The one holy Catholic Apostolic Church has only two types of authority:
I. Temporal Authority
The temporal authority of the Church is always fallible, never infallible.
The temporal authority of the Church involves decisions, not teachings, and rules, not moral law. The temporal authority of the Church gives the Bishops and the Pope the authority to rule over the Church, to make decisions and rules concerning practical matters, and to govern the people of God.
The temporal authority of the Church includes the authority to govern all nations and governments, and society in general. In the world today, the Church has no real power over nations, governments, and secular society. Even so, God himself did truly give the Church the authority over all of God's people, including non-Catholics, non-Christians, and non-believers. For all people on earth belong to God and He has given His Church full authority over all His people.
Many persons in the world do not acknowledge that the Church has any authority over them. These persons think that the Catholic Church only has authority over Catholics. They view each church and each religion as separate and autonomous. But such is not the view of Almighty God. “For all the earth is mine.” (Ex 19:5).
In the present time, the Church has wisely chosen not to attempt to bring all persons under her rule. However, the truth should be known that in God's plan for Creation, the Church has the authority to rule over all persons and nations and governments. For Christ is the Head of the Church, and all things were patterned after Christ, created through Him, for Him, and in Him. Therefore, in truth, Christ and His Body the Church have authority over all persons, nations and governments.
II. Spiritual Authority, also called the Magisterium
The Magisterium is the ability and authority of the Church to teach the truths found in the Deposit of Faith. The Deposit of Faith consists solely of Tradition and Scripture. The Deposit of Faith is Divine Revelation from God. Everything taught by Tradition or Scripture is entirely true and infallible.
The Magisterium is divided into the infallible Sacred Magisterium and the non-infallible Ordinary Magisterium.
A. The Sacred Magisterium
Everything taught under the ability and authority of the Sacred Magisterium is entirely true and infallible. The Sacred Magisterium can never be exercised under any circumstances whatsoever apart from the Pope. The Sacred Magisterium can be exercised in any of three ways.
1. Papal Infallibility
The Pope has, in and of himself, by virtue of his office, all three Charisms of the Sacred Magisterium. Therefore, the Pope can exercise the Sacred Magisterium without the participation of any of the Bishops or members of the faithful. The criteria under which the Pope exercises Papal Infallibility are five, as defined and taught by the First and Second Vatican Councils.
2. Ecumenical Councils, and any similar gatherings of the body of Bishops with the Pope.
Such gatherings can be in one place and time, or they can be gatherings distributed, in one manner or another, over place and time. A gathering by communication over distance would be sufficient. Such gatherings do not need to be called 'Councils' or 'Ecumenical Councils' in order to exercise the Sacred Magisterium. However, all such gatherings must occur under the authority, teaching, and guidance of the Pope. No matter how many Bishops gather together, and no matter what they say, the Bishops cannot exercise the Sacred Magisterium apart from the Pope. For the Pope has a special Charism from God to oversee the Bishops whenever they exercise the Sacred Magisterium. Without such oversight, the Bishops cannot exercise any type of infallibility under the Magisterium.
It is not necessary for every Bishop to participate in order for a such a gathering to exercise the Sacred Magisterium. However, the body of Bishops must be sufficiently represented. A gathering of local Bishops from only one nation or one area would not be representative of the body of Bishops. In recent times, the College of Cardinals has become representative of the body of Bishops dispersed throughout the world. Therefore, if the Cardinals are gathered together under the authority, teaching, and guidance of the Pope, such a gathering would be sufficient to exercise the Sacred Magisterium.
The infallible teachings of the document Evangelium Vitae are examples of the exercise of the Sacred Magisterium by a gathering other than an Ecumenical Council.
3. The Universal Magisterium, also called the ordinary and universal Magisterium
This exercise of the Sacred Magisterium is not a part of the Ordinary Magisterium. It is sometimes called 'ordinary and universal' because it takes place in the course of the daily teaching and witness of the Bishops dispersed throughout the world yet united with the Pope, not in the course of a particular gathering or document.
The Universal Magisterium is exercised when the Bishops throughout the world and the Pope teach one and the same doctrine, from the Deposit of Faith, as definitively to be believed by the faithful. Such an exercise occurs in the daily preaching and witness of the Bishops and the Pope. It may include various written expressions of doctrine, but those particular written expressions are not themselves an infallible exercise of the Sacred Magisterium.
The Universal Magisterium cannot be exercised apart from the Pope. If no Pope has ever taught or witnessed to a particular teaching, then it is not a teaching of the Universal Magisterium, nor does it fall under any exercise of the Sacred Magisterium.
It is difficult to discern when a teaching falls under the Universal Magisterium. There are no clear criteria established. Such teachings generally begin under the Ordinary Magisterium. Once they have been taught by at least several Popes and at least several generations of Bishops, then perhaps they fall under the Sacred Magisterium. However, the number of Popes and Bishops, and the amount of time required to bring a teaching under the Universal Magisterium is uncertain.
B. The Ordinary Magisterium
Any teaching of the Magisterium that does not fall under the Sacred Magisterium necessarily falls under the Ordinary Magisterium. There are no other divisions or categories to consider. While all teachings of the Sacred Magisterium are infallible, all teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium are non-fallible. The term non-infallible means that these teachings admit the possibility of error, but only to a limited extent, specifically, only to the extent that such errors cannot lead one away from the path of salvation.
Any individual Bishop, or the Pope, or any gathering of Bishops (with or without the Pope) can exercise the non-infallible Ordinary Magisterium. Even though the Pope has the ability to teach infallibly under papal infallibility, he generally teaches under the non-infallible Ordinary Magisterium. Even though Ecumenical Councils and similar gatherings have the ability to teach infallibly, they also can and do teach, to one extent or another, under the non-infallible Ordinary Magisterium.
Canon 749 §3. No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.
Now some have attempted to extend infallibility in the doctrines of the Church to nearly every doctrine associated with the Faith. However, Canon Law 749 §3 reflects the truth that many teachings of the Church have not been taught infallibly.
The teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium are non-infallible, and are therefore subject to be substantially added to, subtracted from, changed, or even entirely revoked. In general, most teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium are true and reliable, but they may be in need of further doctrinal development.
by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
March 10, 2006