the teaching of the Church is everything taught by Sacred Tradition, even those truths that have never been taught by the Magisterium, and everything taught by Sacred Scripture, even those truths that have never been taught by the Magisterium. The Magisterium teaches from Tradition and Scripture, but it has not and will never explicitly teach every truth of the Faith found in Tradition and Scripture. And the Magisterium has no teachings of its own; all its teachings are of Tradition and Scripture.
- The idea that the teachings of the Faith flow in one direction, from the Magisterium to the faithful
They think that the truths of the Faith always only flow from the Pope and the Bishops to the rest of the faithful, and that the faithful never contribute any insights into the Faith, which are later understood and taught by the Magisterium. They think that the role of the faithful concerning the teachings of the Church is only to believe what the Magisterium teaches, not to try to understand the Faith in any other way, nor from any other source. Neither would they permit any member of the faithful, even priests or theologians, to teach anything that has not first been taught explicitly by the Magisterium. Thus, the role of those members of the Church who are not the Bishops or the Pope is diminished and deprecated.
In truth, the faithful are all required by the moral law to seek the truths of faith and morals wherever they are found, and to accept and pass on these truths to any and all other human persons, especially fellow Catholics and those who exercise the Magisterium. The role of Apostle is, in one sense, the special role of the Pope and the Bishops, but in another sense, we are all called to be little apostles of Christ, teaching the Faith to one another.
- The idea that development of doctrine is solely the work of the Bishops and the Pope, never the faithful
They think that any development of doctrine, which in their view tends to be limited and rare, is the sole responsibility of the Bishops led by the Pope. The faithful, including priests, deacons, religious, and theologians, ought not to become involved in the development of doctrine, nor should they write or discuss theology in a speculative manner. Such speculation seems to them a dangerous and sure path to heresy and error. They see the development of doctrine and the discovery of new insights into the Faith as the sole responsibility of the Magisterium; according to them, the faithful are not to seek such new insights, nor to become involved in the development of doctrine, lest they usurp the role of the Magisterium. The faithful should merely wait for the Magisterium to teach any new insights.
In truth, the faithful often understand a truth of the Faith before it is taught by the Pope and the Bishops under the Magisterium. Also, the Magisterium often teaches a doctrine incompletely or incorrectly, under the Ordinary Magisterium, so that the faithful are obliged to correct and improve upon the fallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium. Moreover, doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption developed within the prayerful lives of ordinary Catholics long before these doctrines were infallibly taught by the Magisterium.
- The idea that the Magisterium is the Pope and the Bishops
They think that the Magisterium is the Pope and the Bishops. So, because they think that the Pope and the Bishops are themselves the Magisterium, and because they exalt the Magisterium to a position, which only God himself truly holds, above Tradition and Scripture and the Church, they end by engaging in a kind of idolatry of the Pope and the Bishops. Any disloyalty to a Bishop or a Pope, is perceived as a disloyalty to the Magisterium. Any disagreement with a Bishop or the Pope is perceived as a disagreement with the Magisterium.
In truth, the Pope and Bishops themselves are members of the faithful; they are not the Magisterium. The Magisterium is an ability and authority in the Holy Spirit which is exercised by the Pope and the Bishops. But the Pope and the Bishops are not the Magisterium. They are the servants of the Magisterium and of the faithful. Their authority is not of themselves, but of God. The Holy Spirit does not guide the Magisterium, as if the Magisterium existed at all apart from the guidance of the Spirit. The Magisterium is itself a gift of the Holy Spirit.
- The idea that whenever the Pope and the Bishops act authoritatively, they exercise the authority of the Magisterium
They confuse the temporal authority of the Church with its spiritual teaching authority. Whenever the Pope or the Bishops reach a decision on any matter, even when it is not a matter of doctrine, but only an exercise of the temporal authority of the Church, they think that it is the Magisterium acting. When even one Bishop gives the imprimatur to a book, they say that such a book is 'approved by the Church.' And anyone who disagrees with what was written in that book is thereby disagreeing with the Church. They confuse the temporal authority with the spiritual teaching authority, and the spiritual teaching authority (which is called Magisterium) with the Church, so that the imprimatur of one Bishop becomes the approval of the Universal Church.
In truth, the Church has two types of authority: the spiritual teaching authority and the temporal authority. The latter is the authority to make practical decisions needed for the faithful to cooperate together as one body of believers. The imprimatur of one Bishop on a book is an exercise of the local temporal authority of the Church. But it is not an exercise of the Magisterium, nor is it an exercise of any type of authority by the Universal Church. Furthermore, the Church includes all the faithful, even those who are sinful, not merely the Pope and the Bishops, and not merely those who claim to believe all that the Magisterium teaches.
- The idea that the teachings of the Magisterium are all explicitly taught in written documents
They do not believe that anything is a teaching of the Magisterium (which they equate with the sum total of the teaching of the Church), unless it is explicitly stated in a magisterial document. They do not acknowledge that some teachings of the Magisterium are implicit in words, or are in unwritten deeds
In truth, the Magisterium also teaches with the spoken word and by example, not by the written word alone. The example of what the Pope and the Bishops allow, and of how they govern the Church, has the effect of teaching by example. Also, written documents do not always state a truth plainly and explicitly; sometimes a truth is implicit in a magisterial document.
- The idea that the teachings of the Church are all found in the written documents of the Magisterium.
Because they equate Church teaching with the explicit written teachings of the Magisterium, they speak as if the teachings of the Church have all been written down somewhere. Thus, if one were to gather all such writings and put them in a box (or on a computer), then they think that such a box would contain all the teachings of the Church. If anyone suggests a truth of faith or morals which they have not heard before, they will not believe it unless you can show them a magisterial document which explicitly states such a truth. And if there is a document which suggests such a truth implicitly, but without stating it plainly, they do not believe it.
In truth, the teaching of the Church is found in unwritten Sacred Tradition, and it is found explicitly or implicitly in the words of Sacred Scripture, even when the Magisterium has not written down such a truth in a document. Moreover, the Faith is more than a collection of documents and intellectual propositions, no matter how true or insightful such ideas may be. The Faith cannot be fully contained in any set of written documents, including Sacred Scripture. The Faith must be lived, or it is not the Faith at all.
- The idea that all of the teachings of the Church can be understood by the faithful
They pay lip service to the idea of mysteries beyond human comprehension, but they do not speak or act as if any such mysteries exist. In fact, they think that they have understood the Faith entirely, or at least that they can look up any teaching of the Faith in documents and then understand it. They have reduced the ineffable truths of the Faith to whatever their own mind has understood (or misunderstood).
If you say to them that the truths of the Faith are beyond the ability of words to express, they might say they agree, but they do not speak or act as if it were true. They believe nothing other than what has been explicitly stated in documents of the Magisterium. When asked a question about the Faith, they always have an answer, in the form of a quote from the Catechism or a magisterial document; there is no question about the Faith which they cannot pretend to answer by looking up a quote in written documents (or online). Or if anyone presents to them a question of faith or morals which they cannot answer in this way, they regard that question and its answer as outside of the Faith and as irrelevant, because it has not been taught in a written document of the Magisterium.
In truth, the mysteries of the Faith are beyond complete human comprehension. The truths of the Faith are, to a great extent, ineffable, unsearchable, and unfathomable. No human mind on earth today fully understands the teachings of the Catholic Faith, not even the holiest Pope or Saint. And even to the extent that the truths of the Faith can be understood by the human mind, it is not truly the Faith unless it is lived.
- The idea that any teaching of the Church can be found the internet or in the Catechism
This excessive reliance on documents found on the internet and in the Catechism is a result of their excessive emphasis on the written documents of the Magisterium. They think that all the teachings of God are in those documents. They do not see the Faith as something learned from the other members of the faithful, from one's family, and from one's parish. They see the Faith as a collection of written statements issued by the Pope and the Bishops. They are very happy that such statements are searchable on the internet. Without the internet, this heresy would be much less pronounced, because the faithful would have less access to magisterial documents, and would be more likely to learn the faith from the humble members of the Church around them.
In truth, the Faith is a Way of Life. It is not the Faith unless it is being lived. All the true statements on faith and morals put together would not come close to equaling the Catholic Christian Faith. The Faith is not a collection of truths; it is the Way to Heaven and to God. It cannot be put into a box, nor can it be completely understood by any mere human mind. It is only in recent times that so many magisterial documents have accumulated, and so many Catholics have easy access to them (by searching the internet), that some think that they can base their entire faith on the documents and doctrinal decisions of the Magisterium.
- The idea that the teachings of the Church are separate from and above the teachings of the Saints, Doctors, Fathers, priests, theologians, and ordinary Catholics
They separate the teachings of the Church from the teachings of the Saints, Doctors, Fathers, priests, theologians, and ordinary Catholics. They hold that we are not to accept any teaching of Tradition, found in the lives and teachings of the Saints, Doctors, and Fathers of the Church, unless it has also been taught by the Magisterium. To them, the teaching of the Church is nothing other than the teachings of the Magisterium. They hold that we should not listen to the teaching of any theologian, unless that teaching has also been clearly taught in a magisterial document. Unless a teaching of a Saint, Doctor, or Father has been taught by the Magisterium, they give that teaching no weight or credibility at all. Neither do they even consider the merits of a theological argument; their response is to ask to be shown a quote from a document of the Magisterium (one which explicitly states the same idea in the same words): everything else it is just useless speculation or worse.
In truth, the faithful have always learned the faith first and foremost from Tradition, that is, from the example of their fellow Christians, including the Saints, and Doctors, and Fathers of the Church. The mutual exchange of ideas among ordinary Catholics, and the musings of priests and theologians, have always contributed to the edification and education of the faithful about the Faith. The separation of all these things from the Faith, so that the Magisterium alone teaches the Faith, is a heresy in the extreme.
- The idea that the Faith is not based at all on the private interpretation of Scripture by the faithful
They hold that we should not engage in the private interpretation of Scripture as the basis for anything that we believe. They think that, as concerns the beliefs of the Catholic Faith, Scripture should only be interpreted by the Magisterium. Otherwise, we might fall into error by the prayerful reading and study of the Word of God. They think that those who learn the Faith, in part, directly from Scripture have become like the Protestants, being misled by their own misunderstandings. Unless an interpretation of a Bible passage has been taught by the Magisterium, they give that interpretation no weight or credibility at all. And any theological argument based on an interpretation of the Bible is met with a demand for a quote from a magisterial document giving that same interpretation. Otherwise, the argument carries no weight at all with them, regardless of what the Bible says.
In truth, the faithful have always learned the Faith itself, in part, directly from Sacred Scripture; and not from the written words of Scripture alone, but also from the teachings of Scripture as they have been lived by previous generations of Christians and by our fellow Christians today. For the teachings of the Bible are alive among the faithful. The Magisterium is informed as to the true and correct interpretation of Scripture, not solely by the guidance of the Holy Spirit given to the Pope and the Bishops, but also by the grace and providence of the Holy Spirit given to the ordinary faithful.
- The idea that the Magisterium can teach other truths, which are outside of Tradition and Scripture
Now these other truths are not merely those truths implicit within Tradition and Scripture, but rather truths which are not taught by Tradition or Scripture at all, neither explicitly nor implicitly. They think that the Magisterium can teach anything on any subject, and can teach it infallibly. They also tend to treat the Magisterium as if it were a source of Divine Revelation, rather than an interpreter of Tradition and Scripture.
In truth, the Magisterium teaches only from those truths which are found, explicitly or implicitly, within the Deposit of Divine Revelation, which is comprised solely of Tradition and Scripture. The Magisterium does not have the authority to teach any other truths whatsoever, no matter how evident they may be.
- The idea that everything taught by the Magisterium is true
This is stated in a number of different ways.
One way is to claim that the Ordinary Magisterium is identical to the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, so that the teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium are also infallible, or to say that almost every teaching of the Magisterium falls under the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, not merely under the Ordinary Magisterium.
Another approach is to say that both the infallible teachings and the non-infallible teachings are required beliefs, so that there is no practical difference between infallible and non-infallible teachings: you are required to believe them all.
Another approach is to expand the number of teachings which fall under infallibility, so that there is hardly anything left which could be said to be non-infallible.
Still another approach is to deny that each and every Bishop can, by himself, exercise the Ordinary Magisterium, so that only the teachings of Popes and Ecumenical Councils and Vatican Congregations are considered to be the teaching of the Magisterium. This narrows the number of teachings that might be accused of fallibility.
And yet another approach is to say that anything non-infallible is not a teaching per se, so that all teachings of the Magisterium are teachings of the Faith and are without error.
In truth, the Ordinary Magisterium is fallible and its teachings certainly do contain various kinds of errors. In fact, any Bishop can exercise the Ordinary Magisterium, and the individual Bishops often conflict with one another in what they teach.
- The idea that any dissent from what the Pope or Bishops teach is sinful unfaithful dissent
This error in their thinking is a result of other errors. They equate the teaching of the Magisterium with the teaching of the Church; they equate the Pope and the Bishops with the Magisterium; they think that the Magisterium can never be mistaken. So they are left with the conclusion that any dissent must be wrong.
In truth, the teaching of the Church is more than the teaching of the Magisterium. And the Pope and the Bishops merely exercise the Magisterium, they themselves are not the Magisterium. And the Magisterium is not always exercised by them infallibly, but most often is exercised fallibly. Then, too, the Pope and the Bishops often make decisions or express opinions which do not fall under the Magisterium at all. Therefore, the correct conclusion is that some dissent is blameless faithful dissent.
- The idea that any disobedience to what the Pope or Bishops decide is sinful unfaithful disobedience
They think that the Magisterium cannot be wrong, and they do not understand that the practical decisions of the Pope and the Bishops fall under the fallible temporal authority of the Church, not under the Magisterium at all. Partly due to this confusion, and also partly due to their exaltation of the Pope and the Bishops to the point of idolatry, they hold that the faithful must not be disobedient to any decision of the Pope or Bishops for the Church.
Those who adhere to this heresy think that following one's own understanding of the will of God is a certain path to destruction. For they think that the faithful cannot trust their own understanding, but can only trust the teachings and decisions of the Church. (Yet they themselves only follow their own misunderstanding of the teachings and decisions of the Church).
In truth, the temporal authority of the Church is separate from the spiritual teaching authority (called the Magisterium). Also, the temporal authority is always fallible; it is never infallible. Since such decisions can be in error, the faithful have a right and a duty to disobey certain decisions or orders, when these are understood by them to be contrary to the will of God.
- The idea that those loyal to the Magisterium should only believe what the Magisterium teaches, not their own interpretation or opinion
As a result of these other errors, and out of human arrogance, they confuse their own limited or erroneous understanding of the Faith with the Faith itself. And since they think that the Magisterium is without error, they think and act as if their own limited understanding of the Faith is without error. Their own knowledge of the Faith is treated as if it were the same as the teaching of the Magisterium, and the same as the teaching of the Church, and the same as the Faith itself, which is of God.
Now this is very similar to the error of certain fundamentalist Protestants. They correctly believe that the Bible is infallible. But then they think to themselves that since they are only believing what the Bible teaches, therefore, everything that they believe is infallible. They learned it from the Bible and the Bible cannot be wrong. And so they conclude that they themselves cannot be wrong. Someone else's different interpretation of a Bible passage is a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation; but their own interpretation is not an interpretation at all, it is merely the exact idea that the Bible itself is teaching. In effect, they have made themselves to be infallible.
The same thing occurs with those who adhere to the heresy of Magisteriumism. They imagine that they themselves are above the reach of heresy. For, in their minds, they are only believing what the Magisterium teaches. And they believe that the teaching of the Magisterium is never fallible and never contains any errors. Therefore, they are uncorrectable. Even when they have clearly misunderstood a teaching of the Magisterium, or a passage from a magisterial document, they are unable to see their mistake because they do not admit that they are forming an opinion or engaging in the interpretation of Magisterial documents.
It is all very simple to them. The teaching of the Magisterium is identical to the teaching of the Church. There is no need to consult Tradition, or Scripture, nor to listen to the opinions of theologians or fellow Catholics. And all that the Magisterium teaches is necessarily true. So they make up their minds to believe everything that the Magisterium teaches. Since they are only believing what the Magisterium teaches, and since the Magisterium cannot be wrong, they conclude that whatever they themselves believe or think about the Faith cannot be wrong. In any discussion of the teachings of the Church, they claim not to have any opinions or interpretations of their own; they claim to be merely restating what the Magisterium teaches.
In truth, the interpretations and pious opinions found among the faithful of every generation are the fertile soil in which the seeds of truth from Tradition and Scripture grow. These seeds become plants, and the plants begin to bear fruit, and the fruits, when ripe, are harvested by the Magisterium. Without ordinary members of the faithful living according to their own sometimes insightful, sometimes erroneous understandings of Tradition and Scripture, the Magisterium would be lacking in fruits of Truth to harvest and would be very limited in what it would be able to teach.
- The idea that the all the truths of the Faith can be known by those who are loyal to the Magisterium
Their reasoning, at least implicitly, goes like this: 'I believe everything that the Magisterium teaches. The teachings of the Magisterium are all written in various magisterial documents. The teaching of the Magisterium is identical to the teaching of the Church. I know, or can at least look up in a document, every teaching of the Church. Therefore, I know, or at least I can look up and subsequently know, any teaching of the Faith.'
In place of a Faith which is directed towards the ineffable and unfathomable Truths of Divine Revelation, they have set up a human faith which believes only those ideas expressed in written documents of the Magisterium, and only to the extent that they themselves can understand those documents. They think that by deciding to accept whatever the Magisterium teaches, that they have accepted and understood every teaching of the Roman Catholic Faith. And in the process of deifying the Magisterium and its written teachings, they have in effect deified themselves, to the extent that they think they can know any truth of the Faith and that they cannot be wrong in what they know.
- The idea that the Church on earth consists of the faithful following the Magisterium
They think that to be a faithful Catholic all you have to do is believe and practice whatever the Magisterium tells you to believe and practice. There is nothing else substantial to the Faith in their view. And the Magisterium is, to them, merely the Pope and the Bishops.
In truth, the Magisterium is one gift given to the whole Church, a gift which is exercised by the Pope and the Bishops, but which is possessed by the faithful. The Church has another type of authority, the temporal authority, which is never infallible. The Magisterium is not the Church. The Magisterium is not the Pope and the Bishops. The faithful have a duty to disagree with the Magisterium when, in its ordinary teaching, it teaches something contrary to infallible Sacred Tradition or infallible Sacred Scripture. The Magisterium is informed about the faith by Tradition, which is passed on through the lives of each and every ordinary Christian, in so far as they reflect God and Christ in their lives. So the Magisterium, in teaching from Tradition, teaches in a substantial and indispensable way, from the spiritual lives of the ordinary faithful.
In addition to believing the above false ideas, they also have a tendency to behave in the following manner.
- When confronted with a truth of the Faith that they had not heard of before, they immediately reject it.
For they think that in deciding to believe everything that the Church teaches, they have, in fact, learned everything that the Church could ever possibly teach. Any ideas that are unfamiliar to them cannot possibly be the teaching of the Church. They actually think that they believe and know all that the Church teaches. Any new idea is met by the unsupported assertion that such an idea is not the teaching of the Church.
If God has not heard of an idea before, it is not truth. But if any mere human person on earth has not heard of an idea before, it may well be one of those many truths of the Faith which have not yet been widely taught or widely understood among the faithful on earth.
- They 'quote mine' in the documents of the Magisterium.
They begin by assuming that their understanding of the teachings of the Magisterium is the same as those teachings themselves. So, if anyone contradicts what they think is Church teaching, they search by computer for any quote that might be interpreted, by any stretch of their imagination, to support their own point of view. Then they use that quote to claim that their own opinion is not an opinion or an interpretation, but is merely what the Church authoritatively teaches. So they search for quotes that support their current limited understanding of the teachings of the Faith, and then they interpret such quotes in the light of their own, often incorrect, understanding.
They also quote from magisterial documents which they have not read or studied. They are merely looking for quotes that support their own ideas about the Faith. As a result, they misinterpret magisterial documents according to their own point of view. They despise almost all theology books and theologians, so they will not accept any theologians explanation as to what a document means. And neither will they admit that it is their own fallible interpretation of a document. Anyone who disagrees with them, or who presents a document supporting that disagreement, must have misunderstood what the document said, because they never question their own understanding.
Therefore, they conclude, you are not disagreeing with them, but with the Church. And so, they are continually angered by how many heretics there seem to be all around them, heretics who claim that something is a truth of the Faith in a seemingly inexplicable contradiction to their own carefully cut-and-pasted quotes from magisterial documents that they looked up on the internet without actually reading the whole document. They also tend to exaggerate what can be called a document of the Magisterium, to the point were any document with even a remote connection to a Cardinal, Bishop, or Bishop's conference is cited as if it were authoritative.
- They teach the Faith as if their understanding of the Faith was necessarily correct and authoritative.
Since they are only believing what the Magisterium teaches, and since the Magisterium cannot be wrong, they naturally conclude that they themselves cannot be wrong in what they teach. They therefore speak to fellow Catholics in a condescending and pseudo-authoritative manner, on the basis of their claim that what they teach is identical to what the Magisterium authoritatively teaches.
In the end, they are not content to exalt the Magisterium to the extent of idolatry, but they even exalt themselves, such that a disagreement with them is really nothing other than a disagreement with God, for they think that they are only believing and teaching what God teaches through the Magisterium.
As a result, they are uncorrectable and unteachable. And they become very angry when confronted with a sound theological argument, supported by quotes from documents of the Magisterium (the only source they will even claim to listen to). They do not mind treating fellow Christians who disagree with them with utter contempt, frequently accusing them of heresy. To them the Faith is a series of written teachings that one is obligated to believe, and not ineffable Truth that can only be properly understood and expressed by living the Way of Christ.
- They cannot be corrected by someone citing the teachings of the Magisterium.
If someone presents to them magisterial documents which contradict their own understanding of a teaching, they immediately conclude that such a one has misinterpreted those documents. Then they become angry and upset, and they refuse to continue the discussion. For they can never admit that what they themselves believe is only their own limited understanding or misunderstanding of what the Church teaches, and not Church teaching itself.
If they respond to a contradictory opinion, it is only with a long series of quotes from the Catechism and from various magisterial documents. They will not answer questions about what they think, because to them, their words do not contain their own thoughts or opinions, but only the true teachings of the Magisterium. And any passages from magisterial documents, which might be used by someone to teach or correct them, they interpret according to their current limited or erroneous understanding.
- Anyone who disagrees with them must be wrong.
On the basis of their belief that they themselves are only believing what the Magisterium infallibly teaches, anyone who disagrees with their own limited understanding of the ineffable Truths of the Faith must be ignorant or a dissenter or a heretic or a schismatic. It seems to them that anyone who disagrees with them is attacking the Church and sinning against the Faith.
In truth, the Magisterium is fallible in its ordinary teachings, and this is the most common use of the Magisterium. One can disagree with an ordinary teaching, on the basis of Tradition, Scripture, or other teachings of the Magisterium, and still remain a faithful disciple of Christ. Also, when ordinary Catholics disagree among themselves about a teaching of the faith, there may be misunderstandings or limited understandings of the Faith on both sides. Such misunderstandings generally do not rise to the level of heresy or schism.
This heresy of blind loyalty to the Magisterium can reach an extreme, wherein it becomes idolatry.
In this heresy: Nothing is said to be a truth of the Faith, unless it comes from the Magisterium. Nothing is said to be of the Church or of Christ, unless it is approved by the Church. The Church is described as the faithful following the Magisterium. All of the teachings of the Magisterium are treated as if they are necessarily without error. All of the decisions of the temporal authority of the Church are said to be decisions of the Magisterium. Anyone who disagrees with any ordinary teaching of the Magisterium, or any decision of the Church (or of any Bishop) is said to be disloyal or a dissenter or on the path to heresy or schism. Salvation is described as if it were achieved solely by obeying the Magisterium.
In truth: Salvation is from God and from Christ. The Magisterium teaches from the Divine Revelation given to us by God in Christ, but salvation itself is not found in the Magisterium, nor is it found, per se, in the teachings of the Magisterium. Salvation is found in the salvific act of Christ suffering and dying and rising for our salvation. This deed of God in salvation history is itself a part of Tradition, and it is not a part of the Magisterium (even though the Magisterium teaches on this subject).
May God have mercy on those who have fallen into any heresy or schism whatsoever.
by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
August 25, 2006